Today I yelled back at a "gentle" man who cat-called me. I was on the phone with my mom on my way to school when a man in a truck drove by and yelled at me in Spanish. His head was sticking out of the truck window while his arm leaned all "macho-like" on the door. His eyes ogled me as if I was a piece of meat or something.
I didn't catch what he said to me, but I knew it wasn't something like: "Hey! You've got spinach in your teeth!" or "Do you know where 9th Street is?"
There's been so much work done lately about the verbal (sometimes physical) harassment that women face everyday while they're on their way to work, class, the gym... anywhere really (see: Hollaback!), mostly because April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I've been following this work closely, reblogging comics on the web that I can totally associate with and sharing articles with my friends about how terrible it feels to be objectified and targeted on the street.
The thing is, after reading all these wonderful articles and reblogging the empowering comics I'm left with the question: what can I do to fight back?
Obviously sexual harassment and the objectification of women is something that is complicated, steeped in the histories of patriarchy, hegemonic female submissiveness and gendered notions of being seen and the spectacle. These are problems that need to be fixed, and it hasn't been (and wont be) easy.
In the meantime, however, what can I do to fight back? Am I supposed to just be quiet and take it? Don't say anything for the fear of being further harassed? Find a male friend to always be with while I'm in public? Or do any of these fantastic suggestions?
Honestly though, what can women do to fight back when they're faced with harassment on the street?
Today, I finally spoke up.
I am SICK of being spoken to when I didn't ask to be. SICK of being seen as an object that "needs" or "deserves" to be told "you look so pretty today." I don't want to be "pretty" in your eyes! I don't care to be "pretty" in anyone's eyes but my own and that's really none of your business.
So, today while on the phone with my mom, while the man in the truck ogled me with his eyes, while I stood there stunned and offended, I did something. I yelled back: "Que te pasa?!" in Spanish, which means, "What's wrong with you?!"
The man looked surprised and confused and I'm surprised he didn't lose control of his truck and hit the curb. I turned back around and walked away, letting the man wonder at why any woman would ever speak back. Aren't women supposed to just take it?
I don't know if "speaking back" will be enough, in fact I'm wary of speaking up because I'm afraid that someone will attack me or something. However, I feel great that finally I was able to do something and not be a passive recipient of verbal abuse. I'm going to try to keep doing this because it feels great to take control of the path on which I'm walking on the street. It feels great to own my own existence and not have to share it with people who would rather see me naked than see me as an equal.
As April turns into May, I urge women out there who feel uncomfortable on the street, who go out of their way to avoid groups of men on the street, to think about ways that they can fight back and feel powerful once more. Every day should be Sexual Assault Awareness Day. We need to fight the fight everyday, on the streets, in the workplace, in our own personal relationships, for all people (not just women).
How do YOU combat sexual assault on the street?