Yesterday was cold in Philly. I wore a winter coat, boots and my ninja-esque half-mask while biking, so you can imagine the rest of my outfit was not super revealing.
“Hey, baby girl, you got a nice ass.”- some guy behind me
“I know, right?”- my standard deflection
“Hahahaha. Glad you’re not getting all bent out of shape about it.”
So he knows what he’s saying will, in all probability, make a complete stranger feel angry or hurt and then does it anyway.
Basically: Fuck this guy
There seem to be three groups of people when it comes to talking about street harassment:
- The ones who get it- either literally it happens to them or they have enough empathy that they can “get it” from hearing about our experiences
- Those who “know” it exists, but minimize the frequency and seriousness
- People whose lifestyle and geography (and probably general awareness) have allowed them to avoid any evidence street harassment is even a real thing.
And this is not to say that if you’re in one group, you can’t move to another.
When I grew up in the Midwest, where you might well get the impression bicycles and walking are illegal, I didn’t see anybody holler at anybody on the street. This was not only because everyone was encapsulated in their little Ford Taurus or Chevy Celebrity and interaction was limited to a friendly raising of the pointer finger to say “hi” as you pass. And it was also not just because the Midwest is so fucking polite (hint: it is, though). It’s also because in small towns it’s almost impossible to have anonymity, so there would be actual possible consequences for pestering a total stranger. I was definitely in that third group, not realizing street harassment even was a thing.
Then I moved to the city and was blown away by the incessant comments, invites, whistles, and honks. I moved into the second group on street harassment at that point, since *at first* it seemed like a compliment. Did everyone get this attention? Was I special? Was this just how people flirt in a major city?
In rom-coms there are plenty of cases of attractive strangers meeting for only a moment and having to overcome their shyness to make some outrageous play so that a beautiful romance can blossom. Maybe that guy driving by thought this was his moment to Ryan Gosling his way into my heart.
But after the novelty wore off, all the “hey, girl, can I get a ride?”s started to feel different. Every single moment in public, I had to be aware of my ass and that other people were assessing me based entirely on it. No matter what else was going on in my life, no matter how proud I was of a recent accomplishment or sad about a loss, I got to be reminded that, to strangers, I am essentially just here to exist as a moving piece of fuckableness.
And it’s not always “supposed to be” complimentary. Sometimes it’s obviously intended to be rude. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a car driver following me for blocks, slowing and speeding up to stay next to me. Sometimes it’s followed by “fuck you anyway, bitch” if I don’t respond at all. Many women experience threats of violence.
It got creepy, how instinctively I knew to never turn my back towards men when locking my bike. And how my clothing choices (while they clearly don’t deflect everything, hence the story above) are dictated by my desire to avoid this attention, rather than comfort or my own preferences for how I want to look. I am now soundly a member of group one- who “gets it.”
So if you’re in groups 2 or 3, thinking that this is not a big deal, that the onus is on women to dress more conservatively or to take it easy, I feel you. I was you. But now we have more information. Not just from my experience, but millions of women in the anti-street harassment movement. By ignoring this new information, or deciding none of us are worthy sources of information, you’re deciding to be callous and sexist. You can pick which side you’re on.
You can be with that guy or you can be with the chick with the bokken. It’s up to you.