I had my first confrontation with a street harasser today! It was everything I had hoped for!!!!!
I was walking to work this morning and was passing a bus stop, when a guy who was walking in the opposite direction to get to the bus stop made eye contact with me. Usually if that happens I just say “good morning” and think nothing more of it. But this time before I could say anything, he said “hey baby” and then something else sexist and obnoxious that I have already managed to forget because it was gross.
He said that right as we were crossing paths – so I could have just pretended not to hear him and put my head down and kept walking away from him. Which is what I have done hundreds of times before. In fact that is the only response I’ve ever managed to muster to such nasty behavior. No harm no foul, right? Except that in one instant, because one guy decided to feel like he could verbally harass a perfect stranger, my entire mood would have soured. I had been happily tromping along in the snow, enjoying the incredible morning light and thanking God for this wonderful crisp morning. That guy ruined all that. How dare he? After hearing the foul language from that stranger, if I had put my head down and kept walking I would have felt used, cheap, dirty, defeated, helpless, and also angry at myself for not doing anything, now that I have learned some non-violent confrontation tactics during a self-defense class. It is a very small thing, but dammit I have the right to wa lk to work feeling at one with the world without some disgusting sexist pig making me feel cheap and dirty for no good reason!!!!
So our paths crossed. He said the dirty words. I took one step further as if I were going to keep walking (and I think that is what I was intending to do, out of habit), but then without thinking I turned around to face him. He was wearing a full-face ski mask so all i could see were his eyes – I looked him straight in the eyes and said “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it”. He said “sorry” (perhaps sarcastically? i’m not sure). I said “No woman likes this. Show some respect!” Then I turned around and walked away. He called to my back “sorry! have a good day!” I’m pretty sure I won this battle. But the point is not to battle. The point is not to win. The point is not to be victimized!
If I hadn’t turned around and confronted him, I know I would have been so focused on the internal shame and pain of having been verbally assaulted that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the rest of my walk… But you know what? After talking back to him, I was STILL able to enjoy the crisp beautiful morning for the remainder of my walk. I felt euphoric for a block or two, and then it all went back to normal – I was enjoying my morning walk without any residual feeling of helplessness, dirtiness, anger, or anything at all! Just standing up for myself dissolved all the negative feelings I felt when the incident happened, so I wasn’t even mad at the guy! The incident turned into a non-incident because I didn’t force myself to swallow the insult and try to hide it deep inside me.
This is the first time I’ve ever talked back to someone harassing me verbally on the streets. I cannot believe it has taken me 33 years to learn to take care of myself and not let some creep overpower my sense of safety and fairness. Bring them on! I’m ready for more!
Submitted by H.S. on 1/8/2010
Location: Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street (Silver Spring)
Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.