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Talk Back to Your Harasser with These Cards!

In Resources, Stories, street harassment | on 06.10.14 | by | Comments ( 0 )

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wished you could hand a harasser a card to explain why his/her behavior is inappropriate? The new Cards Against Harassment site is your answer! Creator Lindsey explains the story behind it

I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia before moving to Minneapolis, and observing street harassment (of myself and others) has been a pretty regular part of my experience in all of those cities. Like many people who encounter harassment, my approach for the better part of a decade was just to ignore it.

If I had to pinpoint where that attitude shifted towards a more active approach, two particular experiences from a year or so ago come to mind.  I was taking the bus home alone after a night out with friends when a man sitting across from me started blowing kisses and asking why my “boyfriend” (another stranger, closer to my age and sitting to my right who was engrossed on his phone) wasn’t paying attention to me. The heckler was leaning far forward in his seat across the aisle at me, saying he’d treat me better if I was his woman and asking why didn’t I come sit on his lap so he could show me.  I ignored him, but once the heckler caught on that I was actually traveling alone, he shouted at the guy to my right to switch seats with him so he could “cozy up” to me. I kid you not, the loser to my right wordlessly stood up to switch seats with the heckler. Thankfully this all happened while the bus was at a stop, so I was able to immediately get up and leave the bus.

Not more than a month later, with that event still fresh in my mind, I had my first opportunity to be an ally to someone being harassed. I was taking the lightrail a few seats away from a young U of M student who started to get a lot of unwanted attention from another rider. She was clearly trying to read her book and he kept asking where she was going, what she was doing, getting in her space and blocking her physically into the row.  When it became clear that this woman was uncomfortable and unable to extricate herself, and he started commenting on how pretty she was, I tapped the guy on the shoulder, stuck my hand out to shake his hand, and said, “Look, I’m sure you’re just trying to strike up a conversation, but when a woman is traveling alone and has her nose in a book she probably isn’t looking to get talked to by strange men late at night. If you want to talk to me for a while, that’s fine, but let’s give her a break.”  He was clearly annoyed and surprised at being confronted, and after muttering about how that’s just “how they do things in Chicago,” he moved to the other side of the car.

Since then, I have been verbally confronting street harassers whenever I get the chance. Sometimes it’s gone really well: one time, a group of young men stopped and genuinely listened to me talk about street harassment for nearly 20 minutes when I pointed out that their attempt to “compliment” me on a poorly lit street when I’m walking home from work is incredibly insensitive and intimidating. By September of last year, an instance of particularly skeezy drive-by harassment left me fed up enough that I took to craigslist and wrote the venting post that ended up getting circulated beyond Minneapolis.

But recently, a confrontation didn’t go so well, and that’s what finally inspired me to make Cards Against Harassment.

Several weeks ago, there were two men in the skyway leading up to my office building heckling and dramatically checking out literally every woman they passed. I took a detour to avoid them but a moment later was on the same escalator, with one of the men right behind me calling me “Blondie,” invading my personal space, and asking why I was walking away so fast looking so cute. I turned and politely quipped, “You know, you can just say ‘Good Morning.’ You don’t have to make a comment about how I look.” Although we were surrounded by people, he started going off on me, shouting at me about how ugly I was and how I wasn’t even really cute enough for him to compliment and calling me a bitch. I spun on my heels, walked over to the security guard in our building, and am grateful to say he was incredibly responsive and immediately removed the men from the building, but the interaction reminded me that even if I am friendly or playful in my responding to harassers, there is risk in confrontation. I decided that a card would be the ideal middle ground, allowing me to provide feedback that harassment is unwanted without necessarily sticking around for an extended encounter.

So far I’m happy to say that since getting the cards back from the printer a few days ago I haven’t had the need to distribute any. I have had friends download the pdfs to print their own, and the sentiment shared with me is that even having the cards available makes them feel a bit more prepared and empowered to walk in their own neighborhoods with their head held high. Certainly my goal is not to pressure women to put themselves at risk if the situation isn’t right, but my hope is that the cards will start a dialogue and encourage men and women alike to defend everyone’s right to walk in public spaces without feeling unsafe or objectified.

Lindsey is a 28 year old woman living and working in Minneapolis, MN. When she isn’t fulminating on gender equity issues or working her day job, she enjoys improv comedy, cartooning, biking, and smack talking others over board games and whiskey.

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