Inspired by Stoya’s story over at Jezebel, I’m speaking up along with all the other women. This paragraph, after talking about how men treat her on the street, “They say I have a sweet ass, nice tits, a real pretty dress. They say I’m their future wife, or I’d look good with their dick in my mouth.” really spoke to me.
Before you try to tell me that it’s because I take my clothes off for a living, let me tell you that this started way before I was 18. Let me tell you that every single woman I know has at least one truly terrifying story of street harassment and a whole bunch of other stories that are merely insulting or annoying. Let me remind you that in a room of pornography fans, who have actually seen me with a dick in my mouth and who can buy a replica of my vagina in a can or box, I am treated with far more respect than I am walking down the street.
A few years ago my work experience took me to a place that I’d never been before. No, I don’t mean a new city or a new type of job….I mean fearing my walk home from work.
I grew up in an area that predominantly white, middle-class. My town, regardless of the financial status, was predominantly white. It didn’t matter where I worked, the most distance I had to walk from my car to the door of the building was during Christmas when the parking lot of the retail store was full. I didn’t have much urban experience; the closest large city was an hour away and we only went there for special occasions. But a few years back the job I had moved us to a different city and I worked downtown.
The city was poorly laid out, and only the upper tier of government workers had access to the parking garages – either by way of their income or they were given the parking spot for free because of their high position. So us lowly workers had to park in lots anywhere from 1/3 to a full mile away from our building. The downtown office area was literally surrounded on all sides by the lowest income residents of the entire area. Next to one lot that I parked at for awhile was a small “camp” of homeless people. The poorest people in the city….they’re not the ones who gave me trouble. It was, every single time, the “hood” guys. Black, latino, white, mixed. All loud, thuggy, blowhards. And every single one of them scared the crap out of me thanks to the handful of men who harassed me on the streets as I would walk from my office building to my parking lot.
Somehow the public’s thought is that only pretty women get harassed on the street. Women who expose skin. Who just naturally attract attention. I never would have expected that I would get harassed and hit on, but it happened over and over. I was a fat, moderately attractive white girl dressed in what was usually bland office wear. During the time period that I worked there I was in 2 different buildings and 6 different parking lots. I couldn’t afford to pay for the garage – it cost 3 times as much as the lot. But after one harrowing, scary experience combined with bad winter weather and the darkness that hit just in time for my walk, I called enough and we somehow scraped together the money for a few months of garage parking. When we were starting to not be able to afford it, luck intervened and we were prepping to move away.
I’ve never been good at handling myself when put on the spot. Ever. I don’t have snappy comebacks; when confronted by an angry person I shake and become meek. Fear silences me. So when I was first hit on / harassed during my walk to the car, I didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t yet rude, but I was walking down an alley by myself. He did make me uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to respond. He scared me so I didn’t want to ignore him. I was afraid to walk to my car, I didn’t want him to know which one was mine. I ended up seeing a store that I could duck in to. Other encounters were more or less harmless, but no less uncomfortable. Sometimes I would walk with headphones on and music playing. I thought that this would give me the excuse of music, that I wasn’t ignoring them on purpose and therefore wouldn’t anger them. Apparently unless I donned a gigantic pair of true headphones, this tactic was useless. One day after nearly being hit by a pissy driver, I was passing a trio of white tough guys dressed all gangster-like who said a few obscene things to me but I didn’t make eye contact; I pretended that I didn’t hear them and felt it would be enough as I obviously had a pair of hot pink earbuds in. I guess they didn’t see that because their words then turned nasty and frightening and they started to follow me a little. I kept on going towards my parking lot and continued to pretend as though I didn’t hear. But I was terrified. Unlike the guys that people think are typical of busy NYC streets doing their catcalls, the men I encountered actually expected me to interact with them. When I did not, they turned on me. We’ve all seen on reality-type shows like Dateline or even just the news how people will ignore a crime happening right next to them. Despite being surrounded by cars and people, I did not feel safe.
No one else in my department had to work as late as I did, or if they did they didn’t park anywhere near me so I always walked to my car alone. I was always scared when I would see non-professionally-dressed men walking towards me.
That kind of fear, day to day, is fucking unacceptable. Yet it exists. Everywhere. Every day. To all kinds of people.