Before Wedding Quickie: Friends, drag, and street harassment

My sister’s getting married tomorrow, so I’m in Seattle for the weekend (paying to have hideously expensive internet for the night). I’ll be back for real on Tuesday.

So, first the good points: Ariel came down to see me and we had a fantastic night. We did a dinner theatre thing, which was fun and funny.

My sister’s fiance got set up by his dad to be one of the “victims” of the performers, Kevin Kent, who was dressed up in drag as “Cookie” (I’ll be using female pronouns for Kent/Cookie, as the character was female). So, Cookie decided that she was the “Goddess of the Hunt” and that my sister’s fiance was her prey. She took off his shirt and put him in this fuzzy hat with antlers.

He, of course, hamming it up as he loves to do, got completely into the act. She told him to “die” after she shot an arrow into his heart, and he fell to the ground, after which she added, “…and fall onto my bosom.” To which he got up and face planted into her cleavage obligingly.

For the final part, Cookie told him to give her a kiss. Seeing as most heterosexual men, especially those about to be married, wouldn’t kiss another man (no matter how fetchingly dressed in drag he was), I’m guessing that Cookie intended to involve my sister in it somehow when her fiance inevitably balked.

I, however, knew him better than that. And, lo, he brazenly dashed into her arms and planted a kiss right on her lips. It was a moment that none of us will forget, and I’m betting that’ll include Cookie, who was just as stunned as my sister’s fiance’s family.

Now the bad: Mom, who hasn’t been able to spend the time with me this trip that we both wanted, asked if Ariel and I would walk to the hotel with her instead of taking a cab. Thinking nothing of it, we agreed. It’s a nice night, Seattle is beautiful in the summer, and it’s not like I don’t walk twice the distance in my daily life in Okazaki.

Point 1: When I informed Dad of our intention of walking, he started up with the rape culture stuff. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? It’s late and you’re all painted up… I’m not sure it’s safe. Are you sure you don’t want to get a cab?”

I mean, of course he’s worried about me, especially since he lives in Miami where you can’t walk down the street in broad daylight wearing baggy jeans and a long t-shirt, with your hair all mussy without every single car containing at least one man whistling at you as they drive by. But holy fucking shit, can I not go one day in my damn life without feeling the constant fear of having been born female? Like, seriously?

Which brings me to Point 2: I’m walking with Ariel and my mother, and we pass a group of guys. Inevitably, they start up with the “hey there pretty lady” shit (sorry, Luke, none of us had picture phones available, so we can’t Hollaback). Did I put my money where my mouth was and say something pithy to them? No, of course not. I shot them a dirty look and kept walking.

I could make up a thousand excuses as for why (they wouldn’t have listened to me, we had to get home and it was late, etc etc), but the truth is that I was scared. I was afraid that they’d hurt me, or Ariel, or my mom. I was afraid they would chase us, or continue harassing us, or pull a weapon on us. I was afraid that Dad was right, and it wasn’t safe, and I was an idiot for walking the 10 fucking blocks to my hotel.

And that wasn’t the only harassment we got. This one older white guy in a grey shirt that said “army” on it walked past us and held out his thumb to me like he was trying to hitch-hike. I have no idea what he was trying to say with that one, but it creeped me out.

I feel so demoralized right now. I feel like if, at the end of the day, all my talk doesn’t even help me stand up to the creeps on the street, then how do I expect to help anyone else out on these issues? What’s this all for if we can’t even walk somewhere — dressed up or not — without men feeling it’s their right to “compliment” us by harassing us. I should be able to walk down the fucking street at night dressed however I like without men assuming that I’m doing it for them and that they have the right to threaten me, and give people like my father cause to try to dissuade me from doing something — like walking instead of driving — that gives me personal satisfaction.

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10 Responses to Before Wedding Quickie: Friends, drag, and street harassment

  1. Lake Desire says:

    I’m always too scared to do stuff back. ‘Cause, you know, it’ll be my fault for provoking them if attacked. Sort of like it was my fault for being a woman and outside and wearing clothes when that old neighborbor exposed himself to me while masturbating.

    We did think of you at the time, Luke, and were disappointed we couldn’t turn our street harassers into a contribution.

  2. joyce says:

    too bad i missed u in seattle… i was there just last week and did walk a bit around at night too (admittedly jesse was with me walking) but never got anything crazy (luckily!)… i heard it was dangerous in seattle at night but i thought it was more related to mugging…

    anyways, just glad u’re safe~

  3. Sage says:

    Hey, I wrote something very similar the other day. Being a high school teacher has really helped me talk to groups of guys in the street. They’re all (almost all) just insecure kids to me, trying to get some negative attention or assert the power they hold in a mere extended look or gesture. I might pretend I recognize one of them – “Hey, did I teach you last year?” Or say something unexpected to a comment, “How sweet of you to notice” with no sarcasm at all. Sarcasm or anything “tough” might get them going further. They might see it as a challenge. Other times I just walk by as if they’re invisible. It’s tricky knowing what to do when. We really have to trust our instincts in each situation. One time the right action was to run like hell and beeline it to a 7/11 instead of taking a short-cut home through a forest.

    Maybe bloggers could amass what works for them on the street on someone’s blog somewhere. (I’d do it, but don’t get a lot of traffic – I’m excited by 5 comments to a post.)

