Street Harassment: “It’s really not that bad”
So, I had a bit of a revelation the other day. Nothing life-changing or world altering – just the same little light bulb moment I have once every few months:
Being a woman sucks.
Not like, Oh shit I don’t have an outfit to match these shoes being a woman sucks or Gosh darn I have cramps and I want to eat a whole cake oh crap I ate a whole cake being a woman sucks. Not like that. I mean more like my circumstances have slightly, temporarily changed and as such I now have to be more aware than usual just because I’m a woman, and that sucks.
The change in circumstances isn’t anything major, like losing my job or having to move out of my home – I simply don’t have a car for a couple of weeks. Sure, this will probably work out better for my wallet (and my poor, underused legs) but it’s still annoying. But what annoys me even more are some of the things I have to consider because I don’t have a car.
Take a conversation I had at work last week, involving my first fateful Thursday night without a car. I had to walk home after a late netball game at uni, and that plus the fact that I live out in the wilderness meant I finally collapsed against my front door sometime around 12:30am. I made it home safely, if a little tired. Great.
What was not-so-great was when it came up at work the next day. The idea of a 30 minute walk after midnight mortified my colleague. In our lunch break, Brooke managed to conjure up about 1000 ways I could have died on the way home. And, to be honest, I scoffed. I was obviously fine, right? I had made it home, safe and sound, and I only had abuse shouted at me from cars twice on the way home. Pretty good, if you ask me.
I had recently moved from a suburb where walking home meant you literally had to shake off men when they grabbed you, hide in petrol stations until people who were following you left, and regularly listen to filth being screamed at you from cars (and some people sitting on their front verandas). So walking home, mostly free from harassment? Piece of fucking cake.
But the more I thought about it, the more it sucked. At what point had men screaming obscenities at me become so routine that being shouted out twice was a “pretty good” night? When had I developed this arbitrary threshold for abuse from strangers that could change a walk home from pleasant or pretty good to pretty goddamn shit?
I had internalised this form of abuse so much that I had even tried to make Brooke feel better by telling her what it was like in my old neighbourhood. I’m much safer walking home now than I was two years ago, I told her. Like that made it ok. As if it meant that because it wasn’t the worst experience I’d had, it didn’t matter. Well, no. That’s crap.
What concerns me the most was how easily I brushed off Brooke’s concern – how easily and quickly I had fallen into feeling as though it was actually “pretty good” if I only got yelled at and not groped on my way home. It concerns me because I know better than that. This hierarchy of abuse goes against everything I think or feel when I read stories of street harassment. Somehow, though, I’d managed to convince myself it wasn’t that bad when it was happening to me. Why? I have no idea. But it was right about then that I thought: Being a woman sucks.
Okay, being a woman doesn’t really suck. I quite like it, most of the time. But in the midst of arguing with myself and being in equal parts angry, guilty, and disbelieving, that’s how I felt. Not only did I have to watch out for myself late at night, but I was beating myself up about it. When I caught myself thinking “Well of course you have to be careful,” I was guilty and angry with myself. It felt like a lose/lose situation. I know that when I step outside late at night, I expect to get yelled at; but I also know that I shouldn’t have to expect it.
Being a woman is hard enough with all these cake cravings (guess what’s in my oven right about now), let alone dealing with crap that shouldn’t even be happening, let alone excused or justified. And while I expect it to continue to happen (at least until society gets it shit together) hopefully next time I can skip the arguments with myself and land right at what a jerk and fuck you, buddy, instead of trying to justify it as anything other than misogyny and abuse.