This morning the Hamilton Spectator ran a piece about street harassment in the City of Hamilton. It was an interesting read that profiled several women and their experiences with catcalling on Hamilton streets. I was happy to see women speaking candidly about the seriousness of street harassment and how often it’s dismissed as being a compliment. The reality is, catcalling is harmful. It’s unwanted attention that often escalates past whistles and “Hey baby” to propositioning, touching and unfortunately can lead to more serious physical offenses. I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say that street harassment can have lasting effects on women. I’ve had several experiences with street harassment which years later have affected my behaviour and self-confidence.
When I was a teenager, I used to jog around my neighborhood. Whenever I ran down a busy street, I braced myself for the inevitable catcalls and obscenities from guys hanging out the windows of their suped up Honda Civics. Sometimes they would just whistle, other times they would yell things like, “SLUT!” or “How much?” Once a car full of young men pulled to the side of the road and followed me back to my house. I tried to change my jogging route, but to get to quiet side streets I had to cross the busiest streets in Stoney Creek. My anxiety became so bad, I begged my Mom to buy a treadmill so I didn’t have to leave the house to exercise. I’m twenty-seven years old and I still don’t like running in public, convinced someone will laugh at me or yell things from a passing car.
Things didn’t get much better during my twenties. During a night out in Hess Village, a popular street for Hamilton nightlife, I was waiting outside of a bar with my friends when I was thrown to the ground by a man who touched my breasts and tried to kiss me. It happened so fast, I didn’t realize I was screaming until a few of my male friends noticed the commotion and chased the man off of me and down the street. My friends flagged down some police officers patrolling the area and were able to stop the man who attacked me. What happened next shows how backwards our society is about harassment.
The police officers, a male and female, asked me if I had been drinking. I replied that I hadn’t. They asked me again if I had been drinking. Again, I replied that I was sober. They proceeded to tell me that the male was living in a half-way house in the area and unfortunately, behaviour like this was not uncommon and said they would drive him back home. They advised my friends to take me home, leaving me with this one phrase that has stuck with me for the past seven years:
“Hey,” The male officer said. “At least someone thinks you’re pretty, right?”
I should have taken his badge number and insisted they press charges on the man who attacked me but instead I started to cry. I was angry at myself for a long time for not demanding more from the police and not standing up for myself. I was in shock and I felt violated but hey, at least someone thought I was pretty, right?
For months after the incident I was scared to be left alone. Years later, those words ring through my ears whenever a man yells at me from his car, or makes obscene gestures while I’m walking down the street. At least someone thinks I’m pretty.
Street harassment is not flattery. It’s time to stop the myth that women should be thankful for male attention and that our actions or what we choose to wear invites this type of behaviour.
Street harassment is a human rights issue that threatens a female’s ability to feel safe in public.
That sounds like a serious offense to me. Wouldn’t you agree?
If you would like more information on street harassment, please visit Stop Street Harassment .