It’s a hot Saturday night in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m walking home to my new apartment after leaving a classmate’s birthday party in Central Square. From about 20 feet behind me, I hear a voice.
“Hey beautiful! Come talk to me!”
I roll my eyes. Silly me, I think to myself sarcastically. I’ve forgotten that walking while female gives men the right to holler at me.
“I like your panties!”
Aha, I think. This harasser is using much more refined logic: the night breezes and my favorite silk skirt have conspired to give me a mild case of VPL, and THAT is why he has the right to harass me. I ignore him and keep walking. I’m about to cross the street anyway.
“Hey beautiful, come talk to me. What, do you hate men or something?”
I cross the street and continue to ignore his shouts. As I reach the other side, I run into a male colleague that I haven’t seen since spring semester. He greets me with a hug and a European-style cheek kiss, and we start chatting about our summers.
“Is that your boyfriend?”
My harasser has followed me across the street. I turn to look at him. He’s short, slight, and leather-skinned. His haphazard clothing and knapsacks indicate that he is, to use the old phrase, a bum. I guess his age at 50 or 55, but he could easily be younger and simply world-worn. He’s probably led a hard life, but that doesn’t mean he gets a pass for his behavior.
“Was that you shouting at me?” I ask him.
“Yeah I just want to introduce myself, my name is– ”
“Yeah I want to talk to you,” I interrupt. My tone is calm, but forceful. “What makes you think you can talk to women like that?”
“Oh you’re gonna give me your opinion?” he asks.
“It’s people like you that make women afraid to walk alone at night,” I say. “It is not okay to shout like that, and you need to stop.”
“This is your opinion?” he repeats angrily. I don’t diminish my argument by agreeing.
“What you’re doing is wrong,” I say. “You’re the problem.”
“When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you. Go fuck yourself!” he shouts as he turns away and heads back down the street.
“Stop harassing women!” I shout after him. My friend and I start walking the other way, but my harasser needs to get the last word.
“Go fuck yourself. Or get your faggot friend to fuck you, you fucking bitch.”
This sad little man’s deep hatred and resentment of women will not be cured. I hope, perhaps vainly, that he will at least refrain from harassing other women for the rest of the night. It is the first time I’ve ever confronted a harasser. I feel a strange mix of empowerment and anger afterwards, glad that I spoke up but knowing it probably didn’t do any good.