I Never Thought I Would Have To Deal With Street Harassment In Front Of My Daughter

street harassmentBack 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?

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    • http://twitter.com/CrazyDadLife Crazy Dad Life

      Here I was ready to call the guy a few bad words but didn’t want to offend…but that is what I’m thinking. Sorry you had to deal with this. Some guys are completely classless. Good thing is, hopefully your daughter won’t remember much of the incident and she’ll carry on just fine. Some people just don’t get it.

    • DaBarr

      Next time something like this happens, fellow women, loudly point out the guy and DEMAND the men standing around do something about their fellow man. MEN used to have the word “cad” and “bounder.” Let’s give it back to them – and realize that most of them despise these kinds of men, too. Sic’ em on these creatures! Oh, and stop saying “People” about this behavior. Because it seems to be MANKIND when we go to the moon – but “People” when it’s wars or other nasty behavior. Even cops say that, if a child is lost, s/he should be instructed to go, not to a cop, but a woman. And we know why.

    • Maggie

      Lindsay, with a Mom like you, your daughter is going to grow up to be one well-rounded, knowledgeable young lady. Good for you for talking to her about that incident and not just letting it go.

      On the other hand, it’s awful that you had to endure that. Were I in the same situation, I would find it hard not to go after that guy and tell him that his words are sexual harassment, something he can be charged with and arrested for, along with some more colorful words about what a gross pervert he is. Cat-calling is just disrespectful, but I think you handled the situation well by not letting him get the best of you, and not letting yourself get upset in front of your little girl.

    • Helen Hyde

      I have the same thing! It’s horrible. I have an … Interesting dress style (I’m no lady gaga, and I live in London so it’s not like I’m the only one) and I’ve had people shout at my from vans, one guy on a bus even asked me for some of my hair! All while pushing my son in the pushchair. I just hope that when my son is old enough to know what’s going on around him, I come up with some decent retorts for these gentlemen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alice.longworth.7 Alice Longworth

      Amazing. I imagine in his teens and 20s he was one of those guys who drove by in his car & made animal noises. Even if you (at the time) thought the the guy/car was cool, who the hell is going to respond to grunts and hoots (and how does one respond other than an extended middle finger)? He may now have found a few words but otherwise this guy is still about 15 (my apologies to the many 15 year old young men who are miles better than this).

      • LiteBrite

        I’ve never understood why guys yell things from cars. We can’t understand what is said most of the time. All we hear is “Ugghghahhhhhgghhhhh!”

    • K.

      I’m sorry that you went through that. It’s horrible to experience that and to feel objectified and awkward in front of your kid. I do, however, think that you handled it well.

      I understand the desire to have told the guy off, but for my part, I
      think that ignoring him was probably the best example to your daughter
      of how to handle it–he’s not worth the effort to respond and responding usually escalates things (do you live in NYC? I did, and Manhattan was pretty much a 10-year lesson on how public engagement with jerky people always seems like a great idea and never pays off. Terrible return on investment: it promises social justice and really only makes you angrier. Hence, “angry New Yorker”). Plus, it probably would have made the whole thing a bigger deal for your daughter, because whereas you would have felt that you were being a strong woman role model in that moment, most kids don’t particularly like witnessing their parents yell at others–they’re not seeing the right and wrong of the situation so much as they’re watching mommy or daddy lose control.

      Ignoring and then discussing it later seem like the best response to me.

    • AP

      I once got catcalled in a snowstorm, wearing a down jacket, heavy snowboots, gloves, a scarf, and a hat with a sweatshirt hood over it. It has nothing to do with “sexy.”

      And honestly, I don’t think you should get too horrified about people doing stuff like this in front of your daughter. Bad stuff happens in the world, and kids who aren’t exposed to the harsh realities of life end up in danger on their own as young adults because they have no street smarts. If she’s going to leave your house, she has to learn that people run the gamut from rude to unstable to criminally dangerous.

      • Teresa Greer

        I know, right? It’s like, you look down at yourself, and are like, ‘how could you tell??’

        There’s just no dealing with some people.

    • Byron

      The difference between a compliment and harassment I find usually dwells somewhere between the level of attraction the receptor has towards the one who comments and how eloquently the comment is put.

      Someone using terms such as “ass” to describe a woman’s behind is just…barbaric and not the least bit classy. You can give a remark with similar message without having to resort to the baser terms that this language offers.

