Street Harassment Action
By Optimus Ovary
***Trigger Warning: contains graphic detail of an instance of sexual assault***
It was a cold evening in May when it happened. I was probably thinking about something completely inconsequential, like which extras I was going to order with my fondue from Bajo la Luna. An approaching car’s headlights lit up the graffiti on a wall in front of me, and I immediately became tense. Years of constant street harassment have taught me to pay attention to everything coming my direction when walking alone on a quiet street. I paused, took a deep breath, and glanced over my shoulder. Yep, a car, I thought. And then I felt a hand between my legs.
I gasped. A motorcyclist, whose presence was initially masked by the blaring car lights, drove off. “PINCHE PENDEJO!”, I yelled. It was a struggle to reconcile my blank mind with remembering phrases in Spanish I’ve been told to say in these situations. How do I make this a learning moment for this guy? How should I let him know that his behavior is absolutely not okay?
In the days when a presidential candidate in the US can say “grab them by the pussy” and still get elected, I’m left wondering how I can empower young women, including myself, in a world that is generally unsafe for women. No matter how independent, capable, and strong we feel, the pussy-grabbing Trumps and motorcyclists of the world will always take what they believe is their fair share of our bodies. Think street harassment is confined just to Guatemala? Think again. According to an international Cornell University survey, 85% of US women report being street harassed before the age of 17. I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s somehow worse here in Xela, but the truth is… it is bad everywhere.
You might be asking yourself what the point of this article is by now.
The point of this article is to say that women cannot bear this problem alone anymore. We’ve discussed the topic endlessly at girls’ nights; we’ve stayed home due to our anxiety about another incident. We’ve talked about ways to avoid this happening in the future, but the truth is, the objectification and harassment of women isn’t because of what we wear, where we live, or at what hour we’re out in public … it isn’t because of anything we do or don’t do. In fact, street harassment isn’t even exclusively a women’s issue—it’s a societal issue, and one that requires allied men to step up their game. When allied men are silent in this conversation it enables aggressors to continue doing their dirty work.
This is a general call to action for all of you men out there: if you see a man harassing a woman—something you’ve told me is something you object to and detest—say something. Listen to women’s stories. Bring them up at guys’ nights (those exist, right?) and find a moment to identify yourself in front of your male friends as an ally to women, and an activist against any form of violence towards them. Ask your friends for their commitment to preventing sexual assault