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I was out with some friends grabbing a drink when a man came and sat directly in between my friend and I.
Unimpressed with his pick up lines, we started talking amongst ourselves and ignoring him. He tried to spark more attention by wrapping his arms around the two of us and telling us that we were his girls for the night.
My thoughts; firstly, I’m no one’s girl- I’m my own woman. Secondly, your breath reeks of booze and I could think of a million things I’d rather do than keep this conversation of ridiculously sexist comments about what he wanted to do with us going. We all ended up leaving the bar because a bunch of his friends thought they would join the table too.
Weird thing is, if one of his friends said something, anything, to let him know it was too much or apologized to us, we would have been completely up for meeting some knew people. I don’t know why people think it’s a turn on to be sexist, but it isn’t working. For everyone’s sake try common courtesy!
An honest documentary on the reality of street harassment, and how women are made to feel in certain parts of Brussels. (English subtitles)
Join us to talk about how we can fight street harassment!
When: Monday, April 16, 4:30-6:30
Where: Sullivan Gym Multi-Purpose Room, University of Southern Maine Portland Campus
What: A workshop about street harassment and how you can respond!
Call 780-4169 to pre-register (pre-registration suggested, but not required)
Free for those affiliated with USM, $5 for community members
Come hang out with Hollaback! Portland, Maine, drink some $2.50 draft beers, and learn about how you can be part of Portland’s most badass movement to end street harassment!
I was outside the Back Cove Hannaford, loading groceries into the backseat of my car, when a scene unfolded right before my eyes. Two fellows outside the giant automatic doors hollered at a young woman who was exiting. I wasn’t quite sure what was said – but it startled the woman enough that she turned her head in their direction. This seemed to encourage the louder of the two men, who launched into increasingly graphic requests for her to give them even more attention. It was sooo cliché it was utterly dismissable – it was as if this guy had distilled every word, phrase, and grunt, and inflection that the “men-are-pigs/construction worker/street hustler” stereotypes have to offer.
Except this wasn’t a movie, or a coffee break joke, or an amusing anecdote shared by a friend. This was real, and I was staring at it.
Each and every one of us has a myriad of options when the street harassment card is dealt – whether we are the victim or the bystander. But what was really going on here? Was it a fact that these two men had transformed a woman’s innocuous visit to the grocery store into something she did not want? Was she appalled? Maybe she was even fearful. Or… was this perhaps appealing to her? Or maybe just slight discomfort. I didn’t know. How WAS I to know? But wait – how were THEY to know, either…?
What was apparent was that the woman had focused her gaze on the ground in front of her, she’d drawn in her shoulders and arms, and quickened her feet – scurrying steps interspersed with little gliding hops. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but right there, in that parking lot, subject to a random act of sexism.
And the men were laughing. The laughs mixed with resentful chatter, now that she was getting into her car – damned if she did. Damned if she didn’t. But at least it was over. For now. This time. Phew.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. I wish I could say I had never seen this before, and that I’d never see it again. But that would be an outrageous lie. I CAN say that it’s never happened to me. But then, many of us men can say that. Many of us know nothing of the irritation, disgust, and/or dread that acccompanies such experiences.
If we listen to the women in our lives we hear these stories – sisters, girlfriends, aunts, partners, coworkers. It is an everyday hazard of merely walking outside in a populated place. Because it’s normalized, should we just learn to live with it? Should we – and by we, I actually mean women – accept that our personages are intrinsically on display for the world to notice, make comments, and feel free to engage us? Where is the boundary? Can one man’s flirtation be another woman’s harassment?
Aren’t we all just getting too sensitive and PC for our own good? Shouldn’t we all just lighten up and laugh it off? Look, I’m all for personal freedoms, but is a harmless little whistle or well-meaning compliment really an infringement…?
Back to the afternoon at Hannaford. I got in my car and made a little loop so I could pass by those two men. They were walking away, still yukking it up and I stopped and rolled down the window. A thousand things were racing through my head. “You two disgust me!! Do you have any daughters?? How dare you harass that woman!? I wish you were made to feel like a piece of meat every time you went outside! Fuck you for making men look even worse than we already do!” Some classic male responses, interestingly – outrage, anger, and violent retribution!
I didn’t actually ever say any of that. As a man, I understand the sometimes very volatile nature of confronting other men on their behavior. (Men, after all, get to fear men’s violence, too) Instead, I took the “I don’t know you guys, and you probably didn’t mean anything by it… BUT, I think that was some pretty offensive stuff back there, and that woman didn’t deserve to be treated like that.” They got angry and indignant. “Who the hell do YOU think you are? It’s none of your business WHAT we do!”
“Well, you kind of make it my business when you’re yelling across the parking lot. Look guys, I’m not trying to judge your character, I just think you can treat people with more respect. It’s about respect. Know what I’m sayin’?” They seemed to soften a little bit and the “eff you” rhetoric shifted to “Hey, man, we’re not trying to hurt anybody. Yeah, it’s not very respectful…”
I drove away under no delusion that I had “fixed” these men, or that I had chivalrously fulfilled any enlightened-man-to the-rescue quota for the week. It was about seeing injustice, calling it out and imploring the offenders to – at the very least – think about those actions a little more carefully. That sequence of accountability always begins with one’s self.
