I Guess We’re All Walking Targets

//I Guess We’re All Walking Targets

I Guess We’re All Walking Targets

One day I was walkin down the block, I had my cutoff shorts on right cuz it was crazy hot. Walked passed these dudes when they passed me, one of ‘em felt my booty, he was nasty!

Last week, I wrote a poem called “Pretty”. The basic premise was how unwanted heckling and grabbing can make a young girl not want to be attractive anymore. I was mostly reminiscing about things that happened when I was in middle through college. But not 3 days after I write this poem, I get my jibbly bits (as BeMoreFoxxi calls them) grabbed on a quick stop at a convenience store. Boys (and 40 year olds) will be boys I guess.

Then on Saturday, this tweet sparked quite a debate in the Twittersphere:

dreamhampton:  As a mother of a teenager blk girl Id like to say: blk girl gets harrassed by adult blk men a trillion xs more often than blk boy do by pigs

A number of men attacked @dreamhampton, asserting that her comparison was ridiculous. How could she be so insensitive as to compare the harassment black men endure from police to women dealing with overzealous catcalling? Hmmm. One non-critical response was:

blackstarmedia: As a blk transman who has experienced both-I agree

Interesting. Now this comparison is something that never occurred to me before. And while I wouldn’t necessarily say one form of harassment is worse than another, the more I thought about the two issues, the more I see similarity. To me, it boils down to what you become trained to fear as an adolescent and the psychological ramifications of it. Teenage girls and teenage boys develop different fears. As a woman, a sexual attack can be far more terrifying than a straight violent one. Our sexuality is what we are taught to protect the most. As Jill Scott says, “There’s power in them rolling hills”. Either you harness it for yourself, or you fall victim when someone else does.

As a teenager, I didn’t have the same fear of police that my brother or other young men had. I was followed around a store once or twice by a storeowner, but I never really had negative encounters with law enforcement. When I saw a police car my instinct was not to think they would address me at all. Although I was aware of police harassment of young black males, as a female, I did not see police as enemies. I can’t say I necessarily saw them as allies, but I did see them as some level of protection and was not hesitant to trust an officer.

On the other hand, after my first few times being groped in the club as a teenager, and being called a bitch for not giving up a number, and having rocks thrown at my head, I learned to fear just walking by strange men. You go out to dance and suddenly you are trying to pry some man’s hands off your breast, because he was bold enough to slide his hand under your shirt in the middle of a crowd. I had friends experience men actually take their d*** out on the dance floor. So, the same way my brother learned to fear unwarranted attention from police, I learned to fear unwarranted attention from grown ass men. It starts whenever you get your first training bra and never ends. I remember lude comments and propositions from men in the grocery store from as early as 11 and 12. And judging from the many women sharing stories on Twitter last night, this is not out of the norm. Try walking onto a college campus and saying “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called a bitch because you turned a guy down”. See what happens. I’ve been called bitch, hoe, hoe ass bitch, fat ass bitch, ugly ass bitch, sexy ass bitch, stuck up ass bitch, and bougie ass bitch. Honestly it’s a wonder I’m not on a pole right now.

Obviously I haven’t had the black male vs. police experience,, but from hearing men talk about these things for a number of years, police harassment is something that is dehumanizing. And in many ways, I think it feels like an attack on your very manhood. You have one party abusing power and making you feel defenseless. No man wants to feel defenseless. Likewise, no woman feels like she’s no greater than the sum of a few favorite parts. I’m sure these women feel that way:

The standard female street harassment may not be as obviously brutal, but it can as psychologically damaging for a young girl. Being treated like cattle for sexual pleasure in the streets is dehumanizing. So while a grab on the ass doesn’t cause the physical harm of, say, an officer’s baton, it can cause some emotional scarring, especially to all those middle school girls getting harassed by grown ass men. (sidenote: There ARE men who will pull a gun out because a woman insulted his pride by not giving up her number. I’ve heard a few such testimonies, so I don’t want to ignore that).

So when some random person says “Lemme feel those sexy ass lips on my d***” on your walk home from school, it sticks with you, grows with you. Because we are so young when it begins, it shapes how we value ourselves as women and how we interact with men. The constant scrutiny, groping, questions, invitations, evaluation every time you walk down the street is actually emotionally taxing. Especially when you are trying to figure out the safest way to respond. After all, how you react to the initial communication (and the dude’s general level of craziness) will determine whether it escalates. You better watch how you say “thanks”. And don’t forget to smile. Because a simple “hello” from a male can be the beginning of an altercation. You never know. Therefore, almost attention can feel physically threatening in the moment.

Coming into adolescence and trying to understand your own sexuality is hard enough without someone trying to steal it away from you. One sista tweeted that she started dressing like a boy just so she would be left alone. How sad when we’ve scared a young woman into trying to avoid her own femininity, sexuality, and or/womanhood. As I said in my poem “Suddenly my sexuality feels like a liability”.

While I don’t think it’s useful to get into a holocaust-vs-slavery-style debate, I do want brothers to be aware of how common these experiences are, and that it’s not as easy to just “brush it off” as you might think. Without walking in our shoes, I don’t think most men can understand the not-as-clearly-tangible effects of being harassed every time you walk out of the house. So fellas, raise these discussions among your friends, sons, and brothers. Each one, teach one. No matter how big the booty is, every girl is somebody’s daughter.


P.S. You can see an enlightened male perspective on the subject here:

By | 2013-07-12T10:01:59+00:00 August 8th, 2011|Social Commentary|5 Comments