so much bullshit but we won’t give in.

I punched someone on the street last night, which is a first for me.

My girlfriend and I were walking along Harvard Avenue, a heavily trafficked main street in Allston. We were headed home from a party about a fifteen minutes from our place. In the one block between Commonwealth and Brighton, three separate men or groups of men verbally harassed us — a very typical female experience, practically guaranteed for lesbian couples. They said things like ‘hey baby’ and ‘you girls wanna sleep with me tonight?’ as well as the eloquent ‘OHHHH!’, an urgent effort to draw attention to two women holding hands.

At the next block, another dude said something. I don’t even remember what it was. I don’t think it makes a difference. I turned around, swung, and punched him. It took him by great surprise and his face immediately changed to one of anger and hate as he started yelling at me, ‘what the fuck, you fucking dyke! you fucking faggot!’ This happened to occur right outside of a bar with 15 or so people outside, who stared as Michelle pulled me close to her as we crossed the street. Peeling off onto a side street, we were followed by violent hollers until they faded out. ‘fucking faggot!’ I sobbed the rest of the way home.

I’m not exactly a placid person, but I’d never punched someone before and I believe in the merits of peace over violence. Whatever that guy said wasn’t the worst thing that’s been said to me by any means. I just snapped. After 23 years as a woman and ~2 years being ‘out’ in Allston, after having been forced to tolerate my relationships and humanity degraded on a regular basis with no option other than to keep walking, I wasn’t going to take it. It’s not okay how so many men behave as though they have the right to aggressively address strangers on the street because we’re women, and it’s not okay that we are expected to take it with a smile.

Isn’t it interesting that he first addressed me with interest because I was holding hands with my girlfriend, and when I turned on him I was suddenly a dyke and a faggot? This shows how these guys don’t see women and lesbians as people, they see as whatever they want to see us as — certainly, less than human. I can’t imagine how shocked that guy was when I hit him. I wonder if the effect will be that he is more wary of hollering at women on the street or if his urge to make women feel bad is strengthened. I wonder what made a deeper impression on the people outside the bar: a girl hitting a guy, or the subsequent sound of hate shouted down the street.

I’m sharing this story because I want to be an example for women: we don’t have to be silent when we are degraded. I’m sharing this story because I want my male friends and allies to be aware that street harassment is an everyday occurrence, it feels awful, and you can and should stand up to it. I’m sharing this story because even though the whole event shook me up and made me sad and angry, it’s empowering to use my voice to share that I physically challenged rape culture. (If you’re not sure what ‘rape culture’ means, read this.)

At the end of the night, I get to go home with an amazing person I’m head-over-heels in love with, and I have the strength of knowing I stood up for myself even though society frowns upon doing so. It was an ugly experience but I hope that sharing it opens some eyes and maybe even changes some hearts. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget that everyone you see is a person, like you.

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35 responses to “so much bullshit but we won’t give in.”

  1. eliemonster says :

    I’m glad you acted in a way you felt justified in. You don’t have to take that.

  2. Allison says :

    I had a period of time where I was hitting people who harassed me in public. It’s a complex experience for one’s psyche. If you ever want to talk about it, please know that I’m available for that.

    Meanwhile, it does such that women, and non-straight women particularly, have to put us with so much degradation all the time.

    I’m glad you have someone at home to bask in and hope you find some peace.

  3. Sarah says :

    i know this isn’t directly related to what you are talking about, but it shows how people’s words and actions aren’t always expressive of their true thoughts and feelings: http://www.thework.com/watch-being_gay.php

  4. Nat says :

    Fuck street harassment, it sucks that Allston is so far from being safe.

  5. ben says :

    this is great. good for you.

  6. Jordan says :

    I am glad you stood up for yourself because you don’t deserve to take that by any means. But I must say no reaction is often better than a reaction. People thrive off reaction..

  7. P.E. says :

    Two women who don’t need, aren’t interested in men? The fear becomes palpable. We need a revolution. I’ll be here.

  8. Cel says :

    I can understand, and in extreme cases even approve, of attacking someone who insults you.

    But attacking someone if you don’t even remember what they said? Not ok.

    For all we know, the guy may have said something as minor as “what’s up hotties”. It’s not ok to attack someone for saying that. You should have been charged,

    Let’s flip this around:

    Say a straight guy is walking around and getting harassed by gay guys. I use gay guys in the example because most men would be unwilling to attack a woman even if she was physically harassing them.

    The gay guy says “what’s up beefcake” and the straight guy punches him. He should be charged and, had he had gotten beaten in retaliation, would have deserved the beating.

    • mod95 says :

      I take serious issue with some of what you said.

