Since a fairly young age, I’ve traveled all over San Francisco by myself. And I’ve been lucky enough to be aware of what I should expect from being a girl who consistently uses public transportation. Not everyone will treat you respectfully, and when you’re stuck in an uncomfortable situation, the first thing to do is to simply walk away. I’m now 18 years old, and being harassed on the street has become so common for me that I choose to ignore the catcalling and quickly continue on to my next destination. But recently, I was waiting for the bus and a man chose to expose himself to me. Again, I decided to walk away. At that moment, I’ve never felt more violated or outraged toward a complete stranger.
It baffles me that there are people in this world who think that it’s okay to treat someone as a sexual object. When my thoughts cross this topic, a question continues to come to mind: Why should we expect this to happen? How have we become to accustomed to this mistreatment?
Starting with that unfortunate experience, I decided to do a little experiment.
I asked 10 close girl friends of mine how often they are sexually harassed, and they all replied with the same answer; multiple times every day. Some of them only experience the typical catcalls, while others have been touched inappropriately or have also had men expose themselves in public areas.
From catcalling to groping to indecent exposure, women of all ages are forced to endure these forms of harassment. I find it truly disgusting that this happens so often. I feel myself grow outraged whenever a man chooses to say something sexual toward me or another female, and my first reaction is to tell them how sick and immature they are. But I know in the back of my mind that my feelings would remain unacknowledged and they would most likely mock me for speaking up.
It’s a lose-lose situation. If we ignore them, they’ll continue to say inappropriate things until we’re completely out of sight. If we speak up for ourselves, it turns into an argument that we probably won’t resolve.
Sexual harassment doesn’t only occur within metropolitan areas: this is a global issue. In the February 11th New York Times, I read an article addressing the issue of sexual harassment in Mexico City. It has become so common for a woman to be forced to deal with harassment there that the government has decided to have single-sex buses for women.
While I think it’s about time action was taken to solve this issue, it’s depressing to think that harassment is such a common occurrence in everyday life. These women rarely report to authorities when they are sexually harassed — they simply deal with it.
This past year, only seven women made official complaints of harassment on Mexico City’s buses. Since in San Francisco women experience it multiple times daily, I can’t even imagine how high the rate is in Mexico City.
Why does this happen? Media has such a strong influence on women’s images. From Abercrombie & Fitch ads and Sports Illustrated covers to Calvin Klein billboards, the media has enforced the general image of women to be almost always sexual. It has become way too common to see a woman in an ad exposing herself in a sexual way.
No woman should have to feel uncomfortable for simply being a woman. It’s frustrating to know that even if we show the slightest amount of skin, we will be recognized for it in a degrading way. It’s not like we choose to wear outfits that reveal our skin because we like that kind attention or are trying to benefit the male population: We do it mostly for ourselves. Maybe we like how we feel in those clothes, perhaps it helps us feel trendy and comfortable.
I want to know that on a hot day, I can wear shorts and be confident that I won’t be harassed. Until that day comes, I’ll have to continue with the simple method of walking away.
Holly Crimmins is eighteen years old and a senior in high school in San Francisco. She is a new intern for About-Face and is greatly anticipating graduating from high school and attending college next fall.