Street Harassment 2016

It’s happened again. A young woman minding her own business was murdered because she refused to “talk” to a guy.  Janese Talton-Jackson is the latest victim of street harassment.  The senseless killing of Jackson is reminiscent of Mary Spears, a mother I wrote about who was shot for not giving a guy her phone number. When I hear these kind of stories it’s alarming how some men feel they are entitled to women’s everything.  Why can’t they just go away when women express disinterest in them? It doesn’t matter if you try to be nice about it. If you don’t act how they think you should act you quickly become a bitch, ugly, etc. 

Reading about the death of Jackson made me think about an incident that happened when I was 18 years old.  I was fresh from the beauty salon sporting jumbo box braids I had seen Janet Jackson wear in “Poetic Justice.” I was waiting at the bus stop happy about my new ‘do.  Two adult black males walked past me. One of them catcalled me.  I tried to be polite gave (the head nod) and went back to staring off into space like a typical teenager. For some reason, my response pissed the guy off.  Suddenly, this grown ass man became belligerent with me. I was shocked and scared. Luckily, the other man with him grabbed him and pulled him away. “Hey man,” I heard him say,  “She’s just a kid.” The man went on a rant about “bitches” being rude.  The friend continued to push the guy away as I looked on in confusion. The bus pulled up and I hopped on relieved.

Why Black Men Must Take Responsibility for Ending Street Harassment

When I think back on that day I get goosebumps. What would have been the outcome if the friend HADN’T been there? Would I be another victim of gender violence? Would my name even made the evening news. This was back in the early 90’s before folks really talked about street harassment, especially how it affected black women/girls. We are only more aware of this issue because of social media. BLACK WOMEN/GIRLS have made it their mission to say enough is enough. We can’t continue the kinship of “brotha/”sistah”if one half of the duo isn’t truly being a “brotha” to us.

OF COURSE, black men aren’t the only ones guilty of street harassment. But intra-racial violence is more common than not. That’s why it’s ridiculous when people talk about “black on black” crime.

And for the men saying they are the “good ones” it’s more than respecting the women in your life. You have to stand up like the guy did that day when I was all alone and stop your friend if you seeing him getting out of hand. Don’t laugh or encourage it. You may prevent an unnecessary loss of life.

Rest in Peace

 

 

 

Street Violence Against Black Women

Initially, I wasn’t going to write about the street harassment video controversy. I felt there were enough articles that summed up my feelings on the subject. But I was recently moved by blogger Carol H. Hood’s story. In her article, “I Was Taught To Be Grateful For Catcalls,” Hood eloquently writes about the specific impact of street harassment on black women. Because we occupy two identities that are degraded under white supremacy, black women are frequent targets of violence from white men/men of color.

“The truth is that women of color are disproportionately affected by street harassment — often, we’re victimized not just for being women but for being Black. I’ve had men of all races ask me to ignore harassment from Black men for the sake of Black male lives, while Black women are abused and even killed for being Black and woman.”  https://medium.com/the-archipelago/i-was-taught-to-be-grateful-for-catcalls-b37bc462d85c

There are two cases that illustrate her point. First, is the disturbing murder of Mary “Unique” Spears. Spears had politely turned down a man who asked for her phone number. The man kept harassing her until her partner intervened. It was then Spears was killed.

“According to witnesses, the man’s advances would not stop. Reportedly, when the group finally decided to leave at 2 a.m., the man grabbed Spears and hit her. Spears’ fiancé  got physically involved, and a fight broke out. That was when the stranger pulled a gun and fired into the group. Spears was reportedly hit once, and then tried to run. While she was trying to flee, that was when a bullet hit her in the head.” http://crimefeed.com/2014/10/detroit-mother-three-shot-killed-stranger-rejected-advances/

And the alarming abduction of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither caught on surveillance video.

“Carlesha, 22, was abducted by an unknown man on Coulter Street near Greene just after 9:30 p.m. Sunday. She was returning home from visiting her godson and had gotten off a bus a few blocks away when her abductor approached her on Greene Street and pulled her down Coulter Street to his car.” http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20141105__Just_come_home.html#Yoi7AKm0uJJeec3s.99

There has been speculation Gaither’s abductor is someone who has been obsessed with her. Another man who refused to take no for an answer. I pray that this young woman is found safe.

It’s disappointing that so many men don’t take the issue of street harassment/violence against women seriously. Men are bemoaning “I can’t even say hi to a woman anymore,” while women are worried about dying/getting snatched off the street. Which issue is more important? I hate to break out the rhetoric of asking men to think about the women in their lives (mothers, daughters, sisters, etc.) and if they would want them to be stalked, harassed, or physically harmed. I’d rather go with the quote: “men should be against violence of women, not because they have mothers, sisters, etc., but because women are human beings.”

