• Fri, Jun 10 2011

New York Woman Hits Back At Street Harassment, Literally

Have you ever kept your head down and ignored gropes or catcalls because you were afraid to stand up to your harassers? I don’t think I know any woman who wouldn’t answer “yes” to this question. It’s the near-universality of this (primarily) female experience that’s caused such an overwhelming response to this blog post by writer/editor Kate Spencer, aptly titled “Today A Man Touched Me On The Subway And So I Hit Him.” As of right now, it’s gathered over 7,000 “likes” and 200 comments on Tumblr, the blogging platform on which it appears.

The whole post really bears reading, but the meat of it is this:

It all happened quickly, in seconds, as these things always do, and sure enough as I passed him his hand jutted out and stroked my thigh. Without thinking I turned around and hit him as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t even stop walking, nor did I say anything. I did turn around to look at him as I hit him, and his face was one of shock but not of surprise. He knew why I had hit him; he just couldn’t believe he hadn’t gotten away with it.

I am not someone who condones violence. But I’m so tired of my safety and personal space being invaded over and over again. I am a 32-year-old woman. I am a mother. I am not someone you can fondle without my consent because you feel like it, nor is any other girl or woman. Not my friends. Not my daughter.

Now, I am not someone who condones violence either, but I’m hard pressed to condemn Spencer’s actions here. In fact, I find her story downright cathartic. I’ve tried scolding street harassers on occasion, and they have invariably responded in super scary ways. Like Spencer, I don’t usually feel safe enough to respond at all. The speed with which sexual come-ons can turn into unbridled anger if you talk back shows that street harassment is less about some twisted idea of “passion” than power, aggression, and other dark sentiments these men really need to get a handle on without making it my problem.

She also explains very succinctly how and why even verbal harassment makes many women feel fucking terrified to venture out into public space without male accompaniment:

Last month, after I yelled at some men in a car who made kissing noises at me, I was terrified to then walk down a quiet downtown street out of fear that they’d circle around in their car and hurt me. These moments force us to operate in a state of fear. They define who is in control and who can have their control taken away.

I’m not in any way suggesting this as a practical answer, but think about it: if every man who harassed a woman in public got sucker punched, they’d probably think twice about doing it again, wouldn’t they? Yes, yes they would. It doesn’t seem like the man was very badly hurt, and she certainly got her message across. But even if you’re not ready to start hitting people, there are lots of other ways to take the power back from your harassers, including, but not limited to, recording them and publicly shaming them on the Internet. Visit ihollaback.org for some ideas, and maybe re-read that blog post to get psyched about fighting back.

Share This Post:
  • lisa

    one of my favorite come backs is “did your mother teach you to treat woman that way?” and i always carry pepper spray with me.

  • mdc

    Wow, how many times are you going to qualify this story with, “Now, I don’t recommend this…”? Thanks for contributing to the notion that whenever women defend ourselves, we have to apologize for it.

    • Jamie Peck

      You are half right; there was one too many. (Since fixed!) However, the fact remains that physical assault is illegal, and it might be kind of irresponsible for me to tell readers they should engage in it.

  • Somnilee

    The best response I’ve learnt, I learnt on this site and it’s “That’s no way to talk to a woman who you don’t know” (I believe it was originally “with whom you’re not acquainted” but that was too wordy for some guys) – it’s perfect because they can hardly respond with “Yes it is”.

  • Arnie

    I once had a guy burp at me as I was passing him. He was with his mates, and clearly wanted to get some kind of reaction out of me.

    I burped right back at him and kept walking.

  • Idy

    I’ve hit someone before after I was touched inappropriately. Once on a train, another on a tram. I will do it again.

  • G

    I’ve flipped off the lewd drive by cat calls before…they weren’t in hitting range.

  • Greg

    You have to be careful that you don’t hit the wrong guy who’ll just get angrier and hit you much harder than you hit him.