Sex & Gender

feature: my name is not “yo shorty” – street harassment is real

August 1, 2014

I remember being a teenager and my sister telling me to make sure I at least smile when men hit on me in the street, even if i didn’t want it. Of course I challenged her thought, why should I smile at advances I don’t desire? Then she continued on, telling me a story of a girl in our neighborhood who was hit in the face with a rock because she ignored a man’s advances. It was after that conversation that I assumed that for my safety I would have to appease the egos of men as I walked down the streets of New York, so I wouldn’t hurt the ego of a man, who may retaliate and hurt me. Not showing that my space has clearly been violated by a man whom I don’t know grabbing my arm for attention, following me in cars, or on foot for blocks and me trying to find the nice ways to turn them down for my safety. I got so used to this that it became normal, it seemed as though that’s just the way it was supposed to be. It wasn’t until my late twenties that it I realized that this is horrible, and grew tired of men who feel I must be nice to them to help soothe their ego. If I don’t want to talk to you, smile at you or say thank you to your compliments as I walk down the street, I DON’T HAVE TO!! This kind of street harassment towards women must stop.

By Queen, AFROPUNK Contributor *

What is Street Harassment?

When incidents like this are talked about, many people cringe at it being called street harassment but that is in fact what it is. According to, street harassment is “Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.” Violence doesn’t have to take place in order for harassment to occur, but it can definitely lead to violence. I would like to go further and add that Street Harassment can occur among same sex people as also, it isn’t only men to women interaction. Within this article I will be focusing on Men to Women interactions.
The “No-means-No” rule applies here also, once a women clearly turns down advances, leave it be, anything after can be street harassment. Following, grabbing and cursing out a woman to divert your embarrassment on to her is quite juvenile. Oddly, street harassment is a very understudied occurrence, and the statistics on it are mostly done by non-profit organizations that conduct surveys. I thinks this is largely because these activities are pretty much considered social norms, it’s behavior that is generally socially accepted. In 2008 an online survey conducted by in which 881 women polled, 99% said they experienced street harassment, with activities ranging from excessive car honks, sexist and sexual comments, being followed, making vaguer gestures. Nearly 57% of women reported sexual touching or grabbing, 37% reported having men masturbate in front of them, and about 27 percent reported being assaulted.

Why aren’t there more studies/statistics?

When doing research for this article I had a hard time finding current numbers and statistic to match what many women in NYC deal with daily. Shouldn’t there be numbers backing this information? There should be, but there isn’t enough; issues like these are pushed aside. In NYC it hasn’t been addressed in government until our recent Mayor Bill De Blasio released a document while running for office.

“End Street Harassment and ‘Subway Grinding.’
As mayor, Bill De Blasio will continue to aggressively push to make ‘subway grinding’ a felony punishable by jail time. Bill De Blasio will also further his efforts to prevent sexual assault by launching a wide-scale Public Services Announcement campaign that expands awareness and empowers bystanders to confront harassment when they see it, be it on the streets or in the subways.”

It’s great that it’s finally being addressed but this is after many accounts of women either recording or taking pictures of incidents of public masturbation or being gropped by men on the subway.

Street harassment isn’t taken very seriously among many people. I’ve seen countless times men saying “That’s just men being men.” If being a man constitutes you not being able to control sexual behavior and be respectful of people, then thoughts like that are the root of the problem. I myself tweeted about an incident from my past, a man drove past me as I crossed the street and tried to grab my breast while walking through Harlem at the age of 15. The man missed my breast, but still managed to grab my stomach as he sped off. Clearly this was wrong, and clearly I was violated, but I got a reply of laughter from a follower, who then went further to say “I shouldn’t have been so close.” I told a story of a man clearly violating a teenager, and it was humorous to him. It is that mindset of street harassment not being real, or taken seriously that is a huge problem.

What can be done

Many feminist groups are trying to get laws made to curbed street harassment, but we are a long way from that happening, so what can we do now? An idea that I thought was genius was the #youoksis campaign started by Feminista Jones. She’s a feminist who makes it her point to always speak of issues of women of color, and women of urban communities, whose stories aren’t particularly highlighted in many plights among general feminist. Simply put, #youoksis is people reaching out to ask a woman who may be getting street harassed if she is okay. A simple acknowledgement, that a woman is not alone, and that her well being is actually important. I first saw the hashtag on Twitter, and it created much needed conversation.
This is happening in our communities, on our streets, and it is up to us to take responsibility for our safety both physically and mentally. Small actions that show perpetrators this behavior isn’t acceptable and also show victims they aren’t alone, that they have a support system within their community. It’s a small step in the right direction, but many people taking small steps equals a leap.

(image via

* Queen on Twitter: @TheQueenSpeaks_ ; Instagram: @TheQueenSpeaks_