This was an open letter I wrote to Facebook regarding street harassment.
“Usually I keep these things to myself but I thought I’d share…
To the guy that whistled at me tonight:
Stop. Think. Am I gonna give you the time of day? Am I gonna stand there, smile, and be flattered by your show of attention?
Do yourself a favor. Shut up. Treating me like an object of your pleasure. No. Do you know what you got instead of my interest? A girl very insecure with herself. A girl that spent the past few weeks dressing in leggings and oversized sweaters to not draw attention to herself on her walks to school. A girl who finally dressed up a bit for herself after feeling like absolute crap, to then feel crushed and angry by a single whistle. You don’t understand. I’m not trying to please you. I’m doing it for myself. And to make it about you is selfish. So do me and all of the others I know who are recipients to this kind of harassment a favor. Shut up.”
Here is some back story of this encounter.
I begin to walk on the main road because every woman knows it is safer that way. My hands tightly grip the keys in my pocket. While keeping a fast but steady pace, I then point my gaze down at the sidewalk in front of me as to not make eye contact with a potentially harmful stranger.
Soon enough, I approach the huge intersection as the walk signal turns red, forcing me to bring my pace to a stop. As a result, I begin to feel vulnerable. Then the walk sign signals me to cross, and I begin to pick up my pace as I pass a stranger. I’ve got my guard up and my head down. And yet rather than continuing on his way, he turns his head as I walk by and lets out that whistle.
My heart sinks into my chest. That whistle stuck to me, dragging me down. Its weight felt heavy as it echoed in my head. And I carried it the rest of the way home.
Street harassment can directly affect mental health in women.
Street harassment is a real problem and is not something to be taken lightly. I was trained to give the silent treatment and just pray that they would move on; that they would get their fix and just keep moving. It is draining to feel powerless. These experiences can be traumatizing and can affect our everyday lives from the routes we take home to how we interact within public spaces.
You have probably heard the stories of other women, through friends, or have experienced it yourself. A few years ago, the project “Dear catcallers: It’s not a compliment” was started by Noa Jansma to shed light on her personal experiences with street harassment. This project helped me to realize the toll my experiences with street harassment have taken on my mental health, especially while in public. It was one of the first times that I had seen someone share their experiences of street harassment in a highly public way, making me feel less ashamed of my feelings.
According to an essay “Creeps and Casanovas: Experiences, Explanations, and Effects of Street Harassment,” by Harmony B. Sullivan, Tracy L. Lord, and Maureen C. McHugh, sexual harassment, especially in the form of street harassment can make women more vulnerable to mental health issues and other symptoms such as, “Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even menstrual pain.” The added pressure women have to brush off these sexist events as insignificant causes women to disregard their own feelings of discomfort, causing more damage.
I wrote that open letter to say that if you have ever been in a similar situation or have experienced any form of street harassment, you are not alone and your feelings are valid. The feeling of isolation in these moments can linger for longer than we think and can cause mental harm. In light of this, rather than brush off these events as nothing, share and be open with others you trust about those frustrations. I found a few communities online who talk about these experiences and would like to share their resources here for those who need it.
- Hands Off Club: @handsoffclub
- Our Streets Now: @ourstreetsnow
- The Catcall Collective: @thecatcallcollective
- Zoe Stromberg: @cutecatcalls
Credit for “Creeps and Casanovas” essay:
Sullivan, Harmony & Lord, Tracy & McHugh, Maureen. (2010). Creeps and Casanovas: Experiences, Explanations, and Effects of Street Harassment.