As a woman, I experience street harassment almost every day, and not just when I am alone. Some of the creepiest, strangest, and most messed up things men have said to me on the street, have been in front of my kids. Ugh.
Sometimes, I would like to think they mean well or intend to compliment me (not that it makes it OK), but other times I think, "Holy crap, does your mama know that you talk to women that way?" Sometimes I respond, even though I am afraid they might hurt me, but when my kids are around I worry about their safety, too. As much as I would like to demonstrate to my kids that it is not OK to pay women unsolicited compliments or tell them to smile, sometimes those important lessons have to wait for later so I know we can all get home safe.
Plus, how do you explain to a 3-year-old toddler that someone calling you, "beautiful" is bad or makes you feel unsafe, especially when that individual claims they're paying you a compliment? How do reconcile telling your kids to smile for pictures when the man telling you to smile on the street makes you want to flip him the bird?
There's no easy answers, I'm afraid. Only hope for a future for my children where women are regarded with more respect (on and off the street) and men know that catcalling and unsolicited compliments are not welcome, because other men call them out when they do it. With that in mind, and because you can't fix what you don't realize is broken, here are a few of the worst things men have said to me on the street, in front of my kids. Bring on the rage.
"You're A Mom I'd Like To F*ck"
Ha ha ha. Very funny. Not.
He might have thought this was a compliment or a funny joke, but I don't care. This was not funny to me and completely inappropriate to say in front of our children's elementary school. While I swear like a sailor in front of my kids, I seriously didn't want them to learn that f*ck was a verb, yet. Anyone who says this to me (unless I give prior consent) is seriously never going to get the chance to f*ck me. I wish the term MILF would die in a dumpster fire.
"Damn, You Look Hot!"
I was actually quite cold that morning, something that I had to explain to my confused kindergartner when she asked, "Mommy, why would he say you are hot?" I explained that he was trying to tell me I was pretty, but that since I didn't know him it made me feel weird.
She wanted to go back and tell him that.
"You Should Use A Condom Next Time"
This one actually wasn't on the street. It was at the store, when I was there with our four children. My husband had stepped away to grab some laundry detergent, and the kids were actually being really well-behaved. I imagine he thought he was clever, commenting about my apparent lack of knowledge about where babies come from, but commenting about someone's family size or contraceptive use is never funny.
"You Want Me To Show Him Who's Boss?"
My child was throwing a tantrum outside of Trader Joe's. It happens. What I wanted to say to the random stranger who offered up their disciplinary services was along the lines of, "Unsolicited offers to discipline my child in what's sure to be a violent, hyper-masculine way are not appreciated."
What I actually said was, "No thanks, I've got it handled." He scoffed and walked away, muttering something under his breath about parents not spanking and kids being brats. Whatever, bro.
"Wanna F*ck?" (In Front Of My Child's Daycare)
No. Just no. Never. Has this "approach" actually worked for him? OMFG go away.
"Nice Tits" (While I Was Breastfeeding)
I hated breastfeeding in public. I always felt so awkward, but at the same time wanted to show people that breastfeeding was normal, so I did it. However, after my brother-in-law decided to compliment my boobs, I never did it again. I hate that his comment made me feel so insecure. Grrr.
"Are You Single?"
As a matter of fact, I was single. As a female runner, I often feel unsafe running at night and in the early morning and fielding unsolicited compliments and catcalls adds to those feelings of insecurity. This was by far the weirdest thing to happen to me while running. I actually stopped and asked him to repeat himself, then I lied and shook my head no. I went straight home that day, even though I was only half way through my training run.
"You're Beautiful." Followed By, "Fuck You C*nt."
I hate it when I ignore street harassment and then it gets worse. Some guys don't know when to quit and your silence seems to really piss them off. But, seriously, my two kids under four were standing right there.
I wanted to ask him for his mother's phone number so I could call her and tell her what he had said.
"Tell Your Mommy She Should Smile"
I hate when people tell me to smile, especially men. Being pretty or pleasing for other people to look at is not rent that I pay to exist in the same vicinity as them. You don't own me, my body, or my facial expressions. If I am not happy, I don't smile, and telling me to smile certainly doesn't make me happy. When I think about this one, I think back to all of the times I have told my kids to smile. I'm not doing it anymore. They can feel how they feel and don't have to put on a show for me.
"Looking Good, Slut"
This comment made me really scared. I was mowing my front lawn in a bikini top and cutoffs. My kids were playing on the front porch. I wanted to tell him not to talk to me that way, and especially not to talk to me that way in front of my kids. I wanted to tell him that my sexuality was none of his concern or that if I was a slut, he had no right to comment about it. I wanted to tell him to shut up. But, I didn't. I quietly and quickly moved my kids into house. I didn't want him to remember me or where I lived.
When people suggest that street harassment is innocent and no big deal, I recall how I felt in that moment and emphatically reply, "Hell, no." No one should have to deal with it, and kids should not learn that it's OK. The sad part is that this is so prevalent and accepted that it seems more normal than breastfeeding in public. It's not normal. So, I explain this to my kids in age-appropriate ways and hope that they see enough examples of patriarchy smashing and feminism in their lives, that their futures will be different.