Like a lot of people, not only women, I have grown used to the usage of headphones, to music drowning the noise of my surroundings, when I have to step outside.
When my partner and I moved into our new apartment, there was a day when I needed to step out to do some groceries and take an appointment at the veterinary for one of my cat, when I realized that I had misplaced my headphones. I was annoyed, I needed to go, but I didn’t want to go about my business without them because I was very aware of the harassment I would get in street, harassment I usually could mostly ignore through blasting music into my ears. We looked for it for about half an hour, while my annoyance increased, before I gave up and put my shoes on to step out by the back door towards the street. At the first corner where I stopped, a man approached me. I felt his presence before he spoke, but without my headphones, I wasn’t able to ignore him, I had no other choice but to listen to whatever he had to say to me. I was incredibly annoyed that this had to happen right after I’d stepped out of my house, as if the world wanted to prove my worries right.
“I like your hair” He said.
He was so close, I caught the scent of his breath, and it laid home in the back of my throat, I swallowed.
“Thank you”, I replied. I knew why I was thanking him. It wasn’t gratefulness, it wasn’t politeness, it wasn’t anything I wanted to do, it was habit, and a little bit of fear, pure and simple. I felt obligated to respond, to be pleasant, to acknowledge his presence, for I didn’t know who this man was, and if the lack of a “thank you” could spark something within him that I wouldn’t like.
He continued. “It’s really nice.”
Again. “Thank you” My voice was soft, but inside I was furious. I forced a smile, and hoped that the light would soon turn to green.
“You have really nice skin, it’s nice.” He was holding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and stood so close to me that I worried that I would bump right into him when the light would finally change.
I couldn’t thank him for that last comment, what I’m sure they would later call a compliment, but I sure as hell didn’t feel complimented by this complete stranger, so close to me, who forced himself and his opinions on my appearance onto me.
The light turned green and I was gone At the other corner there was a pharmacy, and there I was able to find some cheap headphone. I bought them, put them on, and continued about my day.
What I did then fixed/fixes nothing. Not being able to hear harassment doesn’t mean that I am not aware of what goes on around me, or that I can’t sense people’s body language, or see how they look at me.
Why am I talking about this?
Often, people who see no problem with online harassment, also do not see what is wrong with street harassment, not everyone, but many. Many people seem to believe that street harassment,”compliments”, “cat calling” (women are not cats, we are not animals), and the sort, are prices that women have to pay when they are out and about in the street. Same way, people seem to believe that online harassment is part of some sort of deal I’m sure no woman had a say in, for a place on the internet (unless you are male). There are so many ways that we can ignore these sorts of things, like me and my headphones, but like in my story, it doesn’t actually fix anything.
Women still get harassed, even if we attempt to stop noticing it, or if we try to “get used to it”.
Women have the right to be able to walk down the street and be left alone.
Women have the right to be on the internet without being harassed, insulted, threatened, sexually harassed, or followed in order to further these sorts of harassment.
Let’s talk about this.