Let’s Talk About Sexual Harassment

I wasn’t going to post about the #yesallwomen movement. I mean, it’s important and all. I’ve been sharing links on Facebook and Twitter about it, but I didn’t think that MY story mattered. I didn’t think MY story was important. yes-all-women Today I had an appointment to get my hair cut. Because we live outside of town, I was meeting Phil downtown by my salon. He was going to park the truck and then come switch cars with me and take the girls home. He did just that. It was a busy afternoon downtown, so he had to park a block further down. He didn’t have any change with him, so I had to run back to the truck to put some quarters in the meter.

To set the scene, you must know that downtown is busy. I was on Broadway, after all. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Shops, restaurants, people on every sidewalk. Yet I still had my guard up. (Which is proof enough that women are living in a scary world.) I was walking down the sidewalk, maybe 50 feet from the truck. I noticed the sound of a bike behind me. I could tell it was going slowly, just at my pace. I assumed someone was walking the bike. I slowed down just a tad to see if the bike would also slow, and sure enough, it did. I was in front of a flower shop, so I chose to stop at the window and act like I was looking in, hoping the biker would pass. He did, and I was relieved. As soon as he got about 10-15 feet ahead of me, I continued down the sidewalk, towards the parking meter. The man walking the bike stopped, then turned around and looked at me. He then turned his bike sideways so that he completely blocked the sidewalk. I froze. Usually I’d either turn around and go the other way or I would decide to remain confident and continue on my way, maybe even with a look of “hello.” But he was purposefully blocking the sidewalk and he was looking directly at me. I knew something was up. A second later, he made a comment about wanting to tug my hair. Then he asked me if I wanted to suck his dick. I immediately turned around and walked the other way, grabbing my phone in case of emergency as I went. He yelled a few more things at me and then said”Aw, come on! What’s the matter?” A few seconds later, I was on the next block down and he was out of site.

Part of me wants to say, Oh it’s not that big of a deal. I’m not hurt. Nothing really happened. I’m fine. But it is a big deal.

I have been harassed like this several times in my life. I frequently got cat-called walking down Greek town in college. I remember being hollered at when I was on a band trip in high school. A few more incidents stand out to me. Like the time a man at the grocery store asked me if I wanted to give him a blow job. Or the time I was with a male friend at a convenient store in college and a man commented on my ass and what he’d like to do to it. Or the time when a man gestured at me to give him a blow job in a grocery store parking lot. Or the time a few weeks ago when a group of young men yelled to me that I had cocaine on my ass, (um, what??) then proceeded to cuss out and start a fight with my husband. (This happened at the ZOO. WITH my girls. Phil was actually holding Margot.)

The point is, it has happened so many times that when it does, I shrug it off like it’s not a big deal. I mean, no one touched me. I wasn’t grabbed. I wasn’t groped. Or worse – raped. I’m lucky. Right?

When I think about raising 3 girls in a world where they need to have their guard up, take self-defense classes, attend “no means no” seminars, take advice like “don’t go out alone” and “don’t  wear your hair in a bun or a ponytail,” and invest in things like rape whistles and pepper spray, I get sick to my stomach. How has this become our reality? Why is this not a bigger deal?

1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted at least once in their life. 1 in 5 women are raped. And my guess is that nearly all women are sexually harassed at some point in their lives. These statistics alone should be enough to get us all pumped up and ready to do something about it. I don’t really have a solution other than starting a discourse. If we talk about it, we think about it. And if we think about it, maybe we’ll start to live in a way that changes these numbers.

So, let’s discuss…

What is sexual harassment?

What is sexual assault?

Is it only harassment if it was offensive?

How does it start?

Do “whistle sounds” constitute harassment?

Do car horns count as harassment?

Does this mechanism for wooing women ever work? 

Has anyone answered, “Yes, please!” when asked by a stranger if they’d like to give a blow job?

How should we respond in situations like this? Should I have flagged down the nearest police officer?

When jokes are made about rape or sexual abuse, how do we respond?

How do we talk about this to our kids?

How do we keep them from living in fear, yet prepare them for an encounter like this?

How do we prevent this kind of thing from happening?




  1. Melissa says

    Sometimes I forget that vulgar comments and cat-calls ARE sexual harassment because they have been so common in my life. You’re right for sharing this incident and adding to the conversation.

  2. Amanda says

    This makes my skin crawl. I usually feel pretty safe on Broadway. Thanks for sharing this and rising awareness!

  3. says

    I know a lot of women take offense at being whistled at but I wouldn’t personally. I can see how that could be construed as harassment but I think in most cases there is no intent to intimidate or exert power. Vulgar language and sexual propositioning are clearly harassment, as are repeated advances of a tamer sort if you have already made it clear you are not interested. Uninvited physical contact is clearly out of bounds. I had a couple of harassment experiences as a waitress while I was in college. One of the bus boys always was hugging and touching all of us in this creepy-romantic way. I put up with it at first and finally told him to get his hands off me. I believe I also complained to the manager. Another time a customer asked me, “When can I have YOU for dinner?” I just said never and walked away, and I also told the manager who was basically like, “The customer is always right,” and did nothing. I do think relative positions of power can be important in determining whether an action could be considered harassment. If a peer had said that to me at the time, I would have considered it a somewhat creepy pick up line, but not harassment. It was because I was his waitress that it was so bad–like he thought he owned me because I was waiting on him.

    Anyway, I am sorry that happened to you, and I probably would have at least threatened the guy with the police. I would be very interested to see what and officer would have done about the situation.

  4. says

    I think one of the most important things to learn is self awareness. Be aware of your surroundings. Body language and observation can tell you a lot about everything around you, men, women, etc. I live in a small town, but these things happen everywhere, all the time. Its staggering. I have only been the victim of the usual: cat calls, lewd gestures and suggestions. Saying its the usual is sad though. Its happened to us all.

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