By: Nikhar Ahmed
The first time I was ever harassed on the street, it was by a drunk man when my family and I were heading to dinner. My father had to remind me about that just the other day. My first impression was to stop walking. I was basically shocked and my dad came and grabbed me and yelled at the man to leave me alone. The next time. I was 13 years old. I was leaving school and then swim practice, wearing baggy sweats and a backpack, trying to catch the CTA bus. When I heard the proposition and the whistling, I was annoyed, but I paid it no mind.
Fast forward through my high school years and I can’t tell you how many times I was harassed, be it from someone’s car or the sidewalk. It had become second nature for me to ignore it. And no, I wasn’t dressing suggestively or out late in the night. Though it does not matter if maybe I was. Albeit, I was just a young woman doing day-to-day stuff, in regular clothes. It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that being harassed was not an acceptable behavior.
People have such a negative view on feminism, be they male or female. My basic understanding about feminism (or my preferred term, ‘womanism’) was the love and RESPECT of women. That’s when I learned that being yelled at, called after, having to face random men saying suggestive things, or putting their hands on me, was not tolerable by any means or excuse. After my freshman year of college, my family and I took a trip to India, my Motherland. I enjoyed my trip immensely, but one sore memory will always remain prominent. How the men openly harassed women in public. It came to a point where my cousin and I were so disrespected, at a mall no less, that I physically shoved the main offender. And what happened after that? He was shocked. He was OFFENDED. And after he tried to intimidate me and when he saw I didn’t give a damn, he backed off. I was 18 years old.
The time came in my life where I would go beyond ignoring street or personal harassment. I would respond in a vocally aggressive manner, and they would always back down. But why? Why did they try it in the first place? The thing is, after trying so hard to research and understand the ‘why’, I realize that I simply do not care. I don’t want them to think about what if your mother or sister had to deal with such behavior. I am a person. You are a person. Let us respect one another as such. What I WILL say is this. I have a brother that is 12 years younger than me. He has three older sisters, with me being the oldest. As soon as he was old enough to have a conscious mind, I spoke to him over and over again about the issues relating to patriarchal oppression that women face at the hands of men. I wanted him feel as though it was NORMAL to respect women regardless of whether they were a friend, cousin, sister, mother, etc. We are human beings trying to live everyday life with normal value just like anyone else.
And unless you have genuinely kind intentions. Leave. Us. The. F*ck. Alone. Thanks.
By: Edward L. Speights
I believe that street harassment is something that I don’t see on a daily basis. As a man I grew up with the mentality that in order to get a girls number you have to go after it. We are raised with the attitude “that a closed mouth don’t get fed.” That being said I have seen where it does go too far. It usually happens when a mans pride is hurt or that the woman did not give them any attention so the man feels they have to disrespect the woman in order to feel better about themselves. I try to empathize with women because it’s hard to deny men and still feel safe because, yes, some men are crazy. In regards to correcting ways men approach women I honestly have no idea. Some women like to be approached in different ways. There is no one way to approach a women. For instance, one woman may feel she is being harassed from a man while another woman would love the way that man approached her and give him her number. I guess the topic of NO MEANS NO would be a good start, but also I’ve seen first hand when a women initially told me no but after talking to her I got her number and went out with her. I don’t think it is all on men. I think it’s both parties. The way a man approaches the woman and the way the woman tells the man she is not interested can play vital roles in street harassment.
By Tasmin Pepin-Perry
I absolutely loathe grocery shopping. I detest it so much that I have actually given considerable thought to hiring a personal grocery shopper. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if I never had to go to the grocery store again I would be relieved. You see, I don’t loathe the grocery store for the normal reasons that most people do. I don’t mind the time spent looking for a parking spot. I enjoy searching each isle for the ingredient I need for the next meal I’m preparing. Mainly because I always stumble across something new I’d like to try. Even the long lines don’t phase me. What I DO have a problem with is being trailed through the produce section, the blatant staring while in the checkout line, and the chase down in the parking lot from strange men I have never met nor have any inclination to meet. I go to the grocery store for one purpose. TO BUY GROCERIES. Simple enough you would think, but it never is.
