TRIGGER WARNING: sexual harassment and assault are discussed in this post.
Everyone knows about catcalling. Street harassment is basically “old news” at this point, which is a shame because even though it had quite a moment in the press in 2015, it remains a huge fucking problem. Every woman has likely experienced it at least one time in her life, and those of us in cities with high pedestrian traffic, well, it basically rains on you daily.
I am an adult woman living in New York working full time and doing comedy. I live alone. I walk around alone. I take the subway alone late at night. Sometimes I follow those “rules” about being extra safe (don’t wear your headphones late at night!) and sometimes I don’t. I prefer to have my earbuds in most of the time because men yell disgusting things at me consistently throughout my commute that I could simply do without. It happens all the time, no matter what I’m wearing. That’s just what happens to us.
At the beginning of this summer, a date asked me if I felt nervous walking around Brooklyn in my skimpy clothing, like I was somehow increasing my chances of harassment or sexual assault. Like I would somehow be responsible, even in part, for a humiliating or possibly violent act committed against me. This person is a fucking idiot, and not so coincidentally, a cis gendered male who has clearly enjoyed the privileges of our systemically sexist, victim blaming culture his entire life. If you’re a reader of my blog, I bet you can guess how I responded. If you’re new to this kind of discussion, Google slut shaming and victim blaming to find out why those things are bogus mechanisms of the patriarchy. If you flat out disagree with me, you can just go away. I value my mental state too much to engage every misogynist turd who has no reason to leave the comfortable doodoo pile that is his ideology.
I have harassment stories of all varieties! Workplace, school, Internet, street — you name it. I could literally start an entire new blog just on this topic and never run out of material, but I won’t do that bc it wouldn’t be fun to write. But I will say that it doesn’t just happen in the dark, spooky alley ways when you’re not paying attention and wearing a dress and your hair in an easy-to-grab ponytail. FUCK that. One of the weirdest, scariest experiences I’ve had with street harassment was earlier this year in broad fucking daylight, after being caught in a rainstorm with a big jacket and no makeup on: I was chased down the sidewalk by a loud, possibly intoxicated or unstable individual, who proceeded to grab me and yank me toward him until I screamed and ran away. Just your typical Sunday after brunch!
What REALLY fucking pisses me off is the catch 22 where if we ~overreact~ in a situation where we feel pressured, we’re made to feel guilty for not being polite. So, is it “women are paranoid” or “women are bringing this on ourselves?” WHICH IS IT??
I bet we have all been in a situation where we didn’t feel safe, where our instincts were telling us something wasn’t right, but we were worried about speaking up for fear of being wrong, for seeming rude unnecessarily.
BUT HERE’S THE THING
WE ARE LITERALLY BEING SCREAMED AT AND FOLLOWED HOME BY STRANGE MEN ON A DAILY BASIS.
MEN ARE LITERALLY ASSAULTING US, RAPING US, AND THEYRE NOT EVEN BEING PUNISHED.
IT IS NOT UNREASONABLE FOR US TO FEEL UNSAFE. EVER.
I felt this stronger than ever yesterday at 7PM on the A train. I got on and noticed a young man staring at me and grinning wide, almost laughing. He was looking me up at down. I gave him a furious glare and turned the other way. I felt violated and gross, but, I’m sad to say, I was used to it. The man got up from his seat like he was about to exit the train, but then he stayed on, and he walked toward me. He pointed to the seat next to me (one of those perpindicular orange seats closer to the wall, on the older trains. I was sitting on the aisle side). There were several other seats available on the train, many with no other passengers next to them, and this man was requesting to sit next to me.
“Don’t sit there,” I said. I could feel the other passengers looking at me. Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe I was worried I looked like a jerk. Worried I was having a bad day, possibly imagining things. The narrative of the patriarchy had poisoned me.
That’s when the man proceeded to step over my legs and squeeze himself into the corner seat next to me. Remember, there were open seats EVERYWHERE on this train. Immediately, I got up and stood by the door. At the next stop, at the last possible second so I wouldn’t be followed, I ran out, then ducked into the next car.
And even though I knew in my gut I had a reason to be scared and upset and to react the way I did, a part of me still worried maybe I had overeacted. Maybe I’d been wrong. Maybe I looked dramatic and stupid.
BUT WHO FUCKING CARES?!
Tonight I was listening to the true crime podcast My Favorite Murder, and they were reading survivor stories sent in by the listeners. I’m new to the podcast, but I love hearing about mysteries and how crimes are solved, so I’m enjoying it so far. One listener wrote in and told a story from her teen years where she was riding in a car with some strange guys she had a bad feeling about. She knew she’d made a mistake by getting in the car with them and insisted they drop her off immediately before making it to the second location –thankfully for her, they did drop her off. Because the two guys ended up later sexually assaulting a female in a nearby field and beating her beyond recognition. The listener felt it had been a close call for her, and cited it as the moment where she learned to trust her instincts and to FUCK being polite.
I am NOT saying that had she not been brave enough to speak up, to get out of that car and out of that situation that any resulting trauma would have been her fault at all.
IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF HARRASSMENT OR ASSAULT IT IS NEVER YOUR FAULT.
What I am advocating for, though, is women trusting themselves. The narrative of rape culture hypnotizes us and tells us we’re wrong, turns our own testimony as victims against us so often that of course it affects us. Of course it makes us question ourselves. But fuck that shit! We are our own last line of self defense, so when it comes to preserving our safety and our RIGHT to live without being violated and threatened, FUCK being polite. FUCK feeling guilty. FUCK that sweet, non-boat-rocking disposition they want us to have and look out for YOU, no questions asked.
I advocate #RADICALSELFTRUST