  4. Dora says:

    First, the good: your sister’s fiance sounds awesome. :D

    As for the bad: I know exactly what you mean. There’s only been one time that sexual harassment has seriously upset me, and I also could not bring myself to retaliate (yell at the man, inform the people around me, or even look him in the eye) because, I realized, I was afraid he would follow me and hurt me. People say that street harassment is nothing? Not a “real” threat? Then why do so many women automatically modify their actions in order to avoid a physical attack? It’s because we understand the harasser’s implicit message.

    I hate that, no matter what progress we make in our personal lives – strengthening ourselves and educating the people around us – we can run smack into a wall like this. The only advice I can give is to continue doing what you’re doing: tell people about it, and point out why it’s wrong. You may not have been able to say anything at the time, but it’s still helpful that you aren’t silent about this. I wish there was more that we could do; maybe someone smarter has an idea.

  5. tekanji says:

    Thanks for the replies, everyone :)

    Ari: Yeah, I mean, what were you thinking, looking out your window? Clearly that was inviting harassment. I bet you’re a slut, too. (Btw, I read my present on the plane and will have a lot to say about it once I get done pulling the marked quotes from it and Levy’s book).

    joyce: Yeah, I wasn’t down for long, so like, no one got organized. I’m going to be down in December for longer, so expect to be called up for some quality time!

    Sage said:

    Maybe bloggers could amass what works for them on the street on someone’s blog somewhere. (I’d do it, but don’t get a lot of traffic – I’m excited by 5 comments to a post.)

    That’s a great post and a great idea! Though I don’t get a lot of traffic, either. :( The most have been the couple shitstorms I’ve managed to create, or those occassional times when I write things that generates actual discussion. Maybe when Luke comes back he’ll post something on Hollaback Seattle and we can all link it :o

    Dora:

    People say that street harassment is nothing? Not a “real” threat? Then why do so many women automatically modify their actions in order to avoid a physical attack? It’s because we understand the harasser’s implicit message.

    Oh, come on, it’s obviously a compliment. Not meant to intimidate at all. Which is why it’s usually done by guys in groups and yelled out at women, rather than conveyed in ways that wouldn’t be seen as aggressive behaviour if it was male on male. Oh, wait.

  6. It just sucks that you had to go through that. Sucks more that you will likely go through it again sometime.

    I think that you do a lot to fight this sort of thing, even if you may feel like you’re not fighting it as directly as you might want to right there on the fly with a particular jerk. Every time that you get your ideas out there into the world, they have a chance to change things, and as long as you can keep flinging them out there, you are affecting change. Maybe not change for *that* guy or for the people he will later harass, but change for the world, and for men (and women) in general.

    And yet, it will never be as satisfying as being able to feel like you can safely retort; sigh.

  7. Lucy says:

    First of all, I’m so glad to have found this site via Persephone’s Box. Second, I think Sage is right on. I am a teacher, too, and in general I have worked with people in various “dangerous sections of Boston.” The best way to be safe is to have confidence and show it. I always greet men on the street. Often they look surprised, or a bit taken aback. “How ya doin’?” is the usual Boston greeting, and I almost always get a friendly greeting in return.

    My theory is that I transform from a potential fantasy object to anybody’s sister when I speak up. If a guy says hello first, or leers at me, same program: I say hello. I do not cross the street or avert my eyes. It’s my street, too. And I don’t mind a friendly smile from a guy walking along the sidewalk. Any assault I have experienced has come from people I knew.

    One more thing: at the airport recently, a bunch of college guys were being loud, cursing, and bragging about drunken bouts. It was a subtle harassment of everyone at the baggage claim. Who would say anything to these big young guys? When one of them said something disgusting within my school-age daughter’s earshot, I said “Hey! I have a little girl right here.” They all shut up immediately, the bravado gone. God, I’m tough.

  8. Kiwi says:

    Following Dora over from LJland. Your sister’s fiancee sounds wonderful, it’s refreshing to see someone who can recognise humor for humor.

    I’ve received the hitch-hiking thing too, walking to work in the morning — the first time I was completely perplexed by it, and stammered something about being late, to which he replied “maybe later then”.

    I had thought at the time that maybe it was some new complicated form of asking for change — the street punks around my work seem to have this idea that harrassing people will make them more likely to give you things — but thinking about it now, I wonder if it isn’t some new complicated form of saying “let’s have sex”. I mean, isn’t the message conveyed by the hitch-hiker thumb “pick me up” or “I need a ride?” >->

  9. Luke says:

    crap, sorry I caught this one kind of late but…

    though I really appreciate you thinking of Hollaback when it happened and though I know you don’t need me to tell you this, I think you’re being too hard on yourself because its only those dumbass guys’ fault for what happened and its no shame to do that in certain situations. I really don’t mean to invalidate what you were feeling but I agree with Jeffliveshere, you’re fighting against sexism, against street harassment in a variety of significant ways and this doesn’t change that.

  10. Godless Heathen says:

    Getting harrassed in front of your family is the worst, in my opinion. I used to get leered at by guys while I was out with my parents, and my mom would get uncomfortable but didn’t tell the guy off. So I felt bad for encouraging them somehow. When I got older I hated it because I couldn’t just drop the eff bomb in front of my folks.

    It’s just sick, you can’t walk around with your family without some guy telling you that you’re just a thing and he can do whatever he wants to you.

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