Originally published on Rookie
A private conversation about street harassment, made public.
Here’s an unexciting secret: the Rookie staff has a hidden Facebook group wherein we discuss themes and ideas and assignments. We also go there to chat and gossip and joke around and blow off steam. Sometimes things get serious, as they did last month, when Jamia told us about a gross incident of street harassment that had happened to her that day. As everyone began to chime in with support and tales of similar things that had happened to them, we all got so sad, and so MAD. It dawned on us that you can take any random group of girls and women, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them will have multiple stories of terrible things that were said to them and done to them on the street by strangers, as a matter of course. Just the normal state of affairs when you are out in public, being female. Like, we’re not special. This happens to everybody.
We’re publishing that conversation here today. If you’re not a girl, you might be surprised to learn what all your female friends go through. It might help you understand why we don’t think it’s cute or cool or flattering to be hollered at, commented on, ogled, or groped as we just try to get from one place to another. This wasn’t a conversation we had for the public—this was just what came out when we talked about this stuff in private. Any girl you know can tell you her own horror stories, if you’re willing to listen.
Warning: strong language throughout, by necessity.
April 16, 2012
Jamia: OMG nasty street-harassment moment in my lyfe… I was sitting in Grand Central’s food court today eating soup. My nose was stuck in a book, so I didn’t notice what was going on around me. When I was done eating, I turned around and saw this old man sitting two seats away from me. He looked over at me and was masturbating in his pants and talking to himself. UGH. I got up right away and tried to find a cop, to no avail. When I came back the man had moved on to rubbing his arm instead. I am still pissed off about it.
Jamie: This sucks and is gross. I am adding my own story to this. One time I was in T.J. Maxx shopping for bathing suits. I was not trying them on, just browsing the aisle, and I looked over to the novelty-lotions gifty-crap section, and there was a man staring at me and jerking off with the lotion from the tester. I was 15.
Anaheed: GOD. I am so sorry, both of you. I always wish I had the balls to YELL at those people, but I get too grossed out and freaked out.
Amy Rose: Oh my god, Jamia, I am so sorry. I’ve had strangers touching me a LOT in the past week (seriously, what the fuck is going on here?) and I flip out enough over that. I hate street harassment so much, and I have so much love and empathy for you.
Jamie: I think it has something to do with spring. All the creeps come out of hibernation. I’ve been getting “Hey…smile!” a lot more, too, from weird paternalistic men on the street.
Jamia: I’m so sorry you ladies have had similar experiences. I usually say, “Show some respect,” but I was so shocked today. Another time this guy came up to me in Washington Square Park and yelled, “I want to eat your pussy” and made this hand motion at me…it was so gross that I burst into tears and yelled at him. GROSS GROSS Gremlins.
Anaheed: When guys used to yell that at me I used to say, “Oh wow, really, that would be amazing, I have been waiting all night for some gross turd to offer to eat my pussy.” (They don’t yell that at me anymore, ’cause I’m old.)
Jamie: My plan is to yell, “Would you say that to your mother?” and see what happens.
Amy Rose: I always fuh-REAK. Even at catcallers. My method has advanced recently: now when people holler at me from cars or on the street, I go into full pretending-to-be-a-horrible-tortured-monster mode and growl and act like a lunatic. I really want to demonstrate for you guys so you can see how into it I get!!!
Jamie: Vid plz.
[Please excuse the shitty video quality; Amy Rose recorded this on Facebook, which is not known for its high-def video capabilities.]
[Video not available]
[There followed a long string of “I love you, Amy Rose!” comments.]
Naomi: Amy Rose, be my bodyguard.
Emma D.: “Self-Defense With Amy Rose” should be a regular Rookie column.
Leanna: I’m so sorry those things happened. I like this project. [ihollaback.org – YESSS!]
