I’ve read a few posts as of late in the DC blogosphere about the pesky issue of “street harassment.” There’s even an entire blog, Holla Back DC, which was recently launched to document particularly egregious examples. Some contend DC is worse than most cities but I don’t really have all that much of a comparison as it’s the only big city I’ve lived in for an extended period of time. What I can attest to, however, is that every woman I’ve spoken with about this has myriad stories. I thought I would chime in with my own two cents, especially in light of two recent incidents I’ve experienced.
Everyone is familiar with the dudes who stand on the corner. You see them a block away staring you up and down. Then the catcalling starts. Sometimes it attempts to be complimentary, sometimes it’s outright crude, and sometimes they follow you a few steps down the street attempting to make themselves heard (trust, another block hearing about what you have to offer in the bedroom is not going to make me give you my number).
Then there’s the evening security guard at my office building who, if nobody else happens to be in the lobby, will carry on with the, “Hey sexy, how are you? I like that dress, you look fine. Give me a smile, girl. I watched you walk all the way down the street the other day,” until I’m out of the building. This happens several times a week.
Or the convenience store on my block where I used to go when I unexpectedly ran out of milk or wanted to grab ice cream or a soda. Only the proprietor went from talking about how “beautiful you are,” to whether I had a boyfriend, to following me around the store talking about dating me. Now? More often than not, I’ll walk an extra block just to avoid the hassle.
Then there’s the next level of harassment, so to speak — beyond the leering gazes and disrespectfully inappropriate comments…
Take 1: I was walking from Adams Morgan to Mt. Pleasant around 11pm on a Friday night a few weeks ago. On Columbia Rd. between 17th and 16th, I noticed a guy on a bike seemed to be following me. He was just close enough that I could feel it but just far enough away that you aren’t quite sure. I stepped practically into the street to let him pass. But he didn’t. Then he started with the “Hey girl, what’s your name? Your ass looks fine in that dress. Where are you going?” I ignored at first and then gave the standard, “Thanks, going to meet my boyfriend,” brushoff, which usually works. He kept trying to talk to me and would pull slightly ahead and then look back at me. As I turned down Mt. Pleasant St., he rode off to 16th. Gone? Not quite. About three blocks down Mt. Pleasant, which was unusually quiet that night, I approached a cross street. On the corner, behind the side of the building, about 15 feet from me was — the same guy. I was completely taken by surprise. He made little hissing noises and then yelled all sorts of vulgar things as I quickly crossed the street. Very unlike me, I took a cab home that night because I was actually worried he had seen which bar I went into and was just hanging outside biding time.
Take 2: Less overtly scary but more invasive. I was on the 42 heading from Dupont to AdMo after work around 6:30pm Monday evening. A guy sat down next to me and, despite being of average build, completely crowded me. I mean he was practically on top of me. I tried to slide over as much as possible and even looked at him briefly, hoping he would get the message and back off. Oh no, this was no accident. He was carrying a bag on his lap, and the arm closest to me was half under the bag…and resting against my thigh. Again, at first you think this is inadvertent and he will readjust once he’s settled in the seat…and then his hand caressing your thigh is just from the bumps of the bus moving us about…until, as the bus does a forward/backward sort of lurch his hand manages to hook the hem of your skirt and make its way halfway up your bare thigh. Uhh, yeah.
These stories are undoubtedly familiar to most women as par for the course when traversing around the city (any city?). Men have always hit on women and it isn’t like you can really pass a law to prevent any of this ridiculousness. Short of public scorn of this sort of behavior (by other men, no less) there isn’t much one can do about it. If you complain about it, you’re a bitch or no fun or take yourself too seriously. Nevermind that I should have a right to walk around without people invading my space or being expected to reply to every stupid thing they yell to me and every other passing woman. Is this as serious as solving hunger and homelessness? Does it generally even bother me that much? Umm, no. But sometimes it’s frustrating, demeaning, belittling, annoying beyond belief, and just makes me want to scream.