Here’s a quick story about something that really pissed me off last night:
I was walking home from the bar, so it was around 2 a.m., and I was alone since I had not gone out with my roommates. I usually never feel unsafe walking alone at night in Athens (coincidentally, I quicken my pace at the thought of the Blair Witch and E.T. than the thought of assault), especially since Court Street is usually pretty packed with people. No matter how drunk Court Street is at 2 a.m., I feel pretty secure.
I usually don’t make eye contact with people when I’m on my mission to get home–which might seem like paranoia, but it’s usually just because I don’t want to be tempted by GoodFella’s or Big Mama’s or the rest of the delicious drunk food establishments on Court. Although I’ve become pretty jaded to the street harassment on Court, from being called “baby” by guys I don’t know to having “Hey girl, slow down!” shouted at me and “Where you headed tonight?” It’s not comfortable, but that shouldn’t stop me from walking home.
Well, my last post, coincidentally, was about how inconsiderate it is to tell a woman you don’t know to “smile.” I’m almost home, weaving through the throngs of people being pushed out of the bars by the tired bartenders, when I see a group of guys, maybe three or four, walking towards me. I notice they’re looking at me, probably because I’m alone, but I ignore them. I’m just trying to get home.
As they pass, one of them turns his head toward me to let me know what he thinks of me. A succinct and informative statement of, “Bitch!”
I’m drunk. I’m tired. I want to go home. It’s almost finals week which means I have a week left before I have to leave my favorite place in the world for the summer. Despite all this, I’m in a great mood. I had a great night up to this point (besides the fact that a total stranger kept feeling my hair after I told her to stop). I have given no reason for anyone to believe that I’m a bitch beside the fact that I wouldn’t make eye contact or smile at them.
Although this is only a very “innocent” (if that’s what we want to call it) instance of street harassment, it made me pretty pissed off. I turned my head and almost yelled something back, but decided not to. Nobody around me seemed to notice or care. Some organizations touch on this and support women who encounter even more dangerous situations, such as Hollaback!, which has a branch here in Appalachia.
The terrifying thing about this is that other groups are in even more danger when catcalling or name calling happens. I wasn’t fearful of being beaten up or the situation escalating–I felt safe, just really pissed off. I walked into my apartment and vented about it to my roommate, who happens to be a gay man. “Yeah, honey, I know all about that,” was his response.
For gay and bisexual men, the fear usually isn’t about getting hit on. It’s fear of getting beat up once the instigating group realizes they’re gay, or “traitors” to the privileged group. Living in a relatively liberal town, being called a faggot or worse isn’t something he experiences every night, but it happens. And even just one time is too many to be slurred at.
Taking it a step even further, trans women, especially trans women of color, are victims of both sides of the coin. The situation starts by getting hit on, then escalates dramatically once the harassers realize the person is trans.
Laverne Cox, an actress in “Orange is the New Black,” who is a trans woman, touches on this subject. In the video, she tells a story about how one man hits on her and the other man says that she’s a man. The two get in an argument about whether she’s a “bitch” or an “n-word.”
The street harassment started first because these men found me attractive because I’m a woman. Then they realized that I was trans and it became something else, it turned into something else, and so many trans women have to experience this.
In short, street harassment is messed up. Really messed up. It’s informing a person of a marginalized group that they’re not welcome in a certain situation. If I’m not going to smile and flirt with guys while walking home, I’m going to be called names. If a gay man doesn’t mask his sexuality in certain situations, he’s going to be beat up. If a trans woman doesn’t hide herself, she’s going to experience something much worse.
So, call out street harassment if you see it going on. Let people know that there’s no place for that shit, because the victim is usually too scared to do anything to protect themselves out of fear of escalating the situation. Street harassment is a product of sexism, homophobia, racism and misogyny. So let’s cut that out.