It’s time for the Fall 2015 edition of Feminist Friday, a seasonal multi-blog open discussion of topics in intersectional feminism. Since starting in 2013, our network of bloggers has covered reproductive rights, education, rape culture, queer rights, and literature, and I’ve personally written posts on my other blog about fan fiction, gendered marketing, and bi erasure in social science research.
For more information about the project, as well as a list of all our past posts and our free ebook, head over to Part-Time Monster.
Content note: descriptions of street harassment, which include queerphobic and misogynistic comments.
Do you ever have something so utterly bizarre happen to you that even you can’t believe it happened? I don’t mean like watching something in slo-mo; I mean like staring into the gaping maw of some incomprehensible eldritch horror. I mean hearing the opening strains of “Bohemian Rhapsody” as if it were diegetic music.
I was walking home from the joint birthday party of my girlfriend and my friend P last summer. Being the official cake baker for my friends means I’m often lugging a cake carrier around, and since I’m a city-dweller who doesn’t own a car, that means I’m generally on foot.
So it’s midnight, I’m walking back from her place through a residential area with lots of trees, looking over my shoulder now and then. As I’m rounding the corner onto the better-lit main drag of my neighborhood and stop for the crosswalk, an ambulance pulls up. This isn’t particularly odd since I live near an urban trauma center. But then I hear a voice mumbling. I look up, and the man in the passenger side of the ambulance looks back at me. I look back towards the crosswalk signal, and continue waiting for the light to change.
Then I hear the mumbling again and see something out of the corner of my eye–the guy in the passenger is waving at me. As the light turns and the ambulance slowly rounds the corner, the guy in the passenger seat leans out the window, gives me the creepiest smile, and shouts, “Can I have some cake?”
It is dark. It is midnight. I am walking home alone. And there is an ambulance driver street harassing me “because” I’m carrying a cake carrier.
So I yell back, “Fuck you.”
Now, you may think, “Well, LM, this certainly isn’t the worst time you’ve been street harassed. Remember that time you were walking to your old gym at 7 am and a man started ranting and raving at you because you ignored his catcalling, and then he screamed at you that you were a dyke and a bitch and said you ought to be raped and murdered, and you ran away and called the cops but he left before they got there? Or that time you witnessed a literal knife fight break out after someone tried to tell a guy who was harassing you and your friend in the park to piss off, and then the first guy tried to carjack someone when you were on the phone with the police?”*
The absurdity of the incident got me thinking about when and how I get harassed. Of the times I have been harassed in Seattle in the last two years, the “causes,” according to harassers, were as follows, in order of frequency.
- I was carrying a cake carrier
- I was walking in public
- I appeared to them to be a woman
These instances aren’t unrelated, of course, because I very much doubt that without #3 that #2 or #1 would happen. Perhaps the list should look like this:
- I was carrying a cake carrier while walking in public and appearing to be a (cis) woman
- I was walking in public and appeared to be a (cis) woman
- I appeared to be a (cis) woman
The comments I get just walking (usually somewhere on the commute to and from work) are also nonsensical. “Hey, girl, why you walking so fast?” is the most common, or its cousin, “Whoa! Where you headed to so fast?”. Once, I responded, “Somewhere faster than you.” Which I realize, in retrospect, doesn’t make a lot of sense grammatically. However, this was a response I felt good about saying, because he was obviously unarmed, not in a car with which to hit me or abduct me (which I would be blamed for, of course), and we were in a crowded supermarket parking lot where I could have run for the store if I needed to. Or power-walked, I guess, according to him.
Still, the cake carrier comments are the weirdest. Why would a man assume I would give him any of my cake that I worked so hard to make, other than entitlement and an easy “excuse” to harass me? Yes, very good, I see that your vision is good enough that you have correctly identified the item known to contain delicious cake. Do you want a sticker on your privilege workbook?
The ambulance driver (may his tires on his personal vehicle burst into flame) bothered me so much because this same guy who street harassed me could easily be the guy driving me to the hospital if I got hurt. I don’t know why I’m surprised when men in positions of power, even for something as temporary as an ambulance- or cab ride, abuse it, but if you can’t trust a person to do his damn job without harassing anyone, what do you do with that information, other than hope you won’t be “the next one”?
When I am walking with a cake carrier, I want to get from point A to point B safely with my cake intact. I do not care if you think I’m attractive. I do not care if you are alarmed by the speed of my gait. I don’t want to hear you point out the obvious about my appearance or what I’m carrying.
I want you to leave me alone.
Because street harassment is not only jarring but potentially deadly and because I’m a person who expresses myself better in writing than verbally, I don’t usually get out many zingers to my harassers. The one moment of l’esprit de l’escalier that I truly regret is when I was carrying the very gory anatomical heart cake to dinner and, as usual, some guy yelled, “Hey, girl, gimme some cake!” I should have responded, “It’s a human heart.”
Check out more about street harassment on Everyday Feminism:
- 5 Excuses for Street Harassment We Need To Stop Making…Now
- Why We Act to Stop Street Harassment
- 7 Steps You Can Take To Address Street Harassment
- What Men Can Do To Stop Street Harassment
And more about food and gender here on the blog.
