I’ve experienced street harassment for much of my life. I often try to ignore it, suppress the resulting anger and continue with my day. I did this because I was unsure of how to respond effectively. If I reacted it seemed to only excite the person. Instead I responded with silence and glares.
It was not until a recent incident, which seemed to encapsulate all other experiences, did I decide to change and create this blog to help myself and other women find their voice to stop street harassment.
I take the Phoenix Light rail to ASU three days a week. Our light rail is on street level, so the platforms are well-lit and public. Despite this I am on a slight level of alert when I take the light rail.
Several weeks ago, I was waiting on the light rail platform. It was 11:20 am on a Tuesday. After the typical rush hour period the platform was sparsely populated. I noticed two men rush across the street and jump onto the platform, but dismissed them.
Then, as I’m looking down at my book, I hear someone yell out, “Hey sweetheart!”
I look up, silently indignant that someone would say this and I see the two men who had just jumped onto the platform. They appear to be Hispanic and in their late thirties. They walk up to me and one sits down next to me and shakes my hand.
He then proceeds to try to sell me a bus pass, saying he and his friend need money to eat. I tersely explain this is not my concern. After repeated refusals, he tries a different tacit and tells me I have a beautiful smile, even though I’m not smiling.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes” (I lie).
“Girl you need to drop that motherfucker and get with me, I’ll treat you right.”
I grimace and say, “He treats me exactly the way I want him to.”
He finally gets up to leave, but not before saying, “You dropped something-your beautiful smile,” and laughing at my confusion.
Immediately after this another light rail pulls up. A man gets off and hollers, “Hey baby girl, hey there baby girl.”
All I do is look down and shake my head no.
A Place of Rage
I was filled with intense anger and frustration. I didn’t know how to respond to these men, who thought it perfectly appropriate to invade my personal space simply because I’m a young woman alone in public.
Even during this exchange I knew my response was wrong. I should have told this man to leave or walked away from them. This is not to implicate blame on myself or any other women who has reacted similarly, for his actions, but I was disappointed in myself for not asserting my right to be left alone.
Stop Street Harassment has a useful list of assertive responses to harassers. However, before being able to respond this way you have to access the anger these incident cause and utilize it.
Realize that whoever is bothering you does not have the right to do so. Just because a person is in a public area does not mean they need to experience these types of interactions. You are allowed to tell a harasser to leave you alone. Try and take the anger and anxiety the person is causing in you and unleash it back onto them. Don’t bundle those feelings inside and ignore the person. Remember you are powerful and many harassers are cowards who will leave you alone if you talk back.
How do you respond to street harassment?