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An open letter to my street harasser

Mary's a transplanted Detroiter and is passionately involved with a host of causes related to technology, diversity, cultural injustice, digestive health awareness, fitness, and under resourced education rights. Hobbies include deejaying...

Street harassment is not OK. Seriously. Just stop.

Summer is here, which means men and women (mostly women) will endure daily heckles from street harassers. Some nicer than others, but they'll almost always be rude and super creepy.

I tried to explain how a woman feels when she encounters street harassment to a male acquaintance of mine a few days ago. While the aggressor may think he's being funny, exuding machismo or just trying to make his feelings known — overall it's a great way to come off as an ass to the object of your affection. Regardless of this, every day I have witnessed a young woman deal with outrageous behavior from the opposite sex. Since only April of this year, I've been followed home a total of seven times and grabbed on the street by strangers nine times. Most times I am wearing gym clothes, a work-appropriate dress or bummy scrubs from a hospital. It doesn't matter what you wear, guys will still try to get your attention.

I finally hit a breaking point after being chased down the street, on my way to work, by a man that kept yelling, "Come here you African black b****!" Not one person, in a crowd of six to eight people, came to my aid. I grew tired of running, fought back with my words and had to run inside a store to catch up with my emotions. Here is my open letter to all of those men that think this is OK. I'm betting many of you will be able to identify with this unfortunate reality.

Dear Street Harasser,

I'm going to be upfront when I state that yes, I look nice today. That's the purpose of anything I do or put on in most cases. It's summertime and I tend to tread lightly when it comes to pants due to my height so dresses are always in season — especially around this time. I am working hard every day to stay in shape for the benefit of my well-being, so wearing gym clothes is part of my daily wardrobe as well. I gathered that your kind are constant admirers of my physical shape. Can't stop you from staring at me like a plate of ribs fresh off the barbecue grill, I guess. However, I just wanted to share a sentiment or two about the way you're making me feel.

If someone decided to follow your mother, sister or daughter down the street while berating them with comments about "dat ass" or calling them "brown sugar," you'd chase them off. My father, who was a Marine, would more than likely try to "take you out the game" and cause bodily harm in certain cases. When I expect members of my community to look out for me, I've dealt with increasingly scary disappointments. I don't want to dismiss the affections of anyone who has something pleasant to say about my style and confidence. I am aware of the difference but you can't expect me to give you a chance at getting to know me when you can't conduct yourself like a gentleman. That's totally not happening.

When you follow me I don't feel honored, I feel afraid. When you stare at my body while standing next to me, I don't feel wanted, I feel disgusted by you. As you open your mouth to say something crass, I already turned up the music on my phone because I know you're about to be rude. I have to turn my back on my senses in order to walk to the train so often that I don't even notice it. That should not be the norm. This is a problem. And sadly, you will have to take all the first steps for this to have an impactful change.

When you think of me — think of your sister. When you berate me for not responding to your "catcalls," understand that I am not expected to answer you. If you're nice enough to provide a compliment, I will more than likely reply. I am not a "bitch," "hoe" or "slut." I am a woman just trying to live. Use your words. Say "hello." You're making humanity look bad with all of this. Because of you I am uncomfortable walking down certain parts of my street at night. That's not how I should have to live.

Sincerely,

Any woman walking on Any Street USA

Have you encountered this kind of harassment? What do you normally do?

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