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.
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.