Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"how do you deal with harassment on the street?"

A resident on the unit block of R Street NW has asked this message posted for public comment:

To the females of Bloomingdale:I was just wondering how other females from the neighborhood deal with this problem, because as a resident of the area for the past 2 1/2 years, it has taken its toll on me.

How do you deal with men (sometimes high or drunk) harassing you on the street?

I still don't really know the best way to handle unwelcome comments or catcalls. I have tried just about everything. Ignoring them seems to make it worse, because usually they just get louder (and often cruder) to try to get your attention. Sometimes, if someone seems friendly (especially someone who lives on my block) I might smile and say hello, but many times this only provokes things further, as some take the hello as an invitation to say lewd things. And these things happen in the middle of the day and/or morning. I won't even get into what happens at night.

I know one thing is to try not to walk alone, but sometimes for me it is unavoidable, as I need to get to the bus or metro or go to the coffee shop, which is just about 100 yards from my house. Should I say something more clear back to them (like "please stop saying things like that to me") if it is someone who I recognize who is a recurring problem? I have a feeling that might just backfire and make walking down my street something I would dread even more.There are times when I just try to block it out, but there are other times when I hear certain things that certain men say (very nasty things sometimes) that literally just makes me want to pick up and move to Glover Park. And I hate Glover Park.

I know it is just a part of living in the city and living in our area that I have to deal with and I try to remember all the great things about our area when I start to think it is too much. But if anybody has some constructive feedback for me, I would appreciate it. Thanks.


Mari said...

Maybe I'm just lucky.
I do get 'commentary' from men on the street. What I do in response depends on the situation. Most of the time ignoring them and keep walking (maybe pick up the pace) is the response I choose most. I think I reduce my safety if I engage them, because strangers on the street may assume I know this character and any attack may be viewed as a domestic matter that they don't want to be involved in.
However, if a character starts with a simple hello, I do acknowledge them with a nod or a hello (no smile) but I don't break my stride. But if the character continues with something less respectful then I go in ignore mode. But I think I head off some problems with acknowledging a fellow human being, no matter how broken and faulty. But when that human trys to foist their broken and faulty nature on to me, I rufuse to engage them further.

Nora said...

I recently attended an urban safety training where the instructor recommended the following: "Stop harassing women. No one likes it, show some respect." Google Martha Langelan for more details, she is an expert who has done tons of research on this exact topic in DC. Or you could say something like "Sir, I'm just trying to walk down the street."

And always make eye contact. Half the reason people are rude to passerby is because they are otherwise neglected by society and don't often get respect - harassment is a twisted way to get attention by scaring others. Or the more benign comments come from folks who don't know any better and need to be set straight.

Caroline said...

Hollaback DC ( encourages people to speak out about their experiences with street harassment and work to combat it. I have found some interesting stories and examples there of how people deal with street harassment in DC, I suggest checking it out.

Anonymous said...

I am a friend of Nora and have also attended said nonviolence training. And just to second what she said, yes! - we are encouraged to actually make eye contact and speak directly to the harasser. The two most tempting options - ignoring them or shouting f*** you! - often show our weakness and fear, which is what they expect. What they don't expect is for us to stop and actually tell them that what they are saying is harassment and uncalled for. I have actually used the line that Nora mentioned ("Stop harassing women! I don't like one likes it! Show some respect!") three times in the last year...always with interesting outcomes.

Granted, you should always gauge the situation before choosing how to respond. If I feel I might actually be in danger, I would be more likely to ignore the person. But if others are around and I don't feel too threatened, I just love whipping out that line! Yes, some men are intending to harass you, but I seriously believe that many men don't even realize that catcalls are angering rather than complimentary! If we don't say will they learn?

Brandon Green said...

Not that it happens to me, but I've seen women put down their heads and pick up their step. That seems to help a bit.

Anonymous said...

if they are someone i see in the neighborhood often i'll say hi and be polite, but still keep it moving. If they say something rude, I will tell them they said something rude. When i first moved to 1st st i had an issue with a group of young men who always had something smart to say.. one day i told them look.. you're being rude, and i'm a grown ass woman. You need to respect me as such... sure there were a few "bitches" thrown around me, and some laughs by his boys.. but ever since then we've been fine! They won't even let other people talk smack if I'm around!

Shannon said...

