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.

Men:
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.

16 Comments:

At 6:37 PM, Blogger The Teen said...

I highly suggest that you come to live in metro Atlanta or any nice city in Georgia. I am 17, actually AM a supermodel, and I've lived here my entire life. I traveled to every corner of this state and I live in a metro Atlanta city, and I also go downtown frequently for photoshoots. I'm telling you right now that Georgia is home to some very classy, respectful men. I am VERY RARELY leered at in GA, but I have been harassed in FL, NY, and TX. I was shocked when I read your letter, I can't believe that anyone would have this experience. I think that you must be a lot more beautiful than you think you are to attract so much attention, even if it's from gross creepos. When I'm leered at (usually when I'm on vacation), I ignore it. One time, I even called my friend and, while talking to her, told her that this really gross fat guy was staring at me. I said it loud enough so he could hear me and he got embarrassed and walked away!! All I can say is, girl, keep your head up. Don't give ANYONE the right to take away your confidence. Being a woman is not easy, that is why we are so strong. And if it really bothers you, move to a metro Atlanta city like Buckhead, Marietta, Roswell, Canton, or Alpharetta. You NEVER get leered at there.

 
At 8:18 AM, Blogger Nijla said...

Hello

My name is Nijla Mumin and I'd really like to thank you for such heartfelt and honest testimony. Your words really serve as a witness to the detriment that street harassment causes in women's everyday lives.

I am a native Californian and filmmaker. I am currently working on a documentary entitled "Back Up! concrete diaries" about street harassment and the women's resistance and struggles with it. Your words are intensely moving and it would be awesome if you might share your stories in our documentary.

Please respond at Nijla1@gmail.com for further details.

Thank you.

 
At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Letter Writer,

I know this is an old post, but if you're still checking comments, please, please, please get a therapist. This shit is hard enough to deal with. You don't have to go through it alone and unsupported.

And do take the Hollaback tactic seriously. Pull out a cameraphone and point it at your leerer and they'll melt away magically. You can't turn the tables on them by shouting back: they want you to respond negatively. But a camera or cameraphone threatens them with real, actual consequences, which they want to avoid.

Think about it from their point of view: why would you bother a woman you know you're not going to get any actual sex or positivity from? As you said: it's to frighten you and make you feel bad. The only way to really turn the tables on them is to find something that truly frightens them back.

Take a picture, and then type 9-1-1 into your phone, while saying it out loud, "Nine, one, one. Send. Okay, NOW let's see what happens!" If they're with a woman, don't speak to the man, speak to the woman. Ask her if she's cool with her man checking you out. Ask his kids how they feel about their dad sexually harrassing women. He'll get mad, sure, but you'll notice that it's because he's suddenly on the defensive.

And wear big, black, opaque sunglasses so that half your face is completely covered. It's a mask that prevents them from seeing your response. If they don't know how they're making you feel, they'll give up sooner.

And if anyone touches you, just scream as loud as you can, and keep on screaming. It doesn't matter if you're screaming anything in particular: obscenities, get-away-from-me-fuckers, anything. You can just scream. But do it loud and keep doing it. Don't let up. Scream like you're crazy. It will start to scare him very very quickly.

The key thing in all of this is to take your power back. Get in control of the situation. Make HIM scared. If you're ready to seem a bit crazy in public, you can stop being afraid. But you have to cross over.

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be the hottest chick in the whole world. Or at least the one with the highest opinion of herself.

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger Elusis said...

I think it's too bad that you have felt so beaten down by harassers.

I also think it's too bad that you have to respond by marginalizing others. Your crack about not being a "sea cow" displays fat hatred, and implies that fat women have earned harassment by virtue of being fat.

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really hope this is fake, cause this chick is INSANE with a distorted reality, if this is real i feel really sorry for the boyfriend (if he exists).

 
At 4:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is sort of unbelievable. I've lived in Southern California my whole life, and while I've had plenty of encounters with men to the point I didn't want to walk down the street by myself... come on. The California Adventure and Disneyland stories are a tad far fetched.

