I have lost a lot of weight in the last two years and I cannot describe how uncomfortable it has been after having spent most of my life as a seemingly undesirable object of sexual gratification. I have never felt so vulgar in my skin with the new, unwelcome attention. The attention I am referring to, of course, is street harassment.
I am not one to dress provocatively, but even if I was, that doesn’t give anyone license to harass me. I question myself for the attention I get, somehow trying to rationalize their predatory behavior as if it’s somehow my fault. Should I dress differently? Should I try to regain the weight? Should I mutilate my face so as not to be victimized? The most important question, and the one that I’m not asking, is who raised these cowards to think they can invade people’s bodies mentally or physically?
It happens at the grocery store. It happens when I go for a run. It happens when I simply walk on the sidewalk from place to place, going about my day in a way that would never be interrupted if I were a man. These are the times in which I wish I could be a guy. No man I know has ever felt like this or is even capable of comprehending this feeling.
Throughout my travels, I’ve learned that street harassment isn’t just an issue in American cities; it’s not even just an issue in major cities.
I walk to my hotel in France feeling anxious. I get a cab and feel my heart race; I begin to pray just to make it to my destination.
I walk the marketplace in Kuwait as I buy gifts for friends and I feel an older man’s eyes on me.
I leave an art show in Miami and I clutch my bag tight, hoping just to make it home without incident.
I go to a club for a fun night out with my friends, only to be grabbed by my arms and legs, as though I am a not a human but a collection of limbs.
I go to the beach to relax and see men parked in cars playing with themselves.
I go to a restaurant, only to be stared by a man who then follows me to my car. I have to grab a random man and plea with him to walk with me because I am sincerely terrified. I am angered that as a strong woman, the only way to defend myself is with the existence of a man by my side.
Street harassment is everywhere. It’s pervasive.
I have a love for life, but lately I have been so discouraged by all that I have been experiencing. The day-to-day harassment has become so loud and intolerable. I can’t describe the disgust from feeling like I am being preyed on in someone’s imagination. It feels like emotional violation. There are no more cops to call, no more middle fingers to give, no more curse words to say and not enough showers to take to wash this off.
This is not just my life. This is our life. This is everyone’s business. A few resources already exist to help combat street harassment – check out Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment are two platforms women already are using to turn the attention back on the harasser and point out just how problematic and pervasive street harassment is. What else can you do? Don’t harass, and call it out when you see it. Protect other women from street harassment when you see it happening. The recent #YouOKSis Twitter campaign was a dialogue among women of color to essentially “have each other’s backs” when it comes to harassment.
If it’s happening to you, you’re not alone. It’s happening all over the world, and we need to be doing something about it.