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On Street Harassment, Victim Blaming & Life in My Skin

It’s funny in a horrifying I might start crying kind of way to think about how many times I’ve experienced extreme sexism/misogyny from perfect strangers. I’m always boggled at how willing people are to excuse their behavior & claim I should have been nicer, or that they’re sick and don’t know any better. I remember a guy tried to grab me on an empty train car in high school, I kicked the shit out of him & ran like hell. For a host of reasons I was afraid to tell my parents about what happened, but when I told some friends about it the next day I remember a girl I only kind of knew shutting down the victim blaming comments by saying “Girls get raped on the train.” and that the way she said it was so *knowing* you know? I never asked for her story. She didn’t offer it either. But then I was already a survivor so I guess I didn’t need it to understand.

Fast forward a few years from that age & I can tell you a dozen more “extreme” stories that happened in between, but the ones that stick out most all have a theme of me being engaged in my life when misogyny dropped in for a visit. There was the guy in Germany who tried to trap me in a dark tunnel with his car (I jumped on the hood & ran like my life depended on it, maybe it did) and there was no conversation between us. He yelled at me in German from a moving car then drove around to bar my way. There was the guy that followed me home from the store one night telling me that he could be a rapist. He didn’t speak to me in the store & our conversation outside consisted of me walking past him & him yelling at me that I was a stuck up bitch. The guy that called me everything but a child of God, because I wouldn’t buy his CD came at me on a bus & no one (including his friend) said shit to stop him. Or the group of men who surrounded me while I was walking with my child that had to be backed off by a neighbor with a gun.

How many times exactly does someone have to be insulted, harassed, or terrorized before the conversation can be about the person who accosted them & not about what else they could have done? Should have done? How many incidents (all with different people, different settings, different responses) does it take before the discussion is about ways to stop the harassers & not ways to respond to them so that they maybe, possibly, if you’re lucky won’t escalate? When do we talk about the culture that not only permits these behaviors, but encourages them & punishes victims for being wary of new people after years of bad experiences? When do we talk about why women are cautioned to be nice, to be patient, to be careful, but never told it is okay to say no & mean it without fear of repercussions? Oh right, those are all hard topics for hard days & folks would rather blame victims than address problems.

8 thoughts on “On Street Harassment, Victim Blaming & Life in My Skin”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Wonderful questions. May I post this on my FB/link to Tumblr? I think undergrads should be thinking about recasting these situations.

    1. karnythia says:

      Sure. I think I even posted it on Tumblr.

  2. Kerry says:

    Unfortunately it is still very much a man’s world. Which means the continue to do terrible things, take no responsibiliy for their bad behaviour and then blame it all on women.

  3. Katy says:

    I just posted something similar myself. Maybe it’s a whole Summer’s worth of shit finally getting us to ranting point?

    I’m so pissed I don’t really know what to do. I hate not responding, as it feels like acquiescence, but every time I’ve said f*ck you or flipped the bird I’ve walked away thinking ‘please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me’.

    There is no right response and I know why. It’s because, like you said, it’s not MY problem. It’s the assholes’.

    1. karnythia says:

      A few days ago I found myself looking forward to winter because coats cover more & fewer people are on the street. I miss being able to love summer.

  4. angryblackmaninchina says:

    yes i feel you some people just get a kick out of seeing others disturbed. this world is just stacked against people of color b’coz the white man has a choke hold on the world as it is. yesterday i was leaving a restaurant in china with my chinese girlfriend and a nutter yelled at us “foreigners have them big eh?” what the fuck.

  5. Tsipa says:

    I read something about justification like this recently – it talked about how humans want the world to make sense, and to have control over our lives, so we make up reasons that bad things happen. Even when it means we blame a victim of harassment (or worse) for not doing something differently. Because that way we can convince ourselves that WE won’t suffer that fate. What are your thoughts on that?

  6. Kaley says:

    I live in Chicago and venture downtown daily for college, and I see and experience these kinds of things on almost a daily basis. I have become a conservative dresser because of the first year I moved here. I am by no standards a Victoria’s Secret model, and yet I still got whistled at (ugh), men yelling out of their cars that they thought I was hot (gee thanks don’t remember asking for your opinion but it’s nice that you feel comfortable enough yelling at me through a car’s window as you drive by) and on more than one instance had them follow me for a creepy amount of time (luckily my dorm had security guards). I don’t understand why this is seen as acceptable behavior for men in this society. The argument, “if you don’t want the attention don’t dress like it,” is completely tired and overused. When I am home I dress in clothes I am comfortable in, not clothes that I don’t think will attract a man’s attention, and I shouldn’t have to think about that. Men need to start to think about how uncomfortable they are making women with these crude comments and actions. I am glad I have not been the victim of such extreme and horrifying moments you have experienced, but I almost feel like it is just a matter of time in this society because of the sheer amount of similar stories women have of these kinds of events. It’s very scary to think about.

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