“Smile,” the man shouts from the safety of his beat up ’98 Camry.
I turn to face my heckler.
“Come on, why ain’t you smiling?” he says to me while leaning out the driver’s side window.
As a 21-year-old woman, I wish I could tell you that this is the first time something like this has happened to me. I wish I could speak for all women and say that being verbally harassed on the street is a rarity. Unfortunately, I can’t.
While the topic of harassment is more ubiquitous than ever, I still can’t seem to walk to my college campus without someone hollering obscenities out their car window or telling me to smile. Walking through downtown Columbia after sundown without a catcall is a nearly impossible feat for females on their own. That’s not a statistic I read online. That’s personal experience.
Last year, a video was released in which a woman walked the streets of New York for 10 hours to capture what it’s like to be harassed on a daily basis. She’s dressed in everyday garb and wearing an average amount of makeup, yet she is bothered numerous times.
Now, if you don’t know me, I feel it necessary to inform you that I’m a pretty modest girl. I tend to thoroughly cover all the bits and pieces, plus a huge Goodwill sweater. But does that stop perverse idiots from making a scene? Apparently not.
Just the other day, I was on my way to my campus ministry wearing jeans and a flannel (a fairly lumberjack look, if I dare say). On the way, a truckload of college-aged guys felt the need to stick their heads out the window and yell crude things to me. I wasn’t fazed. I didn’t give them more than a glance. That’s what women learn to do. Acknowledgement gives these belittlers what they desire: attention and empowerment.
Two hours later, I was walking to a coffee shop after my ministry. As I was headed up Ninth Street, I saw a group of men. My instincts told me to cross the street, so I did. But as luck would have it, my intuition led me astray and I walked straight into my next harasser.
“I’ll give you $500 right now.”
Excuse me? I hope you’re offering me money because I look like a psychiatrist that can fix your disgusting personality.
“Sorry?” I replied, dumbfounded.
“Five-hundred dollars. Right now.”
“Bye,” was the only response I could muster as I walked right on past. I was so shocked that, at 8:45 p.m. on a Tuesday night, this would happen to me on a street I usually feel comfortable.
What was it, Mr. Middle-Aged Stranger? Was I just really rocking my flannel? Did my rushed walk make you think I was interested in what you had to say? Did my sports bra give the impression that I was a prostitute?
Granted, it was after dark and I was alone. “I should have known better.” I’d put myself in that situation by walking on a lit street three whole minutes from my campus fully clothed with a backpack in tow and DumDum sucker in hand.
It’s baffling. What the hell is going through the minds of these imbeciles? (I’m looking at you, douchey college boys.) Why is it that my female friends have to consciously think, “Will it be dark when I leave this event? I don’t want to have to be in a parking garage at night. I guess I’ll pay more to park on the street so that I’ll have witnesses.” Why aren’t more people aware?
I would never ask a guy friend to walk me home (mostly because I’m too self-confident in my Tai-Kwon-Do skills and too naive to acknowledge the danger of streets at night), but they rarely offer or ask if I feel uncomfortable. The world women live in is much different than our male counterparts. They can walk home in a drunken state from the bars at 2 a.m., but if I were to attempt the same feat, I’d MUCH more likely be taken advantage of. And it’d be my fault. I shouldn’t have been so stupid. I should’ve worn a longer skirt. My leggings were too tempting.
COULD THAT BE MORE IGNORANT? Who believes that anyway? You know how to stop sexual harassment? DON’T SEXUALLY HARASS PEOPLE. Why can’t I feel safe in my own town just because I have a different downstairs mix-up?
To bring us full circle, if you haven’t heard about the dumbass of a reporter at Serena Williams’s press conference this week, let me give you a little insight. Don’t ask one of the greatest athletes of our generation why she isn’t smiling. You’ll get a response like, “To be perfectly honest I just don’t want to be here right now.” And to be perfectly honest, I would have been much more rude. That reporter is just lucky Serena is a classy lady.
So a little food for thought next time you or a friend consider catcalling a girl to “make her feel good about herself,” don’t. And ladies, next time some dude is a perverted arse, ignore him, don’t give him the satisfaction of a response. He has a lot to deal with anyway with his tiny penis and all.