Last night, as I was walking to the train from my office, as every other day, some random dudes hit on me.
“Hey pink, where ya going?” (I was wearing a pink dress.)
“You are so sexy, you know that?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
So basically, a day. (Except for the pink part, it’s not usually my color.)
I started to idly wonder about how many times a day guys on the street say things to me. Obviously, it depends on what I’m doing–a day that I spend mostly in the car, or alone in my own house is less likely to provoke unwanted attention than one where I’m walking around in a city. But making a conservative guess, I’m probably getting hit on every other day, walking down the street thinking about what to make for dinner that night, or composing email in my head, or just listening to music. Obviously, there are some days when it happens 10 times, and some days when it doesn’t happen at all–but it’s probably something like 175, 180 encounters per year.
This morning, I was scrolling tumblr, and I saw this post, and it reminded me that the very first time I was street harassed, I was 13 years old. It scared the shit out of me then–some guys yelling at me out of a car, when I was walking home from middle school.
And then I did the math.
I’m in my late 40s. And I’ve been getting street harassed since I was 13 years old. Leaving out the 2 years I was pregnant*, that adds up to over 30 years of random interactions with strangers. If it happens at least 180 times a year, that means I have probably been street harassed more than 5,000 times in my life.
Last year, I had a guy hit on me while I was taking out the office trash on Election Night. A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street blowing my nose (thanks, allergies!) when a guy decided he needed to talk to me. Is anything less sexy than watching someone take out the trash, or blow their nose?
I’ve been lucky, in my life, that 99% of the time this kind of stuff happens, it’s totally harmless. Mostly, I am not afraid when random people walk up to me and start talking. But the 1% of encounters that went weird? Make the other 99% feel like they COULD escalate into something else, even when the guy has no intention of doing anything aggressive.
I’m an average looking woman, not a supermodel. It’s not about how I look, or how I dress, or where I am. This is the average woman’s experience.
I feel bad, writing this, and thinking that younger women might read it and think, “oh shit, I thought I was going to grow out of having that happen to me.” It’s not. (Though check back in 30 years or so, maybe by my late 70s I’ll have stopped having it happen.)
And I don’t have some great policy solution (although if you feel like kicking down a few bucks to Hollaback, you should definitely do that). I’d also be remiss if I didn’t also link to this great post by my friend Chris Norris, on what his father taught him about street harassment (and what he decided to do about it).
I do want to encourage all the men out there to do the fucking math.
If I’ve been hit on 5,000 times in your life, and have yet to ever go home with a guy who tried to pick me up on the street–what makes you think that your line is going to be the one that finally breaks down my resistance? Sheesh. Give it up.
*Multiple commenters have pointed out that pregnancy is no protection from street harassment, and that is true. I did take those years out, because I think I experienced less harassment than in non-pregnant years–but there is definitely a very special kind of guy out there, who will hit on a pregnant woman on the street.