I know Brandon Green doesn't mean any harm, but his comment made me really sad. Women shouldn't HAVE to put their heads down and scurry down the street like frightened little animals.

I don't live in Bloomingdale, but I have friends who do. When I'm there, I use what I call my 'bitch walk' - if I behave confidently, hold my chin up, and make quick eye contact with those I pass, usually I get left alone because these guys who would rather find an easy target.

elizabethjune said...

I really hate street harassement... it makes me so angry and it is seriously wearing on me after six years in the Distric. In general, I always try to make eye contact and smile at people when I'm in my neighborhood (LeDroit) or nearby, assuming that who I'm encountering is a neighbor and therefore, a possible friend. It's just the way that I was raised... Sometimes people seem shocked that I said "hi" first that they just say "hello" back and go about their business. Other times, I get the more benign (but equally indicative of sexism in our society) "what a nice smile, or pretty lady" or another "flirty" whatever. However, sometimes, when I haven't noticed someone or the person I've encountered is more agressive or crude, I'll say calmly to them, "that's not very neighborly." They often are quite shocked and have apologized even. Other times, it makes them shout at me about being an interloper or a b*&^% or whatever makes them feel better to say. It worries me that someone's going to snap sometime, but I don't know how else to respond except to treat the other person like I would like to be treated and let them know when they are failing to do so in return.

Anonymous said...
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Stop Street Harassment! said...

The website Stop Street Harassment has several suggestions for dealing with harssers: http://www.stopstreetharassment/strategies. Unfortunately, no matter how women react or respond, there is a chance the man will escalate his actions. Men are the ones who must stop harassing women and they need to learn how annoying and scary various forms of harassment are to women. What every woman can do in pursuit of this goal is share your street harassment stories with men in your lives. We've got to make men understand why this a problem and get them to want to intervene when they see other men harassing women and get them to stop doing it themselves if they are harassers.

Good luck! This is a problem so many women deal with and it's very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

I see a lot of great suggestions. I do want to stress the importance of acknowledging your neighbors and saying hello. Sometimes what we think is harassment is really someone just trying to be a friendly neighbor. Don't assume that if a man says something to you that it's harassment.

Anonymous said...

This happens to me alot. I usually engage a potentially difficult group (Its always worse when its a group for me) by issuing the first glance, say if they're sitting on the stoop, I make eye contact with at least one in the group,and without a smile up-nod my head and keep walking--basically an aknowledgement of their presence. Usually if anything that would get me a more friendly flirty comment rather than a lewd one which is easier to deal with. If there is a comment or remark usually I just say something to the effect of "dont you guys have somemething better to do with your time?" or I would just half-laugh, shake my head and keep walking. Generally that's the last of it with that particular group of people as they usually realize I am not scared of them and have no desire in engaging them. I think walking down the street as if on a mission helps.

Anonymous said...

I live in Eckington & am a female in my 20s. I walk around the neighborhood a ton (no car) and am often encountering men on the street. I haven't had any real problems with street harrassment, although to be honest the "pretty lady" type comments aren't crude, disrespectful, or mean-spirited enough to qualify as harrassment in my book. I do walk fast, and in the neighborhood I tip my my head hello and say "hi" or "morning" or "how you doin." I play it respectful, not flirtatious or nervous, and that's what I get back, 19 times out of 20. If I'm in a little dress or something though, I wear sunglasses and I look straight and keep to myself if someone says something.

Not-Me! said...

Street harassment is a problem because it is disrespectful, inappropriate, and threatening behavior to adolescent girls and women in public places. This behavior has the greatest negative effect on the well-being of adolescent girls who become conditioned to become silent, submissive, and fearful as opposed to becoming assertive, self-reliant, and confident.

Defeating street harassment requires a 3 Petal Plan that involves a combination of actions represented by the petals of Society, Targets of Harassment, and Bystanders. While each petal has a different role, they must all work together in order to create a lasting effect.

1. Society must create a culture of intolerance for street harassment in order to eliminate the behavior.

2. Targets of Harassment must learn strategies and methods to directly voice their disapproval when harassed.

3. Bystanders - must learn strategies and methods to intervene and mitigate when observing incidents of harassment.

Every situation of street harassment is different. Each situation requires a different response. But the overall strategy is the same: Society, Targets, and Bystanders need to communicate that street harassment is unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated.