SF Street Harassment Stabbing Is a Great Reminder That Catcalling Isn't a Joke

A woman was stabbed in San Francisco's Tenderloin district last night after she rejected a street harasser. According to the SF Appeal:

The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.

When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm.

I used to live in San Francisco and work near the seediest area of the Tenderloin, and I've never experienced worse street harassment in any other city. Every morning, as soon as I got off the bus, I'd hear calls of "sexyyy" and "give me some of that" and that horrid teeth-sucking sound that makes me feel like dirt. Often — especially if I hadn't had any coffee yet — I'd yell back.

I became somewhat obsessed with talking back to street harassers during the summer of 2011. The SlutWalk movement was in full gear, and I was covering it for the paper I worked for, so I probably would've been thinking about street harassment more than usual even if I wasn't experiencing it on a daily basis. I decided that the only way to truly combat street harassment was to publicly speak back whenever I felt it was safe. Women have been conditioned to ignore catcalls for centuries, which is why men, often learning from their older family members and peers, continue to catcall them in hopes of reasserting their masculinity. (Read: feeling like they have enormous dicks.) If they get away with it time and time again, why would they ever stop?


So I started answering their calls. When a dude smacked his lips at me, I'd say, "Why do you think it's okay to treat me like an object?" When a guy said, "I hope you're over 18 because, if you're not, you shouldn't be wearing that skirt" (which was not particularly short/paired with opaque tights and a winter jacket, just fyi), I snapped back, "That's none of your business." My experiments garnered mixed results. Sometimes the men were so shocked I responded that they apologized on the spot. "You're right; I have a mother and sisters, and I'd hate for them to be treated that way," one guy said. More often, I'd get called "a fucking dyke" for not wanting men to comment on me on the street. The skirt police guy told me he "didn't ask for any attitude" when I talked back to him. We ended up getting into a screaming fight on the sidewalk. Although the men were usually assholes, speaking back to them made me feel amazing. I felt empowered, like I was defending not only myself but other less feisty women.

Of course, there are downsides to feistiness, even if you make sure you feel safe when you speak back, as I always did. I don't know exactly what happened between the woman and her harasser last night, but my first thought after reading that news was, "God, was I an idiot?" Maybe I was. But what's the alternative?


Next time one of my male friends asks me why I'm so sensitive about street harassment — and this happens all of the time — I'm going to send them this story. Hey, "nice guys": want to know why we're not overcome with joy when you accost us on the street when we're going about our daily business? You know why we don't take street harassment lightly, even if it seems complimentary? Because we don't want to get fucking stabbed.

[SF Appeal]

Image via SVLuma/Shutterstock.