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Everyday Street Harassment

Being a person whose appearance is perceived as feminine means being accosted on the street wherever you go. Usually the men who yell stuff at you fall into the “nothing left to lose” category. They’re homeless or broke or drunk in the morning — none of which is inherently bad, but those conditions give a person little reason to conform to standard social norms. Combine that with typical male entitlement, and you have guys shouting obscenities as you walk by.

Stop Telling Women to Smile poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh; photo by Jeffrey Zeldman.
Stop Telling Women to Smile poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh; photo by Jeffrey Zeldman.

But socioeconomic desperation and/or mental illness don’t explain everything. Twice in October I was literally followed by a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Both of these guys seemed “normal” when judged by exterior alone — they looked like they probably had jobs and houses. Both times I had to turn around, hold my palms up in front of my body, and say, “I need you to stop.” Both times this worked, thank goodness. Both times I was terrified.

Afterward I fantasized about responding violently, about retaliating the instant I was spoken to. Pepper spray in the face. Knee to the testicles. Heel of the palm against the nose so hard that it breaks the bridge and pushes bone shards into the brain. I wanted the power of fear and destruction — the power men possess that prevents me from responding the way I imagine. When I’m scared, I can’t muster the fierceness. It probably wouldn’t have made me feel better anyway.

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