Thursday, June 30, 2011

FU and Other More Effective Responses to Street Harassment

I have ranted previously on this blog about street harassment.  Last week I got to rant in front of a bunch of people about the same.  At the DC FemEx event (I've talked about FemEx more here) called Engage. Explore. Empower. I gave the following speech (pardon for some of the adult language, but I gotta say, what I gotta say):


It's rush hour. Thursday after work on a crowded bus. I find myself, once again, slowly reaching behind me to wrap my fingers around the wrist of the hand that has gently, yet firmly, cupped itself around the curve of my ass.

I grab this wrist, gently, yet firmly, lift it high over my head and announce in my clearest, more authoritative voice: what is this hand doing on my ass?! This man has put his hand on my ass. You, sir, tell the driver to stop the bus. This harasser has put his hand on my ass.

The bus load of people is stunned into silence, all staring at me, except for the man I had just addressed who turns to the bus driver to say “um, I think that man put his hand on that lady's ass.”

The entire bus breaks into applause. They ridicule the harasser. The bus driver calls the police who come and take the harasser away. They thank me for taking a stand against such a dastardly criminal. Someone has caught this whole scene on their smart phone and it is an instant hit on youtube. It starts a worldwide movement of people no longer letting harassers get away with it. I win an award for helping to eradicate street harassment in all its forms. Forever.

I have to admit that this scenario is all in my head. Approaching unwanted grabbing in this way is what the lady at my “Street Smarts” class has taught me to do. I practice this move in the mirror at home. I assure my friends that of course I would do this if anyone were to touch me inappropriately. I show the world my calm, confident, not-taking-shit self, because I am a calm, confident, not-taking-shit kinda lady.

But when faced with street harassment, sometimes my imagination is better at this than I am. What usually happens is:

Rush hour. Monday morning. Walking to the metro feeling good. I am wearing my suit and my heals and my favorite earrings. I am super prepared for my morning meetings. I even remembered to pack a lunch. And then out of nowhere, someone says

Smile for me baby. Why you look so sad?
I mean it, baby. Smile for me.
Bitch. Why you gotta be such a bitch?
Fuck you.

I don't know why, but this surprises me every single time, and I end up responding in one of the same three ways:

My go-to response tends to be: “Fuck you, mother fucker!” which inevitably leads to confirming the harassers' belief that I am, in fact, a bitch and makes everyone around me think I am a crazy person with a lack of self control.

Sometime I try to restrain myself. I turn to a friend or random stranger, and say “can you believe that guy?!?” I tell everyone at work what happened to me. I feel slightly better when people are outraged, but slightly worse when they tell me that it happens to them all the time. I feel much worse when they tell me that they see it happen to other people, too. On the metro, at work, at the gym, while walking their kids to daycare, while hauling groceries to the car, while on a date with their partner to the movies, in front of their parents on the way to freshman orientation.

Most often, though, I walk by without saying a thing. And then, I feel like I have failed all woman kind for not having a witty response at the ready.

Because what I wanted to say was: Pardon me sir, but could you repeat yourself more clearly? I couldn't understand you with all that ignorance in your mouth? I am so sorry that you feel so emasculated by life's circumstances that you need to get your rocks off on trying to bring me down. But here's news for you sir. Your words mostly just make me sad for you and your inability to talk to women in a respectful and meaningful way. Life must be difficult for you.

I would wish him a good day and walk away with my dignity in tact and him having learned his lesson, never to offend again.

The problem is that I thought of this five minutes, an hour, two days too late, standing fuming, gesticulating to myself in the shower. I am pissed I can't think on my toes. Pissed that I feel so unsafe and frustrated and frazzled because of one small person's comments.

I've been told that dealing with street harassment is part of living in this world and in the city. That if I have a problem with what I see that maybe I should take a self-defense class and learn how to respond to a harasser when they bother me.

Yet I have this sneaking suspicion that in this world of 76 cents on the dollar, choices getting smaller, domestic violence, sexual assault victims silenced, and superman that ho, that, hmm, I dunno, but maybe I am not the one that needs the empowerment.

The messages about women we hear every day don't exactly encourage respect. And the fact is that I took the empowerment class. I've taken them all. I know the proper way to respond to harassment. I've been empowered.

But I wish street harassers would take those classes, too. Empower them to find another way to assert their masculinity. Empower them to stop harassing women and show some respect.

I wish bystanders, people that see something happen but don't know what to do, would also take those empowerment classes. Empower us all to find a way to support women in this situation. Empower us all to speak up and tell harassers to stop harassing women and show some respect.

And because things are so much easier to deal with when you know there are numbers of people surrounding you that believe in what you believe in, I would love for you all to feel empowered today and every day to speak up for yourself, for other women, and for passing strangers by saying:

Stop harassing women show some respect.

