Dear Viejo Verde,
Even if you don’t think I am talking to you, don’t stop reading yet. Let me explain.
This is not just a letter to the serial killers, wife-beaters, registered pedophiles, and violent rapists that you might have seen on breaking news headlines. It is way too easy to assume those are the only viejos verdes, cochinos y morbosos that women are complaining about.
If you’ve ever catcalled a stranger based on “their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation,” I have news for you: You were actually harassing them, not complimenting them.
In 2014, Stop Street Harassment surveyed 2000 people in the U.S. and showed 25% of men and 65% of women had been victims of street harassment in their lives.
Because of you, going on a walk becomes a life-threatening, high-risk activity for cis-women, trans-women, or anyone perceived to be female. They fear leaving their homes to even walk to the nearest supermarket. In an attempt to stay safe, these people question what they wear, how they walk, and who they talk to on the way to the store — I know I do.
Without even touching me, you make me feel dirty and unsafe. I walk a different direction, but you follow me. I’m scared of making eye contact with you. Is my body language not enough for you to notice I am far from interested?
Oh, but you notice. Of course you do. However, it’s a game for you — a joke. My anxiety makes me a more exciting prey.
What is it that you get from it? Communication is not a one-way channel, and there is no answer to “Mamacita.” Not a positive one, that’s for sure. Nobody is going to be romantically or sexually attracted to the stranger who just disrespected and violated their bodies in public.
I wish walking was the only time I need to be hyper-aware of my surroundings.
Every second I spend in public without a man by my side — and those are a lot of seconds, considering my partner is a woman — means another uncomfortable and traumatic experience.
When you are my Uber driver, I can’t completely ignore you, like I often do in the streets. I need to be cautious not to make you mad. You ask inappropriate questions and insist on getting my number.
Giving you my phone number is not something I want to do, but I do it anyway in hopes of arriving at my destination safely. You take another route. I take note of your license plate and share my location with my friend. I purposely choose not to share it with my mom; I don’t want her to worry. I realize you are only making a stop to pick someone else, and now I can breathe again.
At this point, I’m one of the “lucky” victims. Last year, Uber released data from reported cases that reflected 2,936 sexual assaults in 2017 and 3,045 in 2018 in the U.S, which ranged from encounters like mine to instances of rape and sexual assault. Lyft has yet even to release its own report on ride safety.
You think these numbers are irrelevant to you since you’ve never gotten a bad review, let alone a report for sexual harassment. It’s not because you didn’t harass me that you aren’t part of those statistics; I’m just too afraid to report someone who has my address and phone number.
You also make me doubt myself. “Was that really harassment? I’ve been in worse situations, maybe I’m exaggerating this time,” I think to myself. Since a very young age, I have been exposed to you, and most people around me have normalized your actions. Holding you accountable is new to me.
Even when I (find the courage to) call you out on your behavior, you don’t disappear. You’re in every corner of every street; you’re in my classes; you’re at family events; you’re at the doctor’s office; you’re at my friend’s birthday party; you’re at work; you’re in the car next to me at the traffic light; you’re at my graduation.
You are everywhere.
When I go to the club, I already know you will be there. “It’s just a part of a night out,” they say. I try to be mentally ready, but there’s no preparing for the kind of discomfort you make me feel. Showing affection and dancing with my partner are two things that are difficult to enjoy as I feel observed by you. “Can I join?” you ask with a smirk on your face.
I confront you by telling you to go away. I’m assertive, and I clearly state that my partner and I are not here to entertain you. At the same time, I am careful not to escalate the conversation. Turning down your advances can lead to violence. It’s not until you see my friend — a man— get closer to my girlfriend and me that you leave us alone. I can’t help but think, “What would happen if my friend had not been here?”
I hesitate to get drinks; I need to be alert at all times. According to a 2014 study, there is no correlation between how much harassers (90% of them being men) drink and how likely they are to harass someone at a bar or club. However, their victims are those who have been drinking the most.
You go for the less conscious target because you are completely aware of what you are doing. Full stop. This is not okay. I am only asking for basic human decency here. Well, I am no longer asking — I am demanding it. It’s about time you understood that you are not entitled to anyone’s body, time, or attention.
Until next time,
An “angry woman.”