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I am not the sensitive type. In fact, I pride myself on being thick-skinned. But this morning, I’ve had it.
Not to go all “Samantha Brick” on everyone, but I’m a pretty young woman, and I often get told as much. But that doesn’t mean that I deserve to be harrassed.
Just minutes ago, I was leaving the Wal-Mart on Silber Road in Houston. The Target on Gessner was closed, and I was picking up some Easter Grass and Cadbury’s for the gift bags that I’m making for a family event in a few hours. (Yes, I’m finishing up last minute. Sorry, Mom.)
I’d never been to a Wal-Mart in Houston, so I’d even taken the liberty of googling “nicest Wal-Mart in Houston” before my trip, and finding out from Yelp! where best to do my shopping. So when a nicely dressed young man in a dark-colored Corvette was driving slowly behind me as I walked to my car, I noted it — but didn’t think twice.
It’s 9:45 in the morning on Easter Sunday, and I’m in the parking lot of a damn Wal-Mart. Like I said: didn’t think twice.
About ten seconds later, he’s driving right next to me. I can tell that he’s looking at me, but, seriously — I have gift bags to fill. I’m not wearing my Easter outfit yet. My hair isn’t fixed. I have my morning Diet Coke waiting for me in the car, from which I’m not far. I have a night job (in addition to my 9-to-5 writing gig) that keeps me up until 3 AM on weekend nights. It’s so early for me, I’d even shopped in my oversized sunglasses. I even considered for a moment that it might be someone I know.
And then he spoke. Ugh, I think.
I keep walking.
“Hey there, beautiful.”
I purposefully turn my head slightly diagonal in the other direction, hoping he’ll get the hint that I’d really just like to ignore him and go back to my thoughts of bunnies and brunch.
“What are you gettin’ into today?”
Easter candy, asshole. I think. I hold my tongue.
My instincts are twofold: I’m clearly nonplussed, and clearly annoyed. I do not suffer fools well.
“You wanna hang out with me?”
Finally, a question I’m willing to answer. I’m fairly close to my car, but (I really, really hate to admit) my heart rate has risen a bit. And my D-Bag Creep Radar is out, guns a-blazin’.
“No. I don’t,” I say. Pause.
“Fuck you, dude.” I pressed the “Lock” button on my car, so that I could follow the sound and get there expressly.
I stop dead in my tracks to punctuate the remark, and he keeps on driving.
When I got to my car, I drank some Diet Coke and griped via phone to a few friends about it. I’m aware that this is not the end of the world. And it’s not that I was particularly frightened (go back to the golf course and reading Maxim, I believe, was my precise assessment to my peeps). It’s that I wanted to be thinking about something else.
I don’t deserve to have to deal with this guy just because he thinks I’m hot (or vulnerable, or a bit of parking lot harassment fun, or whatever the hell he was thinking, if anything). It’s not my job to be the source of anyone’s testosterone-fueled entertainment just because I’m doing some late errands for an event on the morning of. I was simply buying Easter grass, for Christ’s sake. (…Literally.)
And I’m posting about this instead of curling my hair because I believe it’s that important.
I recently posted about the #IDidNotReport phenomenon that @LondonFeminist began, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s worth reporting, and what’s not.
I accepted the position as a co-director of Hollaback! Houston because I’m a feminist (a humanist, really), and because I care deeply about everyone feeling safe. I love having fun, and I’ve been known to get rowdy my own self — but I want everyone out there to feel free to have fun, to go where they want, and to feel as secure as possible doing so. Not to mention just being able to go about our business without feeling threatened or wasting our precious time and energy dealing with assholes that have woefully immature priorities.
We live in a great city, in a great state, in a magnificent country, in a beautiful world. We should be extremely proud of this, and I believe that we should also be mindful of maintaining, at the very least, some civility.
That being said, I often have to justify Hollaback! Houston to my family and friends, of all genders and lifestyles. Most of the time, people just roll their eyes.
Sometimes they ask, “Is it really that bad?”
Most of the people that know me know that I’m far more concerned with structural sexism and pay disparities. They know that I’m not a whiny woman who wears the label of feminist but makes ill-crafted arguments and assessments about the state of things. I care about feminism academically. I care about feminism politically. I care about social and economic policy, and I live a life that relishes in and fosters the sharing of women’s narratives. I don’t really give two shits if someone whistles at me.
Also, this is Texas. Teenage cowboys in trucks are probably always gonna holler.
So this is when I always say something like, “Yes. It’s that bad. Am I going to get mad if some construction worker whistles at me while I’m on my way to work? It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but no. And do I think that male attention is bad? Absolutely not. But are there people who get groped, or feel unsafe, or flat out verbally abused sometimes? Yes. And do I think that we should all have to pay the price for that? No.”
Recently, I’ve been adding in a schpiel about #IDidNotReport. Female, male, or otherwise — we should all have a chance to share our stories. And we should always speak out when something is wrong. Should we bitch and complain? No. That’s bad for the movement, and it’s not a particularly life-giving way to conduct ourselves. But should we let people know when something bothers us? Yes. Should we warn other people if we’ve been endangered on a hyperlocal level? Absolutely. Should we do everything we can to legitimize our voice, and show would-be harassers and those that are complacent that it’s not OK, and it’s not good enough for us, and it’s not decent behavior, and it’s not acceptable? Yes. Yes. One thousand times, yes.
I am not the fun police. I am not a man-hater. And I am definitely not a prude.
But I am a director of an anti-street harassment campaign in my city, and if I don’t speak up — who will?
Sorry ’bout it, Corvette. You hassled the wrong chickie this Easter.
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