Street Harassment pt. 5: Broken but Hopeful / by Sarah Schwartz

Today's story is the last installment in the Street Harassment Series. At the beginning of this project, I emailed a handful of friends asking them to describe their first experience with street harassment, as well as any other observations they have made about the issue over the years.

I should have known that my best friend Katie would not only provide me with an account of her experience, but would write one of the most discerning, beautiful, and altogether wise pieces I have ever read, touching on themes of sexism, pain, humanity, community, and hope.

I hope you are each lucky enough to have a friend like Katie, who makes you better by occasionally letting you see the world through their eyes. Read her story below.

I was twelve. My older sister and I were walking to the grocery store when a colorful barrage of innuendos spewed out from a vehicle passing by. I'm positive everything yelled was directed towards my blossoming sister, seeing that my life was about as glamorous as my middle part and the binder of Pokemon cards under my bed. The objective behind his passing declaration of desire was still years beyond my understanding, however, I did know one thing--I was embarrassed and upset. 

I moved many times growing up and spent my prepubescent years out in the sticks on the east coast. I may have averted street harassment on those back roads, but they did not prevent an older male classmate from pinning me against the back seat of the school bus and groping me until I broke away. This experience, as juvenile as it may sound, was humiliating and confusing, and it determined a unyielding response of anger and distrust towards this kind of attention in the future. Similar thoughts and feelings were provoked two years later with the aforementioned catcalling--the first of many unsolicited, objectifying interactions with strangers (and even some acquaintances) to follow. In fact, I've been catcalled more times in the past two months than the total number of times I've ever been asked out.

Most recently, I went out to dinner with two friends, and, before we reached the restaurant, two men in separate cars decided to let us know (with fewer words) that they were pleased with our bodily existences(!). On our way back to the car, a man walking past us made a puckering sound and muttered something obscene before continuing on his way. The three of us scoffed in frustration and offered our best zinger of disgust. As cathartic as wielding verbal reprisals can be, our one liners are still powerless in the face (or more realistically the backside) of indifferent oppression. And frankly, they leave me feeling just as dirty as the offender. 

I have seen my responses to these experiences evolve over the years. Silence. Humiliation. Hurt. Anger. Apathy. Whether I came to these conclusions on my own or through well-intended guidance from others, I've slowly grown to understand how these responses (albeit necessary) have been harmful to myself and others.

God continues to graciously heal what seems severed, establish trust where bitterness festers, and surround me with a safe and dignifying community. I've been hurt by people, but He has chosen to heal through His people. These men and women help me understand my depravity, show me how to love well, teach me to forgive, and encourage me to speak out against injustice. They bring me out of silence, console my pain, listen to my anger, and rebuke my apathy. They see me as a friend, a member, created in God's likeness, broken but hopeful, fully human, fully dignified. I see the same in them.   

Catcalling is intrinsically dehumanizing to both the victim and the victimizer. It trivializes beauty and relationship, and it strips an individual of dignity without his/her consent. Our acceptance, apathy, and disregard of these minor offenses only condone increasing perversions and injustices. We are rightfully horrified by stories of acid attacks, mutilation, and sex trafficking, but do we notice the hem of these injustices laying right at our feet? Look closely and you'll find these stories, probably more refined but of a similar texture, threaded through the day to day. Look carefully, you might spot them being blamed on TV networks or standing bewildered on the sidewalk or cowering in the back of the bus.