This morning, I ran away from a man on the street. It was 8am and I was on my way to work, walking down a quiet block that separates my house from the subway. I noticed a man standing by a disused warehouse block, and as I approached him, he began speaking to me, although speaking would be a gross overstatement.
He sucked his lips.
Made a cat purring noise at me.
Yelled out “Oooohhh, shake it mami.”
As I passed him, he said “You’re beautiful,” and I put my head down and ignored him, at which point he began following me. “Say thank-you!” he said, making kissing sounds as he walked behind me. Alone in the street, I did the only thing I could think of in the moment and I started running.
This only encouraged him “Look at that ass!” he yelled after me. Clearly, he’d intimidated and frightened me, and even more clearly, he didn’t feel bad about it.
Scuttling away as quickly as possible, I barely noticed three workmen out the front of a house until they also started yelling out at me “Nice!” getting louder the further I got away from them “NICE! NICE! NICE!” Coming up on the main road, still a block away from the subway, I was sweaty and out of breath, I stood by the lights trying to recuperate, waiting for my chance to cross the road, to just get away. And as I stood there, six cars passed with men inside them who honked their horns at me and waved or shouted out the window.
This is a typical morning for me in my neighborhood. I can’t take the 5 minute walk from my house to the subway without being degraded, objectified, and publicly humiliated. This morning was the first morning I almost cried. It just finally felt so completely overwhelming. The worst part is that there’s no consequence for the men who make me or any other women feel this way; they just get to do it, and then drive on by.
New York is a cesspool of rampant, unchecked sexism and, dare I say it, a breeding ground for sexual assault. In no other city that I’ve visited have I ever felt so vulnerable simply walking down the street.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know what we can do about it. It’s common courtesy to not yell out to people in public about their appearance “Hey there, big ears!” “Shake that fat, disgusting gunt!” “What’s with that mole on your cheek?” but for some reason, a vast majority of men think it’s socially acceptable to speak in an overtly sexual manner to women in the street, “Nice tits,” “That ass!” “Oof I’d like to get me some of that!”
That is threatening. Men are, for the most part, bigger, stronger and more physically powerful than women. Men also, if you read the news, commonly touch and rape women as if it’s their God-given right. Ergo, a man saying to a woman in the street, “I’d like to get that,” is synonymous to a man saying to another man “I’d love to stab you.” It’s a gross, tangible threat against bodily integrity that it inspires a reasonably foreseeable fear in the woman that her person might come to physical harm. In the latter case, the threatened man could easily call upon the force of the law to protect him; in the former case, the woman, because of the way our society operates (slut shaming and victim blaming i.e. “you’re wearing a short skirt so you deserve it), not only feels like she can’t call for police enforcement, but will often find that there’s nothing the law can do to help her because no physical contact was made.
We need to start seeing the threat of rape and other sexual assaults as equal to the threat of any other kind of assault, period. There is no grey area.
I’m not interested in sympathy. I’m interested in change. I’m interested in being able to walk freely around my own neighborhood without being so terrified and ashamed and feeling like I’m going to have a fucking stroke. I’m just so tired of this shit. It’s not like I, or any other woman, leaves the house in the morning and presents herself in public for the sole purpose of gratifying disgusting men.
Men tell us that women are free and equal in North America, but that’s just giant jerk off lie. All it means is “You can wear a dress, sure, that’s your right. But don’t be surprised if you’re hurt because of it.” Freedom does not come with an addendum, and it doesn’t matter how strong or liberated a woman is; every time a sexual assault happens to you, it takes a little bit away from you, and from us all.