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.