Jenny: Dang, you girls are way better at fending off street harassment than I am. When I lived in France, I had it so bad that I literally had to look down at the ground whenever I went outside, because if I even accidentally looked up for a second, some dude or a gang of dudes would go apeshit. Oftentimes I had to factor in extra time when I would walk to the train station or go outside to do errands, because guys in cars would block the crosswalk or intersection so they could harass me. Probably once a day some guy would jump out from seemingly nowhere and do some “kung fu” move that would have been hilarious if it wasn’t in service of harassing the fuck out of me, and I didn’t go a single day without 10 to 15 dudes following me and whispering every single Asian-language word they knew while trying to grab me and pull me into their disgusting arms.
Hannah: I was on the Greyhound once and noticed a guy a few seats behind me moving his hand around in his pants area and staring at me intently. I freaked and moved closer to the driver, and when I looked back he had moved closer! I texted my dad to make sure he was at my station right away to pick me up and kept my hand inside my pocket on my Swiss Army knife. Also, this one time a guy stopped his car and asked me if I wanted a ride and I said, “Only if you’ve got a toilet in the back, ’cause I’ve gotta pee.” He drove away.
Emma D.: Once I fell asleep on the public beach (full of people) in my hometown and woke up an hour later because I could tell that something was GOING ON. As it’s rather difficult to figure out what’s going on when you’re wearing a swimsuit and OMG WHERE ARE MY GLASSES, it took me about two minutes to locate an old, naked man jerking off in the bushes one meter away from me. I ran away, and promised myself I’d yell at someone like him next time. So the next time it happened I yelled at the guy making nasty comments on the street and was all woohoo female power, but he ANSWERED BACK in a vulgar but somehow CLEVER way and it left me speechless. 1:0 FOR THIS ASSHOLE. I STILL CAN’T GET OVER IT.
Naomi: I was THIRTEEN when I first got asked if I wanted a “lift.” I had no fucking idea what to do. Actually, I think I was 11 when I was in the park with my friend and this guy asked us to keep watch while he pissed in a bush. We thought he was probably a flasher, so we just ran like hell.
Tavi: I am so sorry and grossed out for everybody here. On Sunday I was having the worst day and was on the phone with my sister while I was walking home, and these guys outside the library whistled and I WISHED I’d been like ANJSJSIDNSA AMY ROSE GREMLIN or at least like NOBODY ASKED YOU but instead I just gave them a dirty look and was like “ugh” to my sister. Then you have the guilt trip you put yourself through for not saying anything even though it is totally alarming.
Emily C.: Jamie, I will never shop at T.J. Maxx the same way again after reading that. That’s like the worst story I’ve ever heard in my life. The fluorescent lights, the T.J. Maxx smell…ugh. And Jamia, I’m so sorry! At least you got out of there.
Jamia: One of the creepiest street-harassment experiences happened to me in France too—what is it about France? This gang of dudes circled me and one of them picked me up and pretended he was going to carry me off somewhere. I was kicking and screaming, “Va te faire foutre!”* over and over, and my friend Sandy came over and yanked me out of this asshole’s arms.
Eleanor: One time when I was having lunch in a café, this man sat near me. I could see his hand moving around under this giant blanket. Then the other week me, my sister, and a friend were walking to a party and a guy asked to borrow a lighter from my friend. She passed it to him and he held her hand, then he was following us down the street, and then a massive dude came out of an alley and joined him, and then ANOTHER joined him until these three guys were like storming along behind us down this empty street at midnight. We were literally running at this point, and they were saying such disgusting, terrifying stuff, and thank god we got into the house before they got to us. I hate London because every time I visit I get disgusting comments thrown at me and weird guys shouting at me from car windows. I hate that I have to live in fear while on public transit and have to make sure I get off the train just before the doors close so that people don’t follow me…
Hazel: One time at Target there was this man who was yelling at me and saying VULGAR things. I told my mom, and when we left the store the parking lot was dark, but we saw him. My mom drove around him very quickly in tight circles, like almost hitting him and basically stalking him in our car while screaming at him insanely, and I swear to god he was actually scared.