I said stop harassing women, show some respect.

So now say it with me so we all have a response at the ready for when we are in this situation or see it happening to others: 

Stop Harassment; show some respect

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Say It in Llama

Llama alphabet.  So friggin' amused.  From
For example, my name in llama font.

So many possibilities....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Trials of a Monolinguist

Dear 7th Grade French Teacher,

You may not remember me; I took your class for one quarter back in nineteen-ninety-whatever.  I was the girl who wheedled you into letting me bring crepes to class for extra credit so I wouldn't have such a "bad" grade.  I know you probably chuckled at what I considered a bad grade, but it really was the lowest I had ever gotten (and still have yet to get) in my life.

At the time, I blamed you as unfair and mean.  I insisted on the accuracy of my pronunciation and my mad skillz at playing Battleship in French.

But as I wandered the streets of Paris this week, I had a revelation: I actually am quite terrible at French.

Most of my conversations when something like this:

Me: Um, donde esta le Tower de Eifel?
My Victim:  Something very friendly in very fast French.
Me:  Ooooo, um, yea.  Forgive me as I ask you this, but...English?  I hope?
My Victim: Shaking head slowly while giving directions in perfect English.

I tried so hard not to confirm every stereotype of monolinguistic Americans, but things did not go so well when my poor victims knew less English than I did French.  I spent an excruciatingly long five minute trying to act out the concept of tap water to a pleasant young waiter.  Apparently, I am not a very good actor, as my pantomime of turning on a facet, filing a glass, and taking a sip was met with baffled silence.  His solution was to bring no water at all, presumably because he wanted to see if I would once again act out this sequence.

For the two days I was going to be in Paris I would have been just fine with only limited language skills if it weren't for one magazine ad that left me racked with curiosity.  On the table in the hotel room was a tourist magazine with info about various activities, one of which was visiting the Hustler Club for "women, women, women" (a word I knew from the door of the "toilets").

I had little desire to go to the club itself, but I just HAD to know how you pay a young woman for her services.  One and two Euros come in coin form, you see, which would cause problems for tucking them into various straps of tiny bits of clothing.  Did Europeans always tip with fives, tens and twenties?  Or did the women carry purses or place change jars strategically around the stage?  I wasn't about to go to the club myself and couldn't for the life of me come up with a charades version of "how do you tip a dancer at the Hustler Club?"

All of this is to say that my French was never good, even in 7th grade, and that "je detest le zoo" and "bonjour mon petit chu-chu" will only get me just so far in life.  I totally deserved that "bad" grade.

Sincere apologies,


Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend: Birth Education Class

The last seven Sundays, I have been taking a birth education class as the last thing I need for my doula certification.  The class I am taking is through The Bradley Method, a method that is for moms and their partners who want to focus on having a natural childbirth.

As outlined on the Bradley Website, the class is 12 weeks long and each week focuses on a specific topic:

Class 1. Introduction to The Bradley Method®
Class 2. Nutrition in Pregnancy
Class 3. Pregnancy
Class 4. The Coach's Role
Class 5. Introduction to First Stage Labor
Class 6. Introduction to Second Stage Labor
Class 7. Planning Your Birth
Class 8. Variations and Complications / Postpartum Preparation
Class 9. Advanced First Stage Techniques
Class 10. Advanced Second Stage Techniques
Class 11. Being a Great Coach / Are You Ready?
Class 12. Preparing for Your New Family

Each class also covers nutrition, exercise, positive communication, coaching, and relaxation techniques.

For me, this means sitting in on a class of nine pregnant couples as they learn about what is happening during their pregnancy and what to expect from labor and beyond.  My role is to learn from the teacher about how to be a good birth educator, to practice my doula skills through talking with parents, and fill in any gaps in my own education.  I've especially enjoyed watching the dads communicate with the moms.  They seem really engaged and enthusiastic about their babies, even if a little weirded out by the whole process.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Knitting Inspiration: Extreme Knitting

I'm not going to lie.  I am not exactly an extreme person myself (I think getting to the pocket section of my sweater is a friggin' riveting time), but I do enjoy watching other people do ridiculous things.  Race Across AmericaTornado-chasing.    Extreme Couponing.

And also 1000 Strand Knitting

I'm apparently not the only one with this fascination.  There is a book.

And knitters appear to be a super intense group of people.
This scary bunny took five years to knit.

Dave Cole developed a Giant Knitting Machine to be able to knit HUGE things and has also knit random awesomeness like this Electric Blanket.

How does someone produce their own piece of extreme knitting, you ask?  With gigantic knitting needles of course.

Huge Knitting Needles from the same folks from the 1000-strand knitting