Street harassment is not “friendly conversation”

Note: Street harassment can be perpetuated by men or women and can happen for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m specifically referring to gender-based street harassment by men and against women. In no way am I saying that other types of street harassment don’t exist.

15 – I was sitting in the back of the bus with my cousin and her friends when a guy put his hand on my thigh and said, “Anyone ever tell you, you have nice legs?”

17 – I was waiting at the train station for my boyfriend when a man came up to me and said, “I bet some people think you’re fat, but you’re perfect for a black man.”

21 – I was speeding through the station trying to get to my train when a guy who passed me turned around and yelled, “Hey shorty can I get your number?” After I said no, he continued to follow me and talk to me until I got to my train.

27 – I was squatting in front of a shelf at work straightening the products when some guy waiting in the pharmacy said, “Damn girl, you’re flexible.”

31 – I was speed walking down the street when a man said to me, “I like fat girls. They’re great in bed.”

33 – I was waiting for a bus when a guy came up and asked if I had a boyfriend. When I said yes, he proceeded to talk to me, ask me for my phone number, and then asked me if I wanted to move in with him.

34 – I was standing at a bus stop reading a book when a man started talking to me and asked if I had a boyfriend. When I told him that I did, he asked if he could give me his number “just in case.” When I said no, he said, “Okay shorty,” and grabbed my hand and tried to kiss it.

Street harassmentThis is, by no means, an exhaustive list . . . just some of the more memorable examples. Each one of these encounters made me uncomfortable. Some were outright terrifying . . . when my personal space was deeply invaded, when I’ve been pinned against the back of a bus, when I’ve been touched and grabbed.

These are not compliments. This is not “friendly conversation.” This is harassment. And it’s not uncommon.

It’s this kind of street harassment that inspired Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art project Stop Telling Women to Smile, and it’s that art project, or rather, some of the responses to that art project that inspired this blog post.

There seems to be an overwhelming number of people who think “women are being oversensitive” or “women don’t know how to take a compliment” . . . people who think that this campaign demonizes men for just trying to talk to women . . . people who don’t understand the difference between friendly conversation and harassment . . . and people who just don’t realize and can’t seem to understand how frequently these things happen. So, I’m going to try to break this down as simply as I can.

No one is claiming that all men act like this. No one is even claiming that most men act like this. A woman might pass by hundreds of different men while walking through the city or traveling on public transportation, and the vast majority of them will mostly likely never say a word to her. They won’t invade her personal space. They won’t try to touch her. This campaign and anyone speaking out against street harassment are not targeting any of those men.

However, while most men will not behave this way, most women (particularly those who live in an urban environment) have experienced this behavior from men . . . on multiple occasions, some damn near every time they go out. At best, it’s uncomfortable and annoying. At worst? It becomes violent.

Hollaback! is another excellent campaign working to end street harassment.

Hollaback! is another excellent campaign working to end street harassment.

Speaking out against and trying to education people about street harassment is not being oversensitive. Telling a complete stranger she has a nice ass, must be good in bed, has great tits, etc. is not complimentary or flattering. It’s creepy. Telling a complete stranger to “smile sweetheart. It can’t be that bad” isn’t sweet. It’s condescending.

Here are some things for men to think about before approaching a woman they don’t know –

–Is she busy? Is she walking somewhere, on the phone, reading a book, or talking to someone else? If so, leave her alone.

–What is your motivation? Are you actually interested in having a conversation or do you just want to get her in bed? If it’s the latter, leave her alone.

–Would you say this to another man? If not, leave her alone.

–Does she seem engaged in this conversation or does it look like she’s trying to get out of it (looking at her phone, nodding and giving one-word answers, stepping away)? If she’s doing the latter, leave her alone.

–Is she physically moving away from you? If so, leave her alone.

One of the posters in Ms. Fazlalizadeh’s campaign states “Women do not owe you their time or conversation.” This is the most important and the most all-encompassing statement for me. To act as if a woman must engage in a conversation with any man who speaks to her or that she should thank him for “compliments” that most likely made her uncomfortable is dehumanizing and arrogant.

Or if all of that is still too difficult to grasp, try remembering this – women deserve to be treated as human beings and “are not outside for your entertainment.”

Is public humiliation really “parenting done right”?

