Thursday, March 27, 2008

Verbal Harassment at the Ferry Plaza.

*Ed. note: while we make it a policy to not include race in our postings here at Hollaback-SF, this particular story is an example of how race does play a role in harassment at times. The race of the author and of the person harassing her is an important part of this story. Please feel free to comment on any aspect of this post.

Yesterday, I went to the Ferry Building to run some errands. I was walking through the plaza reading Nothin' But Good Times Ahead when I heard a call behind me.

"Hey, beautiful!"

It wasn't coming from someone right behind me, so I ignored it. It sounded like he was ten feet away or so, and whatever–it's not worth my time to face off with some jackass catcaller. It was just one comment, and maybe that would be it.

"Do you love me?"

The passive response of ignoring him clearly isn't working. I was irritated at the first comment and I'm growing angry, but I tell myself that maybe he's not yelling at me. Maybe he's yelling at
someone else, not that it would make the situation any better–by not facing him and not calling him out on his verbal harassment, whether it's me or someone else he's catcalling, I implicitly condone him harassing a woman because she's a woman and she dares to walk outside in the city. Dares to exist and live in public spaces.

"You don't love me."

Okay, I'm angry now. I don't like sexist jackasses who yell indiscriminately at women and feel entitled to sexually harass women and think of women as sex objects for their viewing pleasure rather than as people and make women feel unsafe, unwelcome, and afraid in public spaces. I'm thinking about facing him and calling him on his shit.

"Fine. Go back to China!"

Ok, that's it. That is absolutely it and I'm not taking racist shit from anyone. Sexual harassment is bad enough, but the combination of racism and sexism makes me see red. I stop, whip around, and see that I'm the only stereotypically "Chinese" woman in the vicinity, so there's no question that he's been yelling at me the whole time. I see one man in the area, an African-American man lugging a suitcase.* I yell, "Excuse me, are you talking to me?"

He looks at me. "Yeah."

I'm furious. Livid. Sexual harassment simply for being a woman is run of the mill for me–I don't like it and I'm increasingly likely to not tolerate it, but the racist comment just broke my restraint. I yell at him, "What the hell makes you think it's okay to yell at random women
and harass them, you asshole?"

He sulkily replies, "You harass us all the time."

I see red. I yell at him, "I've never harassed you in my life, and it is not acceptable to harass random women. Fuck you!"

I've never seen this man in my life. I've never harassed an African-American person in my life. I've never harassed anyone for racist or sexist reasons in my life. His bullshit attempt to use
anti-African-American racism as a justification for anti-Asian racism and anti-woman sexism is complete bullshit. If anything, having experienced racism himself should have taught him that racism is wrong, period, and it's poisonous to everyone. Using it himself is hypocritical and it makes him petty, vindictive, and immature. I learned in kindergarten that two wrongs don't make a right, and his attempt to use racism to justify racism and sexism is simply nothing more than perpetuating the system.

He walks away and I storm off, mind awhirl with anger, loathing, fear, and adrenaline. Facing a harasser always results in the volatile emotional cocktail of the flight or fight response. While I'm fighting, the anger burns away almost all of the fear, but as soon as it's over, I'm left shaking and the fear lurches back. Women are told not to respond to harassers because as soon as they know you're paying attention, they'll ramp it up. They might grow violent. And so we have
to endure the verbal and physical attacks on our persons and let them go on, because if we don't, something worse might happen. I'm not listening anymore to that passive endorsement of harassment and a patriarchal society where women are advised to endure harassment because they can't expect anything better.

Behind every "Hey, beautiful!" is the notion that I, a woman, exist for the harasser's viewing pleasure. I'm walking along the sidewalk so harassers can stare at me and remind me that because I'm a woman, I don't deserve respect. Because I'm a woman, I don't deserve to feel
safe outside. Because I'm a woman, I'm a sex object and I shouldn't be outside running errands, jogging, working, or living. Because I'm a woman, I deserve to be catcalled and intimidated.

Insults and catcalls aren't just words. First of all, words have power. They're the predominant form of communication between humans and they're used to cajole, placate, threaten, thrill, and more. Words matter. Second, behind every catcall, every reminder that in the harasser's sexist worldview, women exist for men and women are inferior to men and he's entitled to treat me as lesser, is the reality that one in every six women is raped at least once and far
more women are sexually assaulted. I turned around and yelled at my harasser, but the entire time, I was thinking about how he was larger than I was and quite capable of assaulting me. If someone thinks it's okay to act sexist and racist, that person might not have qualms about
attacking someone perceived as inferior for sexist and racist reasons. The entire time I was in the Ferry Building, I was scanning the crowd, looking for him so that I'd be prepared if he tried to grab, grope, shove, bump, or hit me. This alertness and fear is part of being a woman, even in liberal, progressive San Francisco.

I faced the harasser and stood up for myself. It's my way of challenging every sexist harasser who thinks it's okay to objectify me–to break out of the box they put me in and say, fuck you. Fuck you and your attempts to make me a passive object who'll succumb to your oh so charming insults and swoon before you, or a victim who'll stoically endure your fucking insults. I am a person, an individual, a woman, and I am active. I deserve respect, civility, and safety by
virtue of being a human being, but if you think you can take those away from me because I'm a woman, I'll take them for myself.


* I only note his race because it's relevant to his pathetic justification for his sexual and racist harassment. As pocochina says, I don't give a flying fuck if a man harassing me is white, black,
yellow, brown, or any other color. He's harassing me and that's what matters to me; his ethnicity is irrelevant.

Submitted by Pizza D. in San Francisco.


Linda said...

Harrassment is harrassment. It's sad that you were singled out by someone of another race simply due to your race. It's not fair! Woman are born targets, and then we have to mix race into a situation like this, it's not fair.

I've been harrassed by men of my own race, and the race of many others. I have been harrassed by women before too. People as a whole need to jsut respect one another a lot more!

Janelle said...

You wrote: "Facing a harasser always results in the volatile emotional cocktail of the flight or fight response. While I'm fighting, the anger burns away almost all of the fear, but as soon as it's over, I'm left shaking and the fear lurches back."

Thank you for being able to articulate what happened to you. You are a good writer. I just faced a confrontation myself and I couldn't understand why I kept shaking even an hour after the indident. "Volotile emotional cocktail" is the proper word for what happened to me.