I am walking down the street, headed to work, wearing a loosely fitting dress and high heels. I know that the light breeze will cling to my body at times, but I feel good. Confident even, and ready to take on the week. I see them before they see me: five men, some shirtless because of the oppressive summer heat, all ranging in age. It is too warm to remain indoors, so they have decided to take their conversation to the corner, a common ritualistic display in my neighborhood of brotherhood and machismo.
My steps become slower as I weigh my options: I can walk straight past them, eyes forward, and pray that I will be invisible. I can smile and say ‘thank you’ if they do acknowledge me with compliments, hoping that this will not lead to an open invitation to be followed. I can cross the street, quickly, tune out my ears to whatever may be yelled from across the street, and continue on my way. Or, I can respond, the way my mind has often warned me not to, with an angry tirade, and risk being verbally or even physically assaulted.
These are the type of decisions that I and many other women must make on a daily basis by simply walking outside.
Recently, a colleague of mine took to Twitter to describe her experience with being sexually harassed in public. After telling a man on the bus that he was holding up the line, he proceeded to pull his penis out and told her to suck it. The bus driver’s response was to ask the man to leave. The bus patrons’ reactions were largely silent, an all-too-often occurrence on New York City public transit.
Like this woman, I have been harassed on many occasions, in locations that stretch from Brooklyn, NY all the way to Madrid, Spain. Idle minds and hands know no boundaries. The brazen shouts of “Hey sexy,” “Smile, girl,” “Psssst, let me feel it” and even “B*tch!” that result from ignoring anything other than my name happens far too often. And I wonder how many of these men can shout these vulgarities, knowing deep in their guts that I look just like their sister or mother, and am worthy of the same kind of respect.