I hollaback because I have women in my life that I care about deeply. I hollaback because I know that I inherited an unjust power, privilege, and influence – merely because I was born male. I hollaback to demonstrate that men can be part of the solution! I hollaback because feminism and all forms of equality activism benefit humanity. I hollaback to help shape a world where we can all be free to be who we are when we want. I hollaback so that my future daughter can be valued and respected for the entire palette that composes her being!
In honor of Black History Month, and his recent birthday, I’ll leave you with another man’s words that were aimed at a not altogether unconnected societal ill.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr
Three years ago my fiancé Chris and I decided to embark on the simultaneously most rewarding and maddening journey one could ever take. We decided to become parents. After months of research and me whining every night, we became the proud doggy parents of the cutest black mystery mutt named Bailey. A year after that we decided since we both LOVED getting up 3 times in the middle of the night in the dead of winter to take one dog out, we would adopt a second puppy and do the same thing all over again…thus came our second dog, the most adorable little dachshund named Pika.
Not to brag, but I have to tell you, I am a kick ass dog mom. I spend more money on their food than I do on mine. I am about to pay 500 dollars to get their teeth cleaned (while totally forgoing whitening mine for my own wedding!) I buy them expensive toys from Planet Dog like a good Portland dog owner, and I pay 10 dollars each Saturday so they can play in an indoor dog park during the winter. And the kicker– I take them for long walks (yes, even in the winter, even though I slip on salt and sand!)
About a year ago I was forced to change the route of my daily dog walks. A group of men used to hang outside on their porch and as I would walk by with my dogs they would yell out things about my appearance. I couldn’t figure it out at first. I wasn’t wearing anything revealing, or looking like I was inviting their comments. But then I realized—I had been experiencing this same thing since high school, showing up wearing pajama pants and STILL getting unwanted comments. I was angry I had to change my routine, because I really liked the path I took on my walk. But I felt helpless; I didn’t know what to do, so my answer like many women’s solutions was to try to ignore the problem because I didn’t have an outlet to change it. This is why I’m so glad I found Hollaback! I now have a supportive community that has my back and a way to safely combat street harassment.
Sometimes I hear people sometimes defending street harassment—that it’s not a bad thing, I mean who doesn’t like getting compliments? I guess there’s some truth to that, I mean I like getting compliments too! But you know what? Street harassment is different than just getting compliments. Street harassment is invasive, it’s personal, it’s unwanted and unwarranted, and most importantly it makes me feel uncomfortable and fearful.
I am of course a woman writing my story and can speak only from my experience. I’m fortunate enough to know many great feminist men in my personal and professional lives who have told me of their stories of being cat-called or honked at. So I do know that men experience street harassment as well, and it’s never okay—but what I also know, is that the street harassment of women in entirely different. Because of gender inequities, because of power dynamics, because men don’t walk the streets at night in fear that they will be raped by women, street harassment of women is different. Because I can go outside in the middle of the winter, bundled up from head to toe, just to walk my dogs, and still be hollered at, I know it has nothing to do with my appearance and everything to do with men believing they have the right to invade my personal space, my comfort, and my streets.
I hollaback so that no woman ever has to put her head down when she walks. That we no longer have to look ashamed, or walk faster to get away. I hollaback so that we can finally talk about street harassment—how it’s not normal, how it’s not flattering, and how it makes us feel unsafe. I strongly believe that the personal is political. That when we all find a place to come together and talk about our experiences with street harassment, we’ll realize we’re not alone. That this issue is greater than ourselves, and together we can make our streets and our space safe again.
So, welcome to Hollaback, Portland Maine! This is why I hollaback. Why do you?
When I was 14, I worked at our local library. I didn’t know what street harassment was, but I knew what it felt like when I took the most indirect routes possible walking to and from work to avoid three houses where I knew there were men waiting for me to walk by.
“Walk a little slower next time – I want to look at your longer.”
“What? You think you’re too good for this? You’re a cunt.”
“Look at that ass.”
When I first experienced the comments, I was confused because everything I had learned from TV, movies, and magazines had taught me that I should feel flattered about this; this is what I was supposed to want from men. But instead I felt scared, dirty, and upset with myself that I always thought of the perfect comeback when I was two blocks away (and arguably, less scared).
Since then, I experience street harassment regularly. When I’m walking my dog, when I’m getting coffee, when I’m walking into the gym, when I’m walking from the parking garage to the bar to go get drinks with my friends. Street harassment is not only an irritating and difficult part of my day; it makes me feel unsafe. I’ve been followed from the sidewalk outside of my house all the way up the door to my apartment. When that happens, I know that it’s not that I just “feel” unsafe; I am unsafe.
I’ve formulated comebacks to have ready and I find myself often defensive when perhaps I don’t need to be. But the issue is that it happens so often, I often don’t know when I don’t need to be defensive.
