On dealing with a peculiar kind of street harassment

A SYTYCB entry

1. Hey, hey, big gal! Big gal!

2. 6’7″!!!!

3. Heeey, shorty? (insert loud mouthed laugh)

I recently moved back to New York from what felt like a blink-and-you-miss-it stint on the West Coast. Three years was just enough to forget how to insert a Metrocard correctly, avoid peak supermarket times, and just how much men in the city’s streets love to  yell at me  about my height.

It’s not like I was never street harassed on the West Coast specifically for my height—I was. But, through what  I’m sure are complex intersections of a myriad of factors  (increased shared public spaces, culture, and lotsa walking around,etc) my experiences around street harassment peak in New York.

Alas, the numbered  quotations above are not commentaries for a boxing fight or auctioneer calls at a livestock event, they are a rather small sampling of what gets yelled at me as my tall (6’3″) self stomps strolls through boroughs. I used to think the men who were shouting these things at me were actually trying to make a poor manuver towards romance; or a even an inelegant path towards sex. Like, maybe there was a group of men I somehow always seem to run into, who think that wooing is best done by shouting my exact measurements.  Or not so exact. Most of the time, what I hear sounds more like accusations and derisions than compliments. It’s like I actually offend these men for being as tall as I am.

The comments above were all issued one recent Saturday in 3 separate parts of the city. These kind of words are directed towards me all the time. Street harassment happens to a lot of people all the time. And so, I had to wonder, are there any out there like me who seem to always get called out for a certain trait? I’ve been the same height since I was about 14 years old and have experienced my fair share of not-so-great public interactions concerning it. I’ve also had strangers gush about this trait like mad. I usually smile and assure them that I did play basketball for a couple of years. (Some people are very offended if I didn’t at least try at some point.)

However, when it comes to street harassment, especially of the shouting and snide remark variety, I never feel as if I am handling  it the “right way”. Most of the time I ignore the men in question and try to be the Stoic Black Woman with a Heart of Gold. I glare straight ahead, never smile, and pretend I didn’t hear a thing.  While I don’t ever engage with these men in their power moves and therefore lay better claim to safety and efficiency, I’m starting to feel like my dignity is wanting some space too. So maybe its time for different approach.  Do others out there handle different instances of street harassment in one similar manner?

I remember reading the Stop Street Harassement Assertive Responses page at www.stopstreetharassment.org sometime ago and thinking something like, “Golly gee!” It was amazing to see all these quick, clear, and strong responses that let the harasser know that they simply have zero claim to my body; that they carry no right to make me feel ashamed or uncomfortable.

Its scary how much I internalized that I was somehow to blame or that having my space encroached upon in this manner was a-ok. I know it’s not going to be easy for me, but Iam  ready to alter the way I honor myself  and let these harassers know what’s up. The only sad thing about my born-again desire to practice these newly found tools is the reality of street harassement; of how sure I am that its a matter of when, not if.

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