BlogStreet Harassment
catcalling_art_caro_article-small_50294
May 12, 2015

Breaking Up with Street Harassment

Originally written for EBONY.com 


Fifteen-year-old Veralyn would have chuckled at the idea of one day organizing to stop street harassment.

I vividly remember the moment I realized my breasts were something to be desired. It was the first day of 7th grade, and I was walking to my school, which was up the block from my house. I was very excited about my back-to-school outfit. I had on a blue denim fitted-dress, with a zipper down the front–a dress I begged my mom for, after seeing Tamera on Sister Sister wearing the same outfit.

As I walked to school, just knowing I looked fly, I heard, “[insert expletive], look at those titties,” from one of the corner boys I passed often on my block. Instead of being horrified, like I would be now, I was pleased that the dress was working (getting me noticed). And so began my entry into the unspoken “game” that I would come to participate in for years to come. My job was to look fly as I walked through the streets. Their job was to let me know that they noticed by hollering at me.

I never thought of it as harassment. Getting hollered at on the street was expected and often the main event. Fridays after school that same year, my best friend and I would head to Fordham Road in the Bronx to be seen by the boys. We’d argue about whose butt looked bigger (she always won) and who got the most attention. In our eyes, we were always in control.

And since I’m being so honest, I should also mention I met my first boyfriend on the street. I was walking to the store for my mom, and I saw him before he saw me. I thought he was gorgeous, and when he finally noticed me, I immediately turned my head. Unwritten social rules dictated that he approach me. He immediately did, and we talked as he followed me to the store and back. And in front of my house we exchanged numbers.

Being followed was a regular thing for me. When I was in high school, a guy I met on the D train followed me all the way to my after-school youth theater program in Lower Manhattan, a 40 minute ride. My director (White male, in his 40s) was horrified that I’d let a strange guy (Black male, in his 20’s) follow me to rehearsal. I honestly didn’t want him to, but given my experience with guys up until that point, I didn’t think I had a choice. And I was too embarrassed by my director’s reaction, to be able to articulate this to anyone.

Though I cannot (and will not) classify the totality of my experiences growing up as harassment (because the streets were for me, what I imagine the mall is for suburban girls– a place to socialize and flirt), I recognize how embarrassingly naive I was to think I was choosing the male gaze. Or that men commenting on my body parts, following me, or often touching me to get/keep my attention was simply about their desire of me– as if becoming undesirable is the key to ending harassment.

What I’ve come to realize is harassment has a lot more to do with exerting power over someone, and there is no opt-out button for it–something I desperately wanted early one morning during my first year living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I was waiting for the bus and this guy (on foot), seeing my suitcase says, if I were your man, I would be driving you to the airport.” And then he proceeds to persist that I give him my number, despite my polite “Thanks, but no thanks” responses, as I prayed 1) he wouldn’t get physical– because who knows what a guy being that aggressive with a stranger, before the sun comes up, is capable of and 2) that if he did get physical, the other man at the bus stop would step in. He didn’t stop until the bus pulled up, a bus he thankfully didn’t get on.

Looking back, my naiveté at 15 probably saved my life. Back then, it hadn’t occurred to me to say “No,” because I felt validated by the attention and because I believed that I was somehow asking for it. Well, the many college classes I took with “Black” and “women” in the title gave me license to call BS on all that. And now I refuse to validate, protect or encourage a social conditioning (patriarchy), which says “Just smile, say ‘Good morning’ back, and give a fake number if you have to.” The consequences of allowing men to feel entitled to the time and attention of anyone they choose is far too great. Just ask the families of Sakia Gunn, Mary Spears, or the women we will never know who’s lives are threatened or taken for simply saying “No” to male propositions.

No, I don’t want to live in a world where two strangers can’t ever meet or interact on the street. I know there are ways men can approach me with respect. It’s happened. But there have been many more times I’ve felt unsafe or objectified. THAT is why I’m working to end all forms of harassment in public spaces. It’s why I’m apart of No Disrespect (ND), an anti-street harassment collective committed to transforming the culture of intrusions, intimidation and harassment in Central Brooklyn, to one of community-building and mutual respect.

For us, men are not inherent harassers. In historically Black and Brown gentrifying communities, ND, as largely Black and Brown women, recognize that we cannot afford to criminalize or dispose of the men in our community. Doing so would harm the very community we are working to transform. Instead we are working towards creating systems for community accountability, which (even the fifteen-year-old in me believes) will one-day end street harassment.

About this author

Veralyn Williams

Veralyn Williams

Veralyn Williams is an award-winning Journalist who has been tackling questions on identity, social norms, and community since she picked up her first microphone 10 years ago. She currently works to build power in Central Brooklyn as Communications Organizer at the Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), a membership-led, direct-action, community organizing group. Through all of her endeavors she aims to give a voice to perspectives that are often forgotten or marginalized in the media. Follow her on twitter at @VeralynMedia.

