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