Since October is National Mental Health Month (at least, I know it is in NSW and the USA), I would like to take a minute to talk about feelings. (I know, gross.)
Before I start this, I just want it to be clear that I’m in no way qualified to talk about your mental health, particularly if it’s related to sexual harassment or assault. Here are some relevant numbers and websites you should visit (all mostly relevant to Australia and NSW in particular):
Everything I’m about to talk about is experiential, so while you can feel free to talk to me about your experiences with street harassment and/or sexual harassment, there are other channels that are far more qualified than I am. I only want the best for y’all.
Now, often, when I experience street harassment. I tend to have this moment of, “you know, it wasn’t really that bad.” That’s completely fine- that is, as long as that’s how you actually feel. If you’re brushing it off just because you don’t think you should be upset about it- well, the only thing that’s doing is hurting you.
The first time I got catcalled here in Sydney, I remember brushing it off to my friends and family off and online- and then later huddling in a corner and sobbing to myself in my room. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the first time I’d been harassed on the street, and it wasn’t that in that particular instance I had felt unsafe, but it did make me feel horrible and worthless. The fact that it affected me so intensely made the whole experience much worse.
I don’t want any of y’all to feel that way. Street harassment is terrible not just because it demeans and objectifies a person, but because it’s an accepted part of our culture. It’s not something that should be accepted, and no one should have to put on a brave face just because it is. Even things that would be considered micro-aggressions (i.e. men telling women on the street to smile) matter because they’re indicative of the culture we live in- and just how messed up our culture is.
It doesn’t matter how often or how seemingly innocuous the street harassment you experience may be, it’s still awful. You have a right to feel awful, and no one, not even I, should have to give you that right. Anyone who tells you that it’s not that bad, or that you’re over-reacting, or that you are, for whatever reason, just not allowed to feel what you feel- well, those guys are not being supportive. They’re being assholes.
If street harassment is getting you down, come talk to me. Or rant at me. Or cry at me. Or don’t! Whatever you choose, it’s your choice, and I wanna support y’all in whatever way I can. Take care of yourselves.
It is entirely possible to have nice, respectful interactions with people on the street. I’ve actually had quite a few nice interactions with strangers- at least, up until they ask me, “no, where are you really from?”
I think the problem a lot of (usually white) people have with interacting with POC (people of colour i.e. non-white people) is that there are certain seemingly innocuous things lots of people ask that bug the hell outta us.
It gets much worse when these people try to flirt with us.
To make your life easier, and more importantly, to make the lives of the POC you will later interact with easier, here is a list of things to avoid when conversing with strangers of different races.*
1.) Don’t compare them to celebrities
Being compared to celebrities can sometimes be really flattering, but it’s really easy for people to tell when you only know about three non-white celebrities.
If you compare an Indian girl (or worse, a non-Indian South Asian girl) to “that chick from Slumdog millionaire,” even if you genuinely think she looks like Freida Pinto, her first thought is not going to be, “wow, they must think I’m really pretty”; it’s going to be, “wow, you don’t know many Indian people.”
On that note, try to also avoid Disney characters. As Roxi Grace said on our fb page:
2.) Don’t ask them to cook for you.
I won’t ask you to throw me a shrimp on the barbie or whatever, you don’t ask me to cook you chicken adobo.
And yeah, the cute Chinese girl you’re talking to probably does know where all the best Chinese restaurants are. So does the Internet. Ask them.
3.) “No, where are you really from?”
Our ethnicity is not a guessing game. If a person says they’re from Australia, this might mean they were born here. This might mean that they’ve lived most of their life here. What it always means is, “I am from Australia, please don’t ask further questions.” If they want you to know their whole ethnic background, they’ll tell you.
4.) If your compliment is specific to a race, stop using it.
“Spicy” and “fiery” describe dishes, not Latina women. “Exotic” describes tropical birds, not Asians. Yellow fever is a disease, and jungle fever should just not be used, period.
And I don’t care when you watched Full Metal Jacket, “me so horny, me love you long time,” is still such a tired reference. Stop.
5.) Unless we ask, we don’t want to know what you did during your gap year.
I think it’s great that you worked with a charity overseas, but when you talk about these people, please talk about them as people, not charity cases.
If a person tells you they’re Khmer, and you start spouting off about your time in Cambodia, and how “strong” and “persevering” they all were despite their poverty or whatever, that Khmer person is allowed to hit you.
6.) We’re not impressed that you’ve learned something about our culture.
I love it when people are excited about learning about other cultures. I like it less when you mention is just to look worldly and cultured. I like it a lot less when you try to simplify that culture to one specific aspect (see: every Korean person and Gangnam style).
And don’t try to teach me about my own culture.
7.) Just talk to us like you would anyone else.
That’s it. Doesn’t need explaining.
Of course, a lot of these points are guide lines. For instance, it makes sense for you to break point #2 if you’re both passionate about food and cooking. Just use your common sense, and be respectful. I know y’all can do it.
