What's Your Worst On-The-Road Harassment Story?

Illustration for article titled What's Your Worst On-The-Road Harassment Story?

What's worse, street harassment in your daily routine or street harassment while you're on the road for work or play?

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The Times business travel columnist has discovered iHollaback and its new international affiliates. It's all good: "To me, the most impressive thing about the fight-back phenomenon is the youthful determination to organize and take concerted action about a problem that female travelers have long faced on the road, often alone and without recourse," he marvels. (This, combined with David Carr's mainstreaming of the point that Charlie Sheen was fine as a woman-abuser but not as a boss-insulter, shows that The Times' gentleman columnists are on a roll of gender awareness.)

It's true that female travelers face harassment on the road — as do many of the women who live in these other cities or places, as these travelers do at home. It has another flavor while traveling, that lack of certainty about where you can turn the corner to be safe, and if there's a language or cultural barrier, you're ever more conspicuous and potentially vulnerable.

When I polled out staff, several had stories that ranged from terrifying (men in Cairo surrounding MoGlo, chanting and grabbing at her clothes) to funny (Dodai's brother had a hex put on him in Portugal). Dodai also saw a man in Paris throw a yogurt smoothie on a girl who was ignoring his catcalls. I was once harshly reprimanded by an Argentine police officer who said I had humiliated him in front of his pals by rolling my eyes at his catcalls the day before (I remembered nothing of this). But I was also rescued by a Turkish cafe waiter from a young man who followed me for blocks ominously murmuring in French. (The waiter insisted I sit for a free cup of coffee to calm my nerves, then informed me the harasser was Arab, not Turkish.) Anyone else?

By the way, everyone I asked agreed they'd experienced more and worse in New York, where we've all had our share of horror stories. There's no place like home.

Keeping Women Safe Through Social Networking [NYT]

DISCUSSION

kickdrumxheart-old
kickdrumxheart

I've got a hollaback success story from last year, for those burned out on the real horror stories.

I live alone in an apartment building right behind a huge, ornate church in Chicago. Last year, the church was re-shingling their roof or whatever, so the building was covered in scaffolding and there were construction workers all over the place for months. Anyway, I hadn't had a problem with them except one morning, I was late for work and rushed out the backdoor to cut across the alley between my building and the church. I was digging in my purse for my phone and didn't even notice the pair of workers until I walked by them and one of them said something vulgar, I don't remember what.

Of course, most women are conditioned to ignore public indecency rather than risk escalating the situation or (gasp) seem impolite, and a seasoned harasser knows this and loves to test you, so he will wait for that instant when you've moved just far enough past them that you have to stop what you're doing and turn around to address him. Maybe it was because I was flustered from being late for work, or maybe I didn't want my very first human interaction that day to be so ugly. I don't really remember what made me do it, but I instantly stopped in my tracks, pivoted on my heel, marched right up to that grinning idiot. I pointed up at the church's roof and said in a low, steady voice laced with more judgmental old-lady venom than I ever thought myself capable of, "This is God's house."

His smile vanished, he turned beet red, and he almost seemed to deflate. He looked at his feet and muttered apologies over and over, "I'm sorry, sorry, I'm so sorry."

And that was the day I street-shamed a street harasser. This story is endlessly amusing to me — not least of all because I am a staunch atheist, and I was totally bluffing.