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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Makes me wanna holla!

Street harassment is the bane of women everywhere. We've learn to deal with the wolfcalls, the lude remarks, the leering stares in our individual ways, either choosing to ignore the behavior, or cutting eyes at the perpetrators or simply cussing out the fools. Still, a few women in New York have taken their resistance a step further. Instead of merely taking the abuse, they are recording pics of the harassers and posting them on a website called Holla Back New York.

Women feel free to recount their incidents on the site along with whatever pic they were able to record with their cellphones. Whether this will prove effective against harassment or not, at least women have a place to post their frustrations. Here is one of the accounts as posted by a woman named Amina:

"I was on the F train going to Brooklyn. This man next to me was staring, like boring holes into the side of my face staring. So I got up and moved to another seat. He got up and moved to sit across the aisle from me, STARING.

"At this point I'm just ignoring him, not talking, not looking, knowing he was going to follow me. We get to Jay St and I wait to get off the train until right before the doors close, so he wouldn't follow me. But old dirty man figured it out and just as I was walking out of the train doors, he stands next to me and says so no one else can hear: "I was waiting for you to open your legs."

Another woman named Laura posted about being stalked at the MOMA by a well-dressed man with a Caribbean accent. His initial approach: "excuse me, hello, i saw you in de lobby and i was very curious. i just wanted to introduce myself. so, where are you from?"

When she refused to answer and moved away, he followed her around the museum with increasing acrimony, calling her rude for not acknowledging him. Her response to me was too meek, with her just mildly answering him at one point, "That's OK." Finally, as he dogged her every step she turned and said: "i don't want to answer anything!!" She became distraught to the point of tears.

I don't know. Maybe being older (I'm assuming I'm older), I just have gotten to the point where I don't shy away from a good confrontation. My words would have been much stronger. A good "Fuck off!" tends to deter some of the jackasses. Might have even gotten in his face to make the point.

I think these jerks pursue women they size up as being "weak" or "mild." They count on these women not to make a scene. But not making a scene can be a big, even fatal, mistake. I learned that lesson from Oprah (yes, Oprah). She had a show focused on how some women ignore their internal warnings in dangerous situations, and how their meek reactions make them vulnerable. A lot of women have been taught that they should be polite to strangers, even when the strangers begin cramping their space. This politeness leaves an opening for potential harassers or rapists to get even closer to their victims.

The one thing I took away from Oprah's show that day was that we aren't obligated to be nice or even courteous. Courtesy is a privilege, not a right. Once, when a man followed me to an aisle in Borders trying to start up a conversation, I simply walked away without acknowledging him. I heard him say behind me, "You could at least say 'hi.'" Yeah, I guess I could have said 'hi.' But then I would have been stuck in a conversation I didn't want. My action was unambiguous; "I don't want to engage with you. I didn't come here to be picked up."

I'm long past trying to please anyone to my detriment. I know when to say "No," when to say it loudly, when to holler it. This is a lesson all women should learn.

And just maybe, we need to take a few lessons in kickboxing. I know I plan to.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 11/20/2005 09:21:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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