Something I’ve noticed after four years of being a woman living in New Orleans, is that so much sexual harassment happens on the street and on public transit. Earlier this year when I was living in the Gentilly neighborhood, I had to start leaving my house one hour earlier and catch an early bus so that I didn’t have to see a man who road the bus with me. He had repeatedly asked invasive questions about my home and work life and had made me feel increasingly uncomfortable. Even when I had headphones on or my nose in a book. he’d interrupt and try to talk to me. This man was about double my age- in his forties. I would get off the bus and he’d try to walk me close to the entrance of my work and would ask for hugs. I told him I wasn’t comfortable giving him hugs and I also told him multiple times that I had a boyfriend. He seemed to think I was lying and asked me to dinner a few times. It was soon after I denied his dinner requests that I elected to take an earlier bus and avoid seeing him altogether. This was one hour less of precious sleep I’d be getting every night and a much earlier morning for my already early hotel job- just to avoid the trouble of seeing this man. I have since moved and no longer take that bus route. Let’s look at some of the things I did to avoid unwanted contact with this persistent man,
- Take an earlier bus
2. Look distracted by reading a book
3. Pretend to be talking on my cell phone
4. Wear headphones and crank up the volume
5. Sit next to someone on the bus even when there were empty rows-to avoid him sitting next to me
6. Get out a stop early and walk extra to avoid him asking to walk me on my way
7. Repeat that I had a boyfriend
8. Pretend to be asleep on the bus
9. Try to be the first one off of the bus and speed walk to my destination
These are all the tiring and annoying measures I had to take to avoid unwanted attention in public- at 6 am on a city bus- before I even went to work. Everyday I’d walk into work and had already had this kind of interaction- how do you think this would effect my mood, my day, and my work performance?
Another time a few years ago, I got off the bus at my usual stop and started my three block walk to work. It was six am and I was still waking up and had walked 1 out of 3 blocks when I felt someone grab me from behind. I briefly thought it could have been a coworker playing a joke with me who had saw me walking and decided to scare me- it wasn’t. It was a man I’d never seen before. With sleep still in my eyes, I screamed at him
“What the hell? What are you doing? Do you think you can just grab my ass like that?”
The man responded with something along the lines of “I just thought you were beautiful I couldn’t resist.” AKA He felt entitled to touch my body because he was a man and I was a woman who had made the big leap from being locked up at home to being in public. The man continued to follow behind me until I veered off and went into my employee entrance. I was afraid that he would follow me or stake me out around my work place so I told the security officers at work- they told me they couldn’t do anything because it happened outside of the hotel. I was frustrated and disoriented. I changed into my uniform and clocked in and during preshift was visably upset and when my manager said something about it- I repeated the story.
My manager then laughed it off and said “Well, did you get his number atleast?”
This was so rude, dismissive, and inappropriate- I stared at him in disbelief. I went downstairs to the employee lounge and drank some cold water and splashed some on my face in the locker room. I’ve been stalked at work before and had a valid reason to be afraid. Even when my security officers and manager dismissed my experience and tried to get me to laugh it off- I couldn’t. This was serious. This was something I’d experienced before and will experience again and shouldn’t have to. Street harassment has a body count- and although we’d like to pretend that it was a joke or a compliment- male’s entitlement to women’s bodies has a BODY COUNT. Women are stalked, beaten, raped, and murdered after encountering men who harass them on the street.
I told one of my supervisors what happened and they thought I was joking, I told them I’d be talking to the director when he got there. This particular manager and I had gotten into before as he was a condescending little shit to begin with. He realized his sexist comment was unwelcome and probably realized I’d be talking to my director about it and his job could be in jeopardy. He said he was sorry and he didn’t mean it to come out that way and if I wanted we could call the police and report it. I thought that was a great idea and we called the cops and they said they’d send an N.O.P.D. officer over to get a statement and maybe see if there was security footage- they never came. NOPD is nicknamed Not Our Problem Dude and after this incident I felt that was very true. I knew of other instances where the NOPD came when my hotel called after they caught someone stealing. The NOPD arrested a man who stole fruit from my hotel for Glob’s sake but couldn’t come when a woman was groped and followed on her way to work and now the perpetrator knew where I worked? That’s fucked up. New Orleans has a history of police negligence and if you wonder why women don’t report these instances- it’s because they’re brushed off, laughed at, not taken seriously, and the police don’t come.
These are two of MANY stories I have. In fact, this post was supposed to detail some experiences I had recently in Chicago- but these stories came out instead. I guess they needed to be heard- and I do have many many more which I will work on putting down on paper as well. These issues and experiences need attention and need to be part of the conversation.
During my visit last week to Chicago, I told my cousin about starting this blog. She asked me what it was about and was actually shocked when I told her it was about harassment- she asked “Who’s harassing you?” “Where are you getting harassed at?” “Wow, is that really a daily thing or a weekly thing for you?” She told me she lived in a state of oblivion and in a safe little bubble. I told her that I lived in a city, took public transit, and worked in the hospitality industry. I wonder if these elements had any baring on why in her words I was getting harassed much more than she was. My cousin is a married mother in her thirties who is a teacher and lives in the suburbs and can afford her own car to drive and wouldn’t have to take public transit. I wonder if these elements such as marital status, class status, where you live, whether or not you take public transit, and age do change the levels or amount of street harassment you may face. I also wonder how serious my cousin was when she said she was oblivious- does she too ignore or laugh off harassment? All of these ideas are things I’d like to expand and explore further and have given me some great ideas for future research.