How do you Handle Street Harassment?

With this summer’s burst of #yesallwomen, I’ve reevaluated how I deal with street harassment. I’ve lived in three states since I’ve hit puberty and in all places, I’ve experienced street harassment in some form. I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with it for years.

Initially, I just did the “ignore” thing. My first experience of street harassment was being yelled at by some gals in a car while walking home from school as a teenager. I didn’t know what to do except ignore. Looking back, if I had been more informed, I suppose I could have taken down the license plate number and reported it, but that is too much thinking to do in the moment! I was not prepared to know to take down a license plate when I was a teenager.

As years went on, the “ignore” response started bothering me. I know it’s a good response in a lot of situations, but sometimes I wanted to do a little more. I started giving the middle finger. Now, I’m not a regular middle finger user, but I could do that while walking past someone and not have to formulate words or sentences- something my brain can’t do in the moment.

A few years ago, I came across Hollaback, which gives ideas for responding to harassment. They also have an app where you can post the location, time, and what type of harassment you experienced or witnessed. I have the app on my phone and you can even upload a picture of the harasser and pin it with the GPS function.

My brain usually freezes in the moment so I never know what to say, but I often spend the next while thinking about what I could have/should have done, even though I know that there’s nothing I can really do. One thing that has somewhat eased this post-harassment dialogue in my head is sidewalk chalk.

Sexual HarassmentI go back to where the harassment happened later when there are fewer people around and write about it on the sidewalk. It’s usually short, “Sexual harassment happened here.” It gives me closure, lets me say something, and maybe the harasser frequents that area and might see it, whether or not they know it’s directed at what they did or not. I like this option because it’s more public- people who harass others aren’t going to be checking the Hollaback map, but they are going to be walking on the sidewalk. It’s like putting up a temporary “pin”. And when it rains, it’s gone.

I’m still looking for good comebacks to have in my arsenal for use in the moment. Do you all have any? Share, please! How do you deal with harassment?

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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8 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    LOVE this idea with the chalk, TopHat. Brilliant. Not only does it give you some closure, but it also sensitizes every single person who sees it to the issue.

  2. Violadiva says:

    I remember being in a hurry coming out of a grocery store and this crusty old man said to his buddies, “let the hot chick through!”
    I was awkward and uncomfortable, just looked away and kept going. I was young enough to think that he was trying to compliment me, but couldn’t ignore how creepy it felt. “Why does it feel creepy that he was complimenting my appearance?”
    It wasn’t until later when I had learned the words to describe it as sexual harassment, and label it as wrong and NOT OK.
    We could probably do better at teaching our teens and YSAs about discerning harassment….and that it’s not a guy “coming on” to them.
    I LOVED this woman’s response of printing cards and handing to the harassers. Not sure I’d want to stick around long enough to dig in my purse for one, but the snarky comments printed on the cards make it so she can respond with assertive language, even if she can’t make her mouth say it in the moment.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/this-woman-has-been-confronting-her-catcallers-and-secretly?s=mobile

  3. Flighty says:

    I suffer from the same ailment–that in the moment, my brain kind of locks up and I can’t think of anything to say or do but ignore and hurry away. I wonder what’s going on there chemically in my brain and in my body. Is this a fear/survival response that’s hardwired in to my body?

    I generally save the middle finger for people who yell at me while I’m commuting on my bike. I’d be too afraid of any kind of confrontation on foot.

  4. Liz says:

    I’ve been trying to use direct eye contact, with my eyebrows raised. Mostly just to say, “Look, I see you, I hear you, I’m not scared of you, and I question your motives.” It’s non-confrontational enough that I don’t feel like it will escalate things, but it makes me feel a tiny bit more powerful in the situation – I feel like I’m almost scolding that person. But that’s all I can really muster – I like the idea of going back and writing in sidewalk chalk – it also takes back the space and makes that area less triggering and scary in the future.

  5. jks says:

    Thanks, Top Hat! I went to Hollaback and enjoyed learning about her. My teenage son just came home from Scout Camp today and he launched into a story about some girl who was walking by (at Scout Camp?) and the guys’ conversation. I was well prepared to educate him about how uncomfortable situations like this are for women and how he should NOT be making comments about girls’ appearance.
    I love my son. He needs specific instructions on behavior on how not to be a jerk. He accepted the instruction well and seemed to understand.
    Thanks for the help!

  6. EFH says:

    Women from different cultures have a different sensitivity to sexual harassment at street. I have noticed that in America, women feel very strongly against men talking to them in the street. For me, as long as the person doesn’t come close and touch me, I’m ok with it…in the sense that I usually turn it into a joke if the person is trying to “compliment” me or even insult me. I personally do not see all comments as negative or even desirable. People will talk and I am not sure how the law can prevent that from happening 100% of the time. I think that many that make a comment do not mean bad but there are definitely creepy types out there too.

    I definitely think it is important to teach the boys the art of complimenting and the girls to be able to discern a compliment from a sexual harassment and have the emotional stamina to handle it whether in a joking way or not.

  7. Ziff says:

    I like how public and lasting (even if only for a few days or a week) your response is, TopHat. It seems like a good way to raise awareness among passers-by too.

  1. August 1, 2014

    […] As years went on, the “ignore” response started bothering me. I know it’s a good response in a lot of situations, but sometimes I wanted to do a little more. I started giving the middle finger. Now, I’m not a regular middle finger user, but I could do that while walking past someone and not have to formulate words or sentences- something my brain can’t do …read more […]

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