I learned about the most perfect comeback when I was doing some research for work and came across Hollaback! Hollaback became something I could use to channel the stress, anger, and general “why do I have to deal with this bullshit?!” feeling I get when someone harasses me. It’s not only a space where I can post about what happens to me (and yes, although we are wearing parkas here in Maine, it happens during the winter, too!), but the Hollaback! community also provides support for my wanting to do something about the harassment I experience. I can have a response; there are people who have my back because I want to have a response.
And having a response with a community behind me is perhaps the best comeback of all.
So, welcome to Hollaback, Portland Maine! This is why I hollaback. Why do you?
I was driving down the street toward work and I was already stressed because I was a little late. I stopped at a stoplight and happened to look to my left to see these two guys in a tow truck sort of truck, also stopped at the same light. They were saying something and both of them motioned for me to unroll my window. I was feeling apprehensive about it, so I shook my head. They both started laughing and then motioned that I should give them both blow jobs. I was so upset that I called the number on the side of their truck and asked for their manager. He answered, I explained what happened, and he told me he was appalled. He said that he was really sorry that my day began that way, and that he would address the men in the truck and make sure action was taken. I felt empowered and much better about the rest of my day!
Yesterday, I was in a meeting where the topic of street harassment came up. The only man in the meeting asked me (sincerely and without being an asshole) the difference between someone who is genuinely trying to compliment a woman and someone who is actively engaging in harassment-like behavior.
A basic “what not to do” list is what I came up with.
1.) I am at work and you think it’s perfectly appropriate to comment on (any part of) my body, my tattoos, or my clothing. I used to be a waitress and one of the worst things – besides having a serve screaming toddlers – was having to deal with men who thought that because I was bringing their sandwich to their table, I wanted to be a part of their sandwich.
I do not want to be part of your sandwich. I smiled at you BECAUSE IT IS MY FUCKING JOB AND I AM BEING PAID TO BE NICE TO PEOPLE.
Generally, your waitress does not find it attractive when you lean in and make a comment about her “really, really, really nice hands” while your wife is in the bathroom (true story); when you put your phone number on the check (this screams that you’re terrified of me and/or you realize that you being a dick); when you ask if I want to sit down and have a drink (I’m at work, you tool); or when you decide to ask me really probing questions about various aspects of my physical appearance: “Is that hair real?” No, it’s fake and I reattach it every morning. “What does your tattoo mean?” Fuck off – in Dutch.
2.) You are at work and you think it’s appropriate to comment on (any part of) my body, my tattoos, or my clothing: When I’m in line getting my coffee in the morning; when I’m walking by your construction site; when I’m going to a meeting at your place of employment; when I am walking on the sidewalk and you lean out of the restaurant where you’re some sort of middle management to tell me that you would tap my ass; or really anyplace where I can call your boss and say, “Hey, Employee Douchebag is, well, being a douchebag on work time, and I’m not so sure that’s what you’re paying him to do,” is probably when you don’t want to engage in sexually harassing me. I will call you on that shit.
3.) I am walking my dog and you are driving by. I have a few reasons why I walk my dog. They are pretty simple. She has to pee/poop/needs exercise or it’s a nice day. That’s really about it. I’m not walking my dog because I feel like listening to your asshole comments about my breasts, because I enjoy hearing you yell “I want you to suck my dick!!!” out of your car window, or because I want you to ask me how old my dog is as a roundabout way of talking about numbers so you can get mine (true story). Chances are, I have thrown on the clothes I wore yesterday or I’m still wearing what I wore to bed, I haven’t had coffee, and I don’t want to talk to you. I want to scoop the dog’s poop and go back home. Don’t pull up next to me to talk to me unless you’re asking for directions. Fran will go Cujo on your shit. Really.
4.) At the gym. I hate going to the gym with a strong, burning passion that rivals little else. So, first of all, I’m not in a good mood when I’m there. Second of all, I want to leave as quickly as possible. I’m not there for social hour. This means that I don’t want you to come over and strike up a conversation about my glutes, and I don’t want to hear you muttering comments to your friends about my…workout style. And if you’re one of those guys who walks around the gym talking on his cell phone, that goes double for you.
5.) Really, anywhere. I have a right to be anywhere I need/want to be without having to listen to individual men or groups of men comment on anything about me – my hands, my hair, my glasses, my tattoos, my breasts, and my ass. I have a nice ass, I have awesome hair. I know that. I don’t need you to tell me.
The answer to the question, “How do I make sure that a woman knows that I’m making a genuinely nice comment and not being a street-harassing jerk?” is actually a simple one. If you think that you might be overstepping a boundary, you probably are. If you are taken aback by a woman who responds “negatively” to you when you were “just trying to be nice”, remember that she has a right to respond to you however she chooses and chances are, she has just had enough with comments directed at her physical appearance. Take it from me – it gets exhausting and actually makes me feel unsafe when there are multiple comments directed at my business.
*Cross-posted from quarter.life.crisis.