Emily Heist Moss is sick and tired of the men who harass her and make her feel unsafe in public spaces.
It’s a drizzly Friday in Chicago and I’m leaving a bar with my roommate sometime after midnight. We’re on a quest for tacos and we’re discussing the finer points—Should we get pork or beef? From where? How many?—when you decide to make our conversation your business. You’ve been loitering outside the bar with your friends, but you hear the word “taco” and soon you’re in lock step with us, asking us about our “tacos,” laughing, hooting back to your friends. We push past—literally shoving you—and continue on our way.
Here are some things you should know about my week: I’m on the phone with my mom on my way to yoga when a guy leans out of a doorway, drags on his cigarette and gestures with his pelvis how much he is enjoying my yoga pants. I’m walking home from the grocery store and a middle-aged guy, maybe high, maybe drunk, yells at me, “Get back here, girl!” I’m waiting for the bus when a carful of bros whips by; one leans out the passenger window, points at the girls waiting at the bus stop and yells, “Yes, Yes, No…Yes!” After work, I’m walking from the train to my apartment and four teenagers are trailing me, discussing my body, guessing measurements; they know I can hear them.
Sometime, when you’re ready for a change of perspective, download the Google plug-in “Jailbreak the Patriarchy.” A quick click flips the pronouns and other gendered words in whatever digital content you’re reading, exposing sexist or sexualized word choice, structure, and style. Boom, bias exposed! Give it a whirl with coverage of female politicians and ask yourself whether anyone would spend this much time discussing Joe Biden’s hairstyles. Try it with pop stars and imagine a world where a teenaged girl could, without being pilloried, comfortably talk about her sexuality using the same language as 18-year-old One Direction singer Harry Styles. Jailbreak whatever you want, just to see what it looks like on the other side.
When will someone make a gender-swapping plug-in for real life? Where’s my magic button, the switch I can flip to show men like you what it feels like on the other side of your “jokes” and “compliments”? Maybe the first time someone comments on your ass in public you’ll take it as a compliment, but what about the next 12 times? How will you like having a private conversation interrupted so that some dude can get in a lame sexual pun or a rude gesture to impress his friends? What about your personal space? How do you like sharing that with aggressive strangers?
You don’t get it because in your world, this is just you being clever and hilarious, just a little light-hearted late-night banter! Where’s my sense of humor? Dude, you are the third, or fifth, or ninth man this week to be rude to me, to think that what you want—to get a rise from your friends, to make your desire known, to make me uncomfortable, to project some twisted “proof” of your virility into the air—is more important than my comfort or safety. This is not an anomaly. This is constant.
So what? You say. So you get a lot of attention, why is that such a bad thing? Annoying, maybe, but no harm, no foul! You know you mean no harm, but how do I know that? When women get harassed on the street, or at a bar, or on their walk home from work, do you know what we think? We wonder, am I going to get out of this safely? Am I going to walk away from this? Where are my keys if I need to stab someone in the eye? Are there people on the street? Will they hear me? Which way will I run? Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin. I’m exaggerating, but only so slightly. Does it disturb you that we think like this? That we have to think like this?
Comedian Ever Mainard sums up this mindset in her excellent bit about the fact that women are constantly aware that “their rape” could happen at any time. She says, “The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47pm, how old am I? 25? Alright, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?” I’ve had that moment. I was 20, it was about 11pm and I was on a sidewalk in Barcelona. It didn’t happen, and that’s a story for another time, but Mainard’s observations stands; I remember thinking “So this is how it happens.”
Do you want to know the saddest part? When I started this essay describing my Friday night, I almost included descriptions of what my roommate and I were wearing. I almost mentioned that we were casually dressed, that our clothes weren’t revealing, that neither of us was drunk. I almost fell into the trap of proving to you how undeserving we were of harassment and I’m embarrassed to admit that to you now. That’s how easy it is to go into victim mode, how easy it is to absorb the lesson that you are somehow responsible for unwanted attention, for harassment, even for assault. No one is deserving of your behavior.
So, to you, the man on the sidewalk, I’m quite sure you will never read this essay. You will never watch Ever Mainard’s comedy, or download Jailbreak the Patriarchy, or spend a minute imagining how those women that you harassed on Friday night actually felt. You probably don’t even remember Friday night, and if you do, your memory is the sound of your friends laughing.
But that is not all that happened. You were a harasser, the guy they make subway posters about, the guy who contributes to rape culture. Ask your female friends, if you have any, if they’ve ever walked home late at night with a key pushed through their knuckles, just in case, if they’ve ever crossed the street to avoid a stranger, just in case, if they’ve ever taken the long way home because of the weird guy on the corner, just in case. Ask them if they’ve ever made up a boyfriend to get a guy to leave them alone, if they’ve ever gotten off a train car and moved to the next because you just never know, if they’ve ever shelled out for a cab because men like you were at the bus stop. Do you really want to be that guy?
Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.