“I’m not afraid of heights, you know.”
I remember exactly when you said it. I remember exactly how you made me feel. I remember it painfully, even when I wish I didn’t.
I was taking out the garbage on a weeknight, in my pajamas. Those simple, seven words made me immediately regret the trip of no more than 250 feet. I wanted to be wearing a paper bag instead of soccer shorts and a tank top. I stared at the ground ahead of me and stayed silent. My muscles tensed but I refused to give you the satisfaction of turning around. Of course, I soon reached the dumpster and then had to face you in order to go back into my apartment door. What did that mean? Only had to hear five more comments before you tried to follow me in.
What did you think was going to happen? That I would melt in your arms as you continue to dissect my hair, ass, and breasts? That I would invite you up after you made me feel unsafe and insecure outside my home?
When I later told that story to my male friends, I was met with shock and dismay. They were in disbelief that this was a real situation and actually happened to someone they knew. When I repeated the story to my female friends, I am often met with similar war stories from the streets. It was never a matter of when it happened to them- just which one to retell aloud. The one where she got called a bitch for not responding? The one where she had to duck into a 24 hour CVS because she felt like you were following her? Or maybe it was the time that you touched her face without permission on her walk to work, because you thought it was an appropriate way to say good morning.
No matter which way the equation is written, the end result is always street harassment.
The worst part? My primary reaction is always anger. Anger pointed at you? At the usual man on the street who violated my body in a mere matter of seconds? No. Angry that my brain could not produce a fast, witty retort to throw at you. You said those seven words and I silently took it. My shield of sarcasm that usually protects me in all areas of life suddenly vanished as fast as the vile words left your lips.
We have normalized street harassment to a point where we expect it. If we do not receive it while walking to the club, does that mean we don’t look good? Are we not attractive anymore? If we do receive it while walking to the club, then of course we do. After all, we deserve it because we’re going out and looking like that.
In a society where women are constantly reduced and ridiculed for what they are wearing, street harassment has become commonplace. In a research study conducted by Bitch Media, they reported “65 percent of American women report experiencing some type of street harassment in their lifetimes, including 41 percent who are subjected to some kind of physical harassment, like being touched or followed. A significant number of men—25 percent—have also experienced street harassment. In many ways, people of color, lower-income people, and LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by street harassment.” It is never just a comment or a look. When I can see my body being sexualized in less than six seconds, I wonder what else you feel comfortable doing. I am left feeling unsafe and degraded while you are left laughing and high-fiving a friend.
The numbers are much scarier than what we let on. What we perceive as a comment here and there and an occasional stare that lingers too long is in reality, a worldwide problem that promotes and enlarges every significant flaw in our societal makeup. As a cisgender female, I only experience part of the systemic problem. Stop Street Harassment is a non-profit working to end street harassment in public spaces. In a research study titled “Unsafe and Harassed in Public Spaces: A National Street Harassment Report,” the non-profit has attempted to open the public’s eye on what street harassment really is. Unlike most comedic sitcoms let on, it is not just women walking by construction sites in a skirt and getting whistles. It is usually looks nothing like that. Most of the time, street harassment negatively impacts our life. Your comments and aggressions change the way we view the world.
It is never about our beauty or appearance. It is always about your power and control.
By age 17, the study notes that 70% of the LGBTQQ community and 49% of heterosexual individuals experience street harassment. That is an outstanding number of people who are constantly having to interact with unwarranted comments and aggressions while trying to live their lives. It is never just a moment or comment. Every single moment adds up to an overcalculated awareness of your surroundings- you know, just in case.
Did you know that I would remember your comments, years later? That I would now take precise, deliberate measures every time I step outside? Put on headphones, turn on music, and look down as to avoid any eye contact with anyone, especially you, until I reach my destination. Nobody should have to relearn how to walk because of your actions. It does not matter what I look like. It does not matter what I am wearing.
Street harassment is a violation of my human rights. Period.