Street Harassment

I tend to be a pleasant rider (most of the time, at least to denizens of the neighborhoods through which I ride). Every once in awhile I get catcalled or some other form of street harassment as I’m riding. Yesterday was one of those days.

I’m riding home from Williamsburg, after sundown, on a street that I ride a lot. It is warm, and though it is a school night many folks are out on the street hanging out. One guy is walking down the street, and then I hear it. Kissing noises. Immediately, I am braced for it. “Hey baby, can I ride on the back with you?” I go to one of my standard responses: I flip him the bird. [Dad, stop reading here.] Then comes the yelling. Mostly, I don’t get yelling when I respond (my guess is the surprise of any response). I can’t quite hear what he’s saying, but the word “bitch” pops through twice as well as some threat of what he’s going to do to me. To which I respond, “Yep, I am a big ole bitch,” and ride away into the night.

Now, I tend to respond to street harassers, but in different ways depending on the situation. I am always aware of my surroundings when harassed, as I bet most harassed people are. I can read the situation and respond in a way that doesn’t compromise my safety. Being on a bike allowed me to do what I did above. In other situations, I’ve told men (it’s always men) they were being rude. I’ve looked at them and just said “No. Don’t do that.” Again, usually, I don’t get any response. As I rode away from this guy, I started to think about what if he was serious about attacking. What if he had jumped in his car? Then I started to think about who would be at fault if he had been able to attack me, about what questions I would be asked and would be thought appropriate to determine if the attack was “justified.” I thought about the people that would tell me “Well, you shouldn’t have…” Then I got mad.

If I don’t like to be harassed, I should be able to communicate my displeasure. I should not have to be silent, because silence will not save me. A harasser’s desire to harass cannot be allowed because of some mythical safety. Guess what? Harassment destroys my safety. Physical violence is not the only way make a neighborhood unsafe.

Let’s get a conversation started about this. People who are harassed: How do you deal with harassers? Everyone: What do you when you see other people harass? People who harass: What makes you think that’s okay? (this question may come across as sarcastic, but honestly I’m curious). Leave comments below. I moderate, so if you don’t see yours right away, give me a few hours.

Published by creatingcarrie

writer, performer, misadventurist, catmom, the silly aunt, and lawyer. i'm not very good at being still.

7 thoughts on “Street Harassment

  1. I live in the far north suburbs of Chicago in the People’s Republic of Illinois. Street gangs control some of the areas I pass through — they usually leave me alone when they are “working” on a corner because they don’t want anyone to complain to the police (it hurts business). I usually just ignore the other people, but occasionally yell back. However, I carry a can of military-grade pepper spray with me on my rides!

  2. Being on a bike guarantees you’ll get harassed … not just sooner or later, but from time to time. For men, at least, it doesn’t tend to mean sexual harassment, but other kinds: dangerously close passes at high speed, people will pass you immediately before the make a right turn, cutting across your path, forcing you to brake and swerve lest you crash into them and lose some teeth, obnoxious shouts of all sorts as you’re passed. It’s, well, obnoxious. But it comes with the territory, like flat tires. I try not to get hung up about it – for me, this is a minute or two of my day, but for the screaming idiot, well, he has to live with himself.

  3. Of course, you have a right to respond any way you like, and I understant why you would flip someone off – but I’ll take a different tack, if only for sake of argument.

    Someone that is harassing is doing it to upset you and raising “Mister Tall Man” is simply signifying that he has succeeded and is an invitation for him to kick it up a notch (for examle throwing out the B word). Ignoring the harasser may be the best way to indicate that he is not succeeding in his harassment.

    Only one way of looking at it… thanks for sharing.

    1. I see harassment as more of a power play than simply trying to upset me. It’s funny too, because sometimes I don’t respond and I still get the higher level of harassment. It’s rather frustrating/infuriating. But I agree, bullies don’t deserve the time of day generally, but I think this type of harassment does get ignored most times and still there it is a wide-spread problem. Thanx for your input!

  4. As a bystander, I generally don’t get involved unless I know either the harrassed or the harrasser. There have been cases where, for some reason or another, I think something is escalating the situation and I’ve intervened; but even then, it tends to be some ploy to stall the harrasser until the harrassed person can get away. I don’t think I’ve ever just approached somebody who is a complete stranger and told them that they’re out of line. While I’d like to use my ignorance of potential mitigating circumstances (my wife once intervened in what appeared to be a fight only to be told by both parties to mind her own business), I know it is simply a cowardly fear of confrontation. I rather difuse the situation subtly than confront the behavior causing the problem. That’s not a good answer, but it is the most honest one I can give.

    1. Hi Michael-

      I definitely am not advocating people to jump into every situation (unless they want to). I am curious what you do when you know the harasser. I see a lot of silent guys next to harassers and wonder if they are okay with the behaviour of their friends or not. Any tips for someone that wants to change peer behaviour? Thanks!

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