Street Harassment

Tonight, I biked to a school function downtown. As I neared my destination, I rode past a middle-aged man and nodded politely. “Damn!” he mumble-slurred, “I’d like to lick that pussy.”

Some of my sweet little elementary students were playing outside, just out of earshot.

I don’t have a car. When I travel without Mr. Jaunty, I’m either biking or hoofing it. This makes me an easy, slow-moving target for unintelligible jeers from ill-bred men in cars. It doesn’t matter where I live. It doesn’t matter what I wear. Even baldness didn’t deter them. Night or day, it makes no difference— though the honking is scarier in the dark. On most days and on most streets, someone shouts at me. Today’s mumble-slur was noteworthy only because the harasser was moving slowly enough for me to make out his words.

The good news is, I think today’s offender was drunk. Not that a drunk man strolling downtown in broad daylight is swell news.

I’ve shied away from this topic many times before, for fear someone might read it as boasting. Right:“Golly, men sure love intimidating me on public roadways! Guess I must look pretty special!”

Not a chance. Nice men pay no attention to me: no one smiles, strikes up conversation, offers me their number— nothing like that. It’s only strange men who try to ‘put me in my place’, only when they’re moving too fast to be held accountable, and only the ones raised in barns. is a great resource, and it’s high time I learned to holla back.

But don’t you wish we didn’t have to?

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  1. Cheryl Breuer says:

    Yes, street harassment is a real problem. It hasn’t happened to me much since I got older, but when I was young and in college, it was a daily occurrence when I walked to work. There was a particular car wash where the workers would often come out onto the sidewalk to say disgusting things to me. My bus stop was on that street so I really couldn’t avoid them. Eventually I got a car and drove instead. I was also harassed by customers a lot when I worked as a bartender and food server. Nice, normal men don’t do it because they know how to treat women with respect. Cat-calling is not a compliment. It’s a sign of a culture that, overall, doesn’t value women as whole people with feelings, but primarily as objects for the sexual gratification of men.


  2. I don’t know if it’s the general shape of my body (large and square shouldered and possibly a little ambiguous) or what, but in all my life, I can only remember one or two incidents of street harassment by people who weren’t obviously “not all there” mentally. If a creepy homeless guy hits me up for cash with some kind of “hey baby” line (which happened in the farmer’s market parking lot the other week) I don’t perceive it as sexualization, I perceive it as a straight-up threat from a crazy dude, and I move fast. But wolf-whistling or creepy comments like the above never come my way for some odd reason. I feel lucky but sad to know it’s still so prevalent for others.


  3. I was once harrassed in the dead of winter, walking on an icy sidewalk, wearing a huge down parka with the hood up, a hat down over my eyebrows, and a scarf over my nose and mouth. My purse must have been the only thing that tipped the guy off that I was a woman. It was really disheartening. It’s not a compliment! Usually I get it when I am right beside someone or when they’ve already passed me which makes it totally creepy and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of turning around. I need to learn to holla back, too. I just want to stop them and say “No, that is not cool.”


  4. I haven’t been subject to very much street harassment in my life–only a handful of incidents I can remember, although it’s still pretty depressing that “not very much street harassment” is an improvement. On Thursday two coworkers and I were walking from work to a lunch place, and some fool hooted at us as he sped by in his car. I couldn’t talk about my disproportionate anger over what that action represented with my coworkers, who just brushed it off. But I will give a Charlie-Brown-style ARGH here and be done with it.


  5. Yuck.
    I get it too on occasion and I’m half a century old and live in a really nice town dammit.
    It definitely has to do with lack of breeding and with “putting a woman in her place”. Some guys seem to think women are amazingly and terrifyingly powerful.
    I’m workin on myn holla back skills.


  6. As you well know, no topic has me searching for a roll of quarters to stuff in a sock quite as quickly. I’m not sure if it’s good that I mentally channel Hothead Paisan but it is what it is. I usually do yell something back or aggressively say, “I’m sorry. Did you just speak to me?” if they’re still in earshot. I am aware that I also put myself at risk when I, oh, yell at the guy jerking off across from me on the subway to get the f off the train but I think I would feel debilitated if I said nothing.

    Anyway, I’m sorry we all have to deal with this. I honestly think the best thing we can do is speak up (if we feel comfortable – I don’t think there’s any “right” way to deal with sexual harassment or assault) and also educate the dudes in our lives that this shit is lame and they have to work to stop it, also. It’s not just a lady’s problem. WE talk about it all the time. How often do men talk about it?


  7. I was jogging on the seawall on Halloween Day when I got a grain of sand embedded in my eye. Man, that was painful. As I was stumbling towards my car, half blind with mascara streaming down my face, a car full of guys slowed down enough to make lewd comments about my rear end, but the sight of my agonized face sent them speeding away. Gentlemen, clearly!


  8. PS- Allow me to compliment the tasteful pussy photo you chose to illustrate your well-made points. She looks truly appalled.


  9. Riding a bike in the street (where I am legally required to do it) has gotten me a lot of grief. I was unaware of my homosexuality until I was informed of it by passing motorists.

    Also, the doppler effect ( means that I can’t understand what you’re yelling at me as you pass 90% of the time. Have these people never heard a passing siren?


  10. And to lighten the mood, here’s one of my favorite bits on the topic of sirens:


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