A lot of my experience comes from being an Asian woman. If you’ve think I’ve missed something, tell me in the comments, and I’ll add ’em in another blog post. 🙂
*And if you are a POC, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! I’ve heard black dudes say that all Asians look the same; I’ve heard Asians say that all black people look the same. None of us are exempt, y’all.
Haven’t done one of these in a while, so for this weekend, let’s go back in time to 1993 with Salt-n-Pepa’s None of Your Business.
I chose this song for this weekend because it astonishes me just how relevant this song still is.
Sometimes strangers think they have a right to comment on your body and your choices. They forget that you’re an adult capable of making your own decisions. They disapprove of your tattoos, your weight, the length of your skirt, the number of times you go out, the number of people you have sex with- and for some reason, they think that means that you no longer deserve privacy or respect.
Obviously, this is nonsense. Respect isn’t just for people you deem ‘respectable.’
So this weekend? Go wild. Drink, party, have one night stands or stay at home and have a Lord of the Rings marathon. Some people may not approve of your choices, but forget ’em. It’s none of their business.
When street harassment is discussed, inevitably, the perpetrators or potential perpetrators of street harassment are men. This is because the majority of street harassment is perpetrated by men, just as the majority of people who experience street harassment are women.
The vast majority of any kind of sexual harassment or assault is perpetrated by men. Unsurprisingly, this can make women, particularly women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, be wary of, or angry at men.
If you’ve read this far, you may find the tone of this post sounds very condescending, possibly to the point of rudeness. That is the same tone that women hear whenever someone has to add “you know, not all men are like that.”
“You know, not all men are creeps.”
“You know, some men know how to treat women.”
“You know, it’s not fair to blame street harassment on all men.”
Dear men in our lives: we know that the majority of you are decent, well-meaning and kind individuals. We know that there are many men who are basically decent people. We know. Men occupy half the planet. It would be incredibly difficult to walk through life only ever meeting women and male street harassers. There are quite a lot of you.
Before you add a comment like, “you shouldn’t blame all men,” please think about what you hope to accomplish. It is not helpful, it is not news, it doesn’t reaffirm a person’s faith in the male gender. All it does is detract from the person’s experience to make it about men.
There are no anti-street harassment movements that are focussed on blaming men because the focus is never on men. The focus is on people who experience street harassment.
When you add these comments, you tell us that your ego is more important than our experiences. You tell us that your discomfort at knowing you have the potential to harass someone is worse than the actual experience of being harassed.
Don’t beat yourself up, don’t think that you can never talk about street harassment again, just remember what Craig Ferguson says:
1.) Does this need to be said?
2.) Does this need to be said by me?
3.) Does this need to be said by me now?
We need to support each other if we want to combat street harassment, and more importantly, we need to support each other well.
I am sick and tired of feeling unsafe on public transport.
Yesterday, I gave my second statement to the police regarding a male masturbating aggressively at me on a bus. Both times there were other people on the bus.
I am a sixteen year old girl who lives in Sydney, Australia, and I am sick of being commoditised, objectified and violated by men and boys. I should not have to deal with being waved onto the bus free of charge, “love”, in return for being belittled and gawked at. I should not have to receive the harassment of strangers until I feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I should not have had to notice a palpable change in the way strangers react to my short, masculine haircut. I should not pose a threat to men and a flattery to women if they think I am a lesbian. I should not have to constantly second-guess every male that passes me on a bus, or a train station, because their presence triggers an irrational fear as a result of being masturbated at twice in the past two months.
I should not need the skills to stand up, yell out and take action when something is wrong because no-one else will,and deal with the trauma of being harassed. I should not be so bitter than I no longer wish to smile at strangers.
But I do, and I have, and I am. I am afraid, so I am defensive. I am angry, so I am cold. I am a woman, and I belong to me.
The above is Lily’s story, but it’s the same kind of story that’s repeated again and again by basically anyone that’s experienced street harassment.
This is not an uncommon experience. This is not okay.
People should be able to walk the streets without fear of harassment, but because this is not case, we should not let people experience these things alone.
If you see something, say something. Support people who have and are facing street harassment. No one should be a bystander.
Everyone knows a guy like this. The one you go on one date with, and he already starts spouting off about true love. The one who texts you constantly even though you never reply back. The one who calls you a bitch for rejecting them, and claims no one likes ‘nice guys’ anymore because they believe a date, a kiss, or giving them your phone number means they’re entitled to more.
What does this have to do with street harassment? The person who continues to try to chat you up even when you’re obviously uninterested is the same as the person who Even if the latter seems nice (after all, you decided to date him!), he is not a nice person.
Don’t tolerate people who won’t understand or respect your boundaries. Don’t feel pressured to give up more of your time or energy to someone because they have a false sense of entitlement. You don’t owe them anything.