The first time I saw a video of a parent publicly humiliating his child as a punishment, it turned my stomach, though I couldn’t fully articulate why it bothered me so much. Each similar video and picture I’ve seen since has only strengthened my disdain. But so much worse than those videos and pictures have been the applause and accolades from all corners of the web.Humilation 3

“I wish all parents were like this!”

“Parenting: You’re doing it right!”

“Go mom!”

And it goes on and on.

While I am sure there are a couple of parents out there who truly felt like they were at their wits’ end and believed this was the only way to help steer their children away from a lifetime of negative behaviors that would only yield negative consequences, I also have no doubt in my mind that the majority of these public humiliation stunts are more about parents getting a pat on the back than disciplining their children. I don’t think Andy Warhol had any idea just how accurate his predication of 15 minutes of fame would be. YouTube and social media have made it all too tempting for people to seek out that attention and parents are now doing it at the expense of their children.

I'm totally on board with the punishment listed here - the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents' egos.

I’m totally on board with the punishment listed here – the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents’ egos.

Maybe not all parents are interested in their pictures and videos going viral, but whatever the motivation is behind public humiliation, it’s just lazy. It’s so much easier to pick up a camera and mock your child for an audience of any size than it is to find out what has caused your child’s behavior and dealing with it directly. It’s been my experience as a parent, a teacher, and a mentor that when a kid acts out, there is almost always something more behind it.

I’m not saying that discipline isn’t necessary. It most certainly is. But it should be something dealt with on a family level, not a public one. One of the first things I was taught in my education classes, and it is something I always considered common sense anyway, is that you praise in public and criticize in private.

Sometimes disciplining in public can’t be avoided. I once gave my daughter (she was about 4 at the time) a time out on a busy city sidewalk. She wouldn’t hold my hand and tried to run into the street a couple of times, so I made her sit against the building with her hands folded for few minutes while she screamed. When it was time for her to get up, she held on to my hand without any more problems. Disciplining on the spot is sometimes necessary. It is never necessary to document it and post it on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the idea of the "get-along" shirt too . . . but once again, there's no need to post your kids' picture for the world.

I love the idea of the “get-along” shirt too . . . but once again, there’s no need to post your kids’ picture for the world.

In this age of technology, it’s important to teach our children that everything they put online never goes away. We tell our kids to think about what they post – whether it’s an inappropriate picture or nasty comments or anything else they wouldn’t want the world seeing, today or in 5 or 10 or 20 years – because you never know who is going to see it. And yet it is somehow acceptable to broadcast our children’s punishments. As much of a long-shot as we may think it is, we need to realize that a future professor or colleague or boss or spouse could see this one day. Is that really what we want?

Kids make mistakes (adults do as well). They do stupid things and can behave poorly. This is nothing new. It seems every generation wants to talk about “kids these days,” but the truth is that kids have always been kids. This generation has not cornered the market on bad behavior. I doubt anyone publicly humiliating his/her child was perfectly behaved in youth. Take a moment to think of your worst punishment growing up, and now think about what it would feel like if evidence of it was still floating around the internet.

What are we teaching our kids when we value them so little that we draw amusement from their humiliation? I think it’s easy for a lot of people to forget that kids are still people, human beings deserving of being treated as such. And yes, even when they screw up. Especially when they screw up. That doesn’t mean to let your child get away with everything or to ignore negative behaviors. It means to deal with them as a parent and not as an internet sensation.

I generally make a conscious effort to keep my judgments of other people’s parenting in check, but when you make the conscious effort to put your parenting on display, you’re inviting feedback. This is mine. I won’t applaud you. I won’t give you a pat on the back. I’ll feel sorry for your kid and perhaps have a bit of understanding about where his/her negative behavior came from in the first place.

“Yo mama is so . . . .”

IMG_0394They were innocent jokes, and I never took offense. I’d smirk and roll my eyes at my young co-worker. Sometimes I even laughed. I was 19 and working on my Freshman 15 while working at a deli far from home but close to school. She was 14 and hyper and sometimes a pain in the ass but a good kid. And my mom had been dead for three years.

When she made the first joke, I didn’t say anything. I knew it wasn’t serious, and there was no reason to make her feel uncomfortable. A year later, long after I had lost count of how many “insults” were thrown, she said, “You know, I want to meet your mom.”

