My 15-year-old daughters reached another milestone yesterday. Experiencing street harassment at the bus stop is not something I wanted to commemorate. I knew this day would come, and I dreaded it. If someone we knew demeaned their spirit or sense of safety, he or she would not be welcome in our lives. But how do you take on the commonplace attitude that men are entitled to comment on women’s looks at a bus stop or during a presidential speech? One of the men said, among other salacious remarks, “oh, if I was 25 years younger, I would have you.” I hate that ownership language. And besides, why would he assume that my daughter would have him? It is one thing to have a theoretical discussion about the objectification of women, but it is quite another to have your kids wondering if it is more risky to get on the bus or to walk back home.
My twin daughters, raised in the same environment, reacted very differently to the harassment. One said “you can’t show them that you are scared.” The other was more unnerved. Another woman at the bus stop yelled out “What did you say?” which made my daughters feel less alone. (Bless you bus stop ally.)
I didn’t want to end the conversation with my daughters feeling powerless. We talked about noticing people around you, hanging back if you are uncomfortable, going into a store—really trusting your gut if something feels off. Don’t be afraid to yell out that someone is bothering you. I also had to tell them that this will probably happen again, and it is not about what you are wearing, how old you are, or what you look like, it is about being seen as less than a whole person.
At home, I talk about building a beloved community with each other, among our friends and neighbors, and in my work. How do we build a beloved community that is a big enough tent that this wouldn’t happen again? Emily May, co-founder of Hollaback, thinks we can end street harassment by documenting each incident and sharing it with the world to shame harassers and build public understanding about the harms of it.
One of my daughters asked for a ride today instead of taking the bus. I gave her a ride, but I also told her that I don’t want her to be afraid to take the bus. I still have some work to do to help repair her sense of self.