Originally written around November of 2014
Walking down the street in our neighborhood my best friend and I were catcalled by grown men in their calls all the time, especially in the summer. I still remember the honks of the car horns, the yelling out of the window, and some cars slowing down so the men could attempt to talk to us. We mostly ignored them. It was just a normal part of our adolescence, something that we expected and never commented on. We didn’t think anything was wrong with it, nor did we feel afraid. It was just something that men did. It never occurred to me think of those catcalls as street harassment until I started reading stories from women around the country about their experiences with men verbally and sometimes physically harassing them on the street.
With the release of the controversial video of a woman walking down the streets of NYC and experiencing harassment from many men, street harassment as experienced by cisgender women is in the mainstream spotlight. The video intentionally explores the rampant harassment women face by men, simply for daring to exist in a public space, and also unintentionally highlights how Black and Latino men are often the face of violence in this country, how white (and white-appearing/lightskin) women are often centered in discussions of the sexism that women face, and how solutions to end harassment and violence that depend on the police result in the criminalization of Black and Latino men.
I’ve been very fortunate in my adult life to not have experienced the amount and types of street harassment that many other women have experienced. Being told by men to smile as I pass them walking down the street is something I have consistently experienced throughout my life though, and has always angered me more than catcalls or some dude trying to holla. “Put a smile on your face”, “Why you looking so mean?” are just a couple of the most phrases men have had the audacity to demand of me while I’m simply trying to get from point A to point B. The reply in my head is “because you’re strange man demanding me to do something for you”, but my reaction is either ignoring them, or worse, actually letting a quick, small smile spread on my lips just to appease them. I don’t know why I do that…..
Men demanding our words and time in public space is a reality for far too many of us. And for those of us live at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities (women of color, sex workers, trans women, lesbian, etc.), the harassment is often worse, and is performed by not just random men, but representatives of the state (police), and is more likely to escalate into violence.