I tried to dodge the statement. I tried to dodge the questions of “why not?” when I said that she doesn’t. But I couldn’t put it off any longer and finally told her.

And that’s when it came . . . what I had been trying to avoid for a year . . . that look of discomfort, that seemingly endless moment of awkwardness. And then we moved on and, of course, the jokes stopped.

I retold this story to my therapist the other day. It’s only one example of many similar situations, but it’s the most significant to me. It demonstrates a struggle I face on a daily basis – my fear of and personal discomfort with making other people uncomfortable.

I don’t know how to handle other people’s reactions to things I tell them about myself. In this particular instance, it really wasn’t a big deal, but it resulted in a change in how I was treated. I don’t blame her. If the situation was reversed, I probably would have reacted in a similar way. But that doesn’t make it any less awkward for me.

I don’t want to be treated differently. I have never wanted people to walk on eggshells around me. And if this is how things can be when the situation is inconsequential, how much worse is it going to be when it’s something more substantial?

When I do have a lot going on and could use an empathetic hear, I consistently feel the need to backtrack the second I say anything negative. “But it’s okay. I’ll be fine,” has become a staple of my vocabulary, whether I believe it or not.

It’s better than listening to other people stumble over their words, searching for the right thing to say.

After my mother died, I was put through the worst possible torture – the receiving line at her viewing. I stood there, holding back tears, while everyone who was any kind of acquaintance of my mom’s, some I knew, many I didn’t, took my hand or hugged me and told me how sorry they were. Some didn’t know what to say. All of them looked uncomfortable. And I just nodded and thanked them and told them that I was okay.

There’s a conflict that builds inside of me – this fight between needing people to see that I’m in pain and the overwhelming desire to not be seen as weak. I want someone to look at me and understand that I’m not okay even when I say that I am, but at the same time, even the thought of that terrifies the hell out of me.

I don’t know how to reconcile that conflict. I suppose that’s what therapy is for . . . and the writing, of course.

Photo Credit

Oh look! I have a blog!

I might have forgotten for a bit. It’s been over 3 months since I’ve posted anything here. Poor Owen must feel so neglected.

I’m not going to make a gazillion excuses for why I haven’t been writing (and, to be clear, it’s not that I just haven’t been posting, I really I haven’t been writing – well, except for work-related stuff, but that doesn’t count here). I’m not even going to make one excuse. I’m not going to make any promises for any kind of regular blogging schedule or writing schedule or whatever schedule either. It was what it was and it will be what it will be.

Such is life.

I miss letting my fingers dance across the keys to form words that spill from my head and not from research and structure and planning and set topics and such. I miss seeing my words in print. Whether they’re meaningful or silly or stupid or weird or intelligent or crazy . . . . . my words written for my purposes shared with the handful of you who enjoy such things.

I want to write poems and flash fiction and political rants and personal essays and family stories and book reviews and complete and utter randomness.

And so perhaps I will . . . .

What I can’t tell you

Green ribbonI wrote this for myself. I’ve tossed around the idea of sharing it . . . . but not until after the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds and a couple more months of therapy have worked their magic. Then a notification popped up on my phone last night telling me that today is World Mental Health Day, so I’m taking a leap and posting it now. It’s not meant for anyone in particular . . . just the world in general.


I can’t tell you that the reason I haven’t returned your calls or responded to your messages is that just the idea of human interaction is overwhelming and exhausting. It is not a reflection on you or how much I care about you.

I can’t explain why some days I can go out and some days I can’t even get up. I take the good moments as they come. It’s not an indication of my feelings about you that you just happen to catch me on the bad days.

I can’t tell you that sometimes I spend more than half the day in bed because just opening my eyes is an acknowledgment of the world that I can’t handle.

I can’t tell you how hard it is to walk through my day smiling and pretending like everything is okay.

I can’t tell you that I’m not okay because I don’t know how to handle your reaction. It doesn’t matter what your reaction is. I am more worried about making you uncomfortable than getting help when things are bad.

I can’t tell you that I am terrified of being someone else’s joke, that I question everyone’s motives when they’re being nice to me. I can’t explain my paranoia.

I can’t tell you that the best part of my day is when I first wake up and I’m in that semi-conscious state because I’m still asleep enough to feel relaxed but awake enough to experience it. I don’t want to get out of bed because I want to savor that moment as long as possible. I try going back to sleep, even if only for 10 minutes, just to get another one of those moments.

