February 3, 2016
By Nijah Glenn
Allow me to preface this by saying that if the title already offends you, you’re the creepy guy I’m referring to and, if you have no intent to change, you should stop reading here. For the rest of you still reading, you have been the recipient of, the reformed giver of, or have witnessed catcalls and street harassment. Since I’ve not given them or heard them (besides when they are directed at me), I can only speak to the portion I know.
A frightening trend I’ve noticed in the past few years is the increase in street harassment. When I leave for class, I always have headphones in my ears for my two block commute, a strong resting bitchface, and pepper spray for the times my classes will run later or for when I have to attend obligations after dark. Despite a shortcut to campus which would cut my time in half, that route is notorious for me due to the times I’ve faced harassment. Just chronicling the last three times I took that route: I was followed for a full city block with a man screaming behind me for my number.
Another time a guy stood in my path, blocking me in order to get my number. The final (and definitely the creepiest ) time, a guy followed me for two blocks not realizing I had paused my music when I saw a second shadow closely behind me. This time, I called my sister who was sick and able to answer the phone, and turned around to look at the stranger following me. Realizing I had taken preventative methods, he turned around, going in the opposite direction to where he had previously been walking. I thought that maybe I had just been jumping to conclusions, but his sudden derailment actually made me lose my breath: if he had truly been going in the same direction, there would have been no need to turn around.
Sadly, these are not the only times I’ve dealt with this issue. I’ve had men scream at me from across the street (even when my “do not bother me” Kanye West playlist is loudly blasting). On many lucky occasions, I have walked away with no issues. On a few occasions, I have heard slurs thrown at me for not engaging. While this is unsafe, I realize I have never been the recipient of a threat for not engaging, as many women have been. I remember telling a friend of mine, after a particularly bad incident when a man followed me and I had to take a different route to lose him, that the best thing about Catholic grade school and high school was that no creep knew how old you were, meaning the chances of being harassed were slim.
In what world should I be grateful that my uniform deterred catcalls because they were likely afraid of being called a pedophile? How is that a privilege? And sadly, even age does not always deter disgusting people. In what world should a teenager be harassed by a man and upon revealing that she is barely a teenager be told “well you don’t look *insert age*”. Okay, and it’s her problem that you’re a gross individual how?
Unfortunately, the lack of bystander intervention has created a society in which catcalling and harassment are far more commonplace than they should be. In my experience, I’ve had both men and women alike become frustrated with me for not acknowledging the person harassing me. I apologize, you having to hear the creepy guy scream at me is clearly worse than me feeling unsafe and doing my best to get out of the situation. Mea culpa, everyone. I’ve been incredibly lucky in the fact that I have not been attacked for saying no or walking away. The growing trend of violence towards women who say no or walk away scares me. I don’t ever want my younger sister, my cousins, or my friends to become casualties because some stranger believes they are entitled to the attention and body another human being. People should not have to worry about becoming casualties for not wanting to speak to a stranger.
We as a society have to do better. I’m not asking us to; I’m requiring us to.
Not because you have a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, nonbinary pal, a mom, etc, because it is what is right and just. We have to protect one another because we are human beings and as Charlie Chaplin said, “we want to live by one another’s happiness, not misery.” If your friend is harassing someone, step in. YOU are their friend, your opinion can stop them before they do something foolish. If you see a stranger harassing someone, STEP IN. Sure, you may not want to deal with the attitude of the catcaller, but you will have made someone feel safe. Don’t pass the buck to someone else hoping they’ll step in or that it will stop. As we have seen with many awful things in society, by not intervening, we allow them to perpetuate.
Famed professor and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel had an amazing quote about neutrality perpetuating injustice: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”