Street Harassment: It's Not A Compliment
It was a hot Los Angeles Saturday and I decided to walk my dog down my usually quiet residential street. I was sixteen at the time and wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Three men, probably in their late twenties, pulled up to the curb next to me in a black BMW sedan. The driver, who was wearing black Ray Ban sunglasses, opened his window. "Hey," he said, raising his eyebrows at his friends. "We should check her for STDs before we f*ck her!"
He smirked and his friends laughed and hooted. I stood frozen. My mouth fell open slightly, in shock. The driver revved the engine and zoomed down the street. For a few minutes, I couldn't move while my dog tugged anxiously at her leash. What just happened? Did they really say that? I kept asking myself over and over again. I walked home in a daze. When I told my parents what happened, they were appalled. "Did you get the license plate?" They asked hopefully. No, I hadn't gotten it.
When I think about this incident now, I feel tremendously grateful that the incident didn't escalate further – that they left and that it didn’t turn to physical abuse. Maybe it was just some kind of sick joke or dare to them, but it wasn't to me. I was genuinely scared for my safety in that moment.
Some of my friends act like they enjoy guys who shout out their windows at us. They say it gives them a confidence boost. I never used to think about it much but now it effects me in a different way. I wonder why it’s socially acceptable for men to yell objectifying remarks or make lewd noises at women who are just walking on the street (especially women who, like me, aren’t even legal adults)?
Being yelled at in that way made me more apprehensive about going out on my own, even in broad daylight. Girls and women in general should not have to feel afraid when they are in public. Women are not objects for men to whistle and yell at. A woman walking on the street on her own or with other women (regardless of what they or what time it is) deserves the same dignity and respect that men innately have.
Allowing this blatant objectification to continue helps buttress a culture of misogyny. Even though I was not physically assaulted (for which I am incredibly grateful) I still felt violated, ashamed, alone, and vulnerable. Furthermore, allowing rude, degrading remarks to go unnoticed encourages violence against women and is another pillar in the types of cultural attitudes that allow things like the high sexual assault rates on college campuses to have become so normalized.
If you ever experience fear or discomfort when someone says something sexual to you, try to get a picture of them discreetly from a safe distance so that they can be held accountable for their actions and don't victimize another woman. To this day, I wish I had had the opportunity to hold my tormentors responsible by getting a picture of the license plate. Even if you can't get a picture, though, the app hollaback! allows victims to write an account of the abuse and the location of where it occurred. You can also write an account as a witness of sexual harassment. The incredible innovation of technology today can often be our greatest weapon against sexual harassment. Speaking out shows society that sexual harassment is a significant issue that women face.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Sexualized violence, Sexual harassment, Discrimination, Rape