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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sometimes, no where is safe: One man's story of street harasssment

Although our site focuses on women and LGBTQ folks experiences of street harassment, the reverberations of street harassment impact us all. Hollaback! was co-founded by three men (and four women) and over the years we have seen some tremendous contributions to the movement on behalf of men. This is one of them.

My name is Tom; I am 30 and a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. I grew up in Phoenix and have been stationed in Texas, Utah, and New Mexico. I have had a few uncomfortable confirmations with strangers over the years, but nothing like what you see on this site, until…

My boss and I went to a conference in Reston VA, a small suburb of Washington D.C. The conference lasted only two days, so we had one night to see the town and enjoy ourselves. The only thing to see in Reston is the Town Center; a nice, but small, outdoor shopping/commercial district.

After dinner and a little shopping, I recommended that we find a grocery store so we could buy a few snacks and some bottled water. We walked about 1 mile north of the Town Center to the nearest Harris Teeter’s. On the way we took some shortcuts through bushes and side streets. My boss said that she was worried because there was no one around and it was late at night in strange city.

I told her that of all the places I had been, sober or drunk, I had never felt safer. We did our shopping at the grocery store. It was one of the nicest grocery stores I have been to, by south Texas standards, and I felt completely safe waiting out front for the hotel shuttle.

Everyone we had seen up until this point had been well dressed and friendly. While we were waiting in front of the grocery store, a man between 25 and 35, wearing dirty clothes and a two day old bread walked by us and said “hey beautiful!” to my boss.

While she is one of the nicest and open people I have ever met, she is very uncomfortable around strangers. I could feel her awkwardness. We said nothing. As he continued to walk towards the store entrance he said “What, too good to talk to me?”

At this point I was a little shaken, but the incident seemed to be over, so we continued to wait for the hotel shuttle. About 15 minutes later he came back out of the grocery store with a 12 pack of beer in a bag.

I am 6’ 3” and 260 lbs, people rarely mess with me; but I hate confrontation, and I am terrified of strangers. When I saw him coming towards us I was afraid he would say something else. As he started walking by us he turned towards my boss and said “Hi, I’m Bill” and held out his hand towards my boss. She looked away and I said “We don’t want any trouble, please keep walking”. He said “I just want to say hi, who are you, her boyfriend?” He was not being friendly. I did not know what to do.

I felt that, as the man, I had to defend my boss. I know that sounds sexist, and until that moment I had never thought that way. I knew she was as scared as I was and I felt a sudden need to protect her.

Directly to our right was a large pet shop. I said: “look we’ll just go in here and wait until our bus comes” pointing towards the pet shop. As we started to get our bags together to walk inside, he backed off and just walked away.

I have told this story many times, and it always gets a lot of laughs because just minutes after I say “this is the safest place I have been, nothing will happen to us” we have a confrontation.

This was 2 years ago, and I have always felt ashamed that I did not stand up enough for myself and my boss. I feel that I backed down when I should have been in his face, and threatened to kick his ass. I am much bigger than he was and could have easily taken him, but that is just not who I am. In the end, nothing happened and I should be proud, but still I am ashamed because I let him make me feel fear.

Submitted by Tom