Monday, February 16, 2009

Just a letter

Hello. This is long, but I have to get it out.

I have not left my apartment alone in 6 months, except once per week to go to the grocery store (in the car), and even that is a nightmare I dread.

Every time I leave the house I feel intimidated by street harassers, cat callers or otherwise rude, aggressive men. No, I'm not a supermodel, nor a sea cow. No I don't dress provocatively (most of the time I don't even get out of my PJ's) or instigate trouble. I mostly try to look at the ground when I walk now.
Its every single time I leave the house, and its not my imagination. Its not an age thing, a race thing or a lifestyle thing-Its a gender/aggression thing.

Even going to the grocery store once a week is a nightmare; the last 2 trips I was cornered by crazy, sick old men that could have been my grampa, or at least my dad. One of the guys stopped at the end of an aisle and stared at me for over a whole minute-When I stared back he said 'sorry' and scurried away. Another one was a really old man when I was at the check out; He stood so close to me I could feel his breath on my neck, so I changed check out booths after trying to take steps back several times, and him just stepping closer very time. He FOLLOWED ME!!! But this time he was blocking me in, so I couldn't get away!

The last time I went out without my BF and not to the grocery store was to walk to the bank 1/2 mile away and back. Outside the bank is a fruit cart with a guy selling fruit. I saw him staring at the end of the block, and he leered the whole time, whistled when I passed the cart, and leered again until I got into the bank doors. Same thing happened on the way back.
As soon as I turned the corner, 3 men parked in a car on the side street began making kissy noises and yelling toward me...The three of them followed me all the way to the other corner where I live, making squishy mouth noises the whole way. I don't go to the bank on foot anymore.

Aside from yells and weird encounters (this is only the last couple times Ive left the house), I can't walk down the road without beeps from passing cars, or men yelling obscene comments or leering out their windows at red lights. It doesn't just happen in the summer when I wear t-shirts and shants. It happens in the winter, too, wearing long pants, sweaters and coats.

At my last apartment, the balcony was over an alleyway shared with a major road where a building was undergoing construction. Every time I went to water the plants outside, the construction workers would yell obscene things to me. I had stopped going even on my own goddamn porch to avoid abuse!!

Yes, I used to do container gardening and would like to again, but Home Depot is another nightmare/obstacle so I decided not to garden this year. There's always workers standing at the entrances of the parking lot (on Western/Sunset), which is cool, but I'm not building a deck; I'm buying snapdragons for my porch and don't need any assistance. As soon as the men see inside the dirty windows of my jetta and find a woman, the yelling and hissing starts.
Often they've become very aggressive, and banged on the car windows while making foul gestures with their mouths, etc... Exiting the home depot is scary, too. My last shopping trip there, one man followed me all the way from the exit door to my car (which was far into the lot) making squishy noises from his mouth and yelling things at me. I tried to walk really quick, but he got to my car and blocked me from my car door-I nearly ran him over when I finally got him to get away from me.

At my last job (I was laid off last summer), there were lots of uncomfortable moments, too. I had to water the plants outside before the showroom opened, and the cat calls and leers from cars never ended (I would be wearing pant suits w/ flats). It didn't matter...Old men in BMWs, young men in sports cars, packs of workers in beat up trucks, dads in Volvos w/ little kids in the back, hippy surfers in vintage/rusty cars... it didn't matter!!!

This has been happening to me since I was 13 years old. I'm 24 now, and cannot ever adjust-It just makes me feel lower and lower each time I go out. Now I just don't go out. It happens from ALL men...I've even been cat called by police officers in squad cars 4 times!!!(Not just Los Angeles-Boston and New York, too). I was pursued by a Fireman on duty once at my old job.

I remember once I was 16 years old, taking the train home from a museum with a group of other girls (From Boston to Salem) and 2 men followed us onto a train. It started on the platform, where they were catcalling to us. One of them even touched my hair once we were on the train, and we complained to the conductor, who called the police (they also didn't have valid train tickets). The Salem PD waited for us at the station where they were arrested-They drove us home. Funny that 2 years later I'd be catcalled by Salem PD officers in uniform ('Nice Legs' from a squad car at a red traffic light, on a 98 degree 98% humid day).

Don't even get me started on the New York transit system! That's just as bad as walking alone on an LA city street!

I remember being 13 years old spending summers on New Hampshire and Cape Cod beaches with my Nana, and getting cat calls and honks from cars and being 'hit on' by men 4x my age. At age 13.

