A Positive Experience

A little positivity:
I had an experience recently that seemed like it might end up as a negative, degrading street harassment experience. I am very tall, and dressing in shorts and skirts (even long ones) for the hot weather has produced some gross commentary about my legs. However, the other day, I was walking down L street under the Convention Center overpass when I saw two teenage boys walking toward me.

My heart sank – these boys looked like they had just gotten off work; they were in matching uniforms, that were untucked, and were joking with each other like they were blowing off steam. They also fit the physical stereotype of street harassers that, hard as I might try to ignore, I often get confirmed in my experiences in DC. I prepared myself, but something great happened:

Looking me straight in the eye, both boys said “Hello.” I replied, “Hi.” Then, without saying anything insulting, or commenting on any specific part of my body, they paid me a compliment.
“You look great!”

I smiled, said thank you, and went on my way. They did not call after me, or comment further. I felt like an attractive person who had been seen as a whole person, not a collection of sexual objects.

And, yes, even this level of attention could be considered harassment for some. It is important to acknowledge that some women don’t want strangers to comment, even respectfully, on their appearance. I am usually one of those women; I am made uncomfortable by such comments. However, I felt this was an overall positive experience.

(And before the commenter who likes to suggest that positive experiences come because women are attracted to harassers, and that’s the only difference, let me say that I’m in my 30s, and not interested in teenagers. What made this experience positive was exactly what I’ve said above.)

Submitted by K on 8/19/2010

Location: L street between 7th and 8th

Time of Harassment: Evening Rush Hour (3:30P-7:30P)

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One response to “A Positive Experience

  1. Thanks for sharing that story, I think the distinction between objectifying harrassment and comments that still treat you like a human being is important (although both types of comments can be unwanted).

    I’ve had one similar experience (where I live in New Zealand). A few months ago as I waited for the bus, an old man made eye contact with me as he walked past, smiled, and told me “You have lovely hair.” I smiled back and said, “Thank you,” (a little hesitantly, because initially I felt confused about how to feel: was this harrassment?) Every other time a strange man has commented on my appearance in public it has been humiliating and objectifying. I thought about it a bit & decided that I felt treated as a human being & not objectified. The man had engaged with me personally and kindly (rather than yelling comments at my back).

    Even though I felt flattered in this situation, I don’t usually want strange men to comment on my appearance regardless of their intention – even well-meaning compliments about my body could get annoying very quickly if they happened more frequently. I don’t want to feel like my body is on display every day, and I don’t want to feel like these men expect me to go to some effort each morning to look good for them.

    I’m grateful for how that old man at the bus-stop treated me, because it showed me that it is possible for strange men to make a genuine compliment on my appearance while still treating me like a human being (rather than as an object). Although if the well-intentioned ‘genuine compliments’ happened more frequently to me I would probably start seeing all comments about my appearance from strangers as unwanted harrassment.

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