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I Can’t Accept Street Harassment as a Way of Life

September 2 2014 | CeCe Olisa
On the last day of school in the 6th grade, I was walking home when a car screeched to a halt in front of me. The driver rolled down his window and yelled, “Damn, girl! You’ve got some big titties!”As he sped off, I stood there stunned. My face burned with embarrassment and I felt a strong desire to hide. I felt violated, powerless.

While this extremely disrespectful behavior isn’t a new phenomenom, only recently have I come to understand it for what it is: street harassment.

According to the Street Harassment site, leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, gender-policing, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, as well as insulting and threatening behaviors including vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, stalking, public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and even murder are all considered forms of street harassment.

It took me years to realize the role I was playing in accepting and perpetuating this garbage.

Admittedly, as a plus-size teen, the catcalls felt a bit like validation — not harassment. Since it didn’t seem like boys my own age were attracted to me, when I got attention from random men on the street as I strolled casually to the mall or made my way to the bus stop, I ignored whatever discomfort I felt and convinced myself that at my size I should be grateful for the comments.

Because of this warped sense of gratitude, I assumed I ought to respond to the leers politely; it seemed easier to smile, giggle, and give out fake phone numbers than to say, “Thank you, I’m not interested.”

I guess you could say I also accepted the disrespectful comments because I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t. I can’t ever forget the story of the 14 year-old girl who was run over by a car after declining a sex proposition. Sadly, that’s not an isolated incident; I’ve heard horror stories of unsolicited so-called compliments spiraling into uncomfortable/unsafe encounters.

I Cant Accept Street Harassment as a Way of Life

Now that women like me have taken to sharing their stories of street harassment, in spaces like the #YouOKSis hashtag, Some people (usually men) respond that it’s innocent. “Boys will be boys,” they simply say. Some people even defend street harassment by claiming that the comments are actually compliments. “So, I can’t tell a girl she’s pretty?” I’ve heard men ask.

But, you know something? I’ve been complimented by strangers, and I’ve been harassed on the street, and I know the difference.

When someone pays me a genuine compliment, a response is expected but not necessarily required. When strange men harass me on the street, the expectation is that I’ll smile and verbally respond, maybe even stop to talk and give out my personal information.

The difference between the complimenting gentleman and the street harasser is simple: The street harasser sets the rules, and if I don’t play along, there’s trouble.

Sometimes, I come out on top. Like the time a man sitting across from me began to masturbate, and instead of freaking out, I whipped out my cell phone, turned on the flash and started snapping pictures. That got him running!

Of course, it’s not always this easy. I remember the time when a man went from calling me “beautiful” to calling me a “fat bitch” when I declined his advances. Everyone on the street looked at me (instead of him) and suddenly, I was that 12- year-old powerless girl, hyper-aware of my body and all the eyes on me.

Street harassment is damaging, and it’s mean, but we can do something about it. We can not let it ruin our self-esteem and dash our sense of self-worth, both of which were hard-earned for me.

Waking up in the morning and feeling beautiful is something I work hard for. Loving myself is an ongoing journey that empowers me. I may not be able to stop men from appraising me on the street, but I can forget about thinking I ought to feel grateful for the long, lingering looks and lascivious lines about my body. In appreciating myself and knowing that I deserve to be treated with respect — no matter what size dress I wear — is what’ll keep me feeling like the valuable, strong woman that I am.

NEXT: When Insecure Men Make Us Feel Insecure

Check out my original post on Refinery29

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25 responses on “I Can’t Accept Street Harassment as a Way of Life

  1. monique Holl

    I work in a booth type gas station at Kroger and a man his late forties came up one day and asked me for my number i said im not interested he kept asking and asking finally he left 30 minutes later he came back and asked again i told him no he went i off talking about “i usually dont go for big broads i was just looking for something to pass The time” i said thats fine you need to leave before i call security. Im tired of people thinking just because im a plus size girl im supposed to take any man that comes along nope i will not lol

    1. CeCe Olisa

      The whole “I usually don’t go for big girls” line is sooooo annoying. And yet, he’s coming back over and over trying to get your attention… okay sir! lol

  2. Dmonique Holl

    I work in a booth type gas station at Kroger and a man his late forties came up one day and asked me for my number i said im not interested he kept asking and asking finally he left 30 minutes later he came back and asked again i told him no he went i off talking about “i usually dont go for big broads i was just looking for something to pass The time” i said thats fine you need to leave before i call security. Im tired of people thinking just because im a plus size girl im supposed to take any man that comes along nope i will not lol