      You could just as much have said something along the lines of “you’re the cutest mom I’ve seen in a long time, I envy your husband” or something, you’d both be fishing for the “I’m actually single, oh handsome grocery shopper!” response and you’d be giving a random girl whom you find palatable something to smile for a bit…which is pretty much the most any rational dude can hope for in this random interaction style of thing.

      • NYC Chica

        News flash, Byron. Women are not just walking around waiting to be complimented and “given something
        to smile about”. We’re busy living our lives and generally trying to
        get from point A to point B without too many problems. We don’t come
        outside of our houses just to be cruised by men. And, wow, a girl you
        find “palatable”? Do you hear and understand how offensive that is,
        comparing a woman to something one eats? Guys like you are also part of
        the problem. You think you’re being nice, but still, you have an
        agenda, and although you’re not being as offensive as the foul mouthed
        guys, you are still also a harasser. Your comment about speaking only
        to women you find “palatable” says it all.

      • Byron

        I shall return the favor!

        News flash, men aren’t walking around waiting to find someone to compliment either. They’re also busy trying to get stuff done without too many problems. Yet, when an encounter moves you thus, to a degree where you put aside such point A to point B concerns for a moment so that you may make a remark, I think it is acceptable to expect this to be valued some. We’re people, social beings, we don’t live in vacuums. If it’s done politely I refuse to define is as harassment.

        I never spoke of doing this on a regular basis or anything. That too is rude. In the one rare occasion that it does happen to fit though, i see no harm in it. I’ve never been made to feel I harassed someone and I have always been met with kind remarks in the least. I’m sorry if you are this bothered by it but others were definitely not.

        Oh and you found the term “palatable” offensive now? Come on, grow up a bit. It’s another way of saying “easy on the eyes”, “attractive” etc. only less boring. I certainly didn’t compare women to a pizza or anything >_>.

        As for my so called “agenda”…that’s to make someone who made me feel a certain good way about the world become cognizant of that fact and feel good because of it. You may say that women don’t give two shits about what they made me feel by just “being” but I still feel compelled to give credit where it is due and to be thankful for a boon that I receive, even if it was not intentionally offered. I see no harm in being thankful and appreciative towards people, even if it’s under the “sexual matters” veil which somehow taints everything into a spectrum of dirtiness, sexualization, objectification and whatever else, according to some.

        Sometimes people are just being nice and even though their words could technically be interpreted in other ways, they still mean them in a nice way and most of the time the receptor of these words also tends to comprehend their inherent niceness and shakes off whatever small problematic elements about them they could locate. It’s called being a bigger person, it’s about being tolerant and not being negative towards people who mean you no harm. It entails not jumping at the excuse to exercise your rights and instead being happy and making the other person happy too out of your reaction.

        Woo, happiness, such a terrible sexist notion. I apologize! :p

      • welltemperedwriter

        No.

      • http://twitter.com/celineorelse Celine Loup

        Stahp.

      • scarletsirius

        I have to both agree and disagree with you. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a respectful come-on (the woman is free to refuse a man’s advances without receiving threats or guilt tripping/the man is graceful about being turned down, you stop is she appears unresponsive or uncomfortable, the “compliment” is not sexual or degrading, etc), although your example is problematic for a lot of reasons. But I understand your point.
        Where I have to disagree with you if the “level of attraction” business. A person who isn’t receptive to being hit on is probably just… not receptive to being hit on at that time, no matter how attractive this suitor may be or how nicely they put it. A man can be attractive and eloquent and a woman who is not looking for a partner, or doesn’t think it’s appropriate to flirt in the particular venue, or is not interested in being cruised in front of her children, or who is a lesbian, or some combination of the above or any other reason on earth, will still not be interested.
        I think the golden rule to flirting in public* is that it’s okay to ask respectfully, as long as it’s also okay to be told no.

        *One more thing! The man in this article was not flirting with her. People who are flirting do not loudly say sexually explicit things about a stanger’s body and then sidle away, Maybe he wanted to sleep with her, maybe he wished she would come over and flirt with him, but flirting in a back-and-forth communication, not one-sided sexually explicit commenting.

      • Byron

        I think attractiveness is not a fixed thing. To the examples you give the man would just not be attractive to begin with, so I actually agree with you. And of course when you’re met with a polite “no” you stop, I never said otherwise.

