Too many conversations about street harassment get sidetracked into how-to guides of safe ways to approach women, or estimations on the likelihood that the harassment was well intended. And these conversations describe something very different from what I actually experience.
I don’t live in New York or a pedestrian heavy city. I never have. So while I have usually been walking when harassed, the men who harass me are usually in cars.
The man who screamed “Little bitch!” out of the passenger side of a moving car this morning was not trying to hit on me. There was no pretense that his sexual harassment was meant to be a compliment.
The men who honk and scream “Whooooooo!” as they drive past aren’t trying to get my phone number. They don’t even stick around long enough to ask if I have a boyfriend.
They harass on the run, drive by style.
Now, these assholes pose less threat than men on the sidewalk; they’re less likely to follow me if I’m walking thirty miles or more below the posted speed limit.
But these men also risk the least, and so feel the most empowered to behave as they do. Bystanders don’t have time to intervene in an interaction that’s over before it can be registered.
There’s a false idea that street harassment happens between relative equals, but the men who harass me can afford the car I can’t. The car I’d use to keep me safe from such targeted hatred. The car they use to harass women who walk.
In my wild youth, I used to hitch hike. To the store, to work, to the other side of the state. I was not unwilling to get in a strange man’s car. But when I stuck out my thumb, most of them just honked, or yelled “Oh baby!” while streaming past. The opportunity to meet me and talk to me wasn’t what they wanted.
They wanted to put me in what they thought of as my place. They wanted to punish me for being female in public.
When feminists say street harassment is about power not attraction, this is part of what we mean.