“The Punch Heard Round The World”

I am reeling a bit from the response to my post about my experience of and reaction to street harassment. I intentionally published the post to break the silence in my community of Allston, but I certainly did not expect 60K people to see it. (Thanks Jezebel.) In spite of being a bit overwhelmed by the buzz, I am glad it is out there.

I stand by my actions.

To immediately subdue some concerns of assault, I was wearing plush heavy bike gloves, punched him in the chest and stand 5’3″ tall. I’m certain the strike was scores more shocking than painful. To address some very valid concerns of my safety, I completely acknowledge that I put myself and my girlfriend at risk. I am sorry for this element of the situation. I probably would not have done that without the presence of the crowd on the sidewalk. It may have been foolish — which is not mutually exclusive from courageous.

I probably won’t do something like this again. It was a jarring experience and somewhat emotionally traumatic. However I take responsibility for my actions and my reasons behind them. I understand why some people have been saying there is no excuse for violence; in fact, before being an out queer woman living in Allston, I think I might have said the same thing. I have verbally responded to street harassment as much as I’ve been strong enough to in the past couple years. I have ‘turned the other cheek’ in silence a countless many more times than that. The guy I hit got the brunt of my rage of him and hundreds of other men’s blatant sexual harassment.  The punch I threw carried the pain and solidarity of thousands of other women, queers and other non-normative people who are targeted by hate and ignorance every day.

I believe that people should always strive to be kind and peaceful towards others. That said, my day-to-day experience of street harassment is a day-to-day experience of a violent and oppressive culture. (And I emphasize that I face this degradation literally every day I’m in Allston.) My piece struck a nerve because I articulated a universal experience that happens every day, but is rarely confronted. We don’t hear about a woman lashing back at those who lash out at her, and this story is controversial because it challenges behavior that is usually just shrugged off, if acknowledged at all.

I consider this event a victory because of the waves of conversations its triggering. I wouldn’t advise others targeted by street harassment to lash out because it is endangering, but I do support those who feel compelled to do so. Those who zero in on ‘the punch’ as the key element to my story are missing the point. Wake up: this harassment is not an isolated incident, nor is it limited to the streets of Allston. I didn’t just lose my temper and succumb to uncontrollable female emotions. For once in my life, I made the decision to NOT turn the other cheek in the face of violent oppression. It caused a stir for good reason. If my story angers you and you believe I am in the wrong, turn your lens around on your day-to-day life for a moment and try taking notice of how women around you are treated on a mass scale.

We are called ‘hun’ and ‘sweetheart’ everywhere from the street to the grocery store to our schools and offices, and we are expected to smile sweetly in return. On crowded busses, at concerts and parties, men touch our waists and our shoulders as they pass, as though they have the right to touch us without even looking us in the eyes. On the street, we are hollered at, leered at, propositioned, attacked, and we are told that it’s in our best interest to just ignore it and keep walking.

This is me rejecting that and everything else that comes along with the rape culture we all live in. This is me breaking the silence. I am grateful for the attention this issue is receiving because it is universal and it is urgent. I do not condone violence. I condone doing what needs to be done to stand up for yourself and assert your right to walk down the street without feeling fear or intimidation.

Do whatever you can to raise awareness. Street harassment isn’t an issue exclusive to abusive drunk jerks in Allston, it’s an issue for the friends and passerbys who see this harassment and say nothing. This is your issue as much as it is mine. I urge you to join me in breaking the silence. Be aware, respond as needed, share your stories to your friends and family, post them online. Another world is possible if and only if we all participate in its evolution.

Thank you for paying attention.

xo

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12 responses to ““The Punch Heard Round The World””

  1. natasiarose says :

    You should stand by your actions! It was a reflex, it happened, the guy brought it on himself. Maybe next time he will think twice before he harrasses someone who looks like an easy target.

