Guest Post: Women of Color and Street Harassment, the Unspoken Dialogue
Written in 2014
For the past week or so the “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” social experiment has gone viral, amidst claims of radically unrealistic and antisocial feminism/misandry. In addition, within the last few days the issue of cherry-picking in the editing room, which left only men of color to be gazed upon in a most unfavorable light in their relentless pursuit of a white women (Reference: Othello), likewise served to continue the discussion.
However, in spite of all of the dialogue, one voice has remained deafeningly silent (or silenced) on the issue: women of color. Far from the stereotyped misnomer of our immunity to street harassment (at least to the extent that we are rarely discussed in social experiments such as this), women of color such as myself are also harassed on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, there is no amount of staring a hole into the pavement or turning up your headphones to full blast that can deter our harassers.
Of the more extreme cases, my friends have often reported everything from a grab of the arm to a smack on the butt. Most of us, myself included, have experienced harassment on the level of borderline stalking at least once in our lives, if not more; but perhaps not all of us have experienced a physical invasion of our space.
Truth be told, there is an obvious and serious problem in the minority community (Black and Hispanic, esp) when it comes to street harassment. I am willing to admit that for every instance of white-white catcalling, the occurrence is graver for women of color being harassed by men of color.
This is not to remove the level of uncomfortably that we all share but it is to say that men of color often take it to the next level. You can easily be called a “bitch” for remaining silent and ignoring their advances. Often you walk away with shattered nerves and an undertone of embarrassment (as you try to at least seem unphased yet inside want to run).
Harassment itself has always reminded me of that annoying kid in your class when you were younger, who was always convinced that it was his right to annoy you; his dark aura looming over you but never touching you and you being helpless to do anything about it (“I’m not touching you!”). No, I’m not insinuating that young boys are inherently sexual harassers. But it is a good analogy to the fact that as a woman there is always a constant encroachment on your desire not to communicate.
Of course if we do not communicate back in kind or at all, we are made to suffer with attacks of sexual epithets and other degrading words coupled with unsympathetic online communities who simply think that we were being “rude”. This is clearly a social problem. We are made to suffer for keeping in fortitude with our right to say “no” and our right to protect ourselves. For women of color especially the right to say “no” is a powerful thing. It is needed more in our community; where it seems there are always men of color looking to smooth talk a “shorty” on any street corner. Not communicating with random men on the street often means another day of not being a statistic.
For many of us, we just want to get through another day, preferably invisible and minding our own business. Why is it that men can do that but women cannot? A woman can do nothing yet still be called names for her silence. It is odd that we often look to those who do nothing (literally) and blame them for the very things that their harassers have the power to stop. Always the victim-blaming culture.
Silence is not a crime.
Teresilla is a NYC-based indie screenwriter and photographer. She writes for several publications in the realm of entertainment. In addition to Prysm, DeVour, The Offering: Heavy Metal Magazine and Graveyard Shift Sisters, she occasionally writes articles of a socially conscious nature; drawing upon personal experience to discuss topics such as homelessness and sexual harassment. You can contact Teresilla at Modernsappho@yahoo.com.