 

Photo from: 7mileradio.com
Spears and family. Photo from: 7mileradio.com
Carlesha Freeland-Gaither and puppy. Photo from: www.nydailynews.com
Carlesha Freeland-Gaither Photo from: http://www.nydailynews.com

SAAM #4: Street Harassment

I’ve written about street harassment before, but wanted to revisit it as I wrap up this week in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).

“Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed “eve teasing,” and in countries like Egypt, it’s called “public sexual harassment.”– http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/about/what-is-street-harassment/

Recently, one of my favorite black women bloggers posted about the work of Hollaback! an organization that fights against street harassment.  Majority of black women responded with support of the Hollback! campaign “stop telling women to smile…”

Poster by Tatyana fazlalizadeh
Poster by Tatyana fazlalizadeh

A couple of black men also responded, not understanding what the big deal was if they tell a “sista” to smile.  Because of the very real oppression black men face in our imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks) it’s hard for them to recognize that they receive male privilege. It’s not the same level of privilege as white men or other even other men of color, but they do get some.

“There are many reasons why black men, generally speaking, have issues with confronting sexism. One reason is explained by this common finding of social science research: Societies tend to align in hierarchies wherein one group is privileged over another. The natural inclination is to identify more closely with the group that provides higher status. Since men enjoy more privilege than women, and blacks less than whites, black men consider themselves men first because it affords privilege…The external narrative that focuses on the tragedies of the black male coupled with the mechanisms black men develop to cope with racism and subjugation equate to an inherent difficulty in seeing the world through the eyes of black women. As such, it takes a genuine and concerted effort for us to recognize the ingrained sexism in our communities.”–http://thegrio.com/2013/08/30/the-reality-of-black-male-privilege/

Because of their male privilege, many black men tend lack self-awareness about the things they do to women, just like other men.  They don’t understand why street harassment is annoying to black women, because it doesn’t click that they aren’t the  first one to give a “compliment” that day. They are not the second one to give a “compliment.” Or the third. Or the fourth. Or even the fifth. A woman can literally be harassed all day by strange men. Black women are especially vulnerable since our bodies/personal space has never been respected in America.  Telling a stranger “to smile” may seem like a little thing, but it can be stressful for a woman to have to entertain folks they don’t even know.

It’s strange a lot of black men don’t get this, as it’s no different from the racial games/masks they often have to wear in the presence of white folks.  Being forced to smile or cheese to show they are a non threatening black man.  It’s obnoxious, ain’t it.

Also, a lot of street harassment can turn scary quick. As I discussed in my previous post on this issue,  black women have been assaulted/killed for not responding “properly” to a strangers comments. I know a lot of men feel they would never got that far, but why create an uncomfortable situation for a woman to begin with?

It’s a tricky situation for black men and women, because it’s a cultural thing to give each other the head nod or call each other brother/sister, and really mean no harm.  I think majority of black women recognize this. However, this is different from someone hollering out degrading comments about your body parts or get hostile/calling you a bitch when you don’t smile right away for them.  That’s street harassment.

Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world.  We work together to better understand street harassment, to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/#sthash.RYbfxbX4.dpuf
Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world.  We work together to better understand street harassment, to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/#sthash.RYbfxbX4.dpuf
Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world.  We work together to better understand street harassment, to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/#sthash.RYbfxbX4.dpuf

Violence Against Young Women

“In San Francisco last year, a man stabbed a woman in the face and arm after she didn’t respond positively to his sexually harassing her on the street. In Bradenton, Fla., a man shot a high school senior to death after she and her friends refused to perform oral sex at his request. In Chicago, a scared 15-year-old was hit by a car and died after she tried escaping from harassers on a bus.” 

In her article“Street Harassment: Is a Man Running Over a 14-Year Old For Refusing Sex Serious Enough?” feminist blogger Soraya Chemaly details the street harassment against young women. The stories not only disturbed me, but I am outraged. Why can’t  young women make it home safely without some man harassing/stalking them?

The article reminded of my own experiences (and stories my friends have told me), walking down the street as teenagers. A good friend from high school told me about the time when she was 14-years old waiting for a bus. A man in his 30’s/40’s circled the stop in his car. Eventually, he got out of his car and invaded her personal space. He leered at her “Does your boyfriend like to play with your big boobs?” My friend said she was so scared, she didn’t know what to say. Luckily, other folks walked up to the bus stop.  The man hopped back in his car and drove away.  I remember when I was 16-years old and waiting for a bus.  At the time, I was wearing braids. Two grown men passed me. One of the men tugged my braids.  Of course, I gave him a dirty look, as he touched my body without permission. He just laughed. He then started saying vulgar things to me. I ignored him. Because I wasn’t responding like he wanted, the guy got angry and started cussing me out.  He walked up to me like he was going to hit me. His friend stopped him and pulled him away. “Come on man, she’s just a kid” He said.  I shudder to think what would have happened if this guy had been alone. I was scared as hell.

