Oi you! Catcallers and street harassers – your time is nearly up November 27, 2017 Phoebe-Jane Boyd
It’s usually possible to tell when it’s about to happen. The signal could be a set of dull eyes staring out from the middle of a group of teenage boys. Or a brief smirk. Could be from a man in a suit, could be from someone looking like a grandad. Sometimes there’s no warning, just the prickling sixth sense of “I’m about to be told how my tits are looking today by a complete stranger”.
“Catcalling” is exasperating and humiliating, but something to be lived with if you’re female and you go outside a lot. Racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia often get mixed into the cocktail of abusive comments, too, and as Noa Jansma’s @dearcatcallers project showed, they come from all ages and all classes. We recipients live with it, because of course we do. There is far worse than words for us to live through out there – #MeToo can show you a sample (only from women of certain economic backgrounds lucky enough to have an internet connection of course). Yet, strangely, a peaceful acceptance of street harassment as “only words” is something I’m yet to feel.
Violence could follow any insult or sexual comment, yelled or whispered, from a stranger on the street
Instead, each unprompted “slut” or “ugly dyke” from people I’ve never met causes embarrassment, irritation, but mostly anger within me. And it’s an anger that doesn’t bleed out; it builds. Latest example (which I’ll forget as new ones replace it): last week in Houston, a man was offering his opinion on each woman who walked by him. One in front of me was told she had a “nice ass”, I was called a “bitch”. I turned around and advanced on him, startled he grabbed at my forearms and babbled excuses. I yelled for him to get his damn hands off of me, until he let go and swiftly left the area, visually resentful.
Despite enjoying humiliating people who try to do the same to me first (I’m a “bitch”, remember), it’s no real outlet for the humiliation of street harassment – it’s a stupid and reckless thing to do. I know that, because everyone who has been catcalled knows that. The words of street harassment fall on a spectrum of disrespect. Violence could follow any insult or sexual comment, yelled or whispered, from a stranger on the street. The words are merely an opening parry, or a hint of how little your rights, or very existence, are respected. Women are still being hurt by people who hate them, everywhere.
The words are nothing compared with what they could be, but are also a reminder of that. They’re intended that way: a smug reminder, a smirking warning – don’t get too comfortable in your life. Don’t think you’re entirely safe out here; you aren’t. The actual message, and motive, behind street harassment is quiet and assured, and that’s why it’s so grating and tiring. Because we already know.
#MeToo is still so dissonant. Is sexual assault, violence, rape culture and ingrained misogyny actually being recognised, openly and honestly, as wrong at last? Are missing stairs not being stepped around any more?
Catcallers and street harassers, however, know they’re maintaining a system of sexism – it’s the motive, and that’s why it angers me so much. In 2015 a survey by Cornell University and the anti-harassment campaign Hollaback! on street harassment found that an international average of 84% of women have been victims of street harassment between the ages of 11 and 17. The 2014 Stop Street Harassment survey also featured some scary (but unsurprising, if you’ve experienced it) statistics of women being “reminded”.
In light of #MeToo, will the upcoming US-based survey report lower numbers of street harassment? Probably not – not yet. I suspect harassers will be offering more messages of the misogyny that still exists in the world for a while. But that’s a signal too – that change is coming, and they know it.
One day I was typing up some work at the East Columbia Branch Library off Cradlerock Way in Columbia, Maryland.
I sent a document to the printer and as I approached the printer located on top of the information circular counter I noticed there was a Black male and Black woman having a conversation. I thought nothing of it until I reached for the paper off the printed and slightly turned back around only to have a tall black “Christian” male literally in my face blocking my view and stated “Hi-yah..” with a smirk and would not leave my presence.
What was odd was that not only did he jump in my face, block my frontal view in a matter of about three seconds but he abandon the conversation he was in. My startled look was apparent as one of the librarians turned around and stared at him. About a minute later the Black woman he was in the company with stated “Don’t do that” and gestured for him to leave me alone.
A G-d-fearing religiously clad, quiet woman working on the computer being blocked in for just existing.
In broad daylight, if it was not for the woman speaking to the male in a tone disparaging his conduct disapprovingly and the librarian turning around–he would’ve surely grabbed me. Black male harassers everywhere, cannot even go to a library and be productive without these cretens disturbing you.
One day after work in NW, Washington, DC I was walking towards the Bank of America ATM at the Barnes & Noble bookstore north of the FBI Building. As it was not yet sunset but towards dusk I made sure to look to both my right and left after crossing the street. As I approached closer to the ATM machine a brawny, dark skinned black male who appeared to have weighed 280 lbs or more, about 57 years of age, was rapidly approaching me at a diagonal. I was able to see him when he was less than a little over 2 feet away from me and immediately went inside the Barnes & Noble and asked for a manager.
I informed him that there was a black male hovering near the ATM machine to which the manager (white male) acknowledged was aware of. I then asked him he would escort me to the ATM and wait until my transaction was complete.
As we exited the Barnes & Noble the black male was still there as I was the first oeraon he saw. When he saw the manager (white male) immediately behind me and waiting for me to to use the ATM the black male immediately retreated and began to leave. I took an offensive measure and it worked.
I thanked the manager who still waited and watched me cross the street in the direction I was headed.
“It’s the media. The media has distorted our image to make us look bad. Please cut the xxxxxx bull****….When I am at the money machine, I’m not looking for the media. I’m looking for n*****s.”
-Chris Rock, Comedian