Monday, November 20, 2006

 

A Uniform Story: Guest Blogger Karrie Myers

So, let me preface this post by saying that I stand at 5'10. I'm a black woman. I'm a size 18. And yes, I thought all three of these things would keep me from being harassed on the street. Obviously, I was wrong. It took a lot of de-programming and just being present to realize that men of all ages, heights, races and classes harass me. But I will point out - because I haven't seen this posted yet and I would love to discuss it - that firemen and policemen seem to harass me most of all.

I find being harassed by men in uniform especially confusing and violating. Afterall, we're taught as children that these guys are our "pals", there to protect us when real perverts bother us. What do you do when the authority figure is the antagonist? My first experience with being harassed by a policeman happened around age 12. Up until then, I was sort of used to harassment from regular men. I grew up with one of those statuesque, preternaturally pretty mothers...the kind that people stop their conversations to look at on the street. too young to know better, I linked the street harassment my mother received from men with the attention she received from everybody, and just assumed that was why men were always bothering us. Well, one day my mom and I are riding home from the grocery store, and we hear a speakerphone blaring out of nowhere. Behind us, a police car is ordering my mother to pull over. Frazzled, my mother obides. We're sitting there, scared off our asses, when this cop sidles up to my mother's window and blatantly tells her that nothing is actually wrong...he just noticed her in the grocery store and wanted to know if she had a boyfriend. So, why not ask her in the grocery store? Why make some big spectacle? Why scare the hell out of us? Well, I wouldn't know the answer to that until years later; because normal guys ask you out. Harassers want to assert their power by making a spectacle out of the whole thing.

Back in the car, my mother winced, something she's known to do when she's angry beyond words but can't let out a bloodcurdling scream just then. She told the cop that she was in fact married, and the mother of a 17 year old and a 12 year old. The cop could've cared less. He sad, "your husband...black guy?". Um, no actually, says my mother. She doesn't offer anything else. For the record, my StepDad is white. And so was this cop. But what the hell did that have to do with anything? After his big spectacle, the cop had been rejected by my Mom and he was looking for some way to exercise his power over her...why not ask her a bunch of inappropriate questions while he's got her captive? The cop went on to ask her if her husband "treated her right" and "took care of business". Again, I'm 12, I'm in the passenger seat. My mother asked him if he needed anything else, to which the cop just snorted and just walked back to his car. We proceeded on home, with my mother spewing every expletive on the planet out the window. I wrestled with the confusing feeling of being violated by someone I was told was my "pal".

I wish I could say that was the last time we got pulled over by a cop...for a date with my Mom.

Anybody got any other "uniform stories" stories?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Bus Stop Masturbator

Well just when I was thinking how lucky I am that I haven't been harassed lately...

I was waiting at the bus stop a little after 4pm, on my way home, there were people around; a woman sitting next to me on the bench at the bus shelter. This man in a forest green van (2 doors, tinted windows on the sides, BF Goodrich tires) pulls up into the bus stop and is just idling there. He's pulled up so that the passenger window is right in my line of vision about 4 feet away from me, and I see he's writing on some clipboards and shit. I think it's strange that he's just idling the van in the bus stop on a busy street while he does paperwork but people pick up and drop off friends there a lot and I figure he’s waiting for someone. After a few minutes of me spacing out I look up and see him stroking his erect penis. I immediately jump up, tapping the woman next to me on the shoulder and pointing at the van which is now pulling away. I tell her the man was exposing himself to us and she says "How do you know?"

How do I know?

I say, "I saw it!" I then chase after the van which is stuck at the light at the next corner hoping to get this predator's license plate number. He drives away before I can and I walk back to the bus stop where everyone is acting as if nothing has happened. Did they not hear me or notice what had happened? It’s surreal.

I’m so shaken and angry as I wait for the bus I’m thinking:

How dare this man think he can get away with that in the middle of the day on a crowded street! But you know what, he can. And he did. What would have happened if a man had seen him masturbating in public like that? "The man would have laughed." My husband said.

And that's the problem. We as a society refuse to see the big picture when it comes to sexual violence. Rather than seeing a continuum of acts which all hurt women and maintain our second-class citizen status, we prefer to see sexual violence as an anomaly and sexual predators as “crazies” operating in a vacuum. I’d love to write the Man in Green Van off as just crazy but if that were the case men exposing themselves to women would be rare. And it’s not. Every woman I know has been flashed or worse by a man at some point in her life-usually several times in her life.

Which is why it’s even scarier that men, and even some women, prefer to laugh it off when a man exposes himself to a woman; rolling their eyes at the “perv.” Or that they choose to deny the reality of the situation and instead doubt the victim when she states the truth - like the woman at the bus stop did by asking me: “How do you know?” As if I might just be hallucinating.

