Black Women's Empowerment

Fighting Back Against Street Harassment (part two)

Let me begin this post with a bit about my experiences with street harassment: I have been subject to all kinds, from the time I was a teenager. It’s ranged from the usual “AY! AY! AY!” top-of-the-lungs-screaming, to the “eff you then b-tch!”, to having a car full of guys chase me on a highway to try to get me to pull over and talk to them, to unknowingly being followed nearly all of the way when walking home one evening, after ignoring a guy.

It had gotten to a point where I wouldn’t run errands over lunch at work, because any walk of just a few blocks to the post office, pharmacy, library, grocery store, etc would result in being screamed at from some bus stop, men invading my personal space to force me to acknowledge them and/or being followed. I even stopped walking to work, which I loved doing.

However, the days of re-arranging my life to avoid bad manners and aggressive harassment of these men are over. THEIR behavior needs to stop, not me changing the things I enjoy to avoid being harassed. If I ignore your initial overtures and you decide to coerce me into acknowledging you, proceed at your own risk of being publicly embarrassed.

Case in point:

Just a few days off my Oakland airport experience –, I was leaving a gas station. As I exited the door, I immediately noticed a man with a Bluetooth openly staring at me crassly. I sighed and decided to ignore him, especially since again, I was wearing sunglasses.

 As I walked past, he made some kind of loud, gross smacking sound and hollered something like “HEY CUTIE.” I kept ignoring him as I headed toward my car and then a familiar scene ensued. He stopped dramatically. He got loud. “OH FO-RREAL?! IT’S LIKE THAT?!”

 I quickly weighed my options – I was close to my car and there were several people around. I spoke up, disgustedly. “I’m not interested in men who yell at me like that.”

 Just like before, the guy’s mouth dropped open. “BUT ALL I SAID WAS…”

 I shrugged and got into my car.

My friends, I have simply tired of ignoring this kind of behavior. I want to un-normalize what has become accepted par for the course, in terms of rude, crass, loud comments directed at women and then belligerence when advances are spurred. There are a number of ways we can begin collectively doing so:

1. If you are in a safe place, speak up that the behavior is offensive. Sometimes speaking up is enough to shame the younger guys who have picked this nonsense up from DBR cousins or something and are just mimicking it. Though viewed derisively by some, simply speaking up can be largely empowering, especially if your method of dealing with it has been like mine: ignoring it, avoiding eye contact, etc. Brenda55 provided several great resources which detail how to speak assertively and communicate that the harassment is unwelcomed: ; ;

2.  If you have to frequent an area where there is particularly aggressive harassment, please carry pepper spray or have another method (i.e. self-defense moves) to defend yourself if the harassment becomes physical. Also, consider joining to report the area as a hotspot for street harassment (again, courtesy of Brenda55). If you have high powered connections in the area, consider telling those people (who may be connected to local businesses or places of interest like colleges, libraries, etc) that the street harassment is so terrible your visits in the area are extremely limited to just your pressing business. It doesn’t seem like much, but if they get enough feedback people who care will try to make it a more hospitable environment, especially in areas that are trying to be revitalized.

3. If you are harassed at a place you frequently patronize, contemplate immediately telling a supervisor or sending an email/letter so that the business may resolve the issue with the perpetrator(s), especially if you articulated that the behavior is rude yet the perp continued. After all, if it is a place you enjoy, why should your experiences be ruined or you avoid the area? HOWEVER, please exercise discernment in how you do so. Yes, there are people who want to see men who do this get reported/fired at any cost, but when it comes to people being disciplined or losing their jobs, please tread cautiously for your own safety. If you have a service that needs to be completed (such as receiving food you’ve paid for) or are waiting for a product, consider completing the transaction first before saying something so you don’t experience retaliation.

 If you are reporting the situation after the fact, do NOT just fire off an angry letter or email that has your contact information. Consider a few things, such as the type of business it is. Is it a large corporate chain where there’s a legit HR function or manager training to handle these issues discreetly and professionally? Is a union involved, where your entire complaint could be turned over for some kind of investigative due process? Is it a business in Blackistan where they’d simply chide you for turning down such good attention and leak your email or letter to WorldStarHipHop for you to get trolled.

 Obviously I am joking about the last one but as I said please exercise discernment and don’t write anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with being made public, should something happen. Choose your battles wisely. If you are a chronic complainer that could be used against you should an incident occur resulting in adjudication; the level of victim scrutiny that occurs in our society is unfortunate. If you have friends who are attorneys, one way to keep your anonymity and ward off any potential backlash or safety issues might be for one to send a stern letter on your behalf informing the business about the harassment.

 You may elect to do all or just one of these to fight back against the harassment you’ve been enduring. My goal is simply to get people to speak up more (in whatever way they feel is best in various situations) as to un-normalize what has become a sickening way of life. If you are interested in a larger scale effort, has several ideas for advocacy at: .

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