10 August 2013

My Hollaback Story

I was inspired recently to share a story of street-harassment that I went through, because a lot of the anger I carried around for years was about feeling helpless in these situations, and for some reason they happened to me exponentially more when I was unemployed. There is something about being a lone woman at 2:00pm on a Wednesday that makes you more likely to be a target for some reason. This is only one of many stories, but it was by far the scariest:

I was once riding my bicycle back from Trader Joe's during the day, when a man who was also on bike started following me. I didn't notice when he first appeared, but in hindsight, I'm pretty sure he was in the parking lot, and kept a safe distance as I left, then caught up to me on a small quiet side-street where there were less people.

He didn't say anything overtly sexual or lewd, but he was definitely coming onto me in a very aggressive way, not as someone showing interest, but as someone who saw an opportunity to belittle me as he made it very clear with his body language that he could do what he liked with me at any moment. I had bought myself flowers that day, and he kept commenting on how I was very beautiful like those flowers—like a thing, and something about his tone made chills run down my spine. I ignored him, which is when he started calling me a "fucking bitch" and a "stupid stuck-up cunt." I felt like I couldn't even breathe, because anything I did wrong might set him off physically—there was sporadic traffic, but I didn't trust people to intervene, so I just kept my eyes ahead and tried to get to a busier street as quickly as possible without looking quite as terrified as I was. He passed me and slowed down to a snail's pace, just to prove that I was too afraid to pass him, and that's when I truly began to panic. Thankfully, a row of cars came by at that time, and I jolted back into action. I pedaled like hell. I made it to Mass Ave in record time, safely and without incident, and I lost him in a crowd of cars and people.

I later talked to my therapist about it, and it affected him so much that he ended up asking a police officer on traffic duty, out of curiosity, if I should have reported it. The police officer said emphatically that, yes, I should have reported it. Maybe nothing happened to me, but I'm surely not the only woman he harassed that day, that week, that month...Regardless of what he did or didn't do to any other women what he did to me was a crime. I could have (and should have) biked to the closest police station with a description immediately. Better yet, now I know to try to take photos when I can. I have not had another incident quite this scary since then, but I wish I had not had to learn this lesson this way. I don't go down the long quiet street for the pleasant bike ride without being aware of my surroundings, and knowing my options for getting, quickly, to a more trafficked area. I wear a camera on my helmet. I shouldn't have to do any of this. But I do. Because I can't go for a jog without getting honked at, wolf whistled, picked up. And that isn't even the sinister side of street harassment. The wolf whistles are NOTHING like the FEAR that I felt that day, and I don't think that he was just a "guy being a guy"—I have no doubt that if those cars hadn't come by, this would be a very different story.

One day four years ago, a man thought that a lone woman grocery shopping in the middle of the day was a target instead of a person. And that makes me angry for all of the women, and all of the harassment.

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