“Driving while black” is the phrase often used by African-American drivers to describe being stopped by police because of skin color. Perhaps more widespread but less talked about is “walking while female” – the experience of women being harassed when they walk by men in public. In these two stories, young women write about their experiences as targets. Their annoyance and anguish go far deeper than many adults imagine.
Why I’m Angry
By Brynn Holland, 17
The music was blasting and people were dancing. Club hoppers pushed my friend and me from all sides. Guys were coming from every angle, thinking it was OK to put their hands on me. Eventually my friend and I danced with our backs against a pole to keep our butts from being stared at or grabbed.
Boys were staring at the girls like predators eyeing fresh meat. The music rang with lyrics about beating, slapping and even killing women.
My friend and I stuck it out for as long as we could, but by 11 p.m. we had had enough. Regretting that we had each spent $10 on the cover charge, we left.
“I feel so gross,” my friend said.
“I know. I need to take a shower,” I said. I put my hand in my hair and brushed it backwards only to find something wet.
“There is spit in my hair!” I said.
“Ewww!!!” my friend screamed. I grabbed a tissue from my bag and started wiping the gloppy mess out of my hair. I asked my friend if she could pull up close to the curb, so I could throw it into a trash can. As I rolled down my window, two guys on the sidewalk started yelling things.
“Yeah, roll it down!” they shouted. “What are you up to?” My friend sped away.
“I should have thrown the spitty tissue at them,” I said.
“Do they ever stop?” my friend said.
This experience really was a reality check for me. I felt so helpless and lost in that club, but I realized no one knew I was feeling that way and probably would not have cared. It made me wonder if anyone would ever understand. Why can’t I be treated with respect? Why can’t everyone?
All I am asking for is a world where people of every race, sexual orientation, class, gender and so on can come together to dance, talk and be merry. To me, that’s what it means to be a feminist.
Yet if I were to tell a person walking down the street that I was a feminist, he or she might ask, “You’re a man-hater, aren’t you?” “Why are you so angry all the time?” “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” “Are you a lesbian?” Feminism has a really bad rap in today’s society. Why? Because it challenges what this society is based on – oppression.
At Cleveland High I am in the humanities magnet, which focuses on social justice. One day we watched a video called “Dream World,” which depicted media messages about women, including a Prince video and other rap videos. I watched Prince dance with two women and throw them to the floor and pull them around by their hair.
Then the screen flashed to “The Accused,” a movie that tells the true story of a young woman who was gang-raped. I watched a man slam a woman up on a pinball machine and pull her hair and rape her. Even if you closed your eyes, you could still hear the rape scene going on. I sank in my seat. “This is reality,” I thought. “This actually happened.”
Females and males alike walked out of the video screening with tears in their eyes and pained expressions on their faces. It was obvious how wrong it was that music videos were making money off of a woman’s worst nightmare.
Afterwards, a male friend gave me a hug. I knew he was a big rap music fan, so I asked, “Are you paying attention? I mean, is this affecting you?”
“Yeah. It’s been an eye-opener.” I could feel that he was just starting to see how hard it is to be a girl in this world.
I wish people understood the fear that many women live with. When I walk down the street, guys stop what they are doing to stare at me. I just want to hide. I feel so violated. It makes me hate being me, being a female. Why do I have to fear for my life, my safety?
I’m glad I can ask these questions. Instead of blaming myself and apologizing for the way I dress or the way I walk, I can be angry for being treated that way. I can see that when men whistle at me, they’re the ones who are wrong, not me.
© LA Youth. www.layouth.com.
Tired of Being a Target
By Loretta Chan, 18
One summer night, some jerk threw a Snapple bottle at me while I was crossing a Manhattan street. I don’t know what provoked him. I didn’t even know who he was.
When I turned back from the curb where the bottle had landed (thank God it didn’t hit me), all I saw was a group of guys standing around, smiling and saying, “Look at her, look at her.” When I turned back in the direction I was originally heading, a guy said to me, like it was funny or something, “Baby, somebody doesn’t like you.”
I continued walking to the train station like nothing had happened. At least I acted like nothing had happened. But, behind my sunglasses, I was trying hard not to cry.
I had never felt so defenseless. It caught me off guard and I couldn’t do anything to protect myself or to retaliate. For that moment, I wasn’t the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar girl that a lot of people know me as. Instead, I became one of those pitiful girls who can’t stand up against a male chauvinist pig.
I had never walked away from a situation like that before without at least giving the guy a cold stare and letting him know that I was offended. But all I did this time was walk away like I couldn’t care less about how I was treated.
That night I told my mother what happened. I was expecting her to comfort me.
Instead, she barely even looked up from her desk. The first thing she said to me, in her Chinese accent, was, “Because of what you’re wearing. It’s too sexy.” She even used the same hand gesture she uses when she yells at me for coming home late. She never even said that she felt badly about what had happened. And for the next week, she inspected the way I dressed even more closely than before.
By now, you’re probably wondering what I was wearing that day. It was a long, sleeveless floral dress that was almost down to my ankles. OK, it was a little fitted, and had a slit on the side, but in no sense was it “slutty” or “showy” in comparison to what a lot of other girls were wearing on that hot day.
And what difference does it make? No matter what I was wearing, why should my mother blame me for getting a bottle thrown at me? Why did I always have to feel like I was on the defensive whenever I stepped out of the house?
Long before this, I’d learned how to stare straight ahead when passing any male and to walk very quickly. And the other basic stuff: never to get into an elevator alone with a guy and not to walk in a deserted area at night. But I never thought that anybody would ever attack me on the street, in broad daylight, as long as I minded my own business.
My mind became filled with hateful, violent thoughts toward men. I remembered the times they whipped out their penises on the train in front of me and started masturbating. I thought of the remarks on the street about my body. I thought about the perverts whispering their sexual fantasies to me as they passed me or were walking behind me. I had dealt with those things by just putting them out of my mind. But I couldn’t just forget the Snapple incident.
So I started considering other options. First I thought of different ways of cursing guys out. Then I went down to the store to get a bottle of pepper spray. A week later I was looking at stun guns on 42nd Street. And for a moment I considered getting a small handgun and going to a shooting range to learn how to use it.
What really kills me is that I’m back to square one. I hate spending all this time bitching about something that half of our population has to put up with and to not have a solution. It would be too cheesy to just end with a moral for the males like: “Have respect for women.” It’s such a simple rule of thumb, yet they’ve had difficulty with it for centuries.
It would be even worse for me to tell other women that we’ll just have to put up with abuse and harassment for the rest of our lives. Just the thought that women in the future, maybe my own daughters, will be treated as second-class humans makes me want to shred every male on this planet to pieces.
In this moment of passion and fury, that’s the only solution I can seem to conjure up.
© Youth Communication/New York Center. www.youthcomm.org.