Street Harrassment

Recently I’ve moved back to Washington, D.C. and have begun the process of finding a permanent place to live. It’s exhausting. But I tried to make it less so by picking a bunch of places all in the same neighborhood that I could easily walk to and from them. Unfortunately, by choosing to walk around, freely, in public as we are all wont to do, I had to deal with every sort of commentary that a woman can get on her body from strangers.

I don’t know what it is about the sight of a woman walking alone that causes this response out of certain men. And I say certain, because the vast majority of men, particularly black men, I came across as I walked all over Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood either A) saw me and said nothing, B) saw me and nodded hello or C) saw me and said “Hello” and kept on stepping. These were all preferred responses for me since we were all busy, going places and had things to do.

My beef is with the five black men who at various times throughout the day felt that “hello” and “keep on stepping” would not suffice. No, I was something that needed to be commented on. They needed me to know that they saw me and they either liked what they saw or just felt like shouting random things.

Here were the following men I encountered:

Name: “Don’t ever cut your hair!” Guy

What he was supposed to be doing: Unloading furniture to sell at Capitol Hill’s flea market at Eastern Market

What happened: “Don’t ever cut your hair,” is the least original line I encounter because I have heard this a billion times. I’m a black woman. People think black women aren’t supposed to have a lot of hair, but I have a lot of hair so there’s always some weirdo who has to act like I’m some “Hair Unicorn” in the land of the bald when there are plenty of black women with hair. This time “Don’t ever cut your hair” guy used the trite combo of the line “Your boyfriend must be really happy with you!” As if he were waiting for me to say, “Oh no, sir. I am single! Perhaps you can escort me around Eastern Market as I look at apartments!” Then he asked to shake my hand, which, whatever, was weird, but at least he didn’t ask for a hug. I’ve had that happen a few times and that is, by far, the boldest crap to pull.

Threat level: Zero. This guy was more pathetic than scary. I pretty much laughed at him, shook his hand and kept going to my destination even as he continued to shout things like “You’re beautiful!” and “Gotdamn!”

Why?: This guy was with friends who were helping him unload furniture. I’m pretty sure this fell into the category of “Hey guys! Look how straight I am! I am so heterosexual and into women I’m going to shout at this one right here! Aren’t I cool! I actually talked to her! She shook my hand! Lawdy, lawdy, that was thrilling, wasn’t it! If I was just a few years younger and 50 lbs lighter, boy! It would have been on!” Basically, this more for his bonding with his male friends than for me. It, perhaps, gave them momentarily something to talk about that was not furniture.

Name: Car Troll #1

What he was supposed to be doing: Driving somewhere

What happened: “Hey, beautiful. Where you going? You having a nice day today? You single? You need a ride? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” I, as a rule, do not talk to men who shout at me from cars. I don’t even turn my head to look at them. Sometimes if they jaw on too much, I might wave them off (it’s the nicest thing I can do instead of doing what I want to do, which is flick them off). If they start following me, I tell them “If you keep following me, you and me are about to have a problem,” which, thankfully throughout the years has been enough to get creepy guys in Times Square, ex-cons in the Bronx and thirsty weirdos in Anacostia to step off.  But Car Troll #1 just wanted to shout things to the wind as I walked away. He then went through the stop sign and out of my life.

Threat level: On a scale of 1 to 10 all car harassers are a threat level of 7 because for  every 9 car harassers who drive off and leave you alone there’s the one who follows you. Therefore all car harassers are bad. Don’t harass women from cars. Or don’t harass me from a car. I immediately assume you’re trying to kidnap and rape me. The one time a Car Troll got out of his car to talk to me and tried to follow me in Anacostia he actually said, out loud, “I probably shouldn’t be doing this …” and I was like “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t.” But all car harassers pull this crap like I’m so beautiful they couldn’t help themselves when the far more likely reality is they shout at any woman with a big butt. (Whoa is me and my large posterior that is large no matter what type of clothing I wear.)

