That’s what a man, who I had never seen before in my life, yelled as I walked away from him.
A couple of months ago I was in Las Vegas with my best friends from college. Tired from the night before we opted to walk around the strip and people watch that evening. As we walked into a Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream, a particularly drunk looking guy reached out to grab my hand. Like any normal human would do, I jerked my hand away and kept walking.
I am pretty sure reaching out and trying to touch a stranger is not acceptable behavior. Not even in Vegas.
We got our ice cream cones and started to head back to our hotel room. I hadn’t mentioned the incident to my friends. But, lo and behold, that same drunk guy was just around the corner. He began to walk next to me, leering at me with that look in his eye. A look that I can’t describe, but any woman who has been in this situation knows exactly what look I’m talking about. I finally came to a dead stop and said very forcefully: “You need to get away from me.” We proceeded to walk away and right before I was out of earshot, he called me a bitch.
I was a bitch because I didn’t want to be accosted by strangers. I was bitch because I wasn’t interested in him. He felt so entitled to my time and attention that when I rejected him, he didn’t know how to react.
This is not a compliment. This is harassment. How do I differentiate? It doesn’t make me feel the same way I feel when someone tells me that I am funny, or that I am outgoing or that I have sweet dance moves.
The first time I was harassed on the street, I was 12 years old. Because my parents worked and my school didn’t provide school buses, I took the city bus home. It was the beginning of the school year and I was waiting for the bus with a couple of my books. A guy who appeared to be 18 or 19 and way too old to be talking to me approached me:
“Can I help you with your homework?” he asked.
“No,” I responded, “leave me alone.”
“That’s okay. You’re ugly and you have a moustache anyway.”
He then asked the older gentleman sitting at the bus stop if he thought I was ugly. The older gentleman just sat there, silently, letting this grown man taunt a 12-year-old girl because she wasn’t interested.
Over the last thirteen years I have been called every name in the book by random men while walking down the street: bitch, slut, cunt, whore, ho, ugly, hairy, dirty…you name it, and it’s been shouted at me.
My crime? Not wanting to be harassed on the street.
You see, I leave my house every day for a variety of reasons—to go to work, to go buy milk for my cereal, to see my friends. When I walk down the street it’s because I have somewhere to be, not because I am hoping some man will make crude remarks and then subsequently sweep me off my feet. The reaction street harassers have when it turns out you did not come out in public for their enjoyment is astonishing, disgusting and sometimes scary. It reeks of entitlement and sexism. I am not here for your pleasure. That’s what I said to the metro employee who stood way too close to me, stared at me and then asked me how I was feeling. His response? “Why you got a attitude?”
Because my lack of interest must mean there’s something wrong with me and not him.
Men, if you’re looking for a woman to talk to, get to know, date or what have you, the street is not where you should be looking. Inevitably, when this conversation about street harassment comes up, there’s always the dude who asks, “Well, how am I supposed to meet women?” I always respond, kindly, “Sir, you can try OKCupid.”
In all honesty, outside of dating sites, you can also try going to parties, happy hours or ask your friends to set you up with someone. If you’re looking to meet someone, you’ve got to attend events with a social setting.
The platform of Farragut North Metro Station in downtown Washington, DC is not a social setting. It is my right to ride public transportation without being harassed. It is my right to walk down the sidewalk without a stranger reaching out and touching me. It is my right to not be interested without you hurling cheap insults. I don’t owe you a smile, a hello or even an acknowledgement and I never will.