“Pssst. I own you.”
As we approach the end of the Anti-Street Harassment Week, I’d like to talk a little about why Street Harassment is not just a sexual harassment issue, but the practice and reinforcement of male dominance.
A few weeks ago I went to the post office a block away from where I work. As I was walking back to my office, I passed by a car park with a wire fence. From inside the car park I heard a male voice say “Sweet Face.” I kept walking and he continued “Sweet Face, Sweet Face.”
I decided that I just couldn’t let this one pass. Not today. I wouldn’t let my psychological and physical space be corrupted by this man’s intrusion. I turned to look at him as I kept walking.
“Don’t call me that”
“What I should call you, then”
“I don’t want you calling me at all”
He had been following me all along the inside perimeter of the car park till I turned the corner. He raised his voice.
“Tell me your name. If you don’t tell me your name I am going to call out to you every single day you pass here.”
It was a threat.
A shiver went through me. I kept walking. I looked up and saw a man and woman glance at me. I guess a few people had been observing our exchange as I walked. The looks were curious. I guess they were wondering why I would engage this man at all or possibly they were waiting to see if the situation would escalate.
Two things ran through my mind.
1. Thank God I don’t have to pass this route everyday.
2. What would I do if I did have to pass this route everyday?
It also made me think about his threat. His aggression. The way he was demanding that I tell him my name. His sense of entitlement. Him feeling like he had the right to harass me and intimidate me to get me to do what he wanted. And that he would continue to do so, despite my feelings.
It is so clear to me that the high rates of domestic violence and rape in this country have very much to do with the way men see themselves in relation to women. That they have the right to dominate, in any space, even in a public space, any woman whatsoever. And to challenge that entitlement is to invite increased aggression, and violence if necessary, in order to maintain the status quo.
All those people who looked at me as I confronted this man also participated in the perpetuation of this status quo. Perhaps they were as disgusted as I was. Perhaps they too wanted to say something. But, it’s simply not a part of the script. We accept that men will accost, verbally abuse, intimidate, threaten and say whatever they want to women, and women will either keep silent or face the wrath of a man who feels his entitlement is being challenged.
There are no easy answers here. Like every other woman I am confronted with street harassment almost on a daily basis. And most times when I weigh the psychic energy needed to confront it against the fastest way to remove myself from the offending ass, I opt to say nothing. And on the days when my spirit just can’t bear one more crude, crass or just damn annoying “psst”, I have to weigh whether I am in a safe enough space to confront.
But it’s more than just me. It’s more than just a sexist comment on the street. It’s more than cultural. It is the most pervasive and socially accepted practice of discrimination against women; a gender script played out millions of times a day reinforcing men’s dominance over women.
Simone - WomenSpeak
Trinidad and Tobago
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