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Going out

September 18, 2009

Trigger Warning

Since moving to Chicago, I’ve experienced more street harassment than ever before in my life. I’ve lived in two different parts of D.C. (while working near or on the Hill), and two smallish Minnesota towns, none of which even compare. In all of these places, when I have been harassed, I know that I am not alone–not at all–that many, many (maybe all) women have experienced what I have experienced in these places.

A Shakesville contributor alerted us all to an ad on CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) buses for the new Tucker Max movie. It says “Deaf Girls Can’t Hear You Coming.” Not okay. (CTA now says they will remove the ads, but like Melissa, I’m not really sure what kind of half-assed vetting process got them up in the first place.)

Public places aren’t safe for women. Not safe when a very potentially triggering image makes it onto city property. Not safe when half of all CTA users have been sexually harassed. Not safe when bus drivers claim it’s not their responsibility to intervene when harassment occurs.

And it sucks, not only because actual harassment is so hurtful, silencing, degrading, but also because the threat of harassment is always there. I am not going to some friends’ housewarming party this weekend because I would have to spend time waiting for a bus in a part of the city that I don’t want to be in alone at night. I take a longer route to my boyfriend’s place to avoid a spot where I am consistently harassed. I go to a chain grocery store instead of the locally-owned organic place because the latter is in a strip mall where I have to run the gauntlet. I am rude to people asking for money on the street, people who really deserve to see a kind face once in a while (at the very least), because I cannot take being talked to anymore.

It makes me crazy furious that I am not unique in this way, that this has happened to every woman I know, and every woman I see. But it also makes me feel less alone to know that we’re all fighting a common enemy. That’s why videos like this:

And amazing activists like these make me so proud, and so hopeful. But for now, I’ll leave this here, or it’ll be dark before I get back with the groceries.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    September 19, 2009 9:04 AM

    That is so unnerving. I guarantee you I would do the same thing in your situation. What’s so frustrating is that this fear of harassment inhibits your freedom (and mine) so much. You could continue going the places you get harassed and try to ignore it, but as you stated in the case of the house warming party, the fear goes beyond the act of being harassed, it’s a fear that the harassment you experience will escalate into action, threatening your physical safety. In a society where in most cases we live isolated from one another, it truly saddens me to consider harassment, a social interaction that seems only to foment distance, fear of others, and the feeling that you “cannot be talked to anymore.” I think that this fear of one another, exacerbated by harassment, is what makes us feel the need to protect ourselves rather than reach out. What we hear and see causes us to be afraid of those who live with us and to feel the need to protect ourselves from them. This self-preservationist mentality, in my opinion, creates violence in our society. We live in constant tension with one another, always afraid of what could happen and arming ourselves for that possibility.

    • Jill permalink
      September 20, 2009 1:22 PM

      That’s a really good point. I think it’s the part that makes me the saddest (as opposed to the angriest). I can’t tell when people are saying “How’s it going?” to be nice, or to leer at me. So I don’t respond. It’s a shame.

  2. Katherine permalink
    September 19, 2009 9:54 AM

    The hissing, good god, the hissing is the worst. I don’t know what it is about that noise, but last time it was directed at me (at the grocery store), I turned toward the offender (who was behind me) and said “Stop fucking doing that!” I hate hate haaaaaate that noise. It makes my skin crawl and it makes me want to punch and kick and tear my hair out.

    • Jill permalink
      September 20, 2009 1:20 PM

      I don’t think I’ve ever been hissed at, but I can totally see how horrible that is. There are some times when I can kind of see where the harasser is coming from (here, I constantly get people walking up to me, standing way too close to me, and telling me, “You have nice hair”), but not with stuff like this. I mean, why would you even do that?

  3. Amanda permalink
    September 20, 2009 4:36 PM

    I think that harassment is about power, regardless of the form in which it occurs. The harasser, by placing the harassed in a position of weakness, humiliation, and subordination, gains a sense of superiority and strength. It’s a need that I would argue stems from personal insecurity. One really can’t generalize on personal insecurity as it has a variety of causes. What’s a shame though is that by harassing, the harasser in all likelihood transmits the insecurity he or she feels to the harassed. This transmission of insecurity makes the harassed feel the need to prepare a defense against his or her harasser or potential harassers, which ultimately perpetuates the societal tension I mentioned in my previous post.

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