The other night while walking home, I was verbally assaulted by two guys with a toddler. To be fair the toddler didn't say anything disgusting to me but the two guys sure did. They also invaded my personal space and made my heart fall through my stomach in fear. Thankfully, they didn't grope or grab or pull me into a car -- all thoughts that raced through my mind in the 15 seconds during which the altercation took place.
I ran the rest of the way home crying. I got to my door and wished out loud that none of my neighbors would be in the lobby. They're all kind people and would ask what was wrong, and I already didn't want to talk about it.
It wasn't the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I won't repeat what those two guys said because it doesn't matter. No matter what expletives they chose I would have felt the same. Being reduced to just a body, a walking mass with breasts and a vagina, whose boundaries can be invaded, whose parts can be talked about, ridiculed and assessed, it makes you feel awful. It makes me cry.
Later that night I tried to explain what being harassed on the street feels like to a man. I couldn't think of any metaphor to explain. I said it makes me feel out of control of my own body. It makes me feel like my sexuality is owned not by me but by strangers. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. It makes me scared. It makes me worry about how quickly harassment can turn to rape. It makes me feel like I can't walk the streets of my own neighborhood.
It’s important to speak up when these things happen. My immediate impulse was to not talk. I wished out loud that no one would catch me crying, but bottling it up is no good. Ignoring it minimizes it. A few years ago I was groped on the subway. I was shocked when a few friends shared similar experiences. I had no idea. They never mentioned it before. Talking makes you feel less alone and it makes you feel stronger. Saying it out loud gives gravity to the situation. A real situation that happens every day all over the world that makes women feel awful and makes men feel, I don’t know, powerful?
It won't end. The next generation of girls will run home crying like I did last night because while those two guys were spitting their hate at me, the kid that was with them watched it all happen. What's he being taught to do when he grows up to be a man?
It won’t end, but speaking up about it might make you feel better. It makes me feel better.