Tired of street harassment? Take the Power Back — The Strange Pen

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How to defend yourself against catcalls, inappropriate comments, sexual harassment

The sexy bra

In season 1, episode 5 of Netflix cartoon comedy Big Mouth, 13-year-old Jessi Glaser has her heart set on a sexy red bra. 

“You’re not ready for that kind of power,” Jessi’s mother warns, before giving in and making the purchase. 

The following morning, as Jessi dons her new bra under a white wife beater, the hallway of her middle school turns into a gauntlet. 

Friends and teachers ogle her pubescent body, but Jessi bravely holds back tears until she reaches the girl’s bathroom, where she rips off the bra and vows to never wear it again. 

It was her first lesson on the link between sexuality and betrayal. Jessi’s body didn’t betray her. The boys and men she trusted did. It won’t be the last time.  

“Nice titties girl.”

Every girl remember the first time she was harassed by a strange man. For me, it was at the mall. 

I was in my hippie phase, sporting nothing sexier than a vintage t-shirt and bell bottoms. As I headed into the food court bathroom, a man walking out said, “Nice titties girl.” 

Much younger then and still naive, his comment shocked me. 

We’re late bloomers in my family, and I’ve always looked young. In middle school I cursed my flat chest. But today, I pity the girls who develop early and fast. 

Genetics saved me from years of aggressive sexual harassment that no 11, 12, or 13-year-old girl is capable of handling. 

The rest of us? We shouldn’t have to. 

Catcalls Are Not A Compliment 

I’ve spent the last 20 years being honked at, hollered at, shouted at, followed, groped and grabbed by strangers and acquaintances. 

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of defending myself from violent words and actions every time I leave the house. I’m tired of the chorus that makes conversations awkward and walking alone dangerous:

  • “Nice tits.”
  • “You’ve got big tits.”
  • “Your breasts are huge.”

Men talk about my breasts. A lot. They grab my ass in crowds, touch my hip as I walk by. 

It was an acquaintance who grabbed my breast last year. My friends, men who claim to defend the rights of women and people of color, did nothing but watch. A guy I’ve known for over a decade implied I was overreacting. 

That was the worst part, and perhaps the most humiliating. 

How to handle inappropriate comments

Inappropriate comments are not a compliment. Either is grabbing or groping. 

I’m honestly not sure what to do about the latter, except recommend martial arts lessons. You carry yourself differently—interact with the world from a position of confidence—when you know how to defend yourself.

It won’t stop assholes from being assholes, but it’ll make you feel stronger. You don’t have to walk through the world like a potential victim.

As per the former, inappropriate comments is a very broad category. Today I’ll review a very specific kind: friends and acquaintances.

First, some background. Inappropriate comments are a power move. Think about it. Nobody tells the teacher she’s got big tits. They say it behind her back.

So, inappropriate comments are intended to make you feel small. Your goal is to take the power back. When friends and acquaintances make inappropriate comments, here’s how to respond: 

  • Deflect with humor. My favorite is, “Thanks, I grew it/them myself.” 
  • Turn the tables. If you’re feeling cheeky, turn the tables by asking him a provocative question. Consider, “Do you like making girls feel uncomfortable?” or “Does it arouse you to make girls feel uncomfortable?”
  • Be honest. Instead of pretending to be cool with inappropriate comments, tell him, “Ok, I feel really uncomfortable now.” 
  • Walk away. You don’t owe anyone your time or space. When someone crosses a line, consider telling them, “Wow, that was really awkward. I can’t even talk to you now.” Then turn around and walk away.

How do you deal with sexual harassment? Let me know in the comments. 

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About Penelope Strange