In the Blog

Adventures In Street Harassment

April 28th, 2008     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

It’s summer time and no better time to start talking about the realities of street harassment.

A few nights ago, at about 2:30 AM, I walked home from a bar in a busy area of Toronto. A few of my friends had offered to walk me home, but I laughed at the idea. Yes, it was late, but the route was busy (this was Saturday night clubland) and my walk wasn’t a long one. About half way home, I decided to stop for a hot dog at a street vendor and joined a line of about 15 people also waiting for a dog. It took only moments for the guy infront of me to start talking to me.

Hey, I’m a fan of talking to and meeting strangers, but 2:30 AM on the street is not the time to be making friends in my mind. Apparently, the guy in front of me in the hot dog line didn’t agree with me.

“Where are you from?” he asked me. I ignored him. “Are you Irish?” he asked me. Again, I ignored him. “Your eyes are really beautiful. Green. You must be Irish” Again, I ignored him. “Hey, I asked you where you’re from.” He was irritated now. This time I responded with “I really just want to get a hot dog.” To which he replied “You’re from ‘I wanna get a hot dog?’” Something he clearly thought was hilarious.

When I am the victim of street harassment late at night I certainly don’t have the same sort of response that I would in the daytime, when I feel more safe and secure. While in daylight I usually throw a disgusted look or a witty phrase, my response at night is generally this: ignore, do not engage, but do so politely enough as not to anger (a likely very drunk) harasser.

While I continued to ignore the questions of my new (very drunk) “friend” in the hot dog line, another man, presumably his companion, decided to get involved, and that’s when things went from bad to worse. The second man decided that he had permission to touch me, grabbed my hand, and started inquiring if I had any tattoos. I pulled away, but after I did so he grabbed my arm and said:

“You look like the kind of girl who likes it rough.” Really?

At that point I couldn’t tolerate being in the line anymore, and walked away, vaguely terrified. The men were laughing, one yelling “Guess you didn’t want that hotdog.”

Catherine wrote a post in January about a late night incident that forced her to examine fear, confrontation, and how we deal with conflict in situations where we don’t feel secure. For me, I realized that while objectively I should have told these men to leave me alone and stood my ground (and gotten my hot dog,) in the moment I was too scared. I felt crowded, vulnerable, that my personal space was violated and that I was very much alone. What makes matters worse is that there were more than ten other people in direct proximity to me that I felt I couldn’t turn to for assistance, and who didn’t feel an obligation to assist me.

These men were amused by the fact that they made me uncomfortable and afraid enough to want to essentially run away. That’s an impulse I will never understand; how violating, hurting and upsetting one person can be so empowering (and entertaining) for another.

What makes this story particularily interesting is my feelings around the TTC strike. A great number of women were forced to walk home in the middle of the night this weekend when a surprise midnight transit strike left them stranded far from home. I was enraged by the notion that other women could face this kind of harrassment on the street without a safe, inexpensive and reliable method of getting home. The guys in the hot dog line simply proved my point.

And you know what? I really wanted that hot dog.

Let us know about your personal experiences with street harassment and how you’ve dealt with it, either in the moment or emotionally afterwards. If we share our experiences and reactions, maybe we can feel a little more empowered and a little less afraid.

Tags: in my opinion...

« New Kid on the Blog

We’re Still on the hunt for a new web editor! »