feeling safe

a few nights ago, i was walking over to my friends’ to have supper with them, when i got harassed. i was walking in the alley to get to their door, and i passed a group of 5-6 guys standing and talking beside two parked cars. one of them stepped away from the group and turned toward me, making heavy eye contact and said ‘hello, love! how are you?’ and put on a sly smile. because of the size of the group of men, i decided it wasn’t safe for me to respond and just glared and kept walking purposefully. i mean, it was a really small comment, but a huge invasion of my privacy. i deserve to be able to walk through the world without men having to press their intentions upon me. i deserve to respond in a way that feels most natural to me (in this case, it would’ve been “go fuck yourself”) without feeling unsafe.

it made me so mad. back when i was an angry girl skateboarding around calgary, i would get catcalled rudely fairly often and i always felt confident in my ability to give a rebuttal because a skateboard ensures a quick getaway and/or an easy weapon. in those days, i never hesitated to callback to street harassers. since then i have always weighed my ability to defend myself in the situation with the likelihood that i will callback and it is so rare that i feel like i can safely respond. my usual response is to keep walking, glare (or in the case where i’ve been harassed on the bus) pretend i didn’t hear it.

i hate the culture that allows men to invade my safety-space. i hate being approached by men on the street who ask to have sex with me (once while i was wearing an ankle-length parka, once while i was wearing a cute short summer dress. what i wear doesn’t matter). the dude hanging out by my front door (obviously a totally sketchy dude) who tries to start a conversation with me and gets offended that i will not talk with him. the dudes on the street that call me love and honey and comment on my body/my clothing.

i hate feeling powerless against these men. even if i took a self-defense course, i wouldn’t feel safe talking back when it’s a group of six men! i’m so aware of my small size, and feel relatively powerless compared to men. i don’t know what i can do to change this culture where women’s bodies are open for men to comment on wherever, whenever.

i’m so disgusted. i don’t know to react that would make me feel empowered and not afraid. what space is there that is safe for me?

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10 thoughts on “feeling safe

  1. I am always kind of embarrassed when I see guys act like this. I’d like to say that the best thing to do or say is nothing at all. Ignore them and keep going on about your business. Easier said than done. Also, in a lot of cases, this guy may actually mean no harm, but you don’t know that. There is a time and a place for everything. Thats just really not the best way for a guy to meet a girl. I commend you for being strong. You are not powerless though. You don’t have to feel that way. You can call the police in these situations, if you feel unsafe. Just because a guy hasnt done anything yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t call the police. You can call them if you even feel like you might be in danger or uncomfortable. It IS their job to serve and protect. It’s not right if these guys are bothering/harassing you. You can do something about it.

  2. Also you are not weak or wrong if you call the police. It is ok to ask for help. I think it’s great that you spoke out about it here.

  3. i know exactly how you feel. i’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as it’s worse here in aberdeen, than in edmonton, i’d kind of forgotten about that while i was away. blocked it out, perhaps, due to the fact that a lot of harassment was happening to me and a number of other women within my own deparment in the university. 😛

    unfortunately aside from a paradigm shift in the way we view gender presentation, gender roles and sexuality in this culture, i don’t know how it would stop completely 😦
    but education (for oneself, and passing it on to others) is a good way to start, i suppose.
    is hollaback doing anything in vancouver? they just started up in alberta…

    http://www.ihollaback.org/about/

    the original nyc blog: http://nyc.ihollaback.org/

    also, brooks — i wish i could trust the police enough to feel i could rely on them to protect me, but considering the number of cases (both anecdotal, from friends who’ve been in the situation, and in the news) recently in canada about police officers being the perpetrators of sexual harassment — frankly, they are definitely not who i’d feel most comfortable going to in these cases.

    1. it’s horrible to hear that you are in a place that has more harassment, and that it’s coming from your own department. how frustrating!

      i checked out hollaback (what a rad idea!) and they don’t have anything in vancouver.

      aside from the issue of police sexual harassment, i would feel like i was wasting their time. there are real crimes and more serious issues for them to deal with.

    2. Uggh. I’m sorry. I didn’t think about the police actually being a problem too. I know harassment laws are pretty strict in the US. This month in the United States it’s actually National Stalking Awareness Month. No joke. Here’s a link
      http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org/about
      I think you’re doing the right thing in talking about it. Some people don’t even know its a problem so that’s a big first step. Wish you the best.

      1. stalking awareness is so important!! dudes can get so creepy.

        also thank you for your support on this issue. obviously, not all men are harassers, but it’s so great to have men who are allies and understand. 🙂

      2. It may sound cheesy, but I will always stand up for a woman. I also know that women are very strong and can stand up for themselves, but there are times when people need help as well. I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. Peace!

      3. i don’t think it’s cheesy to want to stand up for women. it will take a united front of women AND men to change these harmful cultural perceptions. the golden rule is a great one to follow!!

  4. within my department it was one individual doing the harassing, and when we reported it to the school/faculty, some people dealt with it amazingly, and others not so much. it was tense. overall i really love my dept., but this was really awful and stressful.

    (he’s still away on fieldwork but i’m kind of anxious for when he comes back in a month)

    i know what you mean about wasting time, too… sigh.

    1. oh it sucks so much to have anxiety built up around someone like that! I would be stressing it out too, and preparing biting remarks for if/when he tries anything.

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