One of the first real lessons kids learn is to not talk to strangers. Every time we leave the house, parents everywhere warn about staying away from people we don’t know. Despite warnings, I was never afraid to go anywhere by myself, but now that I am older, my feelings on strangers have changed.
The now-famous street harassment video produced by the nonprofit Hollaback! has gone viral, helping teen girls as well as women fight back against that icky feeling of being violated caused when males use what amounts to verbal harassment, like “Hey, baby!” and “Pssst…” and “Can I get your phone number?” over and over again.
The video shows a woman walking in Manhattan for hours and being harassed by men much of the time. While some people might argue that a man telling a woman passerby to “Have a nice day” is not harassment, I would argue it is by the fact that it is unsolicited and clearly unwelcome when women don’t answer back. The video shows men who tell her to have a nice day are the ones who also stare at her up and down before they decide to talk to her, further violating her space.
I know the feeling. Now I know I don’t have to accept that feeling, either.
Last summer, I went to a popular store in my neighborhood with my 13-year-old cousin. I saw a man leering at me in front of the store, but I ignored him because I didn’t know how to stop it. We went to the back of the store to find some ice cream when I heard another man yell, “Hey girl with the pink shirt!” I was really nervous because I knew he was talking to me, so I went to the front of the store. He followed us and kept yelling, “Do you have a Kik?” I did use the app Kik to instant message people, but I knew I would never give my username to a complete stranger. I wasn’t sure how old he was, but when I saw him buying a lottery ticket, I knew he had to be an adult.
I know the neighborhood very well, so when I saw this man and his friends following us on the street, I made a few turns to get away. I was so incredibly uncomfortable when I realized a man who had been staring at me so creepily for a long time before I even realized it could have physically violated me, and there would have been nothing I could do about it.
Research gathered by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment shows women everywhere put up with unnecessary attention while out in public:
- 100 percent of women in an Indianapolis study reported being harassed.
- 87 percent of women survey in a U.S. study reported being accosted verbally by a stranger
- A Chicago survey called “Hey Cutie, Can I Get Your Digits?” revealed 86 percent of girls had been catcalled.
The site also reports that half of those harassed are under 18 years old. In fact nearly, “1 in 4 women had experienced street harassment by age 12,” according to Stop Street Harassment.
Young women and girls might think scary things like that always happen in public spaces, but that day made me realize all those times when men would whistle at me on the street or try to talk to me from their cars was unacceptable. I’m 15 and have accepted this treatment because no one ever told me how to deal with this. And because no one talks about it, young girls like myself start to think it’s our problem, not a problem that rude, threatening, catcalling men need to address by adopting more respectful behavior.
Of course not all men harass women, but there are enough men (and boys) who do. Males who have that mentality should stop thinking about women as strange objects to be called out in public like something less of a person and simply regard them as humans.
There are kind strangers out there. Those are the kind who tell you when you drop your wallet or ask what floor you’re going to so they can press the elevator button for you. But I have witnessed firsthand strangers who aren’t so nice. Those strangers have whistled at me like a dog and yelled things that made me realize they do not respect me as a person because they talk about me like an object. Girls and women are not trying to play the blame game; we just don’t feel right about being treated so wrongly.