street harassment

on

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I have been in New Orleans for five days and ever since day two the joke that has been swimming around in my head is that, in NOLA, when a man you cross on the street asks you how you’re doing, you can never be sure whether it’s a Southern hospitality thing or whether it’s a men-preying-on-women thing; I’ll be the first to admet that I am not the best at humor.

Except when it’s eight in the morning on an empty street and a car stops at your level, and how are you doing becomes do you need a ride, miss, becomes lemme see that ass hang out, well. All of a sudden it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.

*

It used to make me so scared, when this kind of thing happened to me. Now, it makes me scared, and furious.

Sometimes I talk back. Angry words like knives and spit. And sometimes, like this morning, I don’t. Because a woman all on her lonesome on an empty street that talks back to three men in a car ? There’s a difference between brave and reckless and stupid and dangerous, and I really, really didn’t want them to get out of that car.

So I swallowed back the words and pushed them back down my throat and changed itinerary, went down a one-way street they couldn’t drive into and onto a slightly busier avenue, and for twenty minutes I jumped at every car coming near me, because what if they had followed ?

*

I text J., because I am rattled and so mad and I need to tell someone who will understand, and she texts back almost immediately, and for a moment the relief of being heard by someone I trust punches the air out of me. It’s OK, I text her back. It was just a two-minute bit of fear. 

Two minutes of fear and twenty minutes of apprehension and a day’s worth of anger.

*

I am mad that it rattled me. I am mad that it made me feel afraid and unsafe and that I carried it with me for the rest of the morning because who are these dickwads to have a say on how my morning goes ? And it makes me mad, too, that it only really bothered me for an hour or so. This kind of thing, it used to haunt me for a day or two, but by mid-morning all that was left was the anger. And I am mad that it took me so much quicker than before to get over it because it means I’ve toughened up, sure, but also that I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t want to fucking get used to it. I’m just rattled, I tell J., because it’s been a while since it last happened. Who says that ?! How is it acceptable that street harassement is a contingency to deal with and that my first thought is that I’m lucky it doesn’t happen more often ? I’m so fucking furious it’s not even funny, even by my dubious humor standards.

*

I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to fight it, because for every eye-opening conversation I’ll have with the men in my life I’ll have five douches in the street who talk and look and stalk me like I am meat or prey or fruit ripe for the picking, and defending myself might actually put me in more danger than I already am.

I can talk about it, for sure. Write and speak the words loud. I can keep having the conversations and I can hear and hold my friends when it happens to them, too. I can talk back when I’m able to. I can keep walking that fine balance not letting fear dictate too much of my behaviour while not getting too reckless either. It’s just. I don’t know how it can be enough. 

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