Emotional Labor & Street Harassment

I’m tired of street harassment.

There is no other way to put it.

I’m tired of writing about it, and of talking about it, and especially of talking about it to people who don’t get it and aren’t especially interested in getting it. I’m tired to explaining it to people who are happy to blame me because I’m “walking like a victim,” or some other such bullshit, instead of recognizing that it’s part of the patriarchal structures of society. I’m tired of being told that it’s in my head or that when I talk about it, I sound like an SJW, or that it’s really a compliment.

But I feel like I have to keep writing about it and talking about it, because it keeps happening. And because somehow it seems like a lot of people still don’t get what a problem street harassment is.

So for yet another recent sampling, in addition to those in my recent post, [sex object]:

It’s the two teenage boys who practice their wolf whistles from their front porch when I walk my dog. It’s being told to smile or that I’d be prettier if I smiled or “the world isn’t so bad is it that you can’t smile for me now baby?” It’s the man who called out run baby, run as I was running in my neighborhood earlier this week. It’s man who was driving in his SUV, wearing a backward baseball cap, who hung out of his car to yell hubba-hubba (but for real, who even says that?) while still driving, in the opposite direction. It’s the objectification of my body by the men I see walking around downtown, who openly stare at my breasts. It’s the two men yesterday in front of the library, who started their one-sided conversation with me, “Hi hippie,” and to say the least, the conversation went downhill from there. I tried to keep my expression blank as I walked past them. They started to follow me and I went into the library, where I immediately asked one of the men at the circulation desk to please watch as I left, because some men outside were harassing me.

I almost never ask for the help of men. Often, other men are pretending they don’t see what’s happening–if there are even other men around.

I tell you this as a way to allude to what they said to me.

By the time I checked out my book, and left, the men were gone, but the man from the circulation desk watched anyway, including asking what direction I was headed. He checked twice to make sure I felt okay leaving.

Yes, I said, not really meaning it.

Yes, I said, because what else was I going to say? The library closed in less than an hour, at which point it would be closer to dark. Because I couldn’t exactly ask for an escort to some imaginary safe point, because there are no safe points.

Because the way of the world is that these aren’t the only men who have been so overt in what they think they’re entitled to do to my body.

I walked away, especially alert to the parked cars I walked near, to the alleys I walked past. I watched my dog’s reactions, because I had my dog with me. I walked away and assured myself that I was fine.

Spoiler alert: I made it home, without harm.

But I wonder again about the weight of what these types of interactions do to me, and to everyone who experiences them. I wonder about what ways we’d be different if we didn’t face what sometimes feels like a near-constant onslaught of men objectifying us, or threatening us. The newfound energy we might have for creative pursuits. The ways we might change the world.

Here’s the thing. There are days, months even, when I like to tell myself that it’s just those men who do this. That it’s not men I know. But then I remember that this is something men I know do too.

I remember that men I’ve worked with have talked to male customers about my breasts and then told me about it, because what a laugh amirite? I remember that men who claim to be feminists do this, but hide it by telling those of us that they’re doing it to that we’re not  sex positive enough or we’re being overly serious, or some other bullshit. I remember all the stories from women I care about men in the social and environmental justice movements who have harassed them, or worse, assaulted them and those men are still leaders in the movement. I remember stories from those women, and others, about gaslighting that’s taken place because of these abuses (the link takes you to a specific comment; if you’re unfamiliar with the term gaslighting, I encourage you to read the whole article)..

I remember the times that someone I’ve allowed into my life has covertly crossed my boundaries.

And then, it’s hard not to despair.

I really need men to be doing the work to stop this type of behavior from other men. I really need men to be doing the work on themselves so that they can do the work to curb the behavior of other men and also not enact it themselves. I need more men to be doing more emotional labor when their lady friends say “hey this shit happened to me,” because sometimes we want to talk to you about it. And we need you to be there for us in the ways that we’ve almost certainly been there for you on other things, because women (and often people who were raised as girls, regardless of gender) in this society tend to be expected to do a lot of emotional labor.