It’s that time again! Another year of Going Outside While Female (okay, I posted this one a little late but I was busy, alright), in which I have painstakingly jotted down each incident of street harassment I experienced. In case you missed it, here’s Volume One.
Why bother documenting this, instead of just ignoring it? Look, there’s a lot of things I ignore as a New Yorker- giant rats, the smell of hot garbage, folks who play loud music on the train, tourists who take up the entire sidewalk. None of those things are an affront to my right to bodily autonomy. Street harassment is violation of my right to walk out of my home and go about my business without being reminded OUT LOUD that no matter what, I am at all times a sexual object. This is unacceptable. I don’t always have the energy or the assurance of my safety to respond in the moment, but there is a satisfaction for me knowing that these men will be held accountable somewhere, even if they will never know it.
I also want this to stand as a record of how often we have to deal with this shit. Most women and femme-presenting folks have a handful of horror stories to share when trying to explain why street harassment matters, why it is so grating or frightening, or both. But it’s hard to really capture the pervasiveness of this micro-aggression. So I wrote it all down here. And this is just the clear, verbal interactions- I didn’t document the leers, or the comments half-heard through headphones or street noise. Anyway, next time someone asks you to explain why it’s such a big deal, you just send them to me.
A quick note- most of this takes place in Crown Heights because that is where I live, not because street harassment is necessarily more likely to occur there.
A man unloading a delivery truck makes hissing noises at me through his teeth. I recognize this sound from when I lived in Cairo, and I turn around. “You are beautiful.” I reply, “You’re making me really uncomfortable.” The street is crowded and noisy so I’m not sure if hears me, but I walk away to end our interaction.
Man walks towards me on the sidewalk. As he walks past me, he says, “You’re beautiful.” I turn around, he grins, “Actually, it makes me uncomfortable when men I don’t know tell me that.” “Oh so it happens often?” I fumble for words. He gestures, as if winning an argument, “That’s because you are.” “Oh, no, actually that’s street harassment,” I tell him, and walk away before he can continue.
9pm, Crown Heights
I’m walking home from getting groceries. A group of three men walk towards me at the crosswalk, and one of them says, “Hey, Beautiful.” I turn around say, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” “I said good evening, how are you?” he responds. I raise my eyebrows and make a “hmm” noise, turn around and continue walking.
Going from the train to work, there’s a small bottleneck of people working their way around a delivery truck backing up into the driveway opposite. I hear, ‘Hey Beautiful, you’re gorgeous, how you doin’ Sweetheart?” Not sure if this is directed at me, I look over my shoulder. The man who is staring at me raises his eyebrows and smiles. I glare and continue on my way.
I’m walking down the sidewalk carrying a big box. Two men walk towards me in middle of the sidewalk, blocking my way. One moves aside and says, “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Oh, no, you’re good,” I reply and smile at him. “Have a good day, Beautiful,” he says at my back as I walk away. I just drop my head and keep walking #youmadeitweird
10:30pm, Crown Heights
#roommatedog is getting her last walk of the day. We come up to a group of young men drinking and shooting dice on the sidewalk. We wait a moment for a break in the game; they see us and move aside. I say, “Thank you, ‘scuse us.” One of them responds, “You’re alright. Especially you,” and looks me up and down.
11am, Crown Heights
#roommatedog and I are taking our first walk of the day. We are almost home when an older man rides by on the sidewalk on a bike and says, “Hey Cutie.” I call back over my shoulder, “Please don’t call me that.”
I had seen him yesterday riding on the sidewalk, asking everyone to get out of his way. When I moved out, he said, “Thanks Sweetheart,” which isn’t something I love being called, but I had thought maybe it was grandfatherly and let it go.
11:30pm, Crown Heights
I’m taking #roommatedog for a last walk before bedtime. We are waiting at a stoplight when an older man approaches us. “Is this your baby?”
“Oh, no, this is my roommate’s dog. But she’s a good girl.”
“I can tell she’s a sweetheart. You need a baby though. And someone to take care of you, someone to live with you.”
“Um, that’s okay. I have roommates and I’m good.”
“You’re so pretty.”
“Okay, I’m going to go now.” He mumbles something about not meaning anything by it, but I am already leaving as quickly as I can.
5:45pm, Crown Heights
At the neighborhood hardware store, a young man stands outside the door blocking the entrance. He stares at me with just the hint of a lurid smile as I approach, looking me up and down. He continues to do this until I am within inches of him, and I have to say, “Excuse me,” before he stops, and moves out of my way. He gives me the same up and down look when I leave.
6pm, Crown Heights
Crossing the street at a four way intersection next to the hardware store, man driving by the other way honks his horn repeatedly, leans out his window and yells, “Yes, girl! That’s what I LIKE!”