Studies have shown that sexual predators; rapists and child molesters, start out with small acts, like flashing, groping, or public masturbation, and then the longer they go with out facing any repercussions for these actions, they gain confidence, until one day they rape or even kill. And yet, when I call the police precinct closest to the bus stop they tell me I have to come in and file a report. Even though I live an hour away from the precinct closest to the bus stop. When I call the sex crimes hotline listed on the NYPD website they put me on hold for 5 minutes and then hang up on me. Clearly women’s safety is not a high priority. Stacks of unutilized DNA evidence from rape victims currently sitting in NYPD storage is a testament to that fact. http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/NYPD_Evidence.pdf
And people wonder why rape is the only crime in NYC that has increased even as ALL other crimes have decreased.

I wonder what the Man in Green Van is doing right now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

Dicta?

In evidence class today my professor was explaining the difference between dicta (when the court is just giving its opinion or answering a hypothetical question) and the holding (when the court is explaining its decision pertaining to the facts of the case) and she keeps saying "dicta is this...dicta is that.. no, that's not an example of dicta..." when from the way back of the room this guy says in a stage whisper "Suck my dicta!"

Slightly funny? Maybe
Unnecessary? Probably
An example of sexualized male aggression? Yup

Monday, October 30, 2006

 

Overheard ...

So I was walking up the subway steps out of the station the other day behind a group of three teenage boys, probably about 15 or 16 years old. The only part of their conversation I was fortunate enough to overhear was:

"You bitch slapped him!"- says the first

"No..."- says the second

"Yeah, you bitch slapped him." -says the first, laughing

"No, you pimp slapped him! - says the third, laughing

"I've got an ego but not that much." - concludes the second

I seriously considered stopping these boys and asking them why they thought violence against women was so funny. So casual. I know they probably weren't thinking of their joke in those terms and I can't blame them. "Bitch" "Pimp" "Bitchslap"- The language they used is thrown around constantly and the meaning has been lost-or morphed into something less scary. Something quite removed from the very real and painful image of a man slapping a woman in the face.

Monday, March 13, 2006

 

The Age of Dissonance?

Did anyone else read "The Rudeness of Strangers" in the Sunday Times?

On a recent holiday I was dining with my partner, Ira, at a romantic restaurant on the rugged east coast of Barbados. At one table, a stunning older woman — tan and with fine blond hair catching the Atlantic breeze — was eating alone. Was she an actress? An aristocrat? Lonely? In the name of international cordiality, I wanted to relieve her of her solitude and invite her to our table to share the evening. But how to do it?

Ira, who is socially adept, walked over to ask if she'd join us for dessert.

"Try the apple pie," she said, slowly, twice and in a Scandinavian accent. "It is better than the coconut." Befuddled, he retreated.

Clearly her English wasn't good. But as we sat, flummoxed, I wondered if we'd broken protocol. Had I been presumptuous thinking she'd appreciate our invitation?

Yes, presumptuous is indeed what you had been, Mr. Morris. Actually, while we're being presumptuous, why don't I just call you Bob, Bob?

Why is it that I've often seen men eat alone, peacefully, without bother, but we have to devote so much time and discussion to the woman who eats alone? The whole of this essay is: I spy a woman eating alone in a restaurant: what should I do? How about NOTHING?


 

From McSweeney's

YOUR STREET-HARASSMENT QUESTIONS ANSWERED. By Wendy Molneux.

Hey, baby! Do fries come with that shake?

Actually, with this shake, you get a choice of sides. You can have regular or curly fries, jalapeño poppers, or a side salad.

What kinds of dressing do you have?

You can get ranch, honey-mustard, or lite Italian.

What about onion rings?

They're a dollar extra.

Can I get this to go?

Yes! And you can also shove it up your ass, you fucking idiot.

- - - -

Pardon me, miss. I seem to have lost my phone number. Could I borrow yours?

Do you mean that you forgot it, or that you actually misplaced it?

It's weird, but I actually misplaced it.

But that's impossible. A number is abstract. How could you misplace it?

I'm not supposed to say this, but I work for the government, and time and space are collapsing. Abstract concepts have acquired actual mass, and can now be misplaced.

So, do you think you might lose your chauvinism? And your lack of respect for other people?

I hope not. That's kind of what I'm about.

- - - -

Hey, can I get in your pants?

I think they might be too small for you.

All right, then. Can I get in your shirt?

But I'm wearing a floral blouse. Aren't you worried that these guys you're hanging out on the porch with will laugh at you or call you names if you wear a blouse?

Well, if they do that, I guess they're not really my friends.

