Of all the indignities one has to suffer on account of being publicly female, nothing irks me quite as much as being screamed at from of passing cars. Or so is the case as of late, anyway.
Harassment by random jerks is, of course, nothing new.
It happens on Internet forums. It happens to children – sometimes with terrible consequences (and lingering questions as to what, exactly, can be done about such phenomena). Even record companies are not above harassment nowadays, or so I’ve read.
Yet, what I hate about drive-by harassment in particular is how bloody cowardly it is, and how unnerving for the victim it can also be. There’s nothing quite as easy and consequence-free as rolling down your window and shouting something malicious at a startled pedestrian before speeding away.
I’ve traveled enough to know that this sort of thing happens everywhere – from sleepy suburban subdivisions in the Bible Belt to cosmopolitan cities in Muslim countries to the parking lots of upscale shopping malls in the heart of Europe. Here, there, and everywhere, the common denominator seems to be gender: the perpetrators are usually male and their targets are usually female.
My love of travel combined with my love of walking results in the fact that I often get shouted at in languages I don’t understand. This creates an entirely new dimension of creepy. What is the guy saying?
“Hey sexy, lookin’ good!”…?
“Your visible elbows are offensive to me!”…?
“Dear God, I’ve just discovered an enraged king cobra under my seat, please do something!”…?
I may never know.
All humour aside, cat-calls are generally similar throughout this sorry little world of ours. The tone is usually mocking. Obscene gestures are sometimes introduced for the purpose of, ah, clarification as to the perpetrators’ intentions, but the sexual component is usually presumed by the target.
As a frequent target myself, I never know just how to respond. Flip the jerk off before he manages to drive away? Shout something menacing back? Whip out my mobile phone and take a picture of his license plate?
Fearing an escalated attack, I usually respond by not responding. Sometimes, there is a bit of satisfaction even in this approach. Bullies, as we all know, thrive on attention. By refusing to grant it to them, we consign them to irrelevance.
And yet, every once in a while, irrelevance just doesn’t seem to be enough.
Consider the scene last night: I was coming home from the shop, on a well-lit street in a peaceful and prosperous corner of the Arab world.
Next to the sidewalk, there was an empty row of parking spaces. An enormous SUV suddenly swerved into the parking lane, brakes screeching, nearly making me drop my shopping bags in surprise. Predictably, some goon started shouting something incomprehensible out of the window, and waving his hands around. I walked away and, to my surprise, the car followed me. I sped up, and the car sped up. The goon continued shouting, and, as I saw from the corner of my eye, he was also grinning maniacally in a manner reminiscent of evil clowns.
In a fair and just and generally more badass universe, I would have walked up to that car. It would have had nowhere to go, since the driving lanes next to it were at a dead stop on account of a red light. I would have walked right up there, grabbed his collar with my left hand, and let loose a bitch-slap of fury with my right hand, preemptively breaking the hurriedly raised window if necessary. I would have wiped my knuckles on his (probably fancy) shirt, licked the scrapes clean – tasting iron and victory.
I would have been done with all that before the light turned green.
Unfortunately, I don’t live in an action movie.
In the real world, women who stand up to harassers (or, for that matter, criminals) can easily wind up injured or dead. Not only is it not worth it, but society will inevitably label you as an idiot who was “asking for it” – thus ensuring that your wake is full of acrimonious debate, as opposed to the dignified organ music and hysterical sobs that your posthumous self undoubtedly deserves.
There’s something depressing about all of this.
Depressing and tiresome.
Last night, I did what I could: pointedly adjusted the volume on my iPod, mouthed a “f— you” in the general direction of the vehicle following me, and continued stomping down the sidewalk. The light changed, and the SUV screeched away. I caught myself hoping that it would crash – nothing serious of course, just a fender-bender, just a small sign from God that “hey dude, you suck.” It didn’t happen, but God is said to work in mysterious ways.
I also realized that I had broken my pattern of straight-up ignoring the jackasses in moving vehicles (pedestrian jackasses usually get my patented death stare, on the other hand). I’m not sure if that’s good or bad; but it sure felt good.
My responses, however, won’t mean a thing until more men are enlightened to the basic fact that women do not walk down streets in order to provide said men with amusement. Oh, and that barking at strangers like an inbred Rotweiler does not make you look manly, powerful, or cool.