Thursday, August 28, 2008

When Should We Get Involved?

A reader sent in this story of a woman who intervened when she saw a girl getting physically abused, and I thought it brought up a lot of interesting questions about when to get involved.

I was waiting for my bus up to Ye Olde Transit Centre early this morning, and I noticed a young couple scuffling outside the Youth Employment Centre near my bus stop. They were older teenagers - the boy was 17 or 18, and the girl looked to be about 16. She was crying and yelling something at the boy, and suddenly they started pushing and shoving.

She took a swing and he grabbed her hand (he was easily 6' and she must have been 5'2 and about 100lbs) and he threw her up against the building and grabbed her throat. I was alone at the stop and reacted instinctively: I pushed my way between them and told the boy to back off. Predictably he started screaming at me to "stay out of his business" but I ignored him and worked on leading the girl away. She kept sobbing in apology, and flinched when the boy tried to grab her hand. The boy kept yelling at me to "stay out of it" and I told him that he if was going to assault his girlfriend on a public street than it damn well was my business, and that if he didn't back off and move away I was going to call the police.

...He muttered, "Fucking feminist bitch!" and moved away up the street.

Telling that he called her a feminist as a pejorative, but I digress. I've often seen things in public spaces that I found upsetting and/or well, criminal, and I've spoken up when I've felt safe. But how can we gauge safety, or if other women want us to get involved?

I'm reminded of two stories...

A women's studies professor I had as an undergrad told my class about how her sister was in an abusive relationship - his battering her was so loud that the neighbors called often the police. However, the police generally made things worse: Not just because they didn't arrest her boyfriend and treated her as if she was the criminal - not believing her, asking if she had attacked him - but also because once they left, she was beaten even worse. My prof went on to say that from then on whenever she saw or heard a woman being abused, she asked if the woman would like her to call the police - assuming that she knew what was best for her own situation.

Another one (apologies, can't find a link to the original article anywhere) was from a couple of years ago when a woman was grabbed on a crowded subway platform by a strange man who was attempting to drag her away. As she fought him, he pretended that they were having a "lover's quarrel" - saying things like, "Oh honey, I'm sorry, come on now!" - so that the surrounding crowd wouldn't help her. The victim ended up grabbing another woman passing by and saying to her, "I don't know this man." The woman beat him off of her and held him until police came. (It was a good story!) But I remember asking myself why people wouldn't stop to intervene even if they did think it was a fight between a couple.

When do we help? How can we assess a situation and react accordingly?


Join the conversation here

Monday, August 11, 2008

Locally and Abroad...

Street harassment is not funny, it's not flattering, and it should be publicly acknowledged for what it is - making women and other minority groups feel like shit. Harassers do it because they believe that their victims won't speak up or resist....I have found that one of the best things you can do is publicly, loudly call them out on their behavior. I have been harassed on various occasions in Storrs, CT, even in broad daylight, by guys shouting things from their cars or walking by. It is frightening and humiliating, and it makes me angry as hell. About two weeks ago I was walking across campus and crossed a main road at 9 a.m., only to have some guy drive behind me and yell at me to turn around. I honestly was so shocked the only thing I could do was ignore him and keep walking. In retrospect, I wish I had given him the middle finger but it just didn't occur to me at the time.

I have also experienced street harassment in Europe. In London this summer my friend and I were approached in a public park where we were sitting on the grass, eating dinner, by two teenage guys who said "hey sexy" etc. We rolled our eyes and left the park, only to have them follow us for blocks. As we were familiar with the area and
were on a crowded street around dinnertime I just thought their behavior was annoying but then they continued to stalk us for about 20 minutes. My friend and I began to get frightened and ran into a pub to use the bathroom and avoid them. When we left the pub they were waiting outside for this point I was so fed up with their
crass remarks and disgusting behavior that I got in one guy's face and started screaming at him to leave us the f*** alone. The guy looked embarrassed at me making a scene and he and his friend walked away laughing. My friend and I were so shaken up about it, we mistakenly thought that because we were in a public place, we were minding our own business, and we weren't dressed provocatively, that we wouldn't
be a target. THIS IS NOT TRUE. You can't prevent yourself from street harassment - it can happen anytime, anywhere, and honestly why should you have to change your behavior to avoid assholes like this in the first place??

Thank you for drawing attention to this...people need to understand that it happens all the time.

Poking Pervert

This happened in Mexico. I was on a subway with my family and I was 16. There was a middle-aged guy standing very close to me and he seemed drunk. He kept inching his way closer and closer to me until I could feel his erect penis against my hip. I looked over at my brother in horror and he moved in between me and the guy. I can't imagine what I would have done if I had been alone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anti-harassment Ads on NYC Subways!

Props to HollaBackNYC for all your hard work and effort in getting the MTA to post anti-street harassment ads!

Text reads: "A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don't stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Overcompensating for Something...

I regularly get honks, cat-calls, and whistles when i am jogging, so actually, i've grown to expect it. No matter how I am dressed (sweatshirt in the winter or running shorts/sports bra in the summer) I get some kind of disgusting attention while I am out running. The most recent episode took the cake! As I was about to jog across the street a gross man in a gorgeous red convertible drove slower and slower. The slower he drove the more I had to slow down so not to run into his car. Finally, as I was halfway in the street he honked, which freaked me out because it made me think there was a car coming or something. When I turned around I realized there was no car and the man just wanted to get my attention (I was in the middle of the street at this point!) He said, you like what you see? I wish I could have been quick thinking enough to reply something witty but instead I stood frozen in the middle of the road! How dare he compromise my safety by harassing me in the street! I jogged away and he drove off...

That red convertible was nice... and it made me wonder what he was overcompensating for in addition to being a total asshole!