      First of all, you have no place judging what the comment “what’s up hotties” can mean in context of the rape culture we live in. It may be minor to some, but street harassment isn’t just an ‘aggressive compliment’. It’s a part of a culture that considers it acceptable to remove the human status of several groups of people and replace it with a sexual status, mostly women, disproportionately women of color, non-straight/cis women, and other ‘subgroups’.

      In street terms, this means street harassment, constant sexual harassment and nonconsensual sexual advances/touching/etc. Rape culture. A culture that justifies and excuses rape through its attitudes towards women and sex.

      Someone touching you without your consent is an attack.
      Someone verbally sexually harassing you, when it’s clear it’s not invited, is verbal assault.

      Your ‘flip around’ of an example of gay guys harassing a straight guy does not make you an equalizing logical force here. It gives you a way to excuse your condemning this woman on sticking up for herself.

      For that particular case, was a physical punch excessive force against that one guy? Possibly. Neither you or I could truly say, because we weren’t there. But to tell her she should have been charged with assault seems excessive to me in context. I won’t make assumptions about your gender identity or anything else, but if you have had to live through daily sexual harassment, sexual assault, the fear of sexual assault, and the constant, CONSTANT insults (not complements) involved in street calling, then I would ask that you remember those experiences and try to empathize with her response to this guy’s sexual harassment. If you haven’t experienced these things, then stfu because you have no right speaking for anyone who has.

  9. Leah says :

    Stay strong, sister. I’ve been dealing with a different kind of hate lately (antisemitism) but it’s all the fucking same. We are human. We are deserving. Hugs.

  10. allisonfrancismusic says :

    First off I want to say that I am filtering some comments not because they dissent, but because they are not conveyed respectfully and I have the right to maintain some semblance of a safer space on my own blog. To respond to Cel & others who share a similar viewpoint (to say that I became ‘part of the problem,’ as someone put it): you are missing the point of what I believe the problem is, which is misogyny and homophobia manifested by street harassment. I don’t find the example about a ‘straight guy getting harassed by gay guys’ relevant because a) that doesn’t happen except for very rarely and b) the dynamic of immediate physical threat is diminished in that hypothetical situation.

    To those of you who have voiced your support, thank you very much. This post has received an incredible response and I am so glad I decided to publish it because I truly feel empowered and affirmed.

  11. Erik Phillips says :

    Maybe physical violence isn’t the end-all best approach to all of life’s problems but when it’s justified it sure is satisfying to hear about once in a while.

  12. Courtenay Bluebird says :

    As a fellow woman, I have been in situations where I have punched, slapped, or otherwise humiliated potential sexual aggressors. I’ve lived in some rough places, and I learned early not to tolerate abuse.

    The rule I follow is that if I know that it’s sexual aggression— and there are cases where there is no mistaking the breach of space and the inappropriate conduct that feels like a breach of space— I feel free to respond with real aggression.

    In choosing to confront my aggressor, I am aware of my surroundings, the level of danger posed, and where my own limits meet the limits of the sexual aggressor in question.

    Sometimes that means you end up making a tricky call. It’s never easy.

    You did the right thing. I hope you iced your fist when you got home.

  13. natasiarose says :

    I’m so sorry that happened to you. You’re right, in the end you win. Someday, hopefully, that kind of harassment will be a thing of the past.

  14. Rae Riot says :

    all i had to see was-harvard ave in allston, and i completely understood. ugh. i lived there for 6 years as an out lesbian and i went through the same harassment. you’re awesome.

  15. LA (@LA786) says :

    Having lived in that area of Allston for years, I know how awful the guys that tend to hang out at Harvard + Brighton + Comm with all those d-bag bars clumped together. Good for you for punching him, and I only hope he reconsiders ever talking to a woman like that again.

  16. ItsJKirk (@ItsJKirk) says :

    I live minutes away from the location of your story. Although I’ve been harassed many times (I am a female, after all), I’ve never had a problem in Allston. I’m saddened, and sadly not surprised, to know that this type of verbal assault is so common in my neighborhood. I am glad to know that women like you are fighting back. I’m trying to transmit some kind of positive karma through the Allston air to you right now. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • mmocpi says :

      I’m in Allston, too, transmitting positive karma (I like how you put that). I think it’s generally a good place to be LGBT because it’s such a mixed race, mixed everything community.

  17. Lauren Wayne (@Hobo_Mama) says :

    One of the most salient things I learned in a self-defense class was that it is not my job as a woman to be nice to everyone at all costs. Certainly not to attackers.

    Thanks for sharing, and I’m sorry you have to face so much hate on a regular basis. That’s not good.

  18. mod95 says :

    rock on grrrl i fully support your expressions and processes, douche-punching and all.

  19. Michelle Rediker says :

    Allison~ PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE report this. Report it to the police at the Brighton station OR, if you’re not comfortable doing that, to the Fenway Violence Recovery Program.