Case in point. About three and a half weeks ago I made a quick pit stop at the Meijer’s by my house for dog food and some other essentials. It was all of ten minutes, but by the time I made it out I felt like I went through a battle of wills. I was standing in the self-checkout line waiting for an open machine when I noticed a man brazenly staring me down. Now, I’ve gotten so used to the predatory stare that I know if I just DO NOT make eye contact the interest usually dies and I can go on my merry way. On this occasion I made the disastrous mistake of locking eyes with this man as I searched for an open machine. It didn’t matter that it was a simple glance. I might as well have been staring him down for hours with how he reacted. Very loudly he shouted “Girl you want me to pay for all that?” Apparently it would have been totally ridiculous to walk up to me and address me quietly with his question. Of course everyone in earshot turned to see what my response would be. I kindly, but politely told the man “no, thank you”. His response was to pull out two rubber banded wads of cash and tell me “It’s no problem girl I got the money!” While I appreciated the thought, the fact of the matter is, he would have wanted something in return from me. I’ve learned that a man doesn’t aggressively push an issue unless there’s an end game. I once again told him “no, thank you” and continued checking out my items. You can probably guess what happened then. He proceeded to leave the self-checkout machine he was currently at to approach me at mine. To make a long story short I had to repeat myself twice more that I was not interested in him paying for my items. Eventually he walked away.
Let me make something perfectly clear. I SHOULD NOT have to repeat myself. If I have acknowledged a man and answered his question with a firm “no” of any sort, that should be the end of the conversation. This isn’t a game to see if you can wear me down because trust me, you can’t. What will end up happening is the politeness will miraculously disappear and the “B*tch” will rear her very ugly and very smart mouth. Fortunately enough for him my parents raised a respectable young woman. I kept my composure and left the store feeling like I’d won a war. I was proud of myself for not letting him bait me and cause a scene. I’m a firm believer that how one reacts is not only a reflection on the person that caused the reaction, but on one’s self as well. Unfortunately that composure doesn’t always hold up in other circumstances. Sometimes as a woman you find out that you need a more dramatic response to make a man back off when the polite route does not seem to be working.
In my experience with men and street harassment it doesn’t matter whether a woman is walking down the street, sitting in a car at a stop light, or simply going about her normal routine in public areas; on most occasions than not she will be harassed by a male individual. It doesn’t have to be overt. It can be subtle and it can be something that women have come to accept as the societal norm. For example, when you are out with girlfriends at a restaurant or bar and a man buys you a drink and then proceeds to expect a conversation from you. Listen. I do not have to converse with a man because he bought me a drink. That was a decision he made of his own accord that I had no influence whatsoever in because I did not ask for it. I also do not have to turn the drink down if I know I don’t want to have a conversation with the man. Would it be the polite thing to do? Absolutely. However, as a man you are taking a calculated risk when you send a woman over a drink and should therefore be prepared for any outcome. Do not harass me for a conversation or my number because you made the decision on your own to buy me a drink.
Vicente Perez quoted on twitter during the #YesAllWomen campaign; ‘I have a boyfriend’ is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone because he respects another man more than you. I know I’m not the only woman who has used the boyfriend excuse when dealing with a man. It works 9 times out of 10. There are of course those outliers to the boyfriend excuse. I have had men ask me “what, your man doesn’t let you have friends?” Now men let me help you out here with this question. Women aren’t idiots. We understand that you did not approach us to be friends in the first place. STOP using that line. The only thing it does is make me realize not only do you have no respect for me. You have absolutely no respect for relationships. Also there have been many a time when I have decided to forego the “boyfriend” excuse and be honest with a man and tell him I’m just not interested. I’ve been called cold-blooded for my honesty. My question to men is, if it’s true that you would like women to stop making excuses and be honest, but then don’t accept my honest response, what do you HONESTLY want? There’s this mentality among men these days it seems that they should, for lack of a better phrase, go hard or go home. Please stop “going hard”. It makes you seem like a predator. Accept my first no as the final answer and move on. Don’t continue to ask me the same question in abstract ways hoping to catch me saying yes.
