On Street Harassment, Victim Blaming & Life in My Skin

It’s funny in a horrifying I might start crying kind of way to think about how many times I’ve experienced extreme sexism/misogyny from perfect strangers. I’m always boggled at how willing people are to excuse their behavior & claim I should have been nicer, or that they’re sick and don’t know any better. I remember a guy tried to grab me on an empty train car in high school, I kicked the shit out of him & ran like hell. For a host of reasons I was afraid to tell my parents about what happened, but when I told some friends about it the next day I remember a girl I only kind of knew shutting down the victim blaming comments by saying “Girls get raped on the train.” and that the way she said it was so *knowing* you know? I never asked for her story. She didn’t offer it either. But then I was already a survivor so I guess I didn’t need it to understand.

Fast forward a few years from that age & I can tell you a dozen more “extreme” stories that happened in between, but the ones that stick out most all have a theme of me being engaged in my life when misogyny dropped in for a visit. There was the guy in Germany who tried to trap me in a dark tunnel with his car (I jumped on the hood & ran like my life depended on it, maybe it did) and there was no conversation between us. He yelled at me in German from a moving car then drove around to bar my way. There was the guy that followed me home from the store one night telling me that he could be a rapist. He didn’t speak to me in the store & our conversation outside consisted of me walking past him & him yelling at me that I was a stuck up bitch. The guy that called me everything but a child of God, because I wouldn’t buy his CD came at me on a bus & no one (including his friend) said shit to stop him. Or the group of men who surrounded me while I was walking with my child that had to be backed off by a neighbor with a gun.

How many times exactly does someone have to be insulted, harassed, or terrorized before the conversation can be about the person who accosted them & not about what else they could have done? Should have done? How many incidents (all with different people, different settings, different responses) does it take before the discussion is about ways to stop the harassers & not ways to respond to them so that they maybe, possibly, if you’re lucky won’t escalate? When do we talk about the culture that not only permits these behaviors, but encourages them & punishes victims for being wary of new people after years of bad experiences? When do we talk about why women are cautioned to be nice, to be patient, to be careful, but never told it is okay to say no & mean it without fear of repercussions? Oh right, those are all hard topics for hard days & folks would rather blame victims than address problems.

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