For the record, street harassment and sexual harassment in public spaces is not cool. Existing in public does not equal consent. Being a femme person trying to live your life does not equal consent. Wearing shorts or a short skirt to stay cool in the summer does not equal consent. Children are not sexual objects. Everyone just keep your sexual thoughts INSIDE your head, unless you are with another consenting adult. I can guarantee that very few women interpret cat-calling as a compliment. Sexual harassment and street harassment is sexual violence because there is NO consent.
I’m feeling triggered and angry today.
Friends and acquaintances often ask me if I’m a recovering addict. They ask me because I don’t drink and being around people who are drinking makes me extremely uncomfortable. Generally I will avoid social situations where excessive alcohol consumption will occur. I’m not an alcoholic and I’ve never had an addiction issue. I find substance use/misuse extremely triggering and unappealing. To me the idea of being out of control or having my personality altered by a substance is terrifying. Since I was a teenager, and friends first started drinking at parties, I was uncomfortable. I never liked the way people changed when they drank. It scared me and I wanted no part in it. The way people behave unpredictably when they use substances scared me also. I’m not 100% sure why alcohol is such a trigger for me, but it has been for as much of my life as I can remember. That’s why I don’t drink, not because I’m a recovering addict, but because I’m terrified of being out of control. Well, that and Ana won’t let me waste precious calories on alcohol! And the practical voice inside me has no interest in spending money on it!
A few weeks ago I was walking to the market with my two daughters. They are tweens, still children. As we crossed the road at 9:45AM, an intoxicated man hauling beer kegs back to the store, began cat-calling at us. “Nice legs” he yelled, while making sexual noises. My older daughter turned to look and he shouted “Yeah, I’m talking to you.” We kept walking quickly across the street. There were people all around and nobody did or said anything. I could hear the man cat-calling others as we walked in the other direction. This situation made me so angry. Who cat-calls at children? Street harassment can be ugly and it makes most people feel uncomfortable at best, and unsafe at worst.
Yesterday, I volunteered at a festival. It was to raise money for a good cause. I was a greeter and had various tasks, including searching bags for alcohol. This was not the type of event I would normally attend. I don’t like mass gatherings. I don’t like spaces where lots of people are together and consuming alcohol and drugs. But I wanted to help out, so I showed up.
In the space of a few hours, I was sexually harassed not once but FOUR times. Yes. FOUR times. By the end, I was done. I felt shaky and dizzy and I just wanted to go home. I had trouble sleeping last night. I had body memories and I felt agitated and afraid. Today I mostly isolated myself, having no interest in interacting with other people.
While I was volunteering, two men hit on me. One of them touched my arm while he was doing it. A third man made sexual comments to me. And a fourth suddenly and unexpectedly grabbed me and hugged me extremely hard, crushing me before walking away.
It seemed like these men decided that my very presence in the space constituted consent. But I consented to volunteering, not to being sexually harassed.
I blamed myself. I felt like it was my fault because I wore a short athletic skirt to the festival. Normally I wouldn’t wear something like that, but it was hot and I rode my bike there. I felt like if I’d dressed differently I wouldn’t have been harassed.
I blamed myself and felt shame and guilt because I didn’t fight back. I didn’t tell the men that their attentions were unwanted. I didn’t scream at them, I didn’t run away. The people who verbally harassed me, I actually politely went along with it. Then tried to get away quickly. The person who hugged me, I froze. I did nothing at all. Generally, I feel that with unpredictable people it is better NOT to aggravate them, better not to defend yourself, better just to let it happen, then try to get away quickly. But this is always my pattern. And I hate myself for it.
I want to be the person who fights back. I want to be the person who screams “No, you creep!” at the top of my lungs. I want to punch the person harassing me.
But everything inside me tells me not to make a scene.
Everything inside me tells me that freezing or playing nice is the safest choice.
Everything inside me tells me that I’m stupid, that I’m overreacting, that I’m making a big deal over nothing, that these things happen to women ALL the time, that it was meant as a compliment, that nothing REALLY bad happened…I minimize and discount and shame myself.
But it does impact me. Because I have PTSD, it impacts me a lot. It makes me afraid to go to crowded places. It increases my inability to trust others. It makes me feel unsafe. It brings back memories and body memories and puts me on edge. It makes me feel dizzy and nauseous and stressed out.
Street harassment may fall at the “less serious” end of the sexual violence continuum. It’s not as serious as rape or domestic violence which ends in murder. But it’s still not okay. It’s still violence. It’s still happening without consent. And if you have already survived more “serious” violence, it can also be extremely triggering.
So if you are impacted by street harassment, please know you are not alone. It’s not your fault. It’s okay if you feel…whatever you feel. It’s okay to react however you react. It’s THEM. It’s not you.
And if you are reading this and you are someone who engages in the street harassment and cat-calling of others. Please stop. Please don’t touch strangers without their explicit verbal consent.
We don’t consider it a compliment. We consider it sexual violence.