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Blog
 
Originally written for Gawker . With Brooklyn’s spring thaw in full effect,...
 
Originally written for  EBONY.com   Fifteen-year-old Veralyn would have chuckled at the...
 
Both police harassment and gendered & sexualized street harassment contribute to...
 
Wednesday’s New York Times featured an article announcing the results of...
 
There’s been no shortage of eloquent commentary and reflection on the...
 
The latest indictment of the Department of Education’s management of failing...
 
For the last year and a half I have been BMC’s...
 
As a longtime resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who directly experienced stop-and-frisk abuses...
 
After a passionate debate a few days before the official vote...
 
Listen to Manny W. talk about how a constant police presence...
 
As I approached the corner of Throop Avenue and Van Buren...
 
January inaugurations are typically a time to look forward. Although it’s...
 
On July 21st 2013 Kyam Livingston, a 37 year old African...
 
Listen to Ricky S. talk about the misplaced priorities of the...
 
People have the right to know what they’re eating – particularly...
 
Much of the discourse around gentrification centers on the...
 
BMC’s Anti-Street Harassment Working Group occupied Potomac Playground  (on Tompkins between Halsey & Macon) to listen...
 
I’ve been thinking more and more about my grandma lately as...
 
On July 28th, the Brooklyn Movement Center, in partnership with the...
 
Raise your hand if you’re jaded by elections. You should be....
 
Black and brown people deserve the right to LIFE, liberty and...
 
“Can I help you with those bags, ma?” said the man...
 
The moment I found out about the verdict, the room changed....
 
Why a spectrum? BMC’s Anti-Street Harassment Working Group is working on...
 
Few people consider voting subversive activity. In fact, we think of...
 
  The race to represent District 36 in the NYC Council...
 
“Crack is wack!” Not sure if that enlightening epiphany by the...
 
By Debjani Roy, Hollaback! When it comes to combating street harassment,...
 
It has come to this: We want you to take over...
 
Listen to Malcolm S. talk about the various constitutional violations inherent...
 
By Tanay Warerkar On a recent morning while riding the subway...
 
David Ushery sits down with Marly Pierre-Louis and Anthonine Pierre from...
 
By Kat Noel It was on a trip to the neighborhood...
 
“I said she looks nice today. What’s wrong with that? Why...
 
By Paul DeBenedetto BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — On a recent morning, on her way...
 
While jogging down the street a few years ago, I suddenly...
 
Marc K. believes the NYPD are directly targeting communities of color....
 
Listen to Maya S. talk about how she feels paranoid and...
 
It’s not every day that our Executive Director turns…um…30! Rather than...
 
Join Mom’s Rising on Saturday, March 2 in NYC for an inspirational gathering...
 
Listen to Michael talk about the consequences of taking a plea...
 
Write a 100 page annual report that no one will read?...
 
What does being a citizen mean to you? To be able...
 
Listen to Miles K. talk about how angry it made him...
 
In this episode of “On The Block”, BMC sits with Chelsea...
 
Listen to Milton P. talk about being beaten ruthlessly by the...
 
Think you’re a Taboo champ? PROVE IT! Come with a team...
 
By: Kirsten John Foy Can you imagine needing a service with...
 
Last year thousands of MomsRising.org members told Governor Coumo that NY’s...
 
Natasha was on her way to the library when she was...
 
After a year of research and conversations with hundreds of local...
 
Last month on November 17, I gathered with about 40 other...
 
By YK Hong Dedicated to all of those who walk down...
 
By John Raskin Brooklynites are working together to win a better...
 
We have a short window of time to have a real...
 
Oliver S. talks about racial profiling in this sound bite about...
 
At  Save Our Streets  and  Crown Heights Community Mediation Center  our hearts go out to the town of Newtown,...
 
Listen to Oscar C. talk about his encounters with the NYPD...
 
Listen to Paulene J. talk about the time her grandson was...
 
By: Leon Johnson As a child the primary location of refuge,...
 
By: Byron Hurt The food we eat is as critically important...
 
Listen to Ricky S. talk about the misplaced priorities of the...
 
It was a moment many had expected for years, ever since...
 
Listen to Roland L. talk about how gay and queer people...
 
Listen to Roy F. talk about how the police can get...
 
In March, 2012, School District 16 in Bedford-Stuyvesant was identified in...
 
Here in Central Brooklyn, we’re pretty lucky. Sort of. Sure we...
 
Whatever your cultural or ethnic background, conversations inevitably turn to food...
 
In this podcast, hear Samuel break down the real issue of...
 
Although New York City public schools progress reports for academic year...
 
