I feel like there’s been a rich history of women and some men reporting tales of street harassment on tumblr. I started to search for some examples, but you know something that’s not that fun? Looking for examples of street harassment on tumblr. Instead I’ll just tell you mine, add to the broader narrative of people reporting this bullshit.
I live on a street where I feel safe, in a neighborhood where I feel safe. The safety mostly comes from numbers. The street is never empty. I am never walking down it alone. There is always someone a block ahead, a block behind, across the street.
Last night when I was walking, I walked past several people, lapped them, was on a block on my own. A man was walking toward me from the other direction. He was on his phone. We walked past each other. He was on one side of the sidewalk, I the other. As we passed he reached out and grabbed my wrist. He didn’t stop walking, just grabbed it, held it for a second, squeezed it, let it go, and kept walking. I paused, whipped around. He had turned his head back at me, too. Was smiling. I whipped right back around and kept walking forward.
Maybe he thought he knew me. Maybe he thought I was someone else. Maybe it was an accident and his hand really just brushed mine and when he tried to pull it away he accidentally put his fingers around my wrist and squeezed instead. Maybe I was swinging my arms more than I thought I was. Maybe I swung my arm out and at the exact right time his hand was cupped at the exact right angle and the squeezing motion I felt was totally involuntary, a phsyiological reaction, like a sphincter.
It took me maybe thirty seconds to get to the end of the block, to cross the street and enter the deli where I didn’t even know I was headed until I was in the back, opening the refrigerator door and picking up a bottle of water. It took that thirty seconds for me to get angry. That man grabbed my wrist on purpose and he did it because he wanted to and because he could.
This is the absolute most benign example of this kind of thing that I can think of, that I’ve heard of, that could happen. When I think of this kind of thing, I think of full on attack, of men in masks, stranger danger back alley rapists, subway ass grabbers. When I think of this kind of thing, I picture myself screaming, hitting, speaking very, very strongly. How many nights have I walked home on emptier streets, emboldened by a mantra that if anyone fucked with me, I would go primal.
I would say I’m glad my first time being touched by a stranger on the street was so uneventful, that it can be viewed as good training for being aware, even in situations where it doesn’t feel like you need to be aware, a lesson in being ready to go primal anywhere. But someone grabbed my wrist, and I was so shocked that I didn’t have the wherewithal to say anything, to even get angry right away. I didn’t go primal because I’m not sure it’s possible to go from enjoying the breeze to primal in one second flat.
Maybe I knew I wasn’t actually in danger. Maybe I knew this was not a time for being primal, but a time for delayed reactions and next-day blog posts. I knew I was fine, so I was fine. Yes, that’s it. If I’m ever ACTUALLY in danger, for sure I’ll scream, fight back, make it abundantly clear that you cannot touch another person’s body just because you want to. Because you cant. That’s not something you can do. Even if it’s just the wrist, even if it’s on a bright street, even if you smile afterwards.