Street harassment: a socially acceptable form of intimidation of marginalized people, especially women and LGBT folks. Street harassment is an expression of male dominance in the public sphere. It’s a reminder that as a woman, a queer person, or a trans person, your body is public property.
When I am harassed on the street, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I feel unsafe to say anything to the harassers. I wish they would just leave me alone, as is my protocol with passersby. I don’t know if harassers know how it makes me (us) feel. Are they aware that their creepiness factor just skyrocketed? Do they care? Is it a privilege of the cis-het-male class that they just get to be creepy?
Last night, my girl friend Liz and I experienced such harassment on the lightrail. Here’s what happened:
My partner Romel was with us and we had been doing some light pre-gaming before going out for the night. We only had to take the lightrail a few stops north to meet our friends at bar. We weren’t alone in the car: there were also two men, one in a blue polo and the other in a suit. We were having a tipsy conversation across our seats when one dude, this dude:
interrupted our conversation to say something boisterous and inconsequential. I don’t remember what it was because it was boring. We tried to ignore him, continuing our conversation when he interrupted again, addressing us.
I couldn’t help but imagine his sense of entitlement filling up not only his own (small) mind but the whole car, flooding unilaterally over all conversations, like a tidal wave. A merciless, senseless tidal wave.
Rude! I thought. I switched my seat closer to Liz so we could continue our conversation.
The tidal wave continued to talk. It was boring. Then he said something to the man in the suit similar to “What are we going to do with these two ladies? Heh, heh, heh!”
In an act that could only be described as noble, the suit scolded the tidal wave, “We could be respectful.”
BAM! Romel agreed, “That’s a start.”
But the tidal wave wasn’t having any of it, “That’s not what I had in mind, heh heh heh!” Charming.
I made a few comments out loud to no one in particular, about how uncomfortable I now felt, and how much I wanted to get off the car early. I built my resolve – as we were leaving the train, he said something stupid to Liz and me, and I told him in response:
“You know what? Shame on you for making us feel unsafe.”
He said defensively, “I’m just direct.” I stared at him, the way you stare at the TV whenever John Boehner cries. “I’m sorry,” the tidal wave finally said.
“You should be,” I responded.
I was really proud of myself. Most of the time when I’m harassed, I feel too unsafe to say anything, but I always kick myself afterwards, wishing I had spoken up to correct the son of a b- I mean, the harasser. Not only had I said something, I also got his picture. Now you can look out for him too.
I recognize that part of my courage probably came from the fact that the respectful, friendly people in the bus far outnumbered the tidal wave. Normally when I am harassed, this isn’t the case. Hopefully, however, with one successful Hollaback under my belt, I can start tipping the scales the other way.