Back in my late teens and early 20′s, I was well aware of street harassment. I understood that walking past a construction crew could very well lead to some lewd and inappropriate comments. I had a patented side-eye to send to any man who whistled or cat-called. If they got angry that I didn’t respond to their cheap come-ons favorably, well then I had some words for them to go with my side-eye.
I have always believed that street harassment, the sexual comments that get hurled at women when they’re in public, were inappropriate and abusive. There is nothing “complimentary” about having a stranger jeer at you, as if your body exists simply for them to enjoy and admire.
But I have to admit that since I became a mother, I really stopped worrying about street harassment. When you’re carrying a child, the only comments you get used to are coos from random women over cuteness. It had never even crossed my mind that I would have to deal with street harassment when my daughter was with me. And for five years, I’ve never had to.
Then, I was walking through the grocery store with my little girl sitting in the cart in front of me. We were pushing our way towards the check-out, chatting about her day at school. Suddenly, a middle-aged man came up over my should and said, loud enough for those nearby to hear and understand, “Damn girl, you workin’ that ass.” He grinned and winked, before skipping off to join a friend at the front of the store. I stood there, momentarily stunned.
I was wearing flats, jeans, a t-shirt and a long knit vest. My hair was in a messy bun and there wasn’t a stitch of make-up on my face. I am not saying this because a girl who wears stilettos and a mini-skirt somehow “deserves” to get harassed. Not at all! I’m simply stating this to explain that mentally, I wasn’t even considering the idea that a man would be trying to hit on me, or even notice me. I was relaxed, with my hair up and my attention focused squarely on whether or not I grabbed low-fat vanilla yogurt.
More than anything, I was with my daughter. I wasn’t just some girl on the street. I was a mom, with a young child sitting in front of me. For some reason, I felt like that little girl was a shield. I felt like being a mother put me above all of that cat-calling. Who would make a comment about my ass in front of my young child?