Listen to Your Intuiton

Image via Dr. Ergo

Yesterday, Goldy and I were walking down New Hampshire. It was warm enough that Black folks were on their porches, and young folks of all races were walking their dogs. But on this particular stretch of street there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic.

We walked pass an older Black man, and kind of pepped up when he saw us an started with the “hey’s” and “how you doings”, I just let out an #ummhmm, because I was not going to be bothered.

After a few seconds I didn’t hear him. Remember that.

Something told me to turn around, and not ONLY DID I TURN AROUND, but I turned around with my finger in his face saying “You need to back the fuck up”.

I was scared, not because of him. I am protected.

I was scared of how powerful it was to have a spirit that FELT a person coming that I did not SEE.

Goldy didn’t feel him coming, I did.

He looked at me, thought about whether or not he was going to “back the fuck up” and turned around and walked away.

I mean he had to honestly assess whether or not I was going to escalate, which I clearly was.

I don’t know what it was gina that told me “#allcity, turn the fuck around now and stop him”, but I listened to it.

It was surreal, like magic.

Listen to your Intuition. It might save your life.

#Blackgirlsarefromthefuture. Yesterday was further proof.

You ignore your intuition lately?

Kill Me or Leave Me Alone: Street Harassment as a Public Health Issue

This one is for Afrolicious and the notion of Appophenia.

Last Saturday on the way home on the metro platform I was tired.

I had been dancing. Bier was consumed. I spent the afternoon reading, and the evening posted up with my friend All Spirit and then the night dancing.

All Spirit bounced early, and he was my ride so I darted home on the metro. Looking back I should have asked another homie for a ride home.

I am walking on the metro platform and these two young Black men, are eyeing, me, saying something and if you know me you know I always trust my intuition. Full stop.

My intuition told me that I wasn’t safe and that I needed to act.

So rather than go back and for with these cats because it is late,  and I still needed to get home, and the platform was relatively empty,  I say to him “Aye blood, I’m from East Oakland California, either kill me or leave me alone.”

Even as I type it, I still can’t believe that it came out my mouth.

One of the dudes was like she from Oakland. She from Oakland and kinda let me be.

The other one took it personal as a threat. He left me alone, but there were was definitely a threat of violence in his body language and his words.

Whatever my fate was that night, I was ready.

I am so sick and tired of being treated like shit because of what is between my legs.

I felt uncomfortable the next day about what I had done, so I called my brother.

I mean, I understand full and well that things could have escalated. However over the last 3 months I have had these public interactions with Black men challenging, with the explicit threat of violence, my right to be in public.

So I called my brother to help me get some context. He told me that you never know what you are going to need to do to stay alive in a situation. Sometimes it is being silent, sometimes it is setting someone straight from the gate. After he said this, and related a similar experience that he had around standing up for himself when someone threatened him, I felt better. Still uneasy but better.

This street harassment+gendered violence experience also has me thinking about Charlie Sheen.

One of the reasons why I take all of these Charlie Sheen tweets so serious is because he beat his ex wife, and because he is imploding right in front of us.

The whole time I have been trying to think about how to write this post I have been watching the discourse around Charlie Sheen.

Men, Black men and White men can joke and shit about how Charlie and what not is funny, but as a Black woman, trying to get from point A to point B, who demands to be treated like a human being, violence or the threat of violence is a real part of my day to day existence.

Nothing Charlie says is funny because that man speaking to me that way on the train platform was not funny.

It really is out of pocket that I have to damn near be ready to die just to assert my humanity after dancing to Prince all night long.

Pow.

Street harassment as a public health issue?

Can you believe I said it?

Is it time for me to leave the city?

The Connection Between Protecting and Dominating Women


Within the comments section of my post “Black Women x The Streets x Harassment” , which Latoya has up on Racialicious, Gregory Butler explained the connection between being protected and being dominated in a straight forward and profound way. He writes,

It took me years to reach the point where I could defy the social pressure to ?Be a Real Man? ? and it was not an easy process to learn how to treat women like human beings rather than objects.

That?s a sad commentary on how masculinity and manhood are defined in our society ? but yet and still that is very very real.

And for the men of our race, devalued as we are in all other areas of life, it?s easy to cling to being a ?Real Man? and all the abusive sexist bullshit that goes along with that.

Incidentally, that whole ?protecting? women by walking on the outside when you walk down the street, holding doors ect is part of that same sexist idea about ?being a Real Man? ? so I wouldn?t be so quick to embrace that form of patriarchal masculinity either.

Just read the discussion thread on this article http://bit.ly/9g2Y00 and you?ll see men defending that man walks on the outside custom basically because that position makes it easier for them to fight other men

Of course, when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man

Again, I apologize for misunderstanding your post ? but I stand by my opposition to chivalry, which is NOT the opposite of sexism, but merely a more polite form.

This hit home.

I once had an ex who said that if a dude said something to me on the street that he wouldn’t fight him.

I thought this was absurd.

I also come from a place where people get socked or even shot at for stepping on the wrong persons sneakers or giving the wrong person a mean mug or looking at the wrong persons lady friend.

Violence was always ready to pop off in East Oakland, California.

Lets hear this again,

when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man her at all”

This issue of ownership is what my ex was talking about at the time.

The basic assumption that he was challenging was that I was not a piece of property to be defended or fought over. This seemed like it made sense on one level, but on another level it was absurd, because it went against much of which I was socialized to accept.

However knowing what I know now, in 2010 about the legal history of women White women and Black women as property in this US society? (I just completed a class on Race and Conquest in Colonial America), I KNOW that there is connection between ideologically women being seen as property and women being legally treated as property,? which is rooted in English Common Law doctrine La Feme Covurt.

