Hey Pretty: The Impact of Street Harassment

bike woman

MY GREASY HAIR is slicked back by a shiny black headband and pulled into a ponytail. No makeup, just a giant pair of dark sunnies to obscure that fact, and the sickly sheen of high SPF sunscreen. I have on black leggings and a tank top, and over that an army-green tee with the shoulders cut out, which has a cartoon depiction of an owl on the front, shaped like my home state of Ohio.

Not that it matters.

But this is the internet and I want to make sure the MRAs can rest easy knowing I wasn’t dressed like Betty Boop on my bike or something. (That’s what the men folk like these days, right? The flapper girl look?) You know: asking for it.

A car passes me on my bike ride this morning, stopping at the stop sign for a considerable amount of time without moving on. I consider that the driver is likely texting or something along those lines, not waiting for me. I approach his car to make my right turn and he leans toward the passenger side as I pass and purrs, “Hey pretty.” I make the right without answering and stand to pedal, speeding away without hearing what he yells next. Glimpsing back, I see the silver car making a U-turn. I fervently hope he isn’t heading back for me, and then I start to feel that faint churning sensation in my stomach, the one you get when you anticipate a confrontation.

But he drives on, without heading my way.

Without incident, it would seem.

Without external conflict, without violence, for sure.

Yet, this incident colors everything from that point on. I’m relieved that I don’t have to face him and confront him, and then angry that I have to feel that way, have to fear a negative interaction with another human that I didn’t provoke. My mind deftly reaches into its catalog of current events and reminds me that two women were murdered in cold blood over the weekend for not responding to men who came on to them on the street: one victim was gunned down, the other had her throat slashed. It occurs to me that, if he’s local to my neighborhood and happened to have been leaving at X time of day for some scheduled obligation, there’s a possibility I may run into him at X time of day again. I’ll have to remember this for the next few mornings and keep my eyes open for the car, my ears open for that voice. I headed to make my usual turn down a secluded alley, where I prefer the quiet whiz of my wheels to the din of L.A. traffic on the busy road a few blocks over, but I decide that’s unwise, just in case, and take the main road. That pisses me off, too, that one of the most zen parts of my ride has been rerouted by the unwanted attention of a stranger.

Rerouted, that’s what this feels like. Literally and emotionally, my morning has been crashed.

Image Credit: michaeljung/123RF Stock Photo

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