Picture yourself walking to work in the morning, half-asleep, your coffee in hand. Your only goal is to arrive in a good mental state. And as you’re walking, headphones on and avoiding eye contact, you hear several strangers talk to you, or “holla” (the worst word in the English language) at you. Now try to imagine that for years this has happened to you every single day, regardless of what time of day, regardless of what you look like, and regardless of the fact that you try your best to ignore it. Just picture what that might feel like every day. Here’s a hint: it’s exhausting.
There is a video circulating around the internet of an experiment where a woman walks around New York City for ten hours and records her cat-callers. She ends up with over one hundred recorded instances of street harassment. As expected, many folks had a problem with this video. Some complained what she went through was not actual harassment, saying that the men are simply being nice and paying her a compliment. Others said the woman in the video should not dress the way she was dressed (jeans, t-shirt, sneakers) if she didn’t want to be noticed. That’s textbook victim blaming, and completely irrelevant. These are the same people who are pissed women won’t “just take the compliment.” Some men can’t even fathom the idea of being in a constant state of uneasiness, or of being afraid to walk alone when it is dark out.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I have experienced street harassment on all levels, and from all sorts of individuals. When I was a child, I saw it happen to my mom, and I grew up watching how she just ignored it, thinking I had to do the same. Even my father would tell me, “Mija just ignore it.” I didn’t understand why I would, and I still don’t.
By the time I was twelve or thirteen-yes, twelve, I had started to experience the cat-calling for myself. The comments from these grown men made me feel violated – not pretty or special. The way these men looked at my child-like body, sizing me up and down, made me feel like I was something, not someone. I’ve had men call me “dyke bitch,” “ugly slut,” and say things like “I was trying to say hello to your ugly ass.” All because I have ignored their advances. Every woman I know has had a similar experience. We are all veterans to the game. So it should be no surprise that yes, we are a little sick and tired out it. It should also be no surprise that we no longer want to ignore it, or keep shut about it. The video exposes the unfortunate reality for women all around the world. Not everyone will be open to hearing the truth, because of course, the truth its ugly. But that is too bad, because a whole new generation of women is now fighting back.
Another criticism of the video points out that it isn’t a fair depiction of street harassers because they edited out the white men. I am sure white men also harass and abuse women. Though I don’t know the statistics, I can only speak of my personal experience. Which is that 99% of the time, the person on the other end of the street harassment has been Black or Latino.I don’t know why, and I don’t know the different factors that contribute to this, but should it really matter?
The criticism is a distraction from the purpose of the video. It proves that maybe we aren’t so ready to face the real issue. The fact is the video is about street harassment, not about politics, not about race or class, but about a very complex issue that deserves our focus. It is intimidating and scary. Some men become violent when rejected and others simply have the intention of hurting you. Since we don’t know the intention behind the “hello,” or the real reason why someone would follow you for three blocks, it is quite terrifying. Many women say, “Well, once you get older you will be sad when it stops,” or “You will appreciate a cat-call now and then once you’ve had some kids.”
I don’t ever really know how to respond to them because that concept seems so absurd to me. And yet, it is so real for them. My self-esteem is not dependent on some sleazy stranger on the subway who meows at me like I’m an animal. If that is what works for some women, I can’t say I blame them. It is the way our society has molded us. Because women should only feel valuable when desirable to a man, right?
The statistics on sexual assault are alarming. The more we raise awareness on facts that might make some uncomfortable, the better we are making the world for future generations of little girls. Let me remind you that I am not blaming all men, not by a long shot. I know many kind and respectful men who would never ever behave in such a way. Unfortunately though, the assholes out there are much louder than the nice guys. It has to stop. I am tired of having to explain why I don’t want to be “complimented” on my way to work, the gym, or when I shop for groceries. I don’t appreciate being stared at or hollered at from across the subway platform. And before you call me an angry feminist, know that I’m well aware that I’m angry, a lot of people are, not just women, and it’s time to stop ignoring it and do something about it.