Young women are vulnerable to street harassment. They often walk home alone from school or rely on  public transportation. They have also been conditioned to submit to male privilege/authority. We don’t empower our young women to know that they have a right to their bodies/personal space. We live in a society that tells all women, but especially younger women, to smile/be nice/be helpful/be polite/be non-threatening. As Chemaly discussed in her article, when you add-on race, class, and disability, it makes this issue even more alarming. Young women of color are more likely to be harassed as they have been stereotyped as “fast” and overly sexualized in the media. Young women of color in poorer neighborhoods, the rate of street harassment/violence skyrocket. Women/younger women with disabilities are also more likely to be assaulted. Chemaly noted, “Consider the experiences of people with disabilities. For example, women in wheelchairs have to be on the lookout for men who push their groins into their faces.  An “architecture of aggression” renders people with disabilities far more vulnerable to harassment and potential violence. Add to the suggestion that disabled people, especially disabled women, should consider themselves especially “lucky” to get any attention.”

Our society has failed at  making the streets safe for young women. It is not a joke that young women are being stalked down streets. I know some folks don’t think catcalls/whistles are a big deal,  but usually this behavior escalates.  Male privilege allows men to think they can walk up to a woman and invade her space/act any way they want.  Or even sitting down. I encourage folks to check out the tumblr  “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on The Train.”

In order to stop violence against younger women/women, folks need to support organizations that are committed to this work. Grassroots/DIY groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Hollaback! are working towards ending oppression/misogyny against women. They relay on donations and word of mouth support.  Men also need to hold other men accountable. Do not just sit by and watch as a man terrifies a young woman. Speak up for the young women/women in your community.

Photo from: www.thesaudavoice.com
Photo from: http://www.thesaudavoice.com

 

Anti-sexual Harassment Stickers

Yesterday, I saw this picture on a blog:

Oakland Street Art
Oakland Street Art

The picture was courtesy of a group called Oakland Street Art.  On their website it was noted why they do what they do:  “A space to document, share, and appreciate the wealth of beautiful street art in Oakland – from murals and graffiti to stenciling, stickers and chalking.”  The caption of the picture read: Anti-sexual harassment stickers up around Lake Merritt: “Stop telling women to smile.”

I related to all of the stickers, but especially the one telling women to smile. It’s bad enough that some white folks expect you to be their Mammy and skin and grin for them, but it’s also annoying some black men expect this as well.  Now remember I said SOME black men.  I know other men engage in this behavior (obviously), but my interactions tend to be with  black men, regarding this issue.

I have had black men get angry with me, because I wasn’t cheesing. Never mind the fact I might’ve had a bad day, singing my favorite tune in my head and didn’t notice them, just realized I didn’t have enough to get a caramel mocha from Starbucks, whatever the case might be.  It doesn’t matter, I am a woman, and I am expected to make their day.

I remember one time, I was sitting outside enjoying the sunny day.  I was starting off into space, loving the warmth on my face.  A guy walked by and told me to “smile.” I was confused because I had been daydreaming.   I guess I didn’t respond fast enough for him, because he said angrily, “smile, damn!” I looked at him like he had two heads. I wanted to say something smart, but just decided to ignore it. The truth is, you never know how some men are going to react, when you try to defend yourself.

Speaking back against street harassment has been deadly for women, especially black women. Too many men think they have a right to black women’s bodies. It’s because our bodies tend to be degraded in mainstream and black media.  It’s also because people have learned you don’t have to respect black women (after all, we are just crackheads, baby mamas, hoodrats, crazy, loud & angry, etc). Men of color who verbally attack black women on the street, would be hesitant to do so to white women.  It’s a combination of having colonized minds and fear of the police getting involved (it’s been proven that men of color are more likely to be arrested for assaulting white women, than women of color).

The video Black Woman Walking is dedicated to Adilah Gaither.  She was a young woman who was shot and killed because she wouldn’t give a boy her number. Street harassment is a real and serious issue. Some folks don’t see the big deal in a man telling you to smile. They figure it’s better than him calling you a “bitch.” The problem is, if you don’t react the way they think you should react,  it’s not long before you become a bitch, hoe, cunt, etc.