I’m very glad to see that street harassment has lately been getting the mainstream media attention it needs. Articles about it pop up all over my Facebook feed, and they’re not just from feminist groups. All sorts of publications and forums are weighing in–Playboy comes to mind as a particularly surprising one–and important discussions are being had, whether on TV or among friends.
(Then of course you have the obligatory Fox News panel continuing to insist that it should be a compliment when you’re standing in a small crowd at the bus stop and a guy rolls by in a truck laying on the horn and yells, “You sexy fucking bitch!” before speeding away like a coward, and you’re left there, shaken up and humiliated in a group of awkward strangers.)
Living in a questionable neighborhood and taking the CTA to work, I experience a variety of types of street harassment on a very regular basis, whether it’s milder forms like being pestered about what book I’m reading or what music I’m listening to, or the downright disturbing examples, like the 8-year-old boys who rode by on bikes shouting in their high-pitched, child voices about shoving their huge cocks up my tiny asshole. These are the daily reminders I get that many men see me as simply a sex object, and that by not sleeping with them, I become subject to their public ridicule and humiliation.
I read this article today about the University of Chicago student who suffers from PTSD after experiencing terrifying street harassment while studying abroad in India, and she highlighted numerous instances of men masturbating at her on public transportation. That, I thought, was brilliant phrasing–masturbating at her. We usually use the term “masturbate to,” talking about what gets us off. I masturbate to lesbian porn and Aerosmith songs and fantasies of all the weird, kinky shit my ungodly hot boyfriend is willing to do to/for me. But men on public transportation masturbate at women. It’s an affront. It’s a blatant attack on a woman’s comfort, security, and sexual privacy. Men knowingly make women unwilling participants in their sex acts, and they do it because they enjoy the sheer disgust and mental anguish it causes these women. This video mentioned a common trait of these offenders: the smirk. They smirk at their victims, because they get off on seeing how upset the women become. They victimize women because they hate them. It’s about offending women, not about finding them sexy.
And it is in no way, under any circumstances, flattering.
Someone recently lamented that #notallmen (blah) are creepy, and sometimes men just want to say hi to a woman on the street, but women always react negatively to this and butbut what about teh menz??? It’s true, women do assume that all men who say hi to them on the street are creepy. Because, the thing is, most of them are. So here’s what you do if you want to say hi to a woman on the street: you keep your stupid mouth shut. She doesn’t want to hear it. You may be the friendliest guy in the world and totally not a rapist, but you shut your fucking mouth and do not say hi. She does not care about you or your intense desire to greet her. Leave her the fuck alone, and go on with your day.