Jenny: I love your mom, Hazel.
Stephanie: I have now had THREE experiences of riding the train in Chicago and seeing a man sitting nearby, leering at me and masturbating. Once it happened when I was on my way to a job interview. Seriously, how fucking unsettling was that? I’ve always been too freaked out to yell or press the train call button, except for once when I happened to be on the phone with my husband and said to him really loudly, “I’M SORRY, I HAVE TO MOVE BECAUSE THE MAN ACROSS FROM ME IS MASTURBATING.” This caused a very suburban-looking dad and son to take notice, and the dude fled the train at the next stop.
Tavi: Stephanie! The fucking El! That happened to me once. UGH. I was just reading my diary from March 2011 and it was around the time when I got contacts and started wearing more-flattering clothes, and all of the entries are like, “Can I do this all without these creeps assuming it’s for them?” Yeesh. That was when the thing on the El happened, and it was my first time on the train alone, too, which was so off-putting! The next time I took the train was on the way to SlutWalk, so I was like SYMBOL FOR PERSONAL GROWTH BLAH BLAH. Can we all have a communal hug?
Stephanie: Communal hugs for sure. And seriously, the fact that these guys think that women dress up so we can play a role in their personal porn is so annoying. I hate that it makes me self-conscious.
Hannah: I dressed very “masculine” once I hit puberty because I was the first one in my class to “develop,” and boys thought they had a right to snap my bra or touch my thighs, so I figured if I covered myself in baggy clothes and made myself look boyish no one would see my female-ness and I would feel tougher. I only really started to celebrate my femininity around 16 or so, and even then I chopped off all my hair as an act of anger toward harassing dudes.
Tavi: I always thought it was interesting that Mary-Kate and Ashley dress so baggily now when there were entire websites counting down the days till they’d turn 18 and be “legal.”
Hannah: The thing is, even when I am not dressed “attractive,” I still get car honks and hoots. I can be bundled up in a parka and rain boots, with my hair pulled back and essentially looking like a genderless blob, and still, pervs will act out.
Naomi: Exactly! I was beeped at on one rainy day—this was last week—and I was like, “I am in jeans and a raincoat and my hair is in a greasy ponytail and I have no makeup on and my face is probably screwed up trying to see through the rain,” but no, people still think it’s funny to make a girl jump out of her skin.
Hannah: But it definitely heightens on those days when you dress up and feel good about yourself, and then some jerk makes you feel like garbage and it’s just like THIS ISN’T FOR YOU, A-HOLE. THIS IS FOR **ME** I AM A QUEEN GODDESS AND YOU ARE A LOWLY WORM.
Tavi: I was complaining about this in class with some other LADIEZ and this douche dude said, “Don’t you think you’re being a little CONCEITED?” God, this isn’t about being like, “IT’S SO HARD TO BE POPULAR!”
Hannah: If a homophobic dude were hit on by men constantly he’d never shut up about it, meanwhile at least once a week from puberty onward I’ve been made to feel like someone’s personal entertainment when I’m doing something as banal as walking to the bus in the middle of the afternoon.
Anaheed: It is crazy how hard it is for most dudes to understand this. How they’re like, “I would love it if people told me how hot I was all the time.” How they tell you, “You should be flattered.” I feel like boys need to be educated about this from a young age! On what it means to be leered at and touched way before you’re even equipped to understand what’s going on, and how that makes you feel shame and guilt and finally anger for the rest of your life.
Naomi: We need some kind of an intervention for men to make them see, LOOK, THIS HAPPENS EVERY DAY. I don’t know about you gals, but I think about it EVERY time I go out. I think most men can’t really comprehend it, because they don’t have to deal with it every day of their lives. I mean, I think I got my first wolf whistle when I was 12? NOW TELL ME WE DON’T NEED FEMINISM.
Anaheed: We should just publish this whole conversation.
Jenny: Hell yeah, publish it. ♦
* Translation: “Fuck off!”