I can actually remember every time a person at a convention or trade show has touched me inappropriately. My first year at the Venus Fair in Berlin there was a man who shoved two of his fingers into my panty-covered vagina. It was really fast, like he was standing there one second and the next I was trying to figure out how the gusset of my underwear had ended up in my vulva. There was a man in Texas who rather violently squeezed my ass while we were taking a picture and then laughed at how I'd "squealed like a piglet." Seriously. I'm kind of disappointed by how much of a stereotype he was. At AVN this year, a guy grabbed my forearm while I was walking from the elevators to Digital Playground's booth. He let go when I punched him in the testicle area. There's an average of three people per convention who try the more subtle approach of sliding their hand a bit too far down my back when I stand next to them for a photo. Every single one of them apologizes when I gently put their hand back where it belongs and ask them to remember that I am not a blow up doll.
The above paragraph is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, compared to what it's like to be a girl or woman walking around in public in broad daylight. With dirty hair up in a ponytail or bun, no makeup, and baggy clothing on. With headphones in, sitting in a coffee shop or on the subway with your nose in a book, or talking on the phone.
Men have followed me down the street poking me in what one can only assume is an attempt to get my attention. Men have grabbed the cord to my headphones and ripped them out of my ears. Multiple times. Men have grabbed parts of my body, or my coat or purse strap. Twice, when I was transporting my Lyra (the three foot metal hoop/circus apparatus I do aerial work on) they have grabbed the hoop and refused to let go until I threatened to kick them. They've blocked me into corners on mostly empty subway cars, followed me for blocks and then stood outside whatever shop I duck into for absurd amounts of time. They stop their cars in the middle of the crosswalk to stare and yell things out of the window. Years ago, in Philadelphia, one man walked around my neighborhood asking people if they knew where this blue-haired white girl lived because he wanted to return her phone. Fortunately my neighbors were too smart for that trick.
They say I have a sweet ass, nice tits, a real pretty dress. They say I'm their future wife, or I'd look good with their dick in my mouth. They try (and probably succeed at times) to take pictures down my shirt. They ask if they can get my number, they ask where I live, why I'm not smiling, why my boyfriend lets me walk around by myself. Then they ask why I'm such a bitch, if my pussy is made of ice. They say that they never do this, as though I've somehow driven them to inappropriate behavior and deserve it. They say they're just having fun, trying to pay me a compliment. Pretty frequently they get mean, slipping into a loud tourettes — like chant of bitch-whore-cunt-slut.
Before you try to tell me that it's because I take my clothes off for a living, let me tell you that this started way before I was 18. Let me tell you that every single woman I know has at least one truly terrifying story of street harassment and a whole bunch of other stories that are merely insulting or annoying. Let me remind you that in a room of pornography fans, who have actually seen me with a dick in my mouth and who can buy a replica of my vagina in a can or box, I am treated with far more respect than I am walking down the street.
It seems like women have been sharing their experiences with sexual harassment all over the place in the past few weeks. That's what prompted me to share mine. As Jen Bennett said on twitter, there is clearly something in the air. It should be in the air. Speaking up is the only way that we can help people understand that something is an issue. Sharing is how we let each other know that we are not alone. Open discussion raises awareness of things like Slutwalk and Hollaback.
Street harassment is not a rare or isolated occurrence. It does not only happen in America. It does not only happen to young or traditionally-considered-"beautiful" women. It does not only happen on public transit or in low income areas.
We shouldn't have to have a big angry dog named Funster to protect us. We shouldn't have to carry Mace or a knife, hoping that we'll be able to use it properly if necessary or investing hours of our lives in self defense courses (something a lot of women have neither the time nor disposable income to do). We shouldn't have to travel in packs to feel safe (again, something that isn't really feasible).
Men have been responding saying that they want to divorce their gender. That they didn't realize, until we started sharing our stories en masse, what it is like to be a woman. That they wish there was something they could do. That they're sorry for the way other men treat people. Men shouldn't have to feel like they need to apologize on behalf of their gender, or feel ashamed of being male. Unless they're one of the ones doing the harassing, I don't think they should apologize.
There are things that can be done. When someone you know engages in inappropriate or harassing behavior towards a woman, let them know they did something totally not cool. Like: "Actually, that woman had a right to be upset when you chased her down the street. She was completely accurate when she called it creepy" or "Hey, this story you're telling me about putting your dick on a drunk stranger's face at a party when she clearly didn't want it there but was too sleepy to fend you off, that was a totally not cool thing to do with your penis, bro." Teach every moldable male* mind (brothers, friends, sons) that treating women (humans) with respect is the right thing to do. Don't have sex with jerks. Don't blow them, don't give them a handjob, don't give them your phone number. If you hear a woman asking a man to leave her alone or calling attention to the fact that he's whacking off in the train station, add your voice to hers. Say "This is not ok. This is not cool. We see what you are doing and it is unacceptable."
*I'm focusing on the men here because I've never experienced or heard of a case of menacing street harassment by a female. I could be misinformed. Could be. Possibly.
Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
It's not that I want to be lazy, but I felt that this article had the full right to be reposted in its entirity. I do know that some feminist activists and thinkers consider Jezebel to be a mixed blessing, I did think this article hit nails with hammers. You can find the original here.