I remember what I was wearing: A blue tank top with a picture of a peacock, jean short-shorts, and flip-flops. I remember the weather: High summer, sweet grass scenting the air and the sun just beginning its slow descent to the horizon. I was walking down a country road, lost in my thirteen-year-old daydreams, when suddenly —
A car horn split the air with its grating clamor. A group of men in the car waved their hands and heads out the windows, hollering at me.
It felt like I jumped a mile. My body flooded with shock. Fear. Self-consciousness. The moment before, I was at ease in my space, my body, my summer daydreams. Now, my sense of peace was ripped away like a wax strip torn from the heart.
That was the first time I was street harassed.
Do you remember the first time you were street harassed? Were you a little girl? A young woman setting off for college? Or has it happened so often you can’t even remember the start?
If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve experienced street harassment — and not just one time. In fact, some surveys show that as many as 85% of women report experiencing incidences of harassment in public space — including behaviors like staring, sexual comments, whistling, and even groping — before the age of 17. That means almost all of us have been street harassed before we’re even licensed to drive.
Street harassment affects women from all backgrounds, races, classes, and sexualities, though it can have a particularly difficult impact on women of color and members of the LGBTQ community. And while men can experience street harassment too, they are often harassed for being perceived as LGBTQ or “feminine.”
For many of us, the very pervasiveness of street harassment normalizes it, making us feel that it is inevitable or that we must simply “grin and bear it.” For too long, popular culture and even people close to us have reiterated these negative messages by dismissing street harassment as a “compliment,” as “no big deal,” or even as something that we invite through the clothes we wear, how we look, or where we choose to walk.
But let’s make one thing clear: Street harassment is never our fault and is much more than a “minor inconvenience.” Street harassment is a global public health epidemic.
Read the full article here. Cover image by Joanna Neborsky for Teen Vogue.