Reminder: Street Harassment Is Real, Constant, and Extremely Unpleasant

 (via StopStreetHarassment.org)

Of all the sub-species of pseudo-journalism our current media landscape has birthed, the Blog Post Noting a Thing Happening On a Famous Person's Twitter Account is among my least favorite. I've written 'em, you've read 'em; Kanye's account alone is responsible for god knows how many clicks, dollars of ad revenue, and minutes of time that could have been spent curing cancer or writing the next great American novel or you know what, let's not think about this too hard right now. It's Monday.

But one particular post caught my eye today, when The AV Club directed readers to comedian Jen Kirkman's Twitter feed. Kirkman -- who in addition to being a very funny person has long been outspoken about sexism within her industry and beyond -- invited women to share their stories of street harassment, then appears to have spent most of her day retweeting them.

The 140-character-or-less anecdotes are nothing new, of course: They're everything from 9-year-old girls being told to smile because they'll look prettier to stories of straight-up sexual assault. Unless you currently live in a secluded cabin on Walden Pond, you are probably aware of this thing called street harassment that has happened, and in fact happens with some regularity, to literally every female human you know. Truly. I would bet my life's savings on this (I'm a writer, remember; joke's on you!).

The act of scrolling through Kirkman's feed, then, is not exactly a learning experience. The feeling is more like being crushed to death by one thousand tiny, sharp pebbles -- a lot of them thrown out car windows by strangers, or lobbed at you by the people who sign your paycheck. Maybe it's more fun if you think of it as a video game: Try to avoid all the tiny, sharp pebbles! But also, haha, good luck, the world is made of them.

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And here is where I admit that, though I greatly admire Kirkman's use of her celebrity platform, this turn of internet-events would not have piqued my interest quite so acutely had I not experienced a weird and uncomfortable thing this past weekend -- a thing I am now going to tell you about despite both an urge to couch it in caveats (like "I realize this story isn't that bad compared to a lot of stories") and a good deal of trepidation regarding the comments I will get from the street harasser's basement-dwelling cousin, the internet troll. (See how this works? The fun never ends.)

So. Sunday afternoon, around 5 pm, I was walking home from the grocery store wearing jeans, a hoodie, and a mild hangover, struggling with multiple heavy bags. As I finished walking across a street a few blocks from my house, the man in the car stopped at the crosswalk stuck his head out the window and hollered at me. I turned around to see if it was someone I knew. It was not. It was just a man hollering at me. He wanted to let me know he found me attractive and would like to spend some time with me, though not in those exact words. Cool. I kept walking.

About a block and a half later, this same car pulled up to round a different corner, in a different direction than it had been going before. This time, my new friend stuck half his body out the window in order to holler at me more effectively. Upon realizing it was the same person, I made eye contact, made a not-happy face, said "Seriously!?" and kept walking.

Thirty seconds later, I became aware that someone was running up behind me. I turned to find that this man had exited his car -- left it running? no one parks that quickly around 16th and Dolores -- and was now planning to convince me to talk to and/or sleep with him by walking alongside me, putting his face inches from mine, and continuing to tell me his thoughts about my appearance.

Paste by Philadelphia artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Paste by Philadelphia artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

Here is where, as any female-bodied person will tell you, a few different things take place over the course of about 10 seconds. One is you scan the surrounding area. It was broad daylight, and the Mission was full of people leaving Dolores Park after a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He would have had to be insane to try something -- though, with the car-leaving and all, insanity did seem like a possibility. More importantly, if something happened, there were lots of people around to see it.

The other thing you do is probably what bothers me most: Surprisingly little. For a variety of reasons, not limited to but including a fear of this person physically hurting me if I did not respond in a way he appreciated, while I tried to calculate precisely when it might be necessary to drop my bags and free up my hands, my outward reaction to all of this was to laugh and say no, sorry, no, thanks, no, I'm not single, and keep moving. This is true -- I am not single -- but it also bothers me beyond words to rely on that as an escape route from harassment; it's infuriating that it's one of the few "no"s men will actually hear. So, factor in a moment of deep resentment and a tinge of self-loathing about that.

After about a minute of walking with me, trying to get my number, asking if I instead had a sister or any friends for him (definitely! here are their phone numbers!) and -- as a parting thought, a coup de grâce, really -- telling me to follow him on Instagram, he went away. Five minutes later, I was home, making dinner, perfectly fine. I wasn't exactly traumatized by this event, but still couldn't help replaying the entire thing in my head.

What was his ideal end result to that interaction, and just how likely did he find said conclusion? How could I have handled it differently? Did I just miss a teaching moment? Will I ever just scream "Get the f*ck away from me!"?  And maybe most importantly: Why am I the one mulling over how to modify my behavior in the first place?

I am also intrigued by the possibility that I was just the unwitting target of a really avant-garde guerrilla marketing technique by an up-and-coming social media star in the making.

Regardless: Thanks, Jen Kirkman, for the reminder that while we may be accustomed to such interactions, it's not actually totally natural to live in a world that is constantly chucking small sharp objects at you. Believe me, I'm tired of reading about it. I've pretty much only written this post on the topic, but I'm also already tired of writing about it.

Unfortunately, logic will tell you that such blog posts shall only cease when the world offers us some better material. Talk to your sons, people. I hope everyone has a lovely walk home.

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