Even going out with my boyfriend is uncomfortable. We don't go out much, but sometimes we have obligatory things to do, like friends parties, art shows, film openings and the like. I hate them all. If we go to a party or have to go to a lounge, leers come from all sorts of men-The most bewildering are men who have their own girlfriends in their arms while they leer at others! Any bar/lounge/restaurant is uncomfortable.

On my birthday last year we went to a fancy restaurant/lounge in Malibu, and a scary, older man was leering at me for some time. I felt like a piece of braised brisket. As soon as my boyfriend left our corner to refill our drinks, the man came over and rubbed up against me even though he had plenty of room. I asked him to step away from me, and he didn't heed my request until my boyfriend returned and told him to buzz off.

Another quasi recent time was when we went to Medieval Times-The dinner theatre with the horses where you eat w/ your hands. We were waiting in the court area and a man with girlfriend in tow kept leering in my eyes, very aggressively like he was going to beat me up! These leers are not sexy. They are frightening, and are intended to be demeaning.
Later when we went in to wait for seat, the same man found me again, and continued the terror. Understand, this isn't an innocent glance. I kept walking around my boyfriend trying to find places where my BF would block the harasser's view, but the harasser kept moving about to keep me in his eye site.

That's what it is. Its harassment, intended to dehumanize.
It happened at Disneyland. Once, my boyfriend and I were just being seated into the CA Screaming roller coaster, and apparently there was a group of college aged emo kids behind us in line. One of them noticed me, and bent his whole body over the railing to leer in my eyes. I turned the other way so not to make eye contact, but when I looked back the kid was still aggressively leering at me.
Flipping the bird, staring back or being verbally crass yourself doesn't fend off the terrorists. It only provokes them.

Waiting in the ride lines at Disney is no pick nick. Last time we went, a family was behind us while we waited for space mountain; a couple teens, parents and a grampa. Throughout the whole hour wait, the grampa stood so close to me his chest and belly rubbed against my back. Every time I would change spots, or step forward he would follow, and rub against me again. He even tried to maneuver around my boyfriend to stand near me. It makes me even not want to go to Disney anymore. The leerers are so numerous, its impossible to account for each one-Each stare that makes me sink lower and lower into my shell.

Even trips, vacations-anywhere-It's never ending. We went to visit some distant relatives in Louisiana for Christmas, and eating at places there, walking down streets of the boonies was hardly different, however less populated. Beeps at red lights, 'hollers', and the ever dreaded 'leer' remained a constant. We went to eat tiny lobsters at some Cajun seafood joint, and one man at a table beside ours kept staring at me in the eye. To what purpose, I wonder? It made me feel mortally uncomfortable the whole dinner, and he sat with 6 kids and a woman. I wanted to crawl under a rock, and never come out.

A few years ago I was at Logan Airport flying back to LA, and a scary man was glaring intensely at me for about 20 minutes, with that crude 'I'm undressing you in my mind' look; The type of leer you
can feel like a heat ray, even if you don't look back. It was the same situation as the Medieval Times episode, where I kept trying to move around and use my boyfriend's body to block the man's view-He kept maneuvering to keep me in his sight. I flipped him the bird, said 'what are you staring at?'. It made a small scene being so close to United's customer service desk (in the gate), and United nearly barred my entry onto the plane-
They made me stand to the side while I cried and while the flight attended yelled at me, so every passanger who boarded could give me a dirty look. They then had me come on the plane last after the pilot 'OK'd' me, but only because my boyfreind would not board-They were trying to insist he board the plane without me because I wasn't allowed. It was absolutely humiliating, and all because I didn't want to be stared at like a piece of meat- Note that I didn't start crying until I was told I wasn't allowed on the plane for flipping the bird at another passanger. (Yes, it was wholly inapropriate for me to raise voice in a busy airport, but I stressed, hadn't slept in 3 days and was tired of the BS and being stared at, while atempting to avoid the harasser). This is a major reason I've given up-I used to 'fight back', but after the airport incident, I stopped.

These are only instances about street harassment, and only the ones I remember in detail without much contemplation. This doesn't account for all the times my mother's husband undresses me with his eyes, the number of times he's pinched my butt or reached down my pants for a 'thong wedgie', or the time he grabbed my genitals.
Nor does this account for the several times I received unsolicited 'back rubs' and 'butt slaps' from managers and bosses at different jobs, then was fired for complaining. This doesn't account for harassment and discomfort by customers and clients at different jobs, either.
This is only the fear and dehumanization I've experienced from complete strangers in public places.

Please stop this, so I can come out of my house, and be able to walk to the bank or the video store or the art store without fear. So maybe I can go to the garden store again, or enjoy a ride a Disney or a meal at a restaurant without wishing I had worn a burka instead of a pants suit, or shants and a t-shirt.
Thank You.