 
At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

she's nuts. i'm a woman -this woman is NUTS... seriously. go get some help.

 
At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you must live in my neighborhood... I feel the same way. I'm totally a plain jane, but get harrassed, cat called and leered at constantly, but I truly think it's the worst in Socal.

 
At 3:44 PM, Anonymous B.F. said...

It's too bad that two out of six comments had to come from assholes - but then, it's even easier to be nasty online than in the real world.

I think it's incredibly sad that you are afraid to leave your apartment and now, possibly, afraid to read comments on your own post because men for some reason enjoy harassing you every time you impress your existence on their attention.

Bless their hearts, a good number of them don't seem to have woken up yet to the understanding that the woman standing there on her "nice legs" is actually a full human being with feelings and stuff.

At first, reading your story, I was shocked that anyone should be harassed so frequently. Then I started to think back over my own life and realized that I, too, get harassed often and in similar ways to what you deal with. I just tend to block it out.

I agree with the Anonymous who suggested that you see a therapist. The thing with that suggestion is that it seems to put the problem on you when the problem clearly lies with the wolf-whistling fools. But since they will never stop making you deal with what comes out of their messed up minds, it's a good idea to find a professional who will listen to you and provide a place where nothing frightening is going to happen. Just a suggestion. Good luck to you.

 
At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger Adam said...

I feel so sorry for some of you

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger Sonia said...

I don't think this person is nuts, but I think that, without blaming the victim, there is a side of life where the more you focus on something, the worse it gets.

I wholeheartedly agree with whipping out your camera phone, or your phone, or even just doing what I do, because i get harassed a lot too= develop an acid tongue. The other night I got followed by two guys in a car at 2am and I bitched at them until they left.
What I literally said was "fuck you, motherfucker, I'll have the cops on your ass so fast you won't even see it coming. Get the fuck out of here." and i said it like a mean, ugly person. Sometimes that's what it takes.

I'm not saying it's your fault at all, because I've felt in the past like a target, but men who are predatory can smell fear, in fact are looking for it. It's okay to feel afraid, but you must develop the attitude that you'll fight for your rights, or the situation will go out of control.

And by all means, limit where you go. Acknowledging my discomfort in places where there's more misogyny and abuse/harassment has forced me to change my life so I put myself in places where I'm more comfortable and where I'm treated well. I can't control the world, but I can choose where I place myself in it.

Good luck, sister.

 
At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly feel for this woman. What about men who get leered at as well. I am a straight male and the gay guys in Atlanta are aggressive and do these things to me.

I also get leered at by women if I look away which also makes me feel uncomfortable. So, I think some guys can definitely identify with this issue.

 
At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your pain.I am 37 black female with a teenage daughter who is with me most times. I have been living in New York for the past fifteen years and it gets worst as I get older. I do wear high heels but no short tight skirts or midriffs or blouses for skirts which are the in thing. Recently ninety percent of the time you see me I am wearing a dress knee length or longer to solve my problem. I have boys as young as fifteen to men walking with canes harassing me. It crosses all race lines and I am confused. I get this in my area, in the city , walking, on the train, anywhere with or without someone beside me. Most times I am embarassed. I think I am a normal looking woman five feet seven inches , 137 lbs. I am even uncomfortable in the building I live in. My daughter says she is going to carry a stick as they have no respect. There are stories of people coming into businesses because I went through the door. The come into a supermarket then walk around finally ending up where I am to compliment me and ask if I am married. It is all different social standings. I never leave my house without being driven behind, walked or run after, given loud or low compliments. I am now going to school and have twentyone year olds harassing me even though I tell them to not pass their place and they themselves ask me why is it I always wear dresses. I use this opportunity to tell them that I am old thus no more questions. I even ignore them but it is not registering. All I can saw is act as if you speak another language or you are dumb and walk fast. Thats what I do and it keeps me fitter. I give up and dont understand.

 
At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anjelica Maria said...

I feel you so much on thi I can't even walk out of my own house and take a walk in my neighborhood without guys saying something! It's embarrassing. :( especially to a 17 year old

 

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