Please note. . .

Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

As of 3/1/08, I will no longer be working on this blog. Please read this post for more details.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Should we toughen up in reacting to the harassers?

This message came from reader Victoria:

I'm truly intrigued by your site and would like to throw an item (and my two cents) in the ring.

I've noticed that a lot of the contributors to your site bloggers who have linked to your site are women. And it seems to be their experience, and certainly mine, that much street harassment is directed toward women. Not that there aren't "gender neutral" incidents--like the time a homeless guy chased my boyfriend and I down the escalator at Farragut West, screaming obscenities at us because we didn't have a light; or the time a man at McPherson Square tried to pick a fight with anyone who came up the escalator, but I'm starting to digress.

I heard two particularly bad stories from friends lately, involving cab drivers being overly agressive and/or suggestive (I won't go into them here) and since then what has really dawned on me about all this behavior is how women are willing to react so passive to inappropriate behavior. For example, instead of getting angry at the cab driver who started to fondle her leg, my friend tried to laugh it off and move down the seat, out of his reach. And the Red Line lady on your blog, she only got up and moved to a different car! I can't say that I would have done anything differently in either situation because I don't think I would. I'm starting to think that as women (and to some extent, as part of the "please everybody" culture of the U.S.) we are taught to not make too many waves, and to react politely, even in the face of rude behavior.* I think we ignore our built in instincts. Why is it that no one ever tells you, "the minute someone makes you uncomfortable, it is OK to be rude,"?

One of my favorite advice columnists is Carolyn Hax. She frequently recommends a book called The Gift of Fear, which in a nutshells says we need to listen to our intuition when something sounds or feels or seems wrong. Fear has a purpose, and that purpose is to keep us safe. I think comparisons can be drawn to our general intuition about the people and things around us. When that "6th sense" goes off and alerts us that something isn't quite right, I think we ignore it or react passively to the situation much too frequently. This is not to say that we can or should give every sidewalk-occupying bum at the metro stop a piece of our mind, but when someone is approaching you in an inappropriate way, or spewing obscenities, masturbating in public in front of you, I think you are at some liberty to take stronger action than ignoring it and trying to walk away.

Best of luck with your blog. I hope the publicity from DCist works out well and that you will continue to get contributions to your blog that will expand the scope and give men and women in the city a chance to think about how we deal with this unwanted behavior.


*This is clearly a BROAD generalization. But honestly, most politely raised people (women AND men) are going to take the "smile nod and walk away from the weird guy" approach to most odd/rude behavior from others, yes?

I think safety is an issue when it comes to a reaction. "Will I be able speak up and walk away safely...or will he become a physical threat to me?" There is no one foolproof way to handle harassment since it is impossible to predict the reaction of the harasser.

I don't have the answer as to how to 100% handle street harassment. For some, a simple "leave me alone!" works. For others, walking away works. You have to trust your gut feeling as to how you'll handle that situation.

And Victoria makes a good point...harassees aren't only women. Men can be the subject of harassment as well. I do not want to marginalize men and women. Whether you are male or female, please feel free to tell your story here.

I open the forum: what ways do you think work in handling street harassment?

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Just found your blog through another site.

A) Thanks for writing about this kind of thing. Before reading about it here, I was unaware that it was so rampant. It often felt like I was one of the only people who would deal with it or experience it. (I live in NYC, but it seems to be a universal pain in the ass.)

B) How I deal with it. Well, it depends on the situation and how bad it is, and in one case, how rampant it was. I used to live in a neighborhood where I'd get harassed daily walking to and from the subway. Different guys, some would try to follow me as I walked home or to the trains, others would just yell as I passed. Some were really lewd, others thought they were being funny. It got to the point where I'd no longer wear any sort of skirt or dress, even if it was cut way below the knee. I got extremely paranoid, and ended up moving out of the neighborhood because it really bothered me. (Thanks, assholes.)

So, in that case, it was a numbers issue. I couldn't fight it, I couldn't win. I tried a few times, and it just put me in a terrible mood and the guy in question went from trying to get my number to suddenly calling me a whore, a bitch, and saying to get off "his block." It just gets me too stressed to want to deal with it, and I'm always wondering if the next person I yell at is dangerous. However, I've decided that my new line, if the next jackass doesn't seem scary (just stupid), is "Would you say that to your mom? Your sister? I didn't think so."

So, we'll see if it works. How do guys even think they can act like this? Arrrgh.