There has been a lot of much needed discussion about street harassment lately. I have my stories. Yes, all women have these stories.
The first time I experienced street harassment I was a 13 year old girl. They may have thought I was older, because I developed faster than all of the other kids, I was chubby, and I was tall. I was walking down a country road in my home town and they were in a truck. The truck slowed and they started saying things to me. There were three or four of them. I kept walking and they drove slowly beside me yelling sexual, threatening, and insulting things at me until I ran. I ran off the road and into the woods. It was incredibly terrifying and put me off walking outside for many years.
Later there was another somewhat similar incident in the same town. I was older, had graduated from high school, had an apartment in the same small town, and was walking home from work at night. Again, some men in a vehicle slowed beside me and started yelling things. I walked, then ran, to get away from them as they followed me in the vehicle. But I was afraid to go home, lest they know where I live. So I ran to a friend’s apartment and escaped them.
Soon after that I moved out of that town. I will never go back there. Them country boys scare me. Yes yes I know. Not all men. Tell that to thirteen year old me. Tell that to the woman who is so terrified her heart is going to beat out of her chest. Explain it away. Tell me it was meant as a compliment.
I have other stories, of course. But none scared me the way those two incidents did. Once I lived in the city, having strange men say things to me became par for the course. I would sometimes yell back, tell them to go fuck themselves. I would sometimes ignore them and keep walking. Occasionally I would come up with a witty response on the fly. But generally these things now happened in areas with street lights and other people and I felt relatively sure that I wasn’t about to get grabbed and dragged off somewhere for I don’t want to think about what.
I still get harassed today. I’m almost forty and I’m hoping to soon be old enough that they leave me alone, as some of my older friends say happens to them. They tell me how relieved they are to be past the age where men find you a good target to yell “Hey baby, I want to fuck that ass baby, why you ignoring me baby, you fucking stuck up bitch!”
I’m still chubby too so that invites another kind of harassment. One time, as I was walking down a city street, I walked past a man who looked at me like he wanted to murder me and said “If my wife was as fat as you I would divorce her.”
I have never had any man yell something at me that could even vaguely be considered a compliment. Mostly it was very vulgar sexual talk, or talk about my body- my tits, my ass. Or it was something insulting about being fat. Of course, being fat gives me bigger tits and ass, so you see how the two subjects are related. Often times it starts as a “hey I want to do ___ to your ___” then when I don’t respond, it becomes insults or threats.
Only one time did a man actually grab me, and I shoved that asshole so hard he fell on his back and whacked his head on the sidewalk. I didn’t stick around to find out if he was alright.
When I see men defending street harassment, they always make it out like it’s just innocuous compliments. “Aw, I’m just trying to tell you you look good, why can’t I tell you that?” Yeah. No. That’s not what it is and we all know that.
That incident that happened when I was 13, I know it could have been a lot worse and for a lot of women it is much, much worse. After that, I found myself considering what men might say to me or try to do to me if I dared to do something risky like leave my house. No, it did not keep me from living life, but it was always there in the back of my mind.
How many times have I looked over my shoulder? How many times have I crossed the street to avoid walking close to a group of men or even one man? How many times have I felt my heart pound and race in my chest? Too many to count. Those experiences colored my whole life.
It’s not just hello. Almost every woman can tell you.