It was night and there were not many people around. I was walking home along a dark road. Some men were whistling and staring at me; complimenting on my body. Well, compliment may not be the right word. A compliment does not make me rethink my route the next time I walk down the street.
It is 2017, but I – like many women in the world – am still fighting for the right to live in a safe world where I can walk down the street without fear of being harassed.
Irrespective of geographic location, race, age, or physical appearance, many women have to endure daily cat calls.
“Hey, baby! Where are you going?”
“How you doing, Sexy?”
I have had to listen to these remarks on a daily basis since I was 12. Yes, 12 years old. While some people might consider them compliments, others see the as threats. Sadly, these threats remain inadequately addressed.
According to the nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment (SSH), “street harassment” is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, expression, or sexual orientation.
I have talked about my experiences of street harassment to my friends, both men and women, but, surprisingly, they found my concerns unjustified.
“Chill, dude! It’s just a compliment,” they’d say, or, “It’s just a simple hello. You’re overreacting.”
Well, I cannot take it as a compliment because these are statements of power to show that a man has the right to my body, to assess it or appraise it. I do not need to be sexually judged by a stranger. No woman does.
It gets worse too. One day, a middle-aged man sitting on his motorbike by the sidewalk called me. I approached him, thinking he was lost and needed direction. To my horror, he slid off his pants and asked me to touch it. I was in my early 20s and had no idea what to do. So I said, “Jeez. It’s so damn small. There isn’t even anything to look at! Hahaha.” Then I walked away in tears.
After that day, I was afraid of walking alone. I took a cab to my dorm, which is only a 15-minute walk from campus. I even asked my friend to walk home with me. After a few weeks, however, I realized that I would be the one to lose, if I continued to live in fear. The road is for everyone and avoiding it means I let the harasser own it.
Something has to change. It is not that every woman is a cowering victim, or that we are too terrified to walk down the street alone even in the daytime. But we need to stop seeing street harassment as an acceptable behavior. It is not normal to live in a world where we are plagued with fear. Just like men, we own the road. That is why we have to fight back.
We cannot let it happen for the rest of our lives. So, ladies, if street harassment happens to you, and if you feel safe enough to do so, stop and let them know that their actions are unacceptable and wrong. I think responding is a good way to fight your harasser, because every time we remain silent, it means they win. But if you have another way to fight back, please let us know.
Last but not least, to the street harassers out there, I am not a public property, and harassing me does not prove your masculinity.
Gabriela Fernanda S is a graduate of communication studies who is passionately in love with language. She is a freethinker and an egalitarian who likes talking about feminism and politics. You can find her random thoughts and rambles in her blog gabbfernanda.wordpress.com.