In keeping with our recent discussions regarding the struggles of women in society, and how those have (or have not) changed from Virginia Woolf’s time, it seems fitting to report on an incident that occurred to me a few days ago. I was walking down 5th avenue after going for a run in Central Park and there was a group of men trying to sell CD’s to people passing by. This is not uncommon and certainly not the first time I’ve seen it, and I always politely decline with a, “No thank you” and continue on. However, this day, after I gave my usual refusal, I heard, “C’mon you’re a sexy thing”.
My inner monologue occurred as follows: I’m sorry, what did he just say? Is that supposed to make me change my mind about buying his CD? Because I now have his approval on my appearance and am so overcome with flattery that I will, in fact, take his music? Was that the goal here? Surely he doesn't think an empty verbal comment on my physical appearance will affect my mental processes! I felt violated by receiving this unwelcome form of attention that occurred because I was simply existing in this specific area. This happened to be on Friday at around 1:30 pm, and having just been amped up on Woolf and feminism for an hour and fifteen minutes, I found myself wondering why I didn’t feel comfortable enough to throw back a “fuck off” (or something of that nature, possibly more eloquent); that was certainly how I was feeling. Yet I just kept walking. If this man felt it was okay to harass me as I was walking down the street, why did I feel that I could not defend myself? Would I have been spared that comment had I been walking with a man? Much like Judith Shakespeare’s poetry being “caught and tangled in a woman’s body”, I felt that I was viewed not as a human being, but as a gender.
Ironically enough, this past week was international anti-street harassment week, and after browsing the web, I found a great article with responses to street harassment, and I found “Hollaback!” which is an organization using smart phones and the internet to draw attention to the problem. They even have an app with a map that pinpoints where these instances occur and allows victims to tell their stories, a lot of which are more disturbing than the remark I received. Links to these sites are below. At first I thought I was overreacting about this one comment, but I quickly realized that is what is needed to make this kind of thing stop.