Why?: Car Troll #1 was alone in his car, so I can only assume he was doing it for his own excitement. He likely, as I state above, shouts at women by quantity and not quality. So this was just the usual fishing because for every 50 women who say no, there’s one weirdo who entertains this crap. I would like to meet that one weirdo and give her several pieces of my mind.

* * *

Name: Car Troll #2

What he was supposed to be doing: Driving somewhere

What happened: Car Troll #2 was the most timid of the three total car trolls I met yesterday. I could barely hear his inaudible cat calling as if he, himself, were ashamed of doing this. Perhaps on some level he knew there would be nothing but rejection, but he figured he’d give it a shot anyway. The man was so mumbling that he could have pretended like he was asking me for directions. Faintly, it sounded like he said “Hey, how are you doing? Mumble mumble mumble, pretty lady?”

Threat Level: He’s a car troll. Even pathetic car trolls get a 7.

Why?: This Car Troll was also driving alone. I think maybe he simply doesn’t know how to talk to women. I pitied him, from afar, while not responding and walking in the opposite direction.

* * *

Name: Car Troll #3

What he was supposed to be doing: You think these dudes would concentrate on driving, but noooooo.

What happened: “Hey baby, you need a bodyguard! I’ll be your bodyguard!” No. Just no.

Threat level: Still a 7. I only know you’re not a car trolling rapist by you not trying to rape me.

Why?: I couldn’t tell if this one was alone or not because I soon as I heard the “bodyguard” line I went into tunnel vision mode. Again, he was shouting with such force and confidence I can only assume that he’s another quantity guy who shouts at everyone with a large butt, no matter what is going on elsewhere. At least it wasn’t as bad as the time I was in New York’s Penn Station and on two separate occasions some stranger leaned over to me as I was walking and minding my own business to whisper in my ear “Nice ass.” That was just creepy. Mostly because I didn’t see the men who did it because Penn Station was so crowded and in both cases they snuck up on me and I REFUSED to turn around to see who it was. It was like being sexually harassed by ghosts.

* * *

Name: Old Jerk Who Was Mad at the Washington Redskins

What happened: After a long day of looking at apartments, I was exhausted and waiting at the bus stop to go home, when up comes this skinny old man (he had to be well over 70) who started in on me about the “bad” Redskins. I still have not bothered to look up if they lost Sunday or not to see if that’s why he was jawing on and on. Then he told me how maybe I should be out there playing for them. “You wanna play for them?” He asked. Me, thinking he was harmless, was like, “Nah. I’ll pass.” Then this douche says, “You should be out there running around for them as fat as you is.” And then it was like, “Great. Why did I think because he was an old man he’d be normal?” Then he crossed the street laughing to himself.

Threat level: None. He was a short, bony old man. I could have dropped kicked him across the street because, as he pointed out, I probably had a good 40-50 lbs on him with him being 5 foot nothing and looking like he suffered from either “crack” or some weird male form of osteoporosis.

Why?: Before he got to me he was jawing to another black man who seemed tired of him, then a couple of Vietnamese people working on their restaurant sign who also politely humored him but looked like they wanted him to go away and then finally me. Let’s just assume he’s old and crazy and doesn’t get enough attention from his family (if they have anything to do with him) so he has to bother people on the street with his issues. As always, I ignored him and said nothing.

Which gets me to my final point: Should I have said something?

As a rule, I only say something if I feel threatened. Like if they’ve invaded my personal space or if they’ve chosen to “follow” me when I do not want to be followed or they’ve put their hands on me. But I always wonder if I should say something about how inappropriate their behavior is. How I’ve been told all these things before and they are not “original” or “interesting.” I know I have a lot of hair. I know I have a big butt. I know that to some skinny, crackish old men I might appear to be “fat.” I don’t need a running commentary about things I already know about myself. And yet, there’s a man out there who thinks I do.

What is it within these people that makes them think it’s OK? And should I tell them it’s not OK, or should I do what I’ve always done?


Image Credit: Books and Feminism 

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