I had my outfit all picked out. It wasn’t too revealing but showed off my athletic curves and was the brightest shade of pink my eyes have ever seen. But there was no way I’d wear this out. Sure I felt good in the confines of my Harlem apartment, but I knew it would be different once I stepped out the door. The damn-I’m-looking-good would quickly shift to why-did-I-wear-this once the block boys started making their incessant comments.

Even if I tried to distract myself by tinkering on my BlackBerry, it wouldn’t shield me. I’d feel naked until I reached my intended destination.

I attend a lot of events that require me to dress up a bit and my style leans towards anything with sequins, ruffles or bold prints.

The nature of some (not all) men on the block: they feel the need to comment on any woman who passes their line of vision, whether she’s five feet away or on the other side of the street. And women like myself who dress extra “fancy” get the loudest commentary.

“You don’t want to talk to me MJ?” That was the comment when I rocked a thrifted sequin vest.

“BITCH, YOU DON’T EVEN MATCH!” Those sweet words were uttered after I ignored a man’s advances. He clearly didn’t appreciate me mixing a tribal print dress with a lace top.

I’ve never really had issues with men in any other setting, it’s just the men on the block. I’m sure these same people wouldn’t dare say such things if they were alone or around other civilized folks in a social setting.

Eventually I stopped wearing anything I thought would illicit explicit hollas and I even avoided going down certain streets where I knew there would be a cluster of men. My bold patters were gone. Hems got longer. My four-inch stilettos turned into two-inch moderate heels. The moderate heels turned into flats with heels in my purse.

I dressed down for the men.

After I changed (literally) the comments were still there, but the level of harassment wasn’t as intense. I got less grief walking down the street, but I felt way more toned down than I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until a guy I was dating pointed out how silly this was.
Him: You would never let me tell you how to dress, would you?
Me: I didn’t even verbalize an answer. I just gave him a side eye with my face screwed up.
Him: So why would you let someone you don’t even know change how you move?

He hated the fact that I was being harassed, but even more than that, he hated that I was dwarfing myself.

Not only was I giving these men power over me, but I was taking on the burden of thinking I was somehow responsible for their bad behavior.

Shortly after that I went back to my way of dress: sequins, ruffles and all!

The gargantuan balls some men magically grow on the street corner didn’t have to turn me in to a shrinking violet.

The men haven’t changed and the “cat calls” are still there, but at least I’ve changed (not literally this time). I keep it moving, knowing that their disrespectful behavior is more of a reflection of them, not what I choose to wear.

I stopped dressing (down) for the men.

– Patrice J. Williams

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  • I live in Harlem as well. I understand the block and what you can expect. Then one day, I walked my block, to the corner store, and to the train in a classical all-white Storm costume I had put together for NY Comic Con. Complete with blue eyes, white flowing wig, and cape blowing in the wind.
    The block was silent.
    Do you, because in the end, boys will never know how to approach a female fully confident in herself, not just in what she has on.

  • mischa warren

    fantastic article!! I love that Cocoa&Creme’s thoughtful and offbeat topics on fashion!!
    ..i’m a new fan..

  • chin

    really appreciate the article

  • yo

    I live in Harlem too. The cat calling is the WORST there! I can’t even get outside of my door w/o the looks and the comments. Earbuds solved this problem! It’s like a magic bubble!