Manifesto To That Guy On the Street

To that guy who I pass on the street every day I leave my house,

The first time you called out a “hey hottie!” to me, I was a tiny bit flattered. The attention felt nice, and I was glad I had worn lipstick today. The second time you catcalled me, I was a bit confused, looking down at my very sweaty gym clothing. The third time I didn’t even consider my clothing, anticipating your wolf whistle, and walking by with my eyes fixed resolutely to the ground, so as to not encourage you. The fifth and sixth and seventh and 4,789th time I was annoyed, and depending on my mood before passing you I was at times really angry.

Ever since that first time, your “hey baby”s are not compliments to me. They leave me feeling threatened, aggressed and most importantly inconvenienced. Because I didn’t ask to interact with you today. Because for once, I want to walk home without having to think about myself as a sexual being, without thinking of myself as a combination of boobs, ass, and legs. On the days when you don’t call out, those stares you and your friends give me make me feel like a car being sized up, as your eyes start from my breasts, moving across to my ass as I pass you by. I wonder if it ever occurs to you that there is also a face, eyes, a brain and a heart in this body. Most of all, each time that I pass you, I wonder why the fuck I am the one with my eyes cast to the ground, when it’s you who should be ashamed of yourself.

Sometimes I wonder why you do it. I wonder if you understand the degree to which your harassment and that of your fellow men reminds women every day that public spaces do not fully belong to them and that their mobility and freedom in such places is dependent on the men present in those spaces at any given time. Reminds them that they are sexual beings created for men. I believe that “women deserve the same right to privacy in public that most men enjoy” (citation)  and walking home each day, I hate that you break into my thoughts with your obnoxious and worthless comments.

I know that my way of dressing often attracts attention. Yes, I love to wear red lipstick and bright colors, low-cut dresses and big earrings. Some people have called it exotic, flamboyant, eclectic. But here’s the thing: I don’t wear it for you. And it enrages me to no end the amount of times I have gotten dressed and then reconsidered, thinking about how close you will approach me today on the street, how many men will be sitting at your side, ready to join in the “fun.” The amount of time I spend each day calculating whether I need to cross the street, or step off the sidewalk to avoid you today, as if I didn’t have a right to the sidewalk, or “your” side of the street.

Activist Chris Crass once noted that our patriarchal society had taught him as a man that he was “entitled to women’s bodies, entitled to take up space and put my ideas and thoughts out there whenever I wanted to, without consideration for others.” I wonder if that’s the reason that men feel the need to express their opinions about my body so much. Like the time my white professor felt that it was appropriate for him to refer to me as an exotic woman, or why you think it’s important that I know how you feel about my legs. I wonder if it justifies the old man who blatantly slowed to check out my 13 year-old student’s ass while I was having a conversation with her. Or the fact that the doormen to my apartment building like to murmur opinions on my appearance as I leave the house. Has it ever occurred to them that every time they do this, I become less and less comfortable going to them for help, or even greeting them? They are the very men who let me in and out of my home, the only place I am safe from being sexualized, and I can’t make eye contact with them.

I think about my experience in Argentina of having my taxi driver show me his penis, playing back the scene over and over, trying to understand what kind of world I live in where someone would think that was OK. The man seemed to think it was the funniest thing, referring to it with some sick pet name as I gasped in horror. Afterwards, as I sat shaking in disgust, the only thing I could think about–no matter how traumatized I was that this man may have been masturbating while conversing with me–was that I got off easy. That I have friends who have had their faces smashed against car windows, been raped in the dark. All I saw was a sick man’s penis.

People like to argue that it’s cultural. “Latin men just like to flirt, don’t let it get to you.” Trust me, I love flirting, and this is not it. Flirting requires two sides to be actively participating, and with my eyes glued to the cobble stones in front of me, this is not the case. For it to be cultural, a general majority of the society needs to engage in its practice, and with half the population missing, I think we can rule that out.

So, to the man I pass on the street every time I leave my house:

If you feel so entitled to put out your opinions onto my body, I am equally entitled to give you a dose of mine. If it takes me stopping and reading this letter to you every time you call out to me, then I will do it, over and over again until the day that I can walk home without being threatened, sexualized or bothered, and left alone to my own thoughts. I believe that is my right, as a human being making her way home.

