Overreacting

March 18 to 24 is International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

Summit NJ Springfield Avenue Sidewalk

This is neither my first nor my most recent experience with street harassment, but it is one that upset me more than others.

“Doing some yoga?”

It was a few years ago. I was, in fact, just leaving my yoga studio. I’d stayed after class a bit to chat with the teacher and was on my way down the street to where I’d parked my car.

“Not anymore,” I muttered, turning away.

The brilliant questioner had been hanging out — or lurking — in the vacant lot next to the studio. Now he started to follow me.

Instantly, I was too aware of my lower cut tank top, my sweaty cleavage, my fitted yoga pants. In class, I hadn’t given them a second thought because they let me move as I wanted. Now, however, I pictured them as a liability.

“I bet you’re pretty flexible.”

It was dusk; we seemed to be alone. My teacher had parked on the other side of the studio. I hadn’t thought to look back for her until now — and now if I did, I’d have to turn around to meet his gaze.

I walked faster.

He speed up too. “Hey, I’m sorry if I came across as creepy,” he started, as if his creepiness had remained in the past. “I just wondered if you wanted to give me your number–“

“Not a chance.”

“I bet you’re really feisty in bed,” he laughed, grabbing my bicep from behind.

I think he must have been just about my height exactly, because when I rammed my elbow back, it hit him just about in the eye. I was not aiming, but my arms are strong and my elbows are pointy — and I did hit with as much force as I could in that moment.

Then I turned and ran the last several steps to my car.

What bothers me most about the event, though, is what happened the day after. I mentioned it to a then-friend whose response was, “I know you were creeped out, but you didn’t need to hurt the guy. That part might have been overreacting.” (Strangely enough, then-friend and I largely drifted apart from meaningful contact shortly after that conversation.) I’m not sure if then-friend objected that I’d used physical force at all or to the amount I’d described (i.e., enough to cause pain and potentially injury).

What I’d wanted was some kind of validation, support, acknowledgement that having people leer at me, publicly comment on my body and my (perceived) sexuality, and touch me without my permission is not okay — that Accosting Dudebro was responsible for 100% of the out-of-lineness that had occurred. What I got was a schooling in how to be harassed “correctly.”

Either way, my thoughts remain the same: Reacting in a way that moved me away from my harasser and to safety is not overreacting. I certainly don’t think mine was the only correct reaction to such a circumstance, but I will never describe it as reacting wrongly.

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19 comments on “Overreacting
  1. kuangning says:

    Y’know, at the point where he reached out and grabbed you, that was physical assault. You are in no way out of line in responding to physical assault with the physical force necessary to deter your assailant, and it’s just too bad for the assailant if that involves some damage to him. Maybe next time he thought a little harder about whether he should put his hands on some strange woman.

    • Tori says:

      I agree. And even if it’s true (and I know my strength, so this is a reasonable extrapolation) that the amount of force I used was objectively greater than this guy’s — Given that he was the assaulter, that negates whether I’m supposed to take that on as my problem.

  2. Wow who says “I bet you’re feisty in bed?” That is just perverse and rude. I’m sorry you had that experience.

    • Tori says:

      Wow who says “I bet you’re feisty in bed?”

      Someone looking to get a reaction from someone else and/or make them uncomfortable. (At least, in the context of two strangers on the street.)

  3. Jessie E. says:

    No…it’s really not. I can imagine how afraid I would be in a situation like that. The ways it could have ended differently. That was no over-reaction.

    I don’t know why people don’t understand this…but harrassment like that is so obviously not just an arm grab or a comment. It’s a threat, and for the love of god, you shouldn’t be expected to smile and be polite when someone is threatening you.

    • Tori says:

      Yup. And though I’d originally — in my convo to my friend — described the grabbing as something like the way one might reach out to stop a friend from leaving, not, like a hard clenching grab — That same non-clenching grab means something totally different in the context of an unwanted advance by a stranger.

  4. Quercki says:

    Chances are good that you prevented a future rape. That guy’s going to think twice before doing that again!

    • Tori says:

      I appreciate the sentiment, though I’m not totally sure I agree. What I mean is, I doubt very much that I did anything to make this person regard women (or people he reads as women) as people with autonomy worth respecting. It’s quite possible that I helped deter this as a method, but with a surrounding world that largely enables rather than prevents rape, I expect that the biggest practical change might be that he changed methods.

  5. I would have done the same. I HAVE done the same. Whenever someone lays a hand on me intentionally without my permission, zie immediately earns a sharp knee or elbow, even if zie was not creeping on me verbally and following me to a dark area at night. I’m sorry your friend didn’t validate your response, but we do. Jedi hugs!

    • Tori says:

      Thank you.

      And yeah, I’ve spent enough time around animals growing up — particularly animals of the “bigger than me” variety — where the assumption is that it is the approacher’s job to respect the approachee’s boundaries, else a swift kick or even bite might ensue. One does not get to cross personal space without either knowing that it is okay or being prepared for the possibility that it isn’t.

      • Shauna says:

        You know, I had never thought to connect the way I approach animals with the way I would like to be approached, but you’re absolutely right. I wouldn’t go up to a strange cat and immediately pick hir up; I watch body language and let the cat decide whether I can touch hir and then follow hir lead. And people wonder why I can approach animals without getting scratched or bitten.

        Would that humans treated me that way all the time.

        • Tori says:

          Yup. I learned it in the context of horses, who are much bigger than me, but I’m reminded of it in the context of my small dogs — who are both rescues and who both have some real fears regarding being touched or loomed over (from their perspective) or whatever in ways that feel wrong or intimidating to them.

  6. Dana Reid says:

    You did the right thing. I would like to retrospectively insert all of your commenters into your friend’s role after that happened. You were right, and good on you!

    I love that you’re not allowed to hurt someone until they’re already hurt you. Good plan! He grabbed you: the “right” amount of damage is the amount that (a) you can most easily inflict and (b) distract them long enough for you to get away.

    The idea people in general, and women in particular, should wait until they’re at a severe disadvantage before doing [i]anything[/i], but then of course they’d better fight hard or how was the other person supposed to know to stop? does my head in. >:(

  7. Brittany-Ann says:

    I’m proud of you. You did the right thing.

    As for him, he got exactly what he deserved.

  8. [...] over at Any Time Yoga shared one of her street harassment stories, so I’ve decided to share one of [...]

  9. Anna says:

    Fantastic. I hope I have the courage/instinct to react in that way if I’m ever in that position. I have carried pepper spray for something like 15 years, but have never had to use it.

    • Tori says:

      I used to carry pepper spray as well. When I moved out of my parents’ house to go to college, a family friend (who was/is a sheriff deputy) got it for me. Somewhere along the way, it got lost in a variety of moves. (I did carry it through college but stopped carrying it regularly when I became a teacher. In a lot of locations, it constitutes a weapon on campus — so.) For whatever reason, I didn’t have it with me that evening. Though even if I had, I’m not sure I would have had the time/presence of mind to pull it out. In my particular situation, there was almost zero time between “feel like I should be able to walk away and not make this a big deal” and “hit NOW.”

  10. MC says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I think you did the right thing, and I am glad that you are safe.

    I would also drop friends who disagree with the use of violence for self defence.

    • Tori says:

      I’m not sure this person categorically disagreed with the use of violence for self defense, just the amount I used compared to how they perceived the threat. Either way, though, we didn’t speak much after that discussion, and I haven’t contacted them at all in over a year.

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