Rally Saturday, November 17 1pm Franklin Ave. & Park Pl., Brooklyn...
 
By Rachel M. Kleinman & Damon T. Hewitt Each year, nearly...
 
In light of all the inspiring work communities across the city...
 
Think Stop & Frisk is only a problem for men? Think...
 
The Brooklyn Movement Center has teamed up with the Brooklyn Community...
 
“Just because they have a badge or a uniform they think...
 
[UPDATE]  Brooklyn Community Foundation  is in the process of coordinating a recovery fund. Visit...
 
The  Center for Constituational Rights  has created a podcast of New Yorkers telling their stories...
 
This Wednesday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), fellow advocates, and...
 
Last week, MomsRising.org along with over a hundred New Yorkers rolled...
 
Wednesday, October 3rd at 6 p.m., Executive Director, Mark Winston Griffith...
 
Today, Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), partner orgnaizations, including BMC,...
 
I’m a committed New York sports fan. More importantly, I’m a...
 
On this one year anniversary of the birth of Occupy Wall...
 
For years, the Heatwave barbeque in Prospect Park was a huge...
 
The security guards at New York City Hall were overwhelmed, not...
 
In Gwen Guthrie’s 1986 hit “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” she...
 
<a href=”http://brooklynmovementcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/dnainfo.jpg”><img class=”size-medium wp-image-409″ src=”http://brooklynmovementcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/dnainfo-300×224.jpg” alt=”Bk stoop” width=”300″ height=”224″ /></a> BK...
 
<strong>By Lindsay Kalter</strong> <a href=”http://brooklynmovementcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/photoadayintersections.jpg”><img class=”size-medium wp-image-417″ alt=”photo a day garden”...
 
The Brooklyn Movement Center believes everyday people are the true witnesses...
 
On the Block with BMC is a monthly video series profiling...
 
We have an office! We have an office! For almost 4...
 
The Brooklyn Movement Center believes everyday people are the true witnesses...
 
2013 will be a defining moment for public education. Why, you...
 
Are you going to be a high school junior or senior...
 
A tiny burst of energy is enough to get any ball...
 
  Please come out and check out this important film being...
 
Daily Press , a coffee shop on Franklin & Hancock in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is...
 
By now, we’ve all heard about  Trayvon  Martin. The  unarmed, seventeen year old kid  killed while going...
 
By Maitefa Angaza – The Pratt Center for Community Development, Pratt’s Initiative...
 
Our very own Mark Winston Griffith was on NPR with Brian...
 
Several stores in the Bed-Stuy community have a new product on...
 
Over 150 Frederick Douglass Academy IV (FDA IV) and P.S. 26 parents, alumni,...
 
Executive Director Mark Winston Griffith joined Arva Rice, the president and CEO...
 
There are a lot of reasons for Central Brooklynites to not get involved...
 
You know Mary Ward.  She is in all of our families....
 
A lot of attention has been paid recently to the rise...
 
Shhhh!  Don’t tell anyone!  There was an election just a few...
 
“Get on the bus!” That was my clarion call for the past...
 
In partnership with 500 Men Making a Difference, and the administration...
 
New details are emerging on the Department of Education’s decision that...
 
Is it a stay of execution or a permanent reprieve? After...
 
With Cathie Black’s departure, the public’s focus will remain on the...
 
After only a few short months on the job, Cathie Black...
 
Elliot Vazquez, a junior at Samuel Gompers High School in the...
 
In March, the New York Police Department released its stop-and-frisk numbers...
 
They’re super schools sent to save America’s neediest children.  Or they’re...
 
Congressman Anthony Weiner recently  released a report   that found that since 2006, the...
 
Robert G. Thompson is a multimedia journalist, writer, and filmmaker, keeping...
 
The state and city budgets contain nothing but bad news for...
 
Two years ago, Boys and Girls High School got a D...
 
Today on our website, the MC’s journalism intern Patrick Wall sounds...
 
Robert G. Thompson is a multimedia journalist, writer, and filmmaker, keeping a regular...
 
“I love the concept of change. Everybody’s in favor of change....
 
Robert G. Thompson is a multimedia journalist, writer, and filmmaker, keeping a regular...
 
The District 16 Project Bed-Stuy Patch/C.Zawadi Morris November 6, 2012  ...
 
Last week Bronx Borough President Ruben, NYC Comptroller John Liu, several...
 
Among the many items in this week’s news, there was one...
 
When times are hard, you discover who your real friends are....
 
The recent news that Mayor Bloomberg offered Jeffrey Canada, the founder...
 
It’s no secret that Central Brooklyn is a poster child for...
 
Check out this  article in The Root , written by the Executive Director of the...
Originally written for Gawker . With Brooklyn’s spring thaw in full effect,...