I’ve written about street harassment and sexual harassment before for this site. I hate it and I think it is indicative of a culture fraught with sexism and misogyny. Whoo, that felt good. Well, it happened again this past weekend, while out running in West Hartford and on my way into the New Haven train station. In both instances, I wasn’t with my kids, in fact, any time I’ve been harassed on the street my children have not been with me.
It’s not as if I want my children to be there when the harassment takes place, thank god they’ve never been there to experience it. But I mention this because I think it’s important to note and, again, I believe is representive of something much bigger than my individual experience. What stops men from yelling out sexually charged things at a woman with her children, but not at a woman out for her morning run?
Once again, this time when I was yelled at from a passing car, my thoughts were ripped away from me and I became laser focused on where to look and what I was wearing. If I look at his car, he may yell more, or worse, stop the car. If I make any sort of physical reaction that signifies my disgust, he might call me worse. This has happened before. What both annoys me about my reaction and continues to amaze me is how I focus on what I’m wearing. As if what I’m wearing has anything to do with it, because it doesn’t. This knowledge eventually comes to me, but in the moment, my mind always races straight to what I have on…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m just one woman and I’m fortunate that it doesn’t happen more often. It’s hard to imagine how often sexual harassment of women on the street takes place, but it’s definitely not hard to imagine what it feels like.
I know it’s not by happenstance that I’ve never been harassed while out with my kids. I guess I feel obliged to put it out there because, as a mom, I have the unique perspective of knowing that men can control themselves from yelling out what’s on their mind. Who knows what they might say about me within the confines of their car, as I walk my children to froyo (ew and ahh), but they are able to control themselves from screaming sexually charged things and that’s the part I’m stuck on.
There must be some sense of respect. And yet, as I type that, I am struck by the feeling that this respect, if that’s what it is, has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with my kids. As sad as that realization is, it makes sense to me as a policy practitioner and feminist who often finds it easier to move public policy when it’s framed as a children’s issue, not one that benefits women. It also makes sense within the context of a culture that fundamentally doesn’t respect women.
I don’t know what else to say on the topic. But I do know that as my children get older, I want so desperately for my daughter to never experience sexual harassment on the street and for my son to understand that the behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. I suppose I’ll focus my energy on trying to figure out how best to do that in a culture that continues to accept the public degradation of women, while also working to change that culture.