It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. —Michelle Obama
It was night and there were not many people around. I was walking home, along a dark road. Some men were whistling and looking at me; complimenting how good my body was. Well, it was not a compliment. A compliment does not make me rethink my route the next time I walk down the street. It is already 2017, but I—and many women in the world—are still fighting for the right to live in a safe world where we can walk down the street without fear of being harassed.
Irrespective of geographic location, race, age, or appearance, many women say they’ve heard something along the lines of “Hey, baby! Where are you going?” or “How you doing, Sexy?” I have to admit that I get those statements on daily basis, no matter day or night, since I was 12. Yes, 12 years old. While some people might consider them compliments, others consider them threats. Sadly, those threats that have no name tend to stay hidden and inadequately addressed.
A nonprofit organization, Stop Street Harassment (SSH) uses “street harassment” to describe gender-based harassment in public spaces. According to SSH, street harassment is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions that forced on a stranger in a public place without their consents and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, expression, or sexual orientation.
I have talked about my experiences with street harassment to my friends (men and women). But surprisingly, they said, “Chill, dude! It’s just a compliment.” Or “It’s just a simple hello. You’re overreacting.” Well, I cannot take it as a compliment because it is not a compliment at all. It is a statement of power to show that a man has the right to my body, analyze it, and appraise it. Of course, I do not need to be sexually judged by a stranger. No woman does.
I have experienced worse. There was a middle-aged man sitting on his motorbike, beside the sidewalk. He called me and I approached him. I thought he was lost and going to ask me about some places, like “excuse me, do you know xyz street?” To my horror, he slid off his pants and asked me to touch his dick. I was in my early 20s and had no idea what to do. So I said, “Geez. It’s so damn small. There isn’t even anything to look at! Hahaha.” I walked away with tears.
After that day, I was afraid of walking alone. I took a cab to my dorm, which is only 15 minute walk from campus. I even asked my friend to walk home with me. Fortunately, it stopped few weeks later when I realized that I am a real loser. I mean, the road is for everyone and avoiding it means I let the harasser own it.
One thing is for sure, something has to change. It is not that every woman is cowering victim, or that we are too terrified to walk down the street alone, even if it is not nighttime. But we need to stop accepting that street harassment is acceptable behavior. It is not normal to live in a world where we are plagued with fear. Just like men, we own the road. That is why we have to fight back.
We cannot let it happen for the rest of our lives. So ladies, if street harassment happens to you, and if you feel safe enough to do so, stop and let them know that their actions are unacceptable and wrong. I think respond is a good way to fight your harasser, because every time we remain silent, it means they win. But if you have another way to fight back, please let us know.
Last but not least, to the street harassers out there, I am not public space and harassing me does not prove your masculinity.
International Women’s Day 2017: Be Bold For Change.
The picture is borrowed from here