    My partner and I are older. We own a condo in Brighton. On New Year’s Eve, we were the target of a “dazzling display” of harassment and we filed a report. A detective from the Civil Rights unit visited us to fill out a Hate Crimes report. We learned Allston/Brighton has the highest rate of anti-GLBT hate crimes in the city. I honestly believe if we report as many as possible over a sustained period of time, the neighborhood will see changes. More police presence would be a good place to start. The officers we spoke with acknowledged there is an issue, and if we complain about it enough, we’ll see some action.

  20. Peter P. Budagher says :

    tuck in your thumb, don’t lock your elbow, punch with your shoulder….. you didn’t seek hie “words of wisdom”, and now he knows that. As a guy, and a striaght guy I appuald you standing up for yourself….We do know when we cross the “line” and even though you maybe could have done something nicer like “how would you feel if i was your sister?”….it probably would have went over his head anyway. next time he talks smack to a “hot chick” he’ll remember he got his behind kicked by one. good for you.

    sorry for my spelling

    • Courtenay Bluebird says :

      By “tuck in your thumb,” you don’t mean inside your fingers, right? I’m sure you didn’t. Because that’s a good way to break your thumb.

      The rules I learned were: center yourself, cover, and punch from the shoulder with your dominant hand, thumb on the outside. Stay outside of grabbing range. Oh, and aim for the soft spots– solar plexus, nose, et al.

      The situations where I’ve had to throw a punch were ones where there was no doubt that aggression was already being enacted by my opponent.

      But, Allison Nevitt and mod95 bring up some important points about relentless verbal aggression is still aggression. That can cause people to develop fear, and fear can lead to a breaking point. In fact, I defer entirely to the wisdom of Alison Nevitt on this one.

      I also think that Michelle Rediker’s story of her and her partner’s experience and their choice to file a police report is an important step to consider.

      I have, and will again, alert authorities when I’ve been the point of unwanted aggression or attempted unwanted aggressive touching. Why? Because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.

      And I want to believe if I persist on reporting these attacks, the culture and the system will shift. Because I will not live in fear. Because I will not feel threatened or uncomfortable or made to feel “less than” for any reason. Because I don’t want anyone to have to learn how to throw a great punch to protect her/himself, unless s/he is sparring for fun.

  21. Allison Nevitt says :

    I think what Cel is missing in that analysis is the impact that relentless harassment can have on a person. Whether this person deserved to be punched is not the point. Many of us live and espouse non-violence. The point is that constant bigoted harassment drives people to a place where they suddenly have an out of character reaction and it can be violent. It’s a kind of PTSD behavior. To not be able to walk down the street without being verbally abused is unacceptable. To then blame the recipient of such ongoing abuse for what has been building up is a continuation of blaming the victim.

    Do I condone punching? No. Can I understand perfectly how someone could be driven to it? Absolutely.

    The appropriate response is for each us to vow that we will not tolerate this when we see it happening to others. If we all speak up, every time, we will generate a culture where the expectation is one of respect and that it is not acceptable to demean or degrade other people. Until then, I find it disturbing that we would expect those who are constantly treated with incivility to be the bearers of blame for the few uncivil moments they may display themselves. After all, aren’t we, by not stopping all the harassment, teaching each other that we don’t actually care about respect, dignity and civility? until someone fights back?

  22. Michelle Rediker says :

    Er ~ sorry if I got the name wrong! But I had one more thought:

    And if it turned out that group that was harassing you was the same group I reported (ie, my NEIGHBORS, who we identified, who I would assume from the hours and company they keep frequent said bars, and must LOVE our neighborhood because it is so CLOSE to those bars)… I’d love to see them end up in court. And have a record. That will label them as assholes the rest of their lives. And possibly cost them jobs. Or have other severe consequences. :)

  23. Kristina Marie says :

    Good for you. Do you mind if I repost this (where credit is due of course!!) in my blog for people to read as well? It sends a good message.

  24. ladyyaga says :

    Hey, I think it’s awesome. Although violence is never a good route, there’s something really sweet about the shock an evil man gets when a woman hits him.

  25. shawnpboyle says :

    I hear this story from my Lesbian friends all the time, it actually inspired me to shoot/write a short film called “Confronted” and it tells a very simple basic first date story, with an unfair tragic ending where the couple get into an altercation with drunk guys.

    Its still in editing, but I will happily share it with you when its done.

    I’m hoping for and fighting for, a better future for my gay friends and family, you deserve nothing less.

  26. pamelaksantos says :

    You are brave. For many reasons, but one that I will say now is in sharing your story in an online medium knowing troll culture and rape culture collide most often with awful results at this intersection. You were already strong before this and after this. Just don’t forget it.

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