I just finished reading a book called Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women by Holly Kearl. In it, she encourages women to share their stories, so I thought I’d blog about my own.
Like many women, I’ve experienced street harassment in quite a few different places: in parks, while walking to and from work, and on public transit, to name a few. But in December of 2009, I turned 21, and since then, have noticed that I’m most frequently harassed inside of liquor stores.
I’m 23 now, but am small-boned and weigh in at only 97 pounds. I also don’t wear makeup. So I look quite a bit younger than I actually am. Most people guess that I’m still in high school, even though I graduated five years ago, in 2007.
I find that whenever I go into a liquor store, men leer more than usual, and make comments about how young and “hot” I look. There’s something about my appearing to be underage, yet being old enough to purchase alcohol, that brings lots of creeps out of the woodwork.
Usually, I ignore them, and bystanders don’t say or do anything, either.
But a few months ago, I went into a store just a few blocks from my house: Village Wine in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. And a couple of guys started commenting on how I looked.
The owner of the store noticed, told them that he wouldn’t tolerate that inside of his establishment, kicked them out, and then gave me a discount on my purchase.
It sucks that some men harass women at all, and it also sucks that my telling them to fuck off probably wouldn’t have made them stop. I told a few of my friends about the incident, and a couple of them saw the store owner’s intervention as obnoxiously paternalistic. But, as Kearl mentions in her book, it’s important to have male allies who teach other men that harassment is wrong. So I appreciated the gesture, and that’s why I mentioned the store by name. It’s nice to know that they’re willing to lose money (the guys who got kicked out obviously did not buy anything that day, and I got a discount on my beer) in order to ensure that their female customers feel safe inside of their store. And since then, I have, of course, shopped there many times, and will continue to do so.
I wanted to share this because unfortunately, the majority of street harassment stories I’ve heard do not end on a positive note. As I mentioned above, this is certainly not the only time I’ve experienced street harassment. But it is the only time that a bystander has intervened.
If you’re interested in this issue (and we all should be) I recommend that you read the book. Many of the things that Kearl brought up made me think back to and more closely examine my own experiences. People know me to be a very vocal feminist, and reading this, I was still surprised by how many times I’ve dismissed street harassment as “normal,” or just something I have to learn to deal with because I’m a woman.
That’s because, as she also mentions in the book, street harassment is an issue that did not even have a name until recently. Not much has been written about it yet. Luckily though, she and other activists have created many online venues for women to share their stories. That’s why I’m writing this, and will post it to Twitter along with the #streetharassment hashtag. It’s not much, but if someone else reads it, then it counts.