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me when you compliment me. I still don’t know how to just say ‘thank you.’

I can’t tell you that I don’t share how I’m feeling because I don’t know how to handle the look of pity in your eyes. I don’t want nor have I ever wanted your pity.

I can’t tell you that I just need someone to listen, give me a hug, and tell me that it’s okay to feel how I feel, even when those feelings are ugly. I can’t handle you trying to make me better.

I can’t tell you that I don’t need you to fix me. I don’t need you to clean up my mess. I can’t tell you that because you always try, I’m no longer comfortable opening up.

I can’t tell you that I’m terrified of never being the person I want to be.

I can’t explain how I can be both incredibly confident and crushingly insecure all in the same moment.

I can’t explain how much I enjoy getting out, having fun, and spending time with friends . . . but that afterwards I need a period of recovery because those experiences, as wonderful as they are, drain me.

I can’t tell you how I fight through every single day and how no matter how much I want to give up, I keep pushing and moving forward.

I can’t tell you that I don’t want a pat on the back for fighting my battles . . . I just want acknowledgment that those battles exist.

I cannot make you understand what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression. I can’t make you realize that they’re as real as cancer and diabetes and broken bones. I can’t make you understand the difference between depression and laziness or between anxiety and rudeness. But if you really do want to help, this would be a great place to start.

A letter to my mom

Dear Mom,

It’s been 18 years (and 2 days) since I held your hand, told you I loved you, and watched you take your last breath. I was 16 years old. A child. Entirely way too young to be motherless.

My aunt gave me the doll about 15 years ago because she has the same name as my mom. I gave her to my daughter a couple of years ago. Abby decided that Janice should join us at our picnic.

My aunt gave me the doll about 15 years ago because she has the same name as my mom. I gave her to my daughter a couple of years ago. Abby decided that Janice should join us at our picnic.

We went to the cemetery this year. I used to go every year, but I skipped the last two. I couldn’t handle it. But I knew I needed to go this year. We packed lunch and took the long trek on the bus and the short ride in the cab. It was nice and peaceful. Abby asked if there was a special song you sang to me and suggested we play it. She’s a very sweet and smart little girl. I played “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams on my phone (I’m pretty certain you’d be enamored by today’s technology) and then played a song that makes me think of you – “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion.

The universe could not have blessed me with a more amazing mother. You were everything to me. I know I didn’t always act like it. I was mouthy and I said some mean things. I never meant them.

There was no one in the world I trusted as much as I trusted you. There was no one in the world who made me feel as safe as you made me feel. And 18 years ago, that was all ripped away.

I was scared and lonely and I think emotionally I stopped growing that day. I’m still scared and lonely. I feel stuck at 16 . . . still silently pleading for someone to trust the way I trusted you . . . still yearning for someone to make me feel as safe as you made me feel.

There are days when I feel like I don’t know how to be an adult because you weren’t there to teach me. I’m older now than you were when you died. I’m not sure I can really describe how awkward that is.

I’ve put on this façade of strength. I’ve learned how to “act as if” and “fake it till I make it.” I’ve been doing it for 18 years. The truth is that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I want to be the person I’d be if you were here to finish raising me, but I don’t know who she is.

I don’t know what to say to my daughter when she tells me she’s scared that I’ll die when she’s a teenager because you died when I was a teenager. I fumble a bit. I tell her I love her and that I don’t plan on going anywhere and that it’s important to focus on today and enjoy today. I wish I could remember what you told me when I was her age and scared that your cancer would come back.

There is so much I never had a chance to ask you, so much I thought there would be plenty of time for. The day the doctor told me your cancer was back, you held my hand and told me not to worry. You told me you planned to see your grandkids (and promptly added, with a smile on your face, not any time soon). I believed you.

I believed you up until the day before you died. I believed you even when you stopped your chemo . . . when I asked you if that meant there was no chance (I couldn’t even finish the sentence) and you said, “there’s always a chance.” I believed you until the hospice nurse sat in our living room and told me that you only had a week to live. And I think a part of me even continued to believe you after that . . . . until 3am when I woke to see the pain on your face and the vacant look in your eyes and I prayed for God to take you . . . I prayed for your suffering to end . . . . and 5 hours later, it did.