13. April 2012 by Juliana
Categories: Feminism | Tags: , , , | 11 comments

  • Kaaren Lynn Ray

    Important piece of writing,Dear One!
    I remember the time (in Arlington,VA) that I got whistled and hollered at from behind by a group of overhead construction workers.They were on a scaffold as I walked by, EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT! I turned and then they saw my little basketball protrusion of “baby Lauren”… for a moment, there was embarrassed /awkward silence and then confused laughter as they tried to figure out how to “right” the situation…. But they had no skill in being able to apologize and simultaneously “save face” with their male peers. Is there a place on the planet where humans treat each other more respectfully? Women have generally never fared well…The church has unfortunately been a ring leader in disempowering them through the ages and…there seems to be no end in sight as “we” legislate to continue to strip them of choice-making in any number of harmful and insidious ways!
    ….Keep writing….keep speaking out…and so will I! xxxooo,K+

  • Juliana

    Thanks so much Kaaren! That’s a crazy story….

  • Erik K.

    Hi Juliana,

    Based on your blog post, thought you might be interested in reading my blog about dealing with street harassment. The idea of the blog is to provide women with proactive strategies for dealing with harassment on an individual basis, and also on a community basis.


    Erik K.

  • Alejandra QH

    I believe that the voices of women like you, telling their stories and sharing them throughout the Internet are empowering other women. I can feel that we have saved to much rage and frustration. The time has come for us to fight street harrassment.
    In Mexico, Marie Claire has published an article addressing the issue and there’s another piece coming up from a different magazine. We are gaining spaces to speak up.

  • Chai

    Oh, this was so spot on! Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the rest of us. Especially the bit about the doormen.
    I used to view people in uniforms as the people to go to for help, no matter what. Lately I’ve been harassed by so many security guards, transport control officers, customer consultants on the tube, not to mention the stereotypical construction workers. Now, I feel the only people who are safe to ask for help are only women and I don’t like that. I’d like to see everyone without the suspicion that because of their gender and/or position of power I can’t expect respectful treatment from them.
    So thank you.

  • Juliana

    I totally agree! I also used to see people with uniforms as trustworthy, at least in the sense that I knew they wouldn’t hit on me, and that my safety in their presence was not at stake. But after having a police man blatantly use incredibly unoriginal lines on me multiple times, I don’t feel that way anymore.

  • Juliana

    Yes we are. I’m curious to read that Marie Claire article, do you have the link?

  • Juliana

    Hi Erik,
    Wow, what a thorough blog! I am definitely gonna have to spend a bit reading through it, thanks for sharing :)

  • warsaw

    You are a woman of conflict.

    You say that you “love to wear red lipstick and bright colors, low-cut dresses and big earrings. Some people have called it exotic,” Yet complain that your “white professor felt that it was appropriate for him to refer to me as an exotic woman,”

    You say that “as your eyes start from my breasts, moving across to my ass as I pass you by.” Yet you also say that your own “eyes glued to the cobble stones.”

    You admitted that at first, you were a tiny bit flattered and the attention felt nice. Would you have felt hurt if, the first time, he did not notice you? For some reason I think you would have complained about that as well.

    Look, I understand that you feel that you are harassed. No one should be harassed. I will defend your right to feel, and be, safe. However, I am here to tell you that the things you are doing will not solve your problem.

    Who is your audience, him or us? Think of it, what is the chances that he will read your post? None. If you want him to stop, you have to tell him directly. You want people to treat you as an equal; you have to treat them as equals. He cannot read your mind. Walking with your head down is not solving the problem. Hold your head up; tell him directly, that he is to stop harassing you.

    Society did not teach him that he was entitled to women’s bodies. All over the world, all during time men have objectified women. You will not change that fact. Understand that men also objectify everything else in the world, humans, animals, tools and concepts. In a man’s mind, ideas are the same as objects. This is why we have roads, cars, bridges, electricity, and the Internet. (No doubt, I have ruffled your feminist feathers.)

    Take a listen to This American Life.

    Ira interviews a woman, that began taking testosterone. It may give you some insight what it is like being a man, and why they will find you attractive, even with sweaty gym clothing.

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  • Lenna

    A thousand times Amen, sister.