I don’t think most men intentionally set out to harass women or are inclined to. I think it happens for different reasons. There’s this idea that all women play this cat and mouse game. While I won’t deny some women do play that game not every woman does. As a man when you approach every woman as if she’s playing hard to get you end up harassing those who honestly don’t want to be caught by you. If I tell you when I meet you that I’m not interested. I really am not interested. I’m not saying it to see if you are going to work harder at catching me. If I even have the desire to want to be with you, I would. I also believe when a woman puts herself out there in an overly sexually aggressive way because she is comfortable in her sexuality she unconsciously gives men a signal that she’s “asking” for the unwanted attention. For most women, however, they aren’t asking for anything. They are usually just comfortable and empowered by their sexuality. Women should be able to be as empowered by their sexuality as men are without being harassed by them. Now I’m not saying there are those who aren’t attention seekers. If you’re on every social media site flaunting parts of your body that, for me, should remain between you and your man; don’t be surprised when you get the harassing comments that you receive. Men are very visual creatures and you open yourself up to harassment when you post explicit images on social media sites.
Family environment I believe is also a contributor to why some men are inclined to harass and some men aren’t. From my experience, through the men I know, those that have grown up with a father (or father figure) who is respectful to wife, mother, sisters, and the women he meets along his life; are more prone to treat women they meet with respect. If their father has taught them when a woman says no it means no, they tend to live by that rule. These men have modeled their behavior after their fathers. They tend to hold women on a higher pedestal than those who have watched their fathers disrespect women. Then there are those men that I understand have been taught by their fathers that if you are going to go for it you need to go hard, but what is missed in that conversation is that if she draws a line you shouldn’t cross it. Going hard doesn’t have to mean being aggressive towards a woman and continuing to press the issue when she’s already said no.
Each woman a man meets needs to be treated independently from the other. We are all not the same and we will all not react to your approach in the same manner. There has not been a day where I am out in public and I have not been harassed in some form or another. I have had the lude comments, the leering, the sexual gestures, and the constant pursuing even though I’ve made myself clear on many occasions that I was not interested. It’s too the point where in each public space that I enter I am aware of everything and everyone that is surrounding me. I guess you can say I am constantly on high alert. It is an exhausting state to be in all the time. Always on the defensive. I don’t want to have to walk with my eyes diverted to the ground when I’m out in public. I do, however, because whenever I make eye contact with a man it’s viewed as an open invitation to approach and it’s very rarely done respectfully. I keep quite a bit of distance in between myself and men I walk by in crowded spaces because more often than not I am groped inappropriately. I did not request you to place your hand on my thigh, on my breast, or my ass. I should not feel like when I go out into the world I need a Kevlar body suit to protect me.
To those men in my life who I adore and who have been some of the best friends I could ask for here’s something I’d like you to think about and pass along. When a woman is standoffish and withdrawn please do not automatically label her “stuck up”, “conceited”, or “bougie”. She may just be assessing the situation (meaning you) and deciding if this is an occasion where she either has to play the boyfriend card or phone a friend because her prior experiences have taught her that her safety and wellbeing are at stake. If you want a positive response start by politely asking if the seat next to her is taken (if you happen to be in an establishment) and introduce yourself by name. Don’t “psst” at her from a few seats down, yell out a car window “hey light skin!”, or follow her around a store. Those instances aren’t ones where you’ll get the response you’re looking for. You might get a polite two-minute conversation, but eventually she’ll make an excuse and run. Also be aware that while you might be interested in her there is a possibility she is not interested in you. If that is the case politely thank her for the conversation and move on. Don’t tell her she’s wrong for not giving you a chance or that she’s missing out. Just as you made the assessment that she is someone you would like to get to know. She made the opposite assessment. Don’t fault her for that. As human beings we all have preferences. Lastly, understand that when you meet a woman who is alone she is at her most vulnerable. While she may seem confident and assertive there is a part of her that is still wary of the situation. Sometimes as women we will give in to a man’s constant pursuit because it’s just easier than trying to explain why were not interested. Especially if said man doesn’t know when enough is enough. Pay attention to her body language, the energy she is giving off, and the comments she is making. All of these can tell you whether or not she’s interested and whether you should continue the conversation or just let her be.
As women we have a responsibility to pass along our feelings about street harassment and how not to harass a woman to the men in our lives so that maybe, just maybe, they’ll take it a step further and discuss it with their male friends. Knowledge has always been power and if men don’t understand what the problem is how can they go about fixing it?