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Our site director, Ami Wazlawik, speaks about street harassment and how the Hollaback! movement came to the Twin Cities in the Minnesota Women’s Press’ annual Changemaker issue. Check it out!
I was waiting in line to get a table. There was a long waiting period, and there were a bunch of people standing around me. This one elderly man came up to me and kept commenting on how cute I am. I tried to keep the conversation about my studies, but he just kept saying how pretty I looked while he would lightly touch different parts of me. Then, as I was walking by him, he grabbed my elbow and squeezed it. I ripped my arm out of his grasp because I knew he’d start touching me more, and he had the audacity to look offended. Then he said, “You can get away with that because you’re so pretty.”
There are beautiful running paths near my home. Wide, well-lit, and often busy with people decompressing from their days, like I am when I go out to get fresh air and clear my head. This particular route around a lake is one of my favorites, but also happens to be along a road that leads to a little ski hill. I don’t want to profile, but I have been shouted at – loudly screamed at – by many high school-age boys/young men driving to/from the ski hill. There’s a group in a red truck that will just slow down, scream unintelligibly out the window, and peel off, which I think I should be able to find funny or just stupid, but which actually leaves me embarrassed, with an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach, like being in trouble somehow for something I didn’t do. I can’t be the only one who has had this experience at the same intersection.
Then there’s the dark blue SUV with a load of, yet again, high school boys, I suppose possibly the same ones, but they seem younger. While I was running on a different route, also not far from my home, this group stopped by the sidewalk where I was and yelled, “Show us your t**s!” They all laughed and sped away. Not that I believe apparel should have any influence on whether we are treated with decency, but it’s also not like I run around in a sports bra and short-shorts. Again, I wanted to shrug it off and chalk it up to teenagers egging each other on and not knowing what to do with their energy and not thinking of a stranger as a real person. But as I kept running, I couldn’t help feeling some undeserved shame, and it only built up, even as I tried to rationalize it. They came around again, and followed me partway down my street before turning around (lots of tires squealing and guys shouting).
It’s not as bad as many people’s stories, but then again, I do tend to try to minimize how I feel when I tell the story because I don’t want people to think I’m paranoid or overreacting. My husband is even skeptical when it comes to the idea of carrying mace, but he’s a six-foot-tall man, and I’m a five-foot-tall woman, and there’s a lot of perspective that gets lost in between. I’ve been told by other runners (men) that I should just shrug it off or yell back, and have been asked by others, who don’t run, why I don’t just go to a gym or use a treadmill or take up yoga – as though it’s my problem. The point is to be outside on paths intended for recreation, getting a little vitamin D and fresh air year-round. I shouldn’t have to be spooked into staying indoors. And I’m not running through a prison yard; this is my own neighborhood.
I was walking back to my car after attending a fundraising event for a feminist organization a little after 9pm. On this particular block of E 6th Street there isn’t an open sidewalk on the side of the road where I was walking, so I had to use a closed off walkway where I could see two men. The first passed me uneventfully, but the second man felt the need to exclaim, “You got some nice legs! Like a stallion! Sexy!” as I passed him. On an open sidewalk I would have wanted to respond more critically, but in this enclosed and poorly lit space with no other witnesses all I could do was get the hell out of there as quickly as I could before he turned on me.
This is a block that NEEDS an open sidewalk. Too much harassment already happens in open spaces, and this is a space that felt immediately threatening even before I entered it. Not only can people not see in and out of the walkway except through the entrances at the ends of the block, but there is no way to duck onto the street or anywhere else in the event that something happens midway through crossing it and you need to escape.
From the fabulous folks over at Real Life Athena, a post about witnessing public masturbation on a Metro Transit bus.
I just started a new job, which also comes with a new commute. I now spend three hours on the bus every day. It’s not so bad, I listen to music and read articles or blogs on my phone. Just like everyone else, I’m engrossed in my phone and mostly forget that I’m in a public space.
Last week I was in this position, head down, headphones in, music on, leaning against the window. A man sat down next to me, probably around 40, smelling like alcohol. I didn’t think much about it and once again became wrapped up in whatever news article I was reading. My mistake. After a few minutes, I noticed a slight, repetitive motion near my arm and glanced down. My new seatmate had his penis in his hand and was slowly masturbating.
I’m not really sure I can describe what I was thinking. The best analogy I can describe is that phenomenon if you’ve ever seen a car accident or something equally out of the ordinary and all you can think is “those two cars couldn’t have just crashed, I must have imagined it.” In that moment all I could think was “that can’t be his penis in his hand” because in what reality would that be happening?
I froze and contemplated spontaneous combustion, and suddenly felt myself getting up. I was in the window seat; this man was in the aisle seat. In getting up I was choosing to slide my body over his. While it seems like the grossest possible option, sitting there while it continued ultimately seemed worse. You might be asking about option 3: Yell “what the fuck!” and shove him, or kick him, or punch him, or some combination of them all. While I wish in retrospect that I could have responded and reacted and made it overwhelmingly clear that I was pissed and disgusted, it isn’t that simple. Part of being a rational, 5’5’’ woman is understanding that the desirable response can put yourself in danger. I don’t know if this man would have become violent. While its true that I was surrounded by other people, this man was also publicly masturbating. The behavior we would expect of others does not really apply to him.
I walked up to the bus driver and quietly explained what had just happened and looked expectantly at him. “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” he responded.