6:30pm, Crown Heights
I am running and a man barks at me, “Run, run, RUN!”
8am, Crown Heights
Walking to work, I’ve gotten less than a block away from my front door when an older man calls out, “Gorgeous!” as I walk by.
Walking to the train from work, a group of five young male construction workers walk towards me. One of them says, “Damn, you’re looking pretty today.” I almost walk on, but turn around after a few steps and see that he’s still looking at me. “I don’t like when men I don’t know call me that,” I tell him. “Get your life together,” he responds. “I’m good!” I say. He continues to holler incoherently, but it’s drowned out by street noise as I walk away.
5pm, Crown Heights
I’m volunteering at an SOS Crown Heights block party. We are cleaning up at the end when a man walks by me and says, “Beautiful.” Because I’m a volunteer at this event, I feel like he’s my guest and I don’t respond.
10:45pm, Crown Heights
Walking home from the train after ballet class, a man makes a loud kissing noise at me as we pass each other. I turn and look at him but make a split second assessment (it’s night, there’s no one else walking on this block) and decide not to say anything.
I’ve just left work and am headed to ballet; I stop at the street corner to look at the Brooklyn Bridge. A man next to me says, “Hi,” so I smile and say hi back. I’m about to tell him that I really love the way the light looks at this time of day, when he says, “Beautiful Lady.” The only thing I can muster the energy to say is a flat, “Great,” and walk away.
1pm, Crown Heights
I had just stepped out of my door with #roommateeric, who went the other way to get coffee. Seconds after he left, a man standing in a group of other men looked at me and said, “Oooh baby, I love you. Yeah. Mmm.” I rolled my eyes and walked away.
6pm, Downtown Brooklyn
I’m walking to the train after ballet along the dimly lit sidewalk cordoned off by construction. A young man is smoking on the sidewalk. “How YOU doin?” he mutters. I’m not sure if he’s talking to me or someone on the phone, so I ignore him and continue walking. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says, still softly. I am past him by now but turn around and say, “Excuse me, what? Did you say something?” He shakes his head and says never mind, and tells me not to worry about it.
8:30pm, Crown Heights
I get off the train after ballet, headed home. “Hi, Pretty” a man says to me as he passes quickly, and is gone before I can even register what he’s said or even what he looks like.
6:45pm, Crown Heights
I was walking to meet my friend for drinks when a man leaning against the wall in a small, darkened parking made kissing noises at me (the kind where you pucker your lips and pull in to make sort of a squeaking noise). He did it again, so I stopped and turned around. I couldn’t find him in the dusky gloom until he said, “Hi.” “I don’t like it when men make those noises at women they don’t know,” I replied, “it makes me uncomfortable.” To his credit, he started apologizing immediately. I continue walking.
9pm, Crown Heights
I’m walking home from the train after ballet. I see a group of young men ahead of me, and reflexively redirect my gaze to the ground. I feel myself do this and correct myself, tilting my chin to look directly ahead. And then of course- of fucking course- although I do not make eye contact, one of them says, “Hello.” And then, as I continue walking and am ten feet past, “Where you goin, baby?” I keep walking. I don’t tilt my gaze down toward the ground.
A man about my age asks me for money. I don’t have any cash, and I tell him so. We go different ways, but the streets make a triangle and we end up passing each other again. He asks me again, and I say, “No sorry, I don’t have anything.” “That’s right,” he replies, “I remember you. You’re the pretty one.” I walk away.
8pm, Crown Heights
I’m walking to the drugstore to get tissues because we’re out and I have a cold and I feel like garbage. I’m just hoping to get them before I desperately have to blow my nose again. A young man (I think he’s young? It’s dark and the sidewalk is crowded) calls out, “Hey Gorgeous! Gorgeous!” I keep walking.
2 minutes and one block later, Crown Heights
A much older man calls out, “Beautiful lady! Beautiful lady.” I keep walking.
8pm, Crown Heights
I am walking to get groceries. A man calls out, “Hey, Lovely!” as I approach. I keep walking.
12:05pm, Crown Heights
I have literally just walked out my door, dressed to see the ballet but also bundled up. A man calls out from the corner, “Damn, you look real nice today. Happy New Year!” I don’t respond, except to roll my eyes as I keep walking toward the train, away from him. “Happy New Year!” I still don’t respond. “Happy Neeeeewwww Yeeeeaaaaarr!” I turn around and yell up the street, “Yeah, I’m ignoring you because I don’t want to talk to you!” He yells something about how I need to do something…basically that I need to accept his advances, or I’m not right in the head, or am otherwise unhappy in life. I take off my mitten to flip him off, and he says, “Yeah okay, I’ll see you next time you leave your house.” This sounds like a threat, and my stomach churns.