*I should note that I do not endure the same frequency and danger of harassment as queer men, gender-nonconforming folks, trans women, WOC, and especially QTPOC experience, because I am white and standards of fashion for women in Seattle are more in line with how I prefer to wear my hair and clothes. In Seattle, I can “pass” as straight and cis. Outside of Seattle, I read as more obviously queer.
19 Comments Add yours
Reblogged this on Part Time Monster and commented:
Feminist Friday discussions are back, and this week Leah’s talking about food, gender, and street harassment at I’ll Make it Myself. Hop over and join the discussion.
“If you can’t trust a person to do his damn job without harassing anyone, what do you do with that information, other than hope you won’t be ‘the next one’?”
Nothing. Just hope.
And speak out, but ultimately, we’re at the “hoping you won’t be the next one” phase of society right now.
I should have taken down the license plate or gotten a photo but I didn’t because I was so worn out, and I deeply regret it.
I often wonder if men understand the impact of street harassment. If they know that we automatically are looking over our shoulder and assessing who’s around us, even in the day light, even in crowded places. If they know that what may seem to them a “compliment” gives us pause, makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. That it’s hard for us to discern between a well meaning but clueless comment and a feeler for harassment. That even a nice guy saying something he thinks is nice can feel threatening when we don’t even know them.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of aggression which so much street harassment is actually coming from.
Then, there’s the issue of dominance and ownership. The ambulance driver asking for cake? And getting your attention more than once to ask for that cake? That to me feels like a form of dominance. He might as well have pissed all over your feet to claim his territory.
Honestly I don’t thin it’s a case of “do they know,” it’s that they do not care. Not even that they think about it and decide it’s not important, but so much that it would never even cross their minds exactly how uncomfortable and unsafe we may feel. Goes back to dominance. The few who actually are trying to give a compliment can, perhaps, be educated, but those cases are more the “Is this guy creepy?” situation, rather than street interactions.
It just baffles how culture supports the idea that women exist solely for cishet men, and how these harassers internalize it. They don’t know the impact of it AT ALL, because they don’t have to deal with it. Much in the same way I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed for existing while Black. The difference is that intersectional feminists recognize their knowledge gaps and work to fix it and signal boost the work of others, instead of perpetuating harassment because a woman telling a man to leave her alone hurts his fragile masculinity so much that he cannot deal with it but in violence.
Technical note — probably “outside of the urban Pacific Northwest”…. pretty sure you’d “pass” in Portland as well. ;)
I always feel strange chiming in on street-harassment commentary because I have rarely encountered it. I’ve gotten the very seldom, stray comment from a homeless individual, but even those I can count on one hand. I wonder if perhaps its because I spend much of my commutes plugged into headphones, walking quickly, with my “resting” face (which maybe looks intimidating and forbidding? At the very least, pretty sure I look focused and determined). However….
It’s frustrating that such things happen — I don’t understand what DOES make guys feel like it’s okay to comment and call out like that.
It’s happened rarely to me too, but… I hardly ever walk in cities, at least not by myself. Like, I’m pretty sure I’ve never done that. And if I’m walking ANYWHERE by myself, I’ve got (nonlethal) weapon in hand and “I will destroy you before you get anywhere near me” demeanor in place, but still occasionally get whistles now that I’m walking to class every day.
I wonder if some of it is “oh, a cake carrier! Here’s my in, since this murder-face woman-looking person won’t fight back to preserve her cake. Plot wise-I would set my cake down and pepper spray y’all.
I do wonder if it’s the cake carrier, specifically, or just that you have your hands full. :/
Bit of both. I would use that thing as a weapon if I had to defend myself, which is probably not what they expect…
My walking speed is fast and authoritative and I have angry resting face (and haughty walking face) and STILL. Male privilege is a hell of a drug.
It’s ridiculous… and makes me wonder WHAT it is that prompts them to harass certain people and not others. Unlike Hannah, I have spent much of my life walking around cities of various sizes, often by myself, sometimes at night.
A hell of a drug, indeed.
So this does make me wonder about factors because I have not had it happened that often but I also am not living and walking in a big city that often. I am also not a small person at 5’10”. The data collection and interpretation would be ridiculous but it could be interesting to see if height, weight, ethnicity, hair length even make a difference.
The creepiest times it happened to me was actually in Denmark when a man followed after me for a bit. I just high tailed it to the train home. That actually was a whole day of guys being stupid. Because first it was this guy trying to talk to me and follow me on the street. Talking about my ass. Then later that night at a club close to the flat I was staying at a guy decided to put his arm around me hand on my hip. And I did not want to make a big scene especially in another country but my mind was racing of who the hell do you think you are. And just got away and went back to my place where I could lock the door behind me.
At the same time I have experienced it in a fairly rural area as where where it was a drive by of a big ol’ stupid truck and I initially just thought please don’t turn around and come back at me after passing and yelling.
I’m pretty sure that every time I’ve been taking food somewhere, at least one guy has said “hey let me get some of that” or some version thereof, and it’s an odd bit of business. My inclination is that the food presents a convenient reminder of traditional gender roles, in addition to just being a ready source for conversation.