Hello, Street Harassment & Microaggressions


I was biking today, like I frequently am. I’d been watching some dark clouds slowly erase the horizon, and when I saw the dust storms rise in the near-distance, I knew I was in for it — even though where I was, the wind was still calm.

Five minutes later, the wind was pushing me sideways and the dust blasting any exposed skin. I reached into my pack to pull out my sunglasses to protect my eyes.

I’ve biked in rough weather before. It comes with being a year-round cyclist in the intermountain west and the Pacific Northwest.

All the same, I wished I had rain gear with me, because fat drops were starting to fall, but I didn’t. And, I could shrug that off too. I was headed home. I could change. I don’t mind biking in the rain because in the end, generally, I can get warm and dry. But then the rain started coming down harder. I stopped under an overpass and moved my electronics to a waterproof potion of my bag. I considered waiting out the storm — the storms here usually don’t last long. I was north of town, in an area I bike all the time.

But two men were already waiting under that bridge. They were perhaps twenty feet from me, and up an incline and although I hadn’t made eye contact with them the whole time, I knew they were there and that they were watching me. I was aware that I was soaked, that my shirt and shorts were clinging to me.

I fastened my pack again. I considered the storm, and the heavy rain that made it hard to see and stung my skin. The men shifted.

“Hey baby, you look cold, we can warm you up,” said one of them. I’d removed my sunglasses again, and thought it was the one slightly further from me, but it was hard to tell since the light was low.

Of course.

“You’re not really my type,” I said. I pedaled off, mildly pissed. There are times I wish that I could just be in the world.

I know that by sharing this, some people worry for my safety, and perhaps it’s my own naivete that is exposed by the annoyance I feel flare up whenever someone hears me recount a story of street harassment and commands me to be safe. But, I suspect it’s closer to this: It’s my job to be aware of my surroundings, because, obviously.

It’s the street harasser’s job not to harass me. If the street harasser is doing their job, I should be safe, at least from them.

I recognize that’s not the world we live in. It’s the world I want to see.

Because the truth of the matter is this: I made a choice, a long time ago, to move through the world primarily by foot and by bike. This choice means I don’t insulate myself from others the way that happens when we’re all in our own cars. It means that almost every time I’m moving through the world, I’m doing so in the public sphere. And because we live in the world we live in, this means that street harassment — or worse — is part of my regular.

But when I made the choice to move through the public sphere as part of my regular commute, I didn’t sign on to street harassment — to being told to smile or being called the b-word or the c-word when I don’t respond to someone I don’t know calling my some syrupy name or commanding me to perform for him. To being asked by strangers if I have a boyfriend (and knowing that the sick joke is that if I affiliate myself with a man, even a pretend one, I’ll be left alone, and that in real life when someone I don’t feel comfortable with starts to get in my bubble, if I’m with a guy — someone I’m dating or not — I’ll edge closer to him, to indicate that affiliation).

SAMSUNG

I didn’t sign on to being told by a guy one night, near some ball fields, that his buddy, who I also didn’t know, was cheating on me (but hey, kudos, I’ve really never heard that one before, and also wtf?). I didn’t. I just didn’t.

The situation today was clearly about power and control, and for most of the people I hang out with, this is a pretty common part of the refrain — that street harassment is just another act of power and control.

Yet, I hear men I respect wonder aloud why people — including women — won’t respond when they say hello. They call it rude. There’s not much left to say that hasn’t been said on the internet time after time after time. It’s not that you’re saying hello it’s that I don’t know why you’re saying hello and you don’t know who I’ve already dealt with or what I’m expecting to deal with later in the day. It’s that you don’t understand how often someone has started with someone as simple as hello, and that when I do respond, they take it as an invitation. I’m sorry men that I love and men that I will love. It’s not just hello.

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