Friday, September 21, 2012

My first time: a true story of street harassment

(warning for atypically strong language - my feelings on this are even stronger)
 
I am running, with the gang - the rest of my university's women's cross-country running team. We're warming up, heading along a downtown street toward the track for our workout. We pass a group of boys who look like fellow students. No one in our group acknowledges them.

They would have been just a few random strangers among the hundreds I pass every day, except then I hear some noise - garbled talking that I can't make out, and what might have been a whistle. 

And then I can make it out, can tell exactly what it is, and I'm furious but we're past them and it's too late to say anything without getting left behind. 
 
I resign myself to doing nothing and moving on. After all, I tell myself, trying to justify my own inaction, it's not like he means any harm by it, and we're in this big group -

But how are we supposed to know he's "innocent" in his harassment? Is it my job to go through life constantly judging DURING MY WORKOUT whether I need to start running for my life & safety rather than my fitness because some stranger thinks it's funny to yell at me? 
 
I think not.

And as for the group size, if it's okay to do this to a group of 15 or 20 girls, how about 10? 5? 3? How about me by myself, or with one friend? Maybe instead of justifying yourself, you could just shut the fuck up.

But it's too late to say any of that. So I keep running. But these guys aren't done yet. The vocal one and his "pack" follow us around the corner, and I hear him shout "can I get a number ladies?"

Because clearly those of us on the VARSITY WOMEN'S CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING TEAM have NOTHING better to do than stop to exchange contact info with some stranger in the middle of our workout. Clearly.

I keep running, afraid of what might happen if I stop - for whatever reason. And I don't yell back, unwilling to start something and involve the whole team. But I refuse to roll over completely. Without even looking back, I raise my hand high and I give him the finger.

I don't know if he sees, or knows what I'm trying to convey, but I feel better after taking some action. I am not judging those who make decisions to never confront - I know why, now better than ever. But I personally couldn't do nothing. I doubt I changed anything today, but it's not about that - it's about there being a record of someone having said: this is not okay.

I had read a lot about street harassment prior to today. But I had never experienced an overt example myself. Now I have. And it is fucking ridiculous. And so I ask everyone here, male, female or somewhere in between: if you see street harassment happening and can intervene or speak out safely, please do. It's about standing up and being counted.

Because the status quo? It's not okay.

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