The Five Stages of Street Harassment
Sammy has lived in four cities and has been catcalled in them all. Think it’s a compliment? Think again.
My top three street harassment moments
1) When I was walking home down an alley and a guy said to his friend right behind me, ‘I bet we could f*** her now if we wanted to’ and his friend LAUGHED and I just pretended not to hear but my knuckles were so tight around my keys it hurt my hand. HA-HA guys, you got me, you gobs of phlegm from hell. God knows if you’d touched me I would have had your eyes.
2) When my granddad passed away and I was trailing miserably along Harbourside, a guy walked past with his friend and said, ‘cheer up, love’. In that moment my mind’s eye heard the lamentations of his family as I set him, and everything he loved, alight.
3) When I was a baby in a pram. Me and my mum got flashed in a park by a ginger teen on a bike. There is some payoff to this though- my mum laughed her head off and told him to behave himself and that what he had ‘wasn’t worth showing’. He blushed and cycled away, suitably chastened. My mum is cooler than me.
Being catcalled can happen when I’m dolled up to the nines; it can happen when I’ve been smacked backwards with the ugly stick. When delightful exchanges like the ones above do happen, these are the general stages of grief I go through:
Oh no. Surely this guy doesn’t think he’s being suave.
‘Hey girl, nice legs!’
‘Good morning beautiful! Jesus loves you.’
‘OI SEXY! GET IN MY CAR.’
Don’t you know it’s charming to stare? Maybe he’ll cross the road to lay some of his personal brand sugar on you, or maybe he’ll block your path: that one always turns me on big time. If you don’t reply to his dulcet tones he might follow you home (phwoar!), get angry (it’s what women want) or get physical with you (oh baby). Check out what happened to Mary Spears when she rejected this guy’s advances:
Mary Spears died for not giving a man her phone number. This is every woman’s nightmare. http://t.co/5iwRGIANRg
— Anna Van Valin (@AnnaVanValin) October 7, 2014
Pretty hot right? Oh, no, wait, that’s horrifying beyond words. My bad.
UM, ACTUALLY, EXCUSE ME? WORLD? Why CAN’T I walk down the street without being harassed and objectified? Why must I feel stupid, and small, and cowed, in public? Why do I have to second-guess everything I’m wearing before leaving the house? My body isn’t something to be fetishised or fantasised about. I deserve as much respect as anyone else.
Even if I feel like the most beautiful, most confident princess in the world that day, a catcall will automatically make me feel like rubbish. I’ll start to wonder what is it about me that makes this man think he’s alright to shout at me in a public place like a dog.
Hey, it’s probably my fault, no? I was wearing a tight dress, yeah? It sucks that I think this kind of stuff, but I think we all do it. Some examples:
I shouldn’t have worn this skirt.
I should have pretended to be on the phone.
I shouldn’t have walked this way.
I should have yelled at him.
Was I walking in a sexy way?
Did I accidentally look at him?
Blah blah flippin’ blah.
…in young women is just one of the consequences of sexual harassment. Being sexualised from a young age messes with your self-confidence, and once you start to see yourself as a one-dimensional slice of action, it’s hard to break the habit. This study shows you can actually lose ‘mental capacity’ by ‘comparing [your body] to sexualised cultural ideals’. Other harmful symptoms The American Psychological Association found in harassed young women included ‘shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust’. You could ask any girl in the street and they’d tell you the same thing.
It’s not a big deal though, right? It happens all the time. Well, actually, it DOES, a lot more than you might think. Everyday Sexism highlights the best of the worst of what harassed women submit to their Twitter, and then other women can reply. It’s a fantastic way to feel a bit of solidarity about it all, especially when you don’t tend to see other girls being harassed. Street harassment is a very isolating experience, and showing that it’s happening all the time, everywhere, is very reassuring in a sick kind of way.
And, yes, it IS a big deal. The feeling that there’s a tide turning, there are things being done, together we are powerful: these are the only things that make it survivable for me to go out running, go to gigs, and walk at night alone. Of course, the time has come for this antiquated, predatory attitude towards women in public spaces to go. But what can we do?
Don’t be embarrassed. You are not alone. You are not over-reacting. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Know that together, we can make a difference (vom I know, but really). If girls keep talking about how this is NOT okay, the stigmas start to come down, more potential harassers know that this stuff is anything but complimentary, and we can start to see some peace in the streets.
If you’ve never catcalled, or thought about doing it, go ahead and enjoy your day, you good egg. DO think about standing up for any victims you see though: peer-shaming is an important part of combating what your grandchildren will think is on a par with knocking out your nan in the street.
Those who have catcalled: have a good old think about what I’ve written. Go on, mull it over. And know that next time you try to intimidate a girl in the street, no one has got your back.
So to both sexes I ask you: when does a compliment become less than complimentary? When it dehumanises you. When it scares you. When it affects you mentally. And when society makes you feel like the strange one for not being grateful for all this. Hi, I’m Sammy Jones, not ‘alright luv’, and I’d thank you to remember it.
If you have been street harassed in Bristol and want to share your experience or find some Bristol-centric resources, check out Bristol’s Hollaback! site
Related links from Rife:
We Need to Talk about Gender (and the Media) by Nat Jester
Why Are We So Unwilling to Recognise Rape Culture by Zahra Wynne
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