Women and street harassment.
By Gwen Sharp, PhD
Yesterday I was walking to a convenience store when a guy shouted at me that I looked really pretty. I ignored him. He yelled again and walked up to me. I gave him that tight, uncomfortable half-smile-with-no-eye-contact women sometimes use to try to acknowledge random male attention just enough so maybe the guy will feel like he’s gotten the reaction he is entitled to, in the hopes that he’ll then lose interest and go away.
He did go away, but only to get in a car with this friends and then drive slowly next to me, yelling “compliments” about how pretty I looked and trying to get me to look at them. And when I continued to ignore them, they finally yelled “bitch!” and drove off, a situation I’m sure many of our readers have experienced — the reaction you get when you dare to not be just pleased as punch that some men are following you on the street, helpfully going out of their way to openly approve of your performance of femininity, thus letting you know that you are a worthwhile human being.
And today I opened an email from Susan C. with a link to this cartoon over at Ampersand that nicely sums up this oft-played-out scenario. Thanks, Susan!
Cross-posted at Jezebel.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
This is so personal to so many women! I grew up thinking this was o.k.
Now I am all grown up. I know it is not………
I sleep in the back of my store trying to catch up with past bills I still owe due to that stupid hurricane.I am very comfortable and have gotten use to it. I can see myself growing into “the little old lady that lived in the back of her store”! I know I am not the first shop owner to ever do this but it is a first for me. I guess it is better than living in a shoe:) I have all I need except a shower. That forces me to go the the gym even when I don’t want to. Damn forced workouts! I usually sleep very soundly. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to sounds of drunks sitting outside my store. I later open the gate to find broken beer bottles and butts. Once someone defecated under the stairwell! That was not pleasant! Sometimes syringes are crammed inside the sewer drain and I have to yell at the stupid parents to keep their kids away! Stupid parents! When I started renting this space it came with a homeless woman that slept underneath the stairwell. She would pack up her belongings every morning and return at dusk. She absorbed my routine as well and knew what time I generally closed the store. I know she would be annoyed when I stayed open longer in the summer months, waiting under the stairwell with her tattered bags full of newspapers and tucked away supplies of food. She always cringed and covered her ears when I pulled down the security gate. I warned her in advance when I was about to drag it down. I could tell the noise caused her much pain and anxiety.
The stairwell lady was very beautiful, maybe in her mid to late sixties. She only spoke to me once. At the beginning of our strange relationship I tried to give her blankets, clothing, food or money, obviously anything I could spare. She would scream at me and refuse.The only time she accepted anything was during a huge rain storm. I gave her a large plastic sheet. She always made her bed on the two steps underneath the stairwell, a little cave away from the hipsters at the next door coffee shop and the late night drunks of the street. Slowly and purposefully unfolding her newspapers, laying them on the steps one by one, she covered herself, prop herself up with her hand and seemingly fell asleep. Thinking about her when I went to bed, I churned in my mind the choices I had made in my life that caused the path to me living in my store. I wondered about the bag lady’s life and the choices that ended with her underneath my stairwell. Massive mental health issues affected her, but life can sharply turn a corner, issues or no issues. I have a commonality with her. I know I won’t be her when I am in my 60’s. I hope.
Last summer, just before midnight, someone lit on fire the stairwell lady. I heard this blood curdling scream! I heard the hipsters next door at the coffee shop scrambling to her aid. I heard the police and ambulance. She never never came back to my stairwell. I did see her about ten blocks away a few months later. She seems o.k. She stared at me and I gave her an almost fearful little smile.