If you’ve ever walked down the street as an owner of a female body, it’s likely that you’ve dealt with disrespectful catcalling from men just standing on the street. It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, fat, thin or part-ogre, street harassment is a part of many women’s daily lives.
Simple parts of the day, like getting on the bus, walking to work, and going to the grocery store become filled with anxiety. A number of programs, like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback!, have cropped up in the last few years to empower women to fight back against street harassment. This week, a young woman in Minnesota used Craigslist as her own unique way to call out her harasser, and give the site’s male readers a big dose of reality.
Lindsey, a self-described 20-something woman in Minneapolis, had the audacity to stand at an intersection waiting for the light rail when she encountered a man she described as “middle-aged, dark hair, tan skin, driving a green SUV and wearing the kind of red polo shirt you corporate douchebags love to wear on Fridays.”
Likely fueled by his “favorite Creed song” on the radio, Lindsey’s harasser made a series of creepy comments about her ass, even going so far as to inquire if she was wearing a thong under her fitted black dress. Thoroughly grossed out and two cocktails in, Lindsey penned her diatribe against street harassment, and it’s one for the ages:
I know how it is. That quittin' time whistle blows, announcing the weekend, and you get that rush of adrenaline that only comes on Friday afternoons, when the whole world is your oyster and all you need is the freedom to shuck it and some beer to wash it down. You make the minimum requisite small talk with your colleagues as you bolt for your car in the corporate wasteland parking lot and get excited at the notion of beating the traffic home. Maybe your classic rock radio station starts to play your favorite Creed song right as your engine turns on and you're feeling extra lucky. And that's where you find your psyche as you approach the intersection to turn onto 34th - you're a man with nothing to lose and an open road ahead of you.
So, that's where we were. Me, minding my own business. You, apparently observing my ass.
Unfortunately, responding to a harasser on the street may not be realistic for many women. Engaging a harasser, even verbally, can result in violence and further harassment. For many women, it’s just easier to go on without acknowledging the harassment, and it certainly isn’t worth any possible repercussions. Narratives like Lindsey’s, though, are an important part of helping women take back their daily commutes.
These narratives are a cathartic way for women to push back against street harassment. Lindsey may not have intended for her rant to go viral, but a number of men saw her post. Maybe some of the readers will think before they yell “Hey, nice tits!” out their car window.
For many of these men, the street harassment discussion is apparently very educational. Male comments on Gawker’s coverage of the post showed that there is some confusion on the difference between a compliment and harassment. Stories like these help put a human face on the reality of street harassment.
It is important to remember that this type of harassment disproportionately affects women of color. Not only are they subjected to objectifying comments about their bodies, racial slurs often follow. The same goes for queer and trans women. The focus of the harassment may be different, but the results are all the same.
All women, though, have an interest in fighting back against street harassment. Even if you haven’t been a victim, it’s likely that you’ll experience cat-calling or worse in your lifetime. According to Stop Street Harrassment, if you feel safe enough to respond to your harasser, do it. “Assertively respond to the harassers calmly, firmly, and without insults or personal attacks to let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable, and wrong.”
If you witness street harassment, speak up. Stop Street Harassment points out that men standing up to street harassers has a particularly strong effect, because men tend to look to other men for validation of their behavior. If you’re interested in a more proactive approach to fighting street harassment, both Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! offer great resources to get you started.