I am walking down the stairs into a train station, talking on the phone (as in holding an actual phone to my ear, actively talking). A man walking up the stairs stops on the landing to sing some sounds at me while gyrating and staring at me. I look at him briefly in disbelief then continue walking and say to the person on the other line, “Okay…um, anyway…” The man stands on the landing and yells at my back, “YA ALRIGHT GIRL??? YA ALRIGHT?!?” I ignore him and finish my conversation.
6pm, Vinegar Hill
Walking from work to ballet, I pass a small group of people standing outside a bodega. One of them has a pit bull on a leash, and I probably smiled at the dog because that’s why my face does at dogs. I don’t remember, but I’m certain I didn’t look at the dog’s human. “Hey, Pretty,” he calls out as I pass, “Wanna hang with me?” “No, I’ll take the dog though.” “You don’t wanna walk me?” “Nope. Just the dog.” He makes someone kind of noise, but I continue walking.
9pm, Crown Heights
I am walking to get food after ballet and two men approach me on a dark street. One of them says to me, “Hey girl, can I take you to dinner?” I keep walking. I don’t even know if he saw my face.
3:30pm, Crown Heights
I’m less than a block from my apartment with my hands shoved into my coat pockets and my head down against the wind. “Hey, Beautiful!” a large man calls out as he walks by. I don’t have the energy to deal with this, so I roll my eyes and keep walking.
11am, Crown Heights
I’m leaving a bodega with coffee and banana in hand, exhausted from staying up late preparing for tech rehearsal. A young man entering the store calls out to me, “Miss, how much are the bananas?” When I ignore him and keep walking he yells again, “Miss! How much was that banana??” I don’t stick around to hear (presumably??) how much his banana costs.
12:15pm, Crown Heights (on my block)
An old man (whom I see frequently in the neighborhood, and who I’ve called out on calling me unwelcome pet names) walks toward me. Without making eye contact with me, he mutters, “Hey, Cutie” at the ground as he passes. I turn around and say, “Excuse me?” He pauses but doesn’t turn, then continues to shuffle along. I repeat myself, “Excuse me? Did you say something to me?” He turns and says again, “Hey, Cutie.” “That makes me uncomfortable,” I tell him firmly, then walk away.
6:45pm, Crown Heights
I walk toward a group of men crowded together on the sidewalk. I have earbuds in, and I keep looking in the direction I’m going. One of them calls out, “Hey there, Gorgeous! I like that haircut!” I keep walking.
2pm, Crown Heights
I’m headed to the train to go to the anti-gun march. A man walking in a group of his friends and talking to them interrupts himself mid-sentence to say, “hey, girlfriend” to me. I haven’t even made eye contact with him.
2pm, Crown Heights
Less than a block later, a different man unloading a truck calls out to my back after I pass him, “Hey girl! Hey mama! How you doin! Like that short hair!”
10pm, Crown Heights
I am finally heading home after the march, then 2.5 hours of ballet class, then 2 more hours watching a ballet rehearsal. A man on the street corner says, “GORgeous!” as I pass by. It is too dark to see his face. I’m too tired to do anything but keep walking.
7:30pm, Crown Heights
I see what I presume is a young man pushing a shopping cart and going through some discarded household items in the trash area of the building next to ours. I walk past him and put the key in our front door. “Yeah, I’d like to come in there and feel that ass,” he says to my back. I turn around and ask, “What did you say to me?” “Yeeeah,” he replies, and walks away, pushing his shopping cart. “I’m not actually interested in your opinion on my ass!” I call to his retreating back.
2:30pm, Crown Heights
I walk out of the bodega (dressed, it should be pointed out, in a weird mix of dance and street clothes). As soon as I step out of the door, a man to my left wolf whistles at me. When I don’t look at him and keep walking, he lets out a, “Ssst!” hiss noise. I continue to ignore him and keep walking. I never even saw his face.
3pm, Crown Heights
It is a work from home day, so I’m headed to the coffee shop for a change of scenery. I see a group of four young men coming toward me. I have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen next, and yep, they part to let me by but while I’m in the center of them they each call out something along the lines of, “Hey mama/yo sexy/etc.” There are four of them and they are all much bigger than me, so I just keep walking.
6pm, Crown Heights
Dressed in my dance clothes and jacket, I walk to the train from my house. On the way there, a man yells “Sexy!” at me after I have passed him and am crossing the street.
9pm, Crown Heights
Walking home from the train after ballet, I am still in my dance clothes which today include spandex shorts that reach to mid-thigh (what a person is wearing doesn’t make any kind of harassment acceptable and I have been harassed wearing a large jacket and sweatpants, but I mention it just for context). As I pass a group of men, one of them calls out “Daaaaammmmnnnn,” stretching it into three syllables.