Wow, you're a lot more secure than I would have expected. And deeper.

Yeah, it's weird. I woke up this morning and my low self-esteem had vanished.

That's probably because time and space are collapsing, and abstract concepts have acquired physical form, meaning that we can lose them.

So, do you think you'll lose that chip on your shoulder?

God, I hope not. It's kind of what I'm about.




Saturday, March 11, 2006

 

Looking Pretty

Walking down the street with my Mets cap on (Yankee-fans, don't hate, it was a gift) and a man says, "A pretty girl shouldn't cover herself up with a hat! Why don't you want to look pretty?"

"None of your beeswax," I say, because saying something like that back sometimes make me feel better. I make myself smile a little bit.

Other things like this I get regularly are comments on how pretty girls should "smile" and also how, as a pretty girl, I shouldn't have short hair, and I've even been told that, as a pretty girl with tiny feet, I ought to "show them off" with sandals.

I am asked "Why don't you want to look pretty?" I have said, on several occasions: "Because being pretty means I get harassed by people like you." But I want to locate myself outside of the cause- meaning, I am not harassed because I'm pretty.

We say a lot, when talking about street harassment, that it doesn't matter what you wear or how you look. While I have been, a few times, harassed while almost completely invisible (hat, coat, scarf, only my eyes uncovered), it has been my experience that I, personally, get harassed more when I wear makeup or am "dressed up". I also found that having short hair drastically decreased the amount of harassment I got on a daily basis. When I had long hair, I could hardly go more than a block or two without being harassed. When I first cut my hair, I walked back from the salon to my apartment and didn't get one comment: I thought I was free! (If only.) When I was blonde, on the other hand, I was harassed more than I ever thought possible.

I loved the way I looked blonde, but the "attention from men", as my mother put it, was more than I could deal with. I am growing my hair out, but sometimes I get little panicky feelings about returning to that level of harassment, even though I'd much prefer to be able to put my hair back again. I don't want to make decisions about the way I look based on the amount of harassment I might get, but I also get very tired of standing up to it and making my decisions in defiance of it, then dealing with the irritating, degrading, and sometimes scary, consequences.

When I have tried to de-pretty myself to the fullest extent (sports bra, no makeup, sweats), I am sure to get the kind of harassment with which this post began: "be pretty for me" comments.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

 

Waiting For Someone To Come Out of Somewhere?

I had a particularly strange bit of harassment today. I was standing at a stoplight, waiting to cross. A man tapped me on the shoulder. I said, "Can I help you?" And he said, "Yes, you are a beautiful woman and I need to talk to you." I made a sound of disgust. He said, "Just wait here one second, I need to buy a pack of Newports. Then we'll talk." And he ran into a deli.

Reader, I left.

 

Manhattan afternoon

Yesterday when I left work, I walked all the way from my Murray Hill office to meet my friend at Film Forum in SoHo. As any woman can tell you, the more time you are on the street, the more harassment you are likely to experience, so, when I made the choice to walk, I also recognized Id have lots to tell you all about later.

I heard a couple of "Hey shorty," "Hello beautiful," to which I responded with well-rehearsed scowls. I reserve these scowls for such comments that I don't want to hold up my day to respond to. I am perfectly willing to turn my head behind me to continue the scowl, if warranted, but sometimes I am exhausted by the idea of confronting each and every man who says a lame line.

By the time I got to the West Village, I was feeling rather good about things and was pleased by the low-intensity of the harassment I'd gotten over what was such a long walk. I felt so comfortable in fact that, having broken a bit of a sweat with my usual gait through the city, I stopped to remove my heavy winter coat.

Beneath my winter coat, I wore a tweed blazer and black long-sleeved sweater. However, as I began my removal, I heard behind me muted whistles. Turning around, I saw that, standing as I was before the window of a restaurant, a table of four guys were acting as though I were performing a striptease for their enjoyment. As I turned, one guy began rapping on the window near me. The others were smirking, laughing, and one was even waving. I did what I always do when someone harasses me from behind glass. I hit it really, really hard with my hand a few times and left.

As I was walking away, I considered putting my coat back on, but didn't want to draw any more attention to myself, so I kept it under my arm. I passed by two guys standing in front of a brownstone-type building. One was leaning on one of those half-fences and, as I passed, he looked me up and down and said, "Hello, hello, young lady." And I said, "Do you ever think it scares some women when you do that?" He said, "Did it scare you?" I said, "A little bit, yes." And he said, "Well then why are you talking to us?" His friend laughed. "I just wanted you to know," I said, feeling stupid. As I walked away I heard the friend saying, "You dumbshit." I think he was talking to harasser and not to me.

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