Laura’s post on staring men has made me think a lot about street harassment and uninvited attention/invitation from men on the street.
I’ve been verbally harassed many times on the street. The only time where I came close to being physically assaulted was in the Paris metro, and that was just a few aggressive pokes on the shoulder. I know how lucky I am to have only brushed against the idea of being physically assaulted, rather than experiencing physical assault. I guess I shouldn’t have such high expectations that some day, women will feel okay just being by themselves, or that walking home at night alone won’t feel like a fatal mistake.
Here are the arrays of things that happened to me in this fine city of Montreal:
- While walking home at night with my partner, a man on a bike called me an “Asian whore” as he rode by.
- One time, when I was walking home alone, a man followed me home for about 8 blocks. Luckily, a friend that was staying at my apartment at the time was waiting outside for me and I got inside without the dude following me any longer. When I got inside, he made the “eating out” gesture at me. When I told the security guard of my building to not let the man in that night, he just said to me: “he just likes you!” I felt faint.
Recalling these incidents makes me feel angry. Yet, when those things were happening, all I could sense was pure fear, which made me only want to flee the scene and not confront it. When I was aware of that man following me home, I ran a few scenarios in my head where he would force me to come inside the apartment with me. Then all of my desire to yell at him evaporated, because God forbid I anger him any more. What if he would want to punish me for my behaviour? And because I have been socialized and educated to believe my own helplessness, this is what happened in my head:
(Except, you know, it only became funny in hindsight.)
The crippling fear of men who are stronger and bigger than me makes me hate myself, because I feel like a silent accomplice who allows these terrible things to happen to me by fulfilling the helpless woman stereotype. Or even worse, a meek Asian woman stereotype. (Racialicious has an excellent piece about street harassment and race)
I wish the first response that comes to mind when someone approaches me in an aggressive manner is not to run, but to confront it and make that person feel bad for what (s)he is doing. I’m not sure when or if I’ll reach the stage where I will be confident enough to confront the situation. But I’m working on it. The other day, when a man told me my dress was pretty and asked whether I was from “China or Hong Kong” I said “no thanks” while looking straight into his eyes. It’s a small step.