Of all the possible responses he could have given, this was one of the least helpful. I usually could provide many responses to a question like that, but I was so confused and freaked out that I had no response other than to shrug and say “I just thought I should tell someone.” He then asked me where I had been sitting, and what did the man look like. I described my seat and my seatmate, but throughout this interaction the bus was still moving and passengers were continuing to enter and exit. I turned around to see if my seatmate had moved, and realized that he had already exited the bus. I told the bus driver, and this time he shrugged.
I got off the bus about twenty minutes later and felt not only violated but also failed by my bus driver. I decided to report the incident the next day and called the Metro Transit customer service line. While my driver was not sympathetic or proactive, the customer service representative was. She took all of my information in order to try and identify the man on the bus, as well as my bus driver. I was subsequently contacted by the Metro Transit police, who involved the police and also promised additional training and potential disciplinary action for my bus driver. Metro Transit was prompt, responsive, apologetic, and concerned. These are coincidentally attributes I wish my driver had shown.
This incident is one example where the failure of an individual does not necessarily demonstrate a failed system.
I want bus drivers (and others in positions of relative power) to act in the event of an incident like this one, which will only happen if they receive proper training and are taught to take these issues seriously.
Obviously the end goal is to no longer have incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault. I am angry at my seatmate’s actions and I hope that the police identify him and arrest him. While that anger is expected and valid, I also have to focus on the actions of my driver. I wish that these incidents wouldn’t happen, making a protocol to handle sexual harassment less important. But we are a long way from that point. In the meantime its important to have proactive, trained individuals in places where women and girls are often harassed and assaulted. Metro Transit clearly has more work to do, but I appreciate that as an institution it is concerned with sexual harassment.
It’s important to keep public institutions accountable and report incidents like the one I experienced. We should all be able to feel safe in the public spaces we use.
And please don’t masturbate publicly.
Fellow Hollaback activists tweeted this link today – a street harassment story via CraigsList Missed Connections.
The scene: 4:30 pm Friday, intersection at American Blvd and 34th Avenue.
You: Middle-aged, dark hair, tan skin, driving a green SUV and wearing the kind of red polo shirt you corporate douchebags love to wear on fridays so you can easily transition from day to night (assuming “day” is some generic but well paid desk job and “night” is maybe a brief happy hour at Applebees before heading back to the burbs and stopping to grab a red box dvd for the kids on your way home.)
Me: 20s, blonde hair, black fitted dress, gladiator sandals and waiting at the intersection to catch the lightrail.
I know how it is. That quittin’ time whistle blows, announcing the weekend, and you get that rush of adrenaline that only comes on Friday afternoons, when the whole world is your oyster and all you need is the freedom to shuck it and some beer to wash it down. You make the minimum requisite small talk with your colleagues as you bolt for your car in the corporate wasteland parking lot and get excited at the notion of beating the traffic home. Maybe your classic rock radio station starts to play your favorite Creed song right as your engine turns on and you’re feeling extra lucky. And that’s where you find your psyche as you approach the intersection to turn onto 34th – you’re a man with nothing to lose and an open road ahead of you.
That’s when you spot me, halfway into the street, waiting behind a construction sign for the light to change so I can cross to the light rail stop. If you’d looked closely, you might have noticed I looked tired, eager for peace and quiet after a draining day. You might also have noticed my arms were full of paperwork, confirming that I have a demanding profession and a hard weekend ahead of me. Unfortunately, though, based on what happened next I assume you didn’t notice these things, or if you did, you determined they were much less important than the fact that I have two legs that attach at an ass.
So, that’s where we were. Me, minding my own business. You, apparently observing my ass. At that point you had options. You could have driven past me and said nothing. You could have turned up your radio and waved, ensconcing us in some beats and camaraderie. You could have shouted out, “Happy Friday! Yeehaw!” Any of those options would have been great. I probably would have waved, smiled, and started my weekend on the same high note as you.
Instead, you chose the most pathetic option available to you: You leaned out of your window and made some ridiculous series of leering comments about whether I was wearing a thong, right as the light changed and you peeled off, pleased with yourself and saved from any consequences.
If you’d stuck around, I would have happily shouted a few things of my own at you: that it’s people like you that make women avoid walking alone or taking transit even in broad daylight in their own cities; that no matter what screwed up metric you use it’s not a “compliment” to have someone interrogate me about my underwear; that thanks to you I would spend the entire train ride home feeling scrutinized and gross because you didn’t have the willpower or maturity to keep your mouth shut; that your wife and daughters or at the very least your mother deserve better than a cowardly man who shouts at women from the safety of his car.
Let me make this abundantly clear, to you and to the other men reading this: when you comment on a woman’s appearance, you are not doing it for her. You are doing it for you. It’s not some great way to make a woman feel sexy and appreciated. It’s not flattery, even if you mean for it to be. The only thing it is is a great way for you to create a shitty power dynamic, by which you have announced yourself as the arbiter of her value, and you’ve deemed her fuckable, and she is supposed to be happy or impressed by that.
If you really find a woman beautiful, don’t choose the juvenile selfish route that makes her feel weird and you look like an asshole. Just take a deep breath, commit the image to memory, and get on with your life. Or, if it’s really that great of an ass that you can’t possibly survive without commenting on it, post about it on CL missed connections after the fact and let her decide what to do about it.
We’re looking to gather information about the prevalence and impact of street harassment in the Twin Cities. We’ve set up a survey, and we’d love for you to take it before it closes at the end of September. Thanks a bunch!
I cannot go through one day where a guy doesn’t say shit to me but this guy on the bus grabbed my dress after staring at me for a prolonged period and asked me for a bus transfer. When I said no he stared at me until I got off the bus. Don’t touch me stranger.