Recently, a friend of mine returned from a five-minute walk down the street and commented, casually, about having been catcalled several times on her way back to the café in which we were studying. She was clearly annoyed by it, said something about it being a sign of the arrival of Spring and that she’d have to start wearing sunglasses and earphones again when she was walking in public. As a woman who does not normally get harassed in this way in the streets, I became immediately curious about how different people experience street harassment, to what they attribute the harassment, and how they respond.
What do I mean by street harassment? I mean, broadly, any “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent” (stopstreetharassment.org). This can be for a number of different reasons, including: perceived sex, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.
As I said, I don’t get catcalled the way that my friend described, but I’m not completely spared street harassment.
I am a white woman who is somewhat gender non-conforming. I have short hair and often wear clothing that is marketed for men. When I am by myself, I almost never get comments from strangers as I walk down the street. When I am with other women, I sometimes overhear comments that I assume to be directed at them. The only time that I can think of having comments from strangers directed at me is when I am presenting as a couple with another woman. The two times that I can think of this happening, the comment had to do with our seeming to look like lesbians and it was muttered loudly but quickly as we walked past. I think it was in French both times. This matters only because my processing time for French is slow enough that by the time I had realized what had happened, my opportunity to respond was long gone. But I’m pretty sure that I would have just pretended I hadn’t heard it and kept walking either way – better safe than sorry.
My interpretation of my experience is that, as a somewhat androgynous-presenting white woman, I am spared being sexually harassed by strangers. For some reason, my androgyny combined with my whiteness makes it so that strange men do not feel the need to assert their power over me in public spaces. But, when I am perceived as a member of a same-sex couple in public, strange men (either straight or strongly desiring to be interpreted as straight) feel the need to assert their power over me.
I want to do a kind of survey of other people’s experiences with street harassment. Please respond in the comments section with your own experiences and how you have come to interpret them.
I have a few questions to help get people started, but you certainly don’t have to respond to each question – they are mostly meant as a prompt to get you writing.
– Your name (or pseudonym, if you would rather not use your real name)
– Your gender
– A self-description
Do you experience street harassment?
How often does this happen?
In what contexts do you seem to experience more harassment? (Certain cities, certain parts of your city, certain times of day, certain times of the year, when you are with certain people, etc.)
Why do you think you experience this kind of harassment?
Who harasses you?
What language does your harassment usually happen in? Does this matter?
How do you respond?
How is your response taken up by the people harassing you?
Do you have any strategies to avoid street harassment or deal with it?