Phrases like “I miss you” and “I love you” never feel like enough. What word do I use to explain this pit inside of me? What word do I use to describe the rage and grief that course through my veins? What word do I use to express how badly I want to scream at the universe that it’s just not fair, not right, not okay that you’re not here to spoil your granddaughter or to sit down and chat with me over a cup of coffee?

I’d like to end this with something positive, but I’m just not there right now. I’ve been struggling lately . . . and this is the unfiltered ugliness of it. I’m hurting and (as weak as the word may be) I miss you.

With love always,

Some things you should know about bisexuals

Some sort of flag

1. Some bisexuals are polyamorous. Some bisexuals are monogamous. Some bisexuals aren’t in relationships at all.

Feel free to replace “bisexuals” with “heterosexuals” or “homosexuals” . . . or hell, how about “people.”

2. Bisexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality or homosexuality is a choice.

I find both men and women attractive. It just is what it is. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “oooh, I’m gonna like girls and boys!” Though I did spend years trying to deny it. I didn’t want to like boys and girls. I thought I was supposed to think the idea of kissing a girl . . . or cuddling with a girl . . . or {gasp} having sex with a girl was gross. Happiness came when I accepted that I really didn’t.

3. Bisexuals in relationships with the opposite sex are still bisexual. Bisexuals in relationships with the same sex are still bisexual.

When I was about 13 or 14, my mom made a comment about a guy on TV being cute. I said, “Hey! You’re married!” She said, “So? I don’t want to date him. I just think he’s cute. I’m allowed to think he’s cute.” And ya know, it really is that simple. Even within a monogamous relationship, people still find other people attractive . . . and for bisexuals, “other people” just extends to male and female.

4. Lack of experience does not mean someone isn’t bisexual.

I used to despise, DESPISE the term “bi-curious.” When I came to that point of acceptance I mentioned in #2, I was in a monogamous relationship with a man. I wasn’t “open” about being bisexual, so the only place I could really discuss it with anyone was online. On more occasions than I can count, I was told that I must be bi-curious because how can I really know I’m bisexual if I’ve never been with a woman. I’d respond by asking when that person lost his/her virginity and then follow up with, “So you were straight-curious before that?”

It’s true that there are people who are just not sure . . . people who are still trying to figure themselves out . . . or trying to learn how to accept themselves. And in those cases, “bi-curious” may be accurate (though, personally, I prefer “questioning”), but don’t assume someone doesn’t understand him/herself just because of a lack of experience.

5. Bisexuality is not a step to being gay.

Yes, there are some people who will identify as bisexual and later identify as homosexual. That’s okay. Sometimes the journey to understanding and accepting ourselves takes us through different labels until we find the one(s) with which we feel the most comfortable. But it is wrong to assume someone who says he/she is bisexual is “bi now, gay later.” Bisexuality is real. It exists. And just like some people identify as straight and later admit to themselves and to others that they’re gay, some people will identify as bisexual and come out as gay later. That does not discount those of us who are and will always be bisexual.

6. Some bisexuals have preferences. Some don’t.

Some bisexuals will lean more in one direction than the other. And sometimes that changes over time. Some people are generally more attracted to blondes. That doesn’t mean they’re never attracted to brunettes or redheads. It’s kind of the same thing. Some bisexuals don’t lean in either direction. We’re all unique creatures . . . we don’t all fit in the same boxes.

When I first accepted myself as bisexual, my attraction leaned mostly toward men. Over the last 12-13 years, I’ve moved to pretty much dead center. I’ve still mostly dated men . . . partly because I haven’t dated much at all and partly because it’s always been easier for me to talk to men . . . which is pretty much because I have social anxiety and as much as I fear rejection, I always feared it more from women. I think things would have been different had I accepted myself as bisexual at a younger age. But it is what it is and just like with #4, my past experiences don’t dictate where I fall on that spectrum.

7. Bisexuals are not inherently promiscuous.

Some bisexuals are promiscuous. Some are not. This is another case of “feel free to substitute ‘heterosexuals’ or ‘homosexuals’ or ‘people.’” Sexual orientation is not an indication of sexual proclivities.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, and I am sure I will come up with more after I publish this post. In the meantime, what would you add to the list?

Photo Credit


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