Imagine your mother, sister, daughter, partner, or friend is walking down the street and someone—a complete stranger—gropes, whistles or makes inappropriate comments at them. How would you like it? The answer is simple—you wouldn’t.
This is the constant struggle women and girls alike deal with when they walk down the street to school, to work, to get home. The biggest fear most women and girls have is whether they’d encounter an aggressive guy. One that doesn’t know the meaning of ‘no’. One that doesn’t know the meaning of ‘stop’ or ‘leave me alone’.
Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment, which includes unwanted comments, wolf-whistles, hollering, groping, flashing, and uncomfortable stares. Many still seem to misunderstand that.
It’s frustrating that men and boys do not understand that commenting on my body while I walk home from school is not a compliment. My biggest fear is not heights, spiders, or small spaces, but leaving my home and being approached by men who rip me from my comfort zone and pull me into panic mode.
What most men fear about prison is what most women fear about walking down the street.
We live in an environment where women are killed after not responding positively to catcalling. We live in an environment where 99 percent of women report experiencing street harassment, 57 percent report being grabbed or touched, and 27 percent report being assaulted at least once in public by a stranger.
You cannot say catcalling is a ‘compliment’ when women are being killed for it.
In San Francisco last year, a man stabbed a woman in the face and arm after she responded negatively to street harassment. A high school senior was shot after she and her friends refused to perform oral sex on a man in Florida. A 15-year-old girl was run over and died after she tried getting away from harassers on a bus and a 19-year-old girl was grabbed by a man and assaulted, both in Chicago.
A 29-year-old pregnant woman in Manhattan was run over and killed when men were catcalling her and her friend and they didn’t reply. In California, a runner was stopped and asked by a man in a car if she wanted a ride. When she refused, he ran her over twice and yelled “F$#& YOU!”
Street harassment is deadly. It’s not a ‘compliment’ and it’s far from ‘no big deal’. It’s not irrational for women and girls to be afraid because chances are, today might be the last time you see me.
Growing up, it took me a while to realize that the groping, touching, and catcalling wasn’t my fault, but the cost of being a girl in public. Street harassment isn’t an American thing. It doesn’t just happen in the U.S., but all around the world, where it isn’t as safe as the U.S. Even here, women still feel unsafe and alone. Street harassment has become a social norm. We’ve all grown accustomed to it happening on a daily basis.
Oh, a perverted comment on my way to school? Business as usual. You’re following me? I’ll just walk in circles until you decide to leave me alone. You think that it’s a compliment when you whistle, touch and grab me? Think again.
It’s dehumanizing and disrespectful.
I am tired of telling random guys on the street to leave me alone. I’m tired of lying about the burn on my arm, saying it’s from a hot glue gun rather than a cigarette burn some guy left on me when I tried to get away from him at the age of 11. I’m tired of calling my friends and asking them to stay on the phone with me until the person who’s been following me leaves. I avoid going to places I used to.
My life has changed, and not for the better.
From a young age we are told to walk fifteen feet away from another girl just to be safe. We are told to yell ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ because people listen if you yell that instead. We are told not to go out late, or alone and not to wear certain clothing. We are told we are the problem. We’re not. We should be educating everyone not to rape instead of offering sexual assault defense classes to girls.
I’m tired of being told that my beliefs are invalid because “sexism and rape culture are dead”. They aren’t.
I do not spill cold hard facts, but personal experiences. I wake up every day realizing that as soon as I step outside of my house, I am at risk. I am at risk of being harassed on the street, being raped, or being killed because I didn’t respond to the assault in the way the harasser wanted me to.
I am at risk just as your mother, sister, daughter, partner, and friend are. You may not have invented the world of street harassment and gender-based violence, but you’re living in it. The next time you see someone being harassed, speak up.
Until women and girls feel safe to walk down the street, that is when rape culture and sexism are dead.