Miranda Mammen is the founder of Women's Glib, a blog by and for young feminists. She graduated from high school in June and will be a freshman at Stanford University this fall.
Cross-posted at Women's Glib.
Memory: It is a delicious Sunday afternoon. Sun glitters through the trees, splashes over benches and stains the ground. It is the fourth of July, and I have spent several hours on my own, reading the intoxicating prose of one of my favorite writers, Zadie Smith, in one of my favorite places in all of New York City: Fort Tryon Park. Shoes off, feet in the grass. Sometimes the world is so beautiful it makes me ache. It's time for the ideal reading break: an ice cream cone. I walk to the truck, pay for my chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. Perfect refreshing cool, perfect crunch. I stroll back into the park under a canopy of lush leaves. Sometimes the world is so beautiful it makes me ache.
There are people in the background of my vision. One of them emerges slowly; I understand that he is moving toward me. He is an older man, probably in his early seventies, walking slowly. He stops in front of me, and I pause slightly.
He is going to say, "It is so gorgeous on this lawn."
He is going to say, "It is so relaxing here!"
He is going to say, "It is so hot today, don't you think?"
No, he is not. He is not going to say any of these things. His face is two feet from mine and he is saying, "It is so sexy watching you lick that cone."
There is a voice in my head saying: You should have known this was coming. I am still walking and I say crisply, loudly, "THAT'S DISGUSTING" and he smiles and he turns and I walk and my mouth is dry. Sometimes the world is so awful it makes me ache.
Vision: I don't walk on. I don't say anything. I laugh shrilly and he looks startled and I mash my cold ice cream into his face, his beard, it covers him and I am calm. I've won.
Vision: I don't walk on. I scream, "Leave me the fuck alone." I shriek, "You're a piece of shit." I shout, "Fuck you, prick." I've won.
Reality: I can't win. Street harassment is so mind-bogglingly fucked up. It's a cruel game that I'm playing against my will and I can't fucking win it. That's all I want: I want to win. I want to feel better than these jerks because I am. Even more than I hate harassment itself, I abhor the way I feel afterwards. At first I feel ashamed, embarassed even though I've done literally nothing wrong. Then I feel regretful, angry at myself for not reacting more harshly. I feel like a bad feminist, like I haven't spoken up properly or stood up for myself in the "right" way. Next I feel guilty. I feel mean. I make excuses for the dipshit who's put me in this situation -- I tell myself maybe he's a nice guy, maybe he didn't mean it that way. And finally, always, I feel sick, physically nauseous.
All of this shit, all of this fills my mind. It takes up so much space, so much brainpower and it's absolutely useless. Instead of being consumed by these victim-blaming thoughts, I want to feel safe and strong and sexy, sexy on my own terms.
Street harassment isn't a compliment. It's not "no big deal," and it's not isolated. It lies on the continuum of violence against women; it's meant to keep women quiet, keep us inside, keep us from coming and going as we please. It can ruin your afternoon, your emotional safety, your confidence. It needs to be stopped.
HollaBack! is an awesome organization that works to fight street harassment on a global level. Check out their new website, and their PSA (transcript below). I'm the one wearing the plaid jacket.
It was 8am and I was on my way to work. And over my shoulder, I hear... And I wondered, what did I do to deserve this?
I was dropping my kids off at school. Then I felt him. Was it something I was wearing?
I was walking my dog. And then I felt him. Why is it always me? Why does this always happen to me?
And then I remembered: I'm not alone. I remembered I don't have to walk on anymore. I remembered I can HollaBack. I remembered I can HollaBack. Then I remembered: I can totally HollaBack.
If street harassment is okay, then groping is okay. And if groping is okay, then beating is okay. If beating is okay, then rape is okay. And violence against women simply isn't okay. We're ending violence against women one hollaback at a time. Join the movement by holla'ing back and donating at iHollaBack.org. You can end street harassment, one hollaback at a time.