“Hey Baby/Bitch/Slut-” or, I Wish I Could Say Hello To Strangers (Part 2)*triggers*
Sexual harassment, at best, is really freaking annoying. It can also just feel gross, or make you feel somewhat violated, or leave you shaken. At worst, it can be a legitimate, literal, and physical threat. But mostly, it is meant to cow us- to make us scurry through the street, heads down. They want the shit-eating grin and the shrinking back into ourselves. Because we’re women! We’re not supposed to be enjoying ourselves, independently, outside! We’ve gotta be reminded that we’re subordinate! I often think of the pathetic men who harass women in the street as footsoldiers of the patriarchy: just doin’ their part to enforce the status quo (though many harassers are also generals and lieutenants and whathaveyou of the patriarchy- businessmen, politicians, lawyers, etc. Drunks and “degenerates” in fact make up a very small portion of harassers, contrary to popular classist belief). And so if harassment is one aspect of the war against women, we have to fight back.
You can shame them right back. A few are subdued by a glare and a, “What if someone said that to your mother/sister/daughter?!”-type comment. Some are even shamed by a “Mister, I’m just trying to get to school/work/church/the grocery store. You can just go fuck yourself.” I have a friend who always says in a deliciously sarcastic voice, “Oh, you poor thing- you must have such bad luck with women! Hmmm, I wonder why…” I found this form on the Internet a few months ago- I’ve never had the opportunity to hand it out, but I’ll keep trying:
But the best revenge by FAR is to take their picture with a camera phone and then tell them that you’re putting it on the Internet, which you can actually do at http://www.ihollaback.org/.
Join the movement to end sexual harassment at Hollaback. They do great work by mapping and keeping track of sexual harassment, and by giving all women (and some men) who are sexually harassed on the street to vent and get it all out in the open. It’s really important to speak out- in the words of the blog After Silence, “Always speak out- even when your voice shakes. Keep shaking and shouting!”
I’m taking a self-defense class right now, and I won’t lie: it’s a little scary to be putting myself in those shoes. At the end of the course, we’ll have to defend ourselves against a Real Live Attacker, and I’m not sure how I’ll handle that, emotionally. But in the end, it’s very empowering- it helps you find your own true strength.
One caveat- if you think you are in any immediate danger, don’t talk back to your harasser- they might get angry —> violent. Safety is always the first priority, and as a beloved adult woman/mentor in my life has told me, “All the karate in the world is nothing against a gun.” But you can still speak up after the fact- tell your story.
I think that all the most horrible things about the world are the ones that nobody talks about- that everybody sort of accepts. Some people say that “religion, sex, and politics [in this case, "sex" is usually code for "sexual violence"] are not fit for public conversation.” But these are the things that, when left unexplored, leave the human community gagged and shrinking and hurt and ignorant! We have to talk about these things. Men, especially teenage boys around my age (18), don’t want to hear about it. But they have to. They really, really do.
Be practical, but don’t hide. We need to be finished with hiding. The musician and writer Emilie Autumn says it thusly:
“If you want to be safe, walk in the middle of the street. I’m not joking. You’ve been told to look both ways before crossing the street, and the sidewalk is your friend, right? Wrong. I’ve spent years walking sidewalks at night. I’ve looked around me when it was dark, when there were men following me, creeping out of alleyways, attempting to goad me into speaking to them and shouting obscenities at me when I wouldn’t, and I suddenly realised that the only place left to go was the middle of street. But why would I risk it? Because the odds are in my favour. In the States, someone is killed in a car accident on average every 12.5 minutes, while someone is raped on average every 2.5 minutes. Even when factoring in that, one, I am generously including ALL car-related accidents and not just those involving accidents, and two, that the vast majorities of rapes still go unreported […] And, thus, this is now the way I live my life: out in the open, in the middle of everything, because the middle of the street is actually the safest place to walk.”
It is time to stop living in silence and in fear. It’s always been that time.