  2. msjacks says :

    I think what bothers me most about the response you’re getting is that people are acting like you planned this out, like you sat there and carefully weighed your options and after hemming and hawing, you chose to punch the dude. All of this couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds; it’s a classic snap reaction. His decision to harass you took way more forethought than your response did. It’s classic blame the victim shit. It reminds me of a woman I know who was mugged. She’s really small, and when the guy tried to steal her purse, she held on for dear life. She was beaten badly for it, and people chided her for weeks about it. It made me SO ANGRY that in her time of need, people were questioning what she did, even though it was an adrenaline-based reaction, and something she never thought she’d do before that day.

    I’m so upset that you are dealing with this nonsense. Hold your head up and keep doing what you’re doing. Also, for fuck’s sake: MOVE TO JP.

    Xo Robin

  3. Courtenay Bluebird says :

    You are standing your ground in an elegant, eloquent way. I’m so impressed.

    And I’m so amazed by the way you are directing this attention to your blog back to the common good– which makes me doubly impressed.

    Thank you for posting this beautiful, thoughtful follow-up.

  4. Nikitasha Aggarwal says :

    Seriously? People are upset at you for “using violence” against that guy? They don’t know what real violence is. You shouldn’t have to apologize for your actions. Also like msjacks said, it was a snap reaction and you were supposed to act on emotion.

  5. Sherri (@sherrijane58) says :

    Thank you, for writing this so eloquently. I am glad he did not turn back on you violently.

  6. Allison Nevitt says :

    As I wrote in your last post, it is completely understandable how, after facing relentless harassment, you might have a moment of snap.

    We all need to take responsibility for allowing the culture of bigotry to thrive and quit blaming those who can’t take the weight of it any more when they have their rare moments of lashing back.

    Take care of yourself and thank you for bringing this topic out into the open and challenging us all with it.

  7. ladyyaga says :

    Your story inspired me to work on my “No”:

    http://hour13.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/im-working-on-my-no/

  8. Dienna says :

    You reacted in the way you felt was right at that moment. Don’t ever feel that you need to apologize for your actions! Women are constantly made to feel that we should be polite and accommodating, putting our feelings on the back burner. We need to put ourselves and our needs first.

    I found your story very inspiring.

  9. Tyson Hawk (@TysonHawk) says :

    I’m proud of you, both for the punch and for writing about it honestly afterwards. But some of the things you said in this post confused me. I’ve never catcalled anyone on the street, that’s obviously rude. But I touch people’s shoulders or backs if I need to when I pass by them all the time–both male and female shoulders. You know, the “tap on the shoulder” in a crowded bar thing. It’s sometimes necessary to get someone’s attention, and it sure beats the alternative, which is sliding my whole body against them in passing without warning. Women (and some of my gay male friends) call me “hon” all the time, in the grocery store, etc. I never experience that as in any way threatening. I sometimes call women I’m familiar with (but never strangers) “hon,” or “babe” or “cutie” or “sweetheart,” just as I call men “dude,” “bro,” “homie,” “man,” etc. (Actually, come to think of it, I call women “dude,” “man,” etc., too.) These, to me, are just terms of endearment, intended to show some level of affection or closeness and nothing else. They function the same way as a nickname and are basically generic nicknames. Is touching someone’s shoulder or calling someone “hon” or “dude” really street harassment?

    • allisonfrancismusic says :

      Some responses to your questions:

      – I don’t think that a woman’s actions towards a man (calling you ‘hon’) carry the same meaning as a man’s actions towards a woman – in short, because of the patriarchy. Generally I would advise checking yourself now & then by asking if it would be just as easy for you to call a male friend ‘cutie’ as it would to call a female friend ‘dude’.

      – I wasn’t talking about tapping women on the shoulder (I do the same in crowded spaces.) Rather I was referring to men who pass and touch/hold women’s shoulders/waists. I have had men literally try to move me by my waist many times.

      I don’t have a clear definition of street harassment. If I were to write one I’d start by saying that street harassment is unwelcome words or actions spurred specifically by one’s perceived gender or sexual orientation.

      Thank you for your support and for keeping the conversation going.

  10. Courtenay Bluebird says :

    HEY!

    I have nominated you for a VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD!

    Here are the DEETS: Post the .jpg of the award in a post or on your blog; mention the person(s) who nominated you; offer up seven things about yourself; nominate 15 other bloggers and let them know they’ve been nominated.

    YAY!

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