        And I think the man may have “thought” he was flirting…some people are just this low class. What I find more odd is that if he was middle aged and still practiced these types of approaches some women may have responded to them enough to allow for them to persist. That’s a scary thought.

    • once upon a time

      Fun fact – here in Australia (or, at least, my corner of it) workers get kicked off construction sites if they cat-call women. For the most part, the industry guidelines pertaining to construction are absolutely ridiculous, but I’m so grateful for the sexual harrassment clause!

    • http://twitter.com/Ashley_Stephens Ashley Slye Stephens

      I’ve been through it, too. I hate this crap. I’d love to be able to walk down the street without huge sunglasses on, afraid to meet the stare of whatever creep wants to shout shit today. It’s particularly humiliating when I’m with my son. I just don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s ok. Makes me feel like I’m a hog up for auction.

      • jessica

        You know what is even weirder? This guy said something truly vile to me the other day WHILE HOLDING HIS TODDLER SON IN HIS ARMS! Can you believe that? Some people really just don’t understand how to behave appropriately and sometimes I feel like the creeps multiply and just get creepier by the day.

    • ladyface

      cry me a river. worst “article” ever.i cant even begin to explain how pathetic this is.find a bigger problem to write about.

      • http://twitter.com/Tobi_Is_Fab Nerdy Lucy

        It must’ve went over your head.

      • http://twitter.com/Tobi_Is_Fab Nerdy Lucy

        Or GONE over your head, rather.

      • ladyface

        not at all. basically she is saying she should be exempt from this kind of behaviour because she has a child.i also am one who doesn’t get offended by catcalls, maybe cos i have bigger things to think about.and if someone wants to compliment my ass, compliment away.this is just sanctimommy, pseudo feminist garbage, and reads almost as tho she wrote the whole article just to let us know she has a nice ass – post baby.yawn.

      • http://twitter.com/Tobi_Is_Fab Nerdy Lucy

        If thats what you’re getting from it, then you’ve definitely missed the point.

    • Erin

      When my daughter was a year old, I was crossing the street one day pushing her in her stroller when a car carrying some young men sped past us. One of them yelled “Move your fat ass.” I felt like I had been utterly violated. I, too, felt that my daughter was almost like a force field that surrounded me and the shock that came with the jeer was overwhelming. I walked home in a daze and burst into tears as I told my husband later that day. It was the only time something like that has ever happened to me, but the saddest thing was knowing I was raising a little girl in the kind of society where a man feels comfortable verbally harassing a mother out for a walk with her baby.

    • treyterson

      as I’m fast approaching 50 I thought that I had already turned “invisible” and had no experience of this kind of unwanted commentry for a number of years when I asked a fellow volunteer to stop making comments about homosexuals he replied that what sould it matter to me as I always looked like I had just been f****ed anyway. After a few moments of stunned silence I was left wondering the connection and how on earth this man would come to that opinion. I realised it didn’t matter. The language was offensive. Unlike the stranger that approached you I knew this person, I thought we had the same values but we obviously didn’t, he was asked to leave since he was unwilling to discuss his comments. None of this matters I spoke to my duaghters about this when i came home and they just said two things I told them as young children. Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to say it, and the universe gives you back what you put out… Karma said my 16year old carries a big stick.

    • Mauri Helms

      I’m gonna get crucified for this, but I don’t understand how one feels violated by compliments on the street. Now, granted, wording is important– some people just feel like complimenting and others just want to be rude and crude. For example, the man who paused outside McDonalds and told me I looked “beautiful” was a far cry from the coworker who cornered me inside the walk-in cooler and told me he was going to pull my belly button ring out from the inside.
      As someone who grew up as an ugly duckling and had an eating disorder for over a decade, I don’t expect anyone to compliment me on my appearance, EVER. I understand that the majority of the time, people are just trying to give a genuine compliment, even though it always throws me off (like I said, I’m not expecting it walking around in my Navy sweater and torn jeans). I thank them politely and continue on. And if it’s off-color, I stay polite anyways because they just want a reaction and I’m too mean to give them one lol.
      But maybe my area is different from your area.

      • Kele Ivey

        Because most of the time, it’s not meant as a compliment. It’s meant to embarrass the woman or boost the ego of the perpetrator. It’s meant to remind women that they are only useful for their looks and sexual attractiveness.

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