If you’ve ever lived in a major city and have a vagina, I think you can attest that men have some very peculiar ways of “picking up” a woman. New York City, my former residence, is particularly interesting in this regard. Before entering the glamorous borough of Manhattan, I went to school and lived with its not-so-friendly neighbor, The Bronx. Here were my first experiences of “street hollering” (pronounced: holl-ah-rin).
Exhibit A: You are heading out on a fun night dancing with your friends and are waiting for the subway. A man saunters by you, his eyes burning holes through your clothes and licks his lips intently. Once he’s just earshot, he says something like “God BLESS you, baby girl” or a simple “DAMNNNNNNNN”.
Exhibit B: You are walking to your first day of your internship at a hip fashion magazine, dressed up in your pencil skirt and heels, when a car full of guys begin viciously honking and hanging out the window, making kissing noises at you and whistling, gesturing you to get in the car. Unfortunately, due to your heel selection, it is difficult to escape quickly. Luckily, the light turns and they speed off.
Exhibit C: You sitting on the train on your way home, after quite a long day shopping. You are with your friend this time. Your conversation is really heating up about the shoes you just purchased, when you notice the gentleman who was at the other end of the car is now hovering over your seats and staring at you intently. He probes you with questions and when you politely ignore, he gets angry and asks why you don’t want to speak with him. You both wind up changing Subway cars, hoping to escape an awkward situation (or something more dangerous).
When I read this news today on Feministing.com about 15 year old Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide after her brutal rape and societal shaming, I got to thinking.
The line between street pick ups, whistles, and sexual commentary and the crimes agains Rehtaeh is very very thin. Objectification of females is something we talk about a lot. It’s a disease in our society, infecting the way our men treat women. Especially women they don’t know. And ESPECIALLY women in moments where there are very minimal repercussions. Honking at a girl in a tight dress? No big deal, you can just drive away. Hitting on a girl on the subway who isn’t interested? Who cares, there will be more women to check out. Raping a girl with a bunch of your friends? Well, who is she going to tell. People will think she’s a slut.
Making light of harmless situations of street pick ups justifies treating women like garbage in general. When you feel free to speak or comment or gesture to another human being on the basis of gender, you may condition yourself to touch and grab and rape another human being on the basis of gender as well.
So the next time you hear that whistle on the street, I ask you to think twice before waiving it from your memory. And if you really want to do something, let’s put our voices together. (See: http://www.ihollaback.org/)
Stay safe on dem streets, my friends.