It’s spring, so you know what that means. ’Tis the season for street harassment!
Yes, warmer weather begets exposed legs begets unsolicited ‘compliments’ from dudes on the street. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Line face.)
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I had a double whammy of my own a couple weeks back. While waiting for the bus on post-workout, a guy came up to me and asked me, rather angrily, why “women get so offended when you tell them they have a nice ass?” (THIS HAPPENED.)
Now, I generally engage with most people when I’m out and about so long as I don’t feel scared because I’m nice (more on that in a bit). There were people around and it was light outside so I didn’t feel particularly threatened.
The exchange went something like this:
Me, answering politely: “Well, some women feel uncomfortable when they’re approached by strangers. You know, like now.”
Dude: Audible scoff. “But it’s a compliment!” (This guy. It was like he read some sort of Street Harassment 101 Phrasebook.)
Me: “Maybe. But mostly it’s not.”
Dude: “But weren’t women put on this earth to be attractive to men? For breeding?”
Me: “Yeeaaah K. We’re done here.” Obvious step backward.
Dude: Still doesn’t get it. Moves back in and launches into lengthy monologue about his life and how he has to report to a boss with a Grade 8 education even though HE went to college and YIKES.
At this point, another guy watching this exchange go down approaches ostensibly to “rescue” me from Creeper A. Creeper B starts asking me questions to deflect Creeper A; nice gesture, I suppose, but I really would have preferred if everyone had just STOPPED TALKING TO ME.
Creeper B: “Where were you before this? You look extremely tired.” (Apparently post-gym is not a good look for me; one time a panhandler duo got into a fairly heated disagreement about whether I was attractive enough to be shaken down for change or not. “Don’t lie — she’s ugly!” It’s a minefield out there, you guys!)
ANYWAY, my bus mercifully arrived and Creeper B calls out, “I’ll send you the bill.” (Um, PARDON?)
Two strains of street harassment — BAM! — back to back. A big ol’ helping of “I’m going to make you feel deeply uncomfortable by not knowing when to back off” served with a side of “I’m going to do something for you and then expect something in return.” Gross.
I understand I took risk engaging with Creeper A at all, and I understand why most women — myself included — usually put their heads down and keep walking. For me it’s a case-by-case basis. I’ve felt legitimately, cross-the-street, let’s-hope-I-can-run-in-these fearful and, in those situations, I surmise that engaging would draw even more unwanted attention.
But usually, as in the case described above, I feel the overwhelming need to be nice. I’m generally a nice person, even though I have what you’d call a permanent bitch face. (Which reminds me: dudes, stop telling me to smile, or that I would be prettier if I smiled or some sort of combination thereof. THIS IS HOW MY FACE LOOKS.)
As feminist columnist Lindy West once wrote, ‘the socialization to be nice is incredibly powerful.’ We women have to be nice because otherwise we’re stuck up bitches — and if there’s anything street harassers hate, it’s stuck-up bitches. There’s no in between.
Think about that. It’s incredibly silencing. Creeper A probably thought he was “being nice” by telling that lady she had a nice ass which is why the fact she’d be disgusted DOES NOT COMPUTE. Here’s how it plays out: “But random women love being told they’re sexy, right? Aren’t compliments catnip for ladies? Why do you have to be so uptight? Can’t you take a compliment? Why are you such a bitch?”
That’s not being nice. That’s being a street harasser.
For my part, I’m working on being more assertive and ditching the nice girl routine. You can, too, by checking out the Winnipeg chapter of Hollaback!, a fantastic global organization that believes everyone has the right to feel safe and confident and that street harassment isn’t the “price one pays” for being a woman or being gay. Because that’s bullshit. Deets here: www.ihollaback.org/about.
Jen Zoratti is a freelance music journo and Spectator Tribune columnist. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti and look for SCREAMINGINALLCAPS.com, arriving to the Internetz in early June.