  3. dmoniqueholl@gmail.com

    I work in a booth type gas station at Kroger and a man his late forties came up one day and asked me for my number i said im not interested he kept asking and asking finally he left 30 minutes later he came back and asked again i told him no he went i off talking about “i usually dont go for big broads i was just looking for something to pass The time” i said thats fine you need to leave before i call security. Im tired of people thinking just because im a plus size girl im supposed to take any man that comes along nope i will not lol

    1. nycece@gmail.com

      The whole “I usually don’t go for big girls” line is sooooo annoying. And yet, he’s coming back over and over trying to get your attention… okay sir! lol

  4. dmoniqueholl@gmail.com

    I work in a booth type gas station at Kroger and a man his late forties came up one day and asked me for my number i said im not interested he kept asking and asking finally he left 30 minutes later he came back and asked again i told him no he went i off talking about “i usually dont go for big broads i was just looking for something to pass The time” i said thats fine you need to leave before i call security. Im tired of people thinking just because im a plus size girl im supposed to take any man that comes along nope i will not lol

  5. denalichic@msn.com

    After having casual conversation at the skating rink, a guy who I later found out calls himself “The Big Girl Lover”, asked me for my phone number. I politely told him “nah, i’m good.” He looked as if he saw a ghost and kept asking me why, Why, WHHHYY!!! (Why you whinin’ tho!) He asked, “is it because I’m ugly?” I laughed and told him No, because he was quite attractive. He kept on keeping on until I lied and told him I was involved. Why is it a polite “No, I’m good. Thank you.” seems to be never enough?! (There are always exceptions to the rule.)

    1. benwhoski.web@gmail.com

      I’ve had this experience with a lot of guys who start out their conversations with how much they like big women. I’ve encountered enough of them that think that their liking women my size should be the only prerequisite for me getting involved with them. It feels like the expectation is that I’m supposed to latch onto him and hold on for dear life because “OMG. HE ACTUALLY LIKES FAT CHICKS, I MIGHT NEVER GET ANOTHER CHANCE!”

  6. Jeannine

    Cece,

    I am a young woman finding herself in this world and I have to say that you blog is a beacon. I eagerly check your site for new blog posts! You’re speaking so much truth and you just glow!

  7. jv.jev.jen@gmail.com

    Cece,
    I am a young woman finding herself in this world and I have to say that you blog is a beacon. I eagerly check your site for new blog posts! You’re speaking so much truth and you just glow!

  8. AC

    After having casual conversation at the skating rink, a guy who I later found out calls himself “The Big Girl Lover”, asked me for my phone number. I politely told him “nah, i’m good.” He looked as if he saw a ghost and kept asking me why, Why, WHHHYY!!! (Why you whinin’ tho!) He asked, “is it because I’m ugly?” I laughed and told him No, because he was quite attractive. He kept on keeping on until I lied and told him I was involved. Why is it a polite “No, I’m good. Thank you.” seems to be never enough?! (There are always exceptions to the rule.)

    1. Benwhoski

      I’ve had this experience with a lot of guys who start out their conversations with how much they like big women. I’ve encountered enough of them that think that their liking women my size should be the only prerequisite for me getting involved with them. It feels like the expectation is that I’m supposed to latch onto him and hold on for dear life because “OMG. HE ACTUALLY LIKES FAT CHICKS, I MIGHT NEVER GET ANOTHER CHANCE!”

  9. carisa

    Oh Cece! Thank you for writing this very personal blog entry. I feel more akin to you now than ever. I too lived in NYC and got cat-called, rubbed up against and was once stunned in place in an empty 6 train with a man masturbating right in front of me. I didn’t know how to react.I was scared for my life; that I may be raped. The train was stalled between stations and I just couldn’t move from fear. It took all the energy I had but I ran the minute the doors were almost closing so he couldn’t follow me. I cried in the corner of the St. Lawrence platform. It still shakes me to this day…8 years later.

  10. thatpenguinchick@aol.com

    Oh Cece! Thank you for writing this very personal blog entry. I feel more akin to you now than ever. I too lived in NYC and got cat-called, rubbed up against and was once stunned in place in an empty 6 train with a man masturbating right in front of me. I didn’t know how to react.I was scared for my life; that I may be raped. The train was stalled between stations and I just couldn’t move from fear. It took all the energy I had but I ran the minute the doors were almost closing so he couldn’t follow me. I cried in the corner of the St. Lawrence platform. It still shakes me to this day…8 years later.

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