‘Hollaback!’ at Street Harassment

Becoming a woman is a traumatizing experience. Why? Because, it practically happens overnight.  There is no handbook or guide to being a woman. There’s no fairy godmother, who sweetly whispers in your ear, “Mazel tov! You’re a woman now and I’m here to guide you as you embark on your journey to womanhood.”

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t become a woman the first day you realize that you’re taller than the majority of the boys in your 7th grade class. And sad to say, you don’t become a woman when you’ve finally managed to put your lipgloss on perfectly without a mirror.

You become a woman the first day you realize that group of construction workers are using their “x-ray” vision to stare through your shirt. You become a woman the day you get called a “bitch” for ignoring an older man’s sexual advances on the street at 14. It’s a scary feeling that occurs all day long.

It starts from the moment I walk out of my apartment building. Sometimes, it’s a glance, usually a lingering uncomfortable one that makes me feel like I have something on my face or shirt. Other times, it’s a seemingly sweet “God bless you, ma,” from the old homeless man on the corner as he looks me up and down. It’s sometimes followed up by an “Excuse me, miss can I holla at you for a second?” from a random guy while I’m walking down the street.  Every now and then, it’s a whistle or some overly sexual lyric from a rap or R&B song, but all the time it is unwanted.

Last week in a tragic tale that I like to call “my life,” it was from an older man who wandered into my job during a storm. As he wandered through the women’s department of Urban Outfitters, I eagerly approached him saying “Hi, how are you? Can I help you find something?”  He swiftly turned around and smiled. “Can you show me where ya’ll umbrellas at?” he asked with an accent as he licked his lips in a way that was supposed to be appealing.

As I showed him to the umbrellas, which he obviously had no interest in anymore, he continuously looked me up and down and grunted.

“This is the most masculine umbrella we have,” I said as I picked up a clear umbrella hoping to deflect his attention from my chest.

The disappointed man snarled at the dainty umbrella and returned his attention to me, “Well, you’re very attractive. You single?”

Without a second thought I recited the line that always got me out of these awkward situations, “I’m a lesbian.”

“Oh yeah? For real? You really attractive. You know, I’m the type to pay to watch,” said the man who was old enough to be my grandfather. “I’m boutta go downstairs [to the men’s department] and try on some clothes. You think you can service me in the fitting room,” he said flashing his unappealing grin once again.

Disgusted and slightly shocked the only words I could muster up were “Excuse me?”

Clearly, the man thought I actually couldn’t hear him. He leaned in close towards my ear and repeated himself “I said, can you service me in the fitting room?”

Though I was disgusted and ready to give the most powerful verbal tongue-lashing I could think of, I was at work and had to uphold the customer service standards that the company thrives on. Defeated and annoyed, I simply walked away from the older man, leaving him in my past while adding him to my mental list of men to avoid.

 

Street harassment can be anything from a catcall, to a sexual remark, to groping—or even public masturbation, flashing, stalking, assault, and murder. According to statistics, 70 to 90 percent of women and even some gay men have experienced some form of street harassment in their lives.

In 2008, the nonprofit organization, Stop Street Harassment, conducted a study of 811 women.One in four women had experienced street harassment by the time they were 12. Ninety percentof them had faced some sort of harassment by the time they were 19.In a video by the Baltimore association of Hollaback! , many women insisted that it doesn’t matter what they wear, they are still harassed. According to another study by Stop Street Harassment, about 90 percent of women in Yemen are sexually harassed though the majority of them are veiled.

The only way to stop street harassment is to report it. Many street harassment incidents go unreported because it is dismissedas an everyday occurrence. By reporting any form of harassment to the police, sharing your story, joining movements like, Stop Street Harassment or Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” street harassment can be taken seriously and stopped in its tracks.