According to Wikipedia the? La Feme Covurt doctrine says that,

…husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband. A married woman could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or keep a salary for herself. If a wife was permitted to work, under the laws of coverture she was required to relinquish her wages to her husband. In certain cases, a woman did not have individual legal liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed that she was acting under the orders of her husband, and generally a husband and wife were not allowed to testify either for or against each other.

Keeping the legal history in mind I am going to back to the streets and patriarchy.

Over Memorial day weekend, I was reminded of this notion of protection
and domination isn’t clear cut.

My intuition is cold, and so I try and follow it as often as a can.

On Memorial day, I was walking up 8th ave to 14th street to
get my favorite taco’s from the taco truck with my gentleman
friend.

I was scantily dressed. Tank top, poom poom shorts, flip flops.

It was about 90 degrees that day.

I saw a man walking towards us, kinda bent, at the spine at a 40 degree angle.? He was off his meds and on something else. Disheveled. Thin. But lightweight diesel. Kind of like a zombie with a moderate “pimp” walk.

He reminded me of that reoccurring junkie character in the Spike Lee movies.

I knew that if he was close enough to me, he would try to touch? or grab me.

I also knew that if he did that somebody was going to go to jail that day.

Within a split second, I told Pepe, “Blood move to my left side” and we switched places.

With the quickness (and I was glad b/c sometimes he can’t hear me and I would have hated to have had to repeat myself.)

I was closer the street. Pepe was between us. Pepe ain’t a little dude.

As the addict man walk by us he yelled out “Man you suppose walk on the outside her near the street.”

I was relieved.

I followed my intuition.

My rationale is that if he was willing to talk to a grown man like that then he would also be willing to try me.

I had a few questions in my head after this happened.

How was patriarchy working in this situation? Did I have to choose between the possibility of one person dominating me and being protected by another?? In some ways yes.

Do I feel like I did the right thing?? Yes. Under the circumstances.

I also think about how these issues are not clear cut.

When was the last time, maneuvering on the street that you followed or failed to follow your intuition? What happened?

What do you think of Gregory’s idea that “when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man”?

Any other thoughts?

Black Women x The Streets x Harassment

This “Black men walking on the outside of Black women on
the street” business touched a cord here on my blog, and
opened up a really interesting discussion on race, gender
roles, Black men and women, and patriarchy. I plan on doing
a some follow up posts to address some of the issues that
came up. This post is one of them.

The issue that I want to address is how a woman’s ability
TO BE IN THE STREET is connected to her ability to participate
in public life, in Democracy.

Tonight I reread Cynthia Grant Bowman’s paper, “Street
Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women”
which was published in the Harvard Law Review. I am going
to provide some quotes from the paper then offer some
comments.

Street Harassment and Liberty for Women

The liberty of women, in this most fundamental sense of freedom from restraint, is substantially limited by street harassment, which reduces their physical and geographical mobility and often prevents them from appearing alone in public places. In this sense, street harassment accomplishes an informal ghettoization of women — a ghettoization to the private sphere of hearth and home.

If we can’t be on the street, we can’t feel comfortable in public, if we can’t feel comfortbable in public how will we participate in a democracy?

Working Definition of Street Harassment

Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women . . . in a public place which is not the woman’s/women’s worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures the man asserts his right to intrude on the woman’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.

So, if I am on the street, and you are saying something to me, you are trying to FORCE me to interact with you. Patriarchy says that men, by virtue of simply being born biologically men have the right to dominate over women and children, in the home and the street. This street shit is patriarchy in action.

The Purpose of Harassment: “Know your place, Celie.”

The first function of public harassment is to reinforce spatial boundaries that drastically limit women’s “sphere.” It clearly stakes out public space as male space. Women who want to be outside their homes must do so at their own risk and with the full knowledge that at any time they can be publicly humiliated or “complimented.” Women are at all times subject to public scrutiny.

The purpose of men saying shit is to let me know that I am always on display and subjected to something popping off? Shit is tiring. It must be how Black men feel in terms of dealing with the police.

I Guess I am Suppose to “Play My Position”

Unlike men, women passing through public areas are subject to “markers of passage” that imply either that women are acting out of role simply by their presence in public or that a part of their role is in fact to be open to the public. These “markers” emphasize that women, unlike men, belong in the private sphere, the sphere of domestic rather than public responsibility. Ironically, men convey this message by intruding upon a woman’s privacy as she enters the public sphere.

I never tripped off of me not being allowed in the street as being connected to me needing to remain at home, as it is my “proper” place. But this makes sense.

Freedom, The Streets and Autonomy

Central to the freedom to be at ease in public spaces is the capacity to pass through them while retaining a certain zone of privacy and autonomy — a zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent. If, by contrast, women are subject to violation of that zone of personal privacy when they enter public areas, that very invasion of privacy effectively drives women back into the private sphere, where they may avoid such violations. Thus, by turning women into objects of public attention when they are in public, harassers drive home the message that women belong only in the world of the private.

“… zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent.”

Its bugged how I immediately notice how men treat me on the street when I am walking with another man. I also use to notice how they treated me substantially different when I was on the street a White man. And lets not start with being on the street with a woman.

Street Harassment and the Rape Test

Furthermore, rapists often harass women on the street and violate their personal space in order to determine which women are likely to be easy targets — a practice called “rape-testing.” Because potential rapists frequently select their victims by looking for women who appear vulnerable to assault, they may approach a potential victim and “test” her by a variety of means, including making lewd or insinuating remarks, to see if she can be intimidated. If the target reacts in a passive fashion to the harassment, the rapist may assume that she will probably not fight back, and he is more likely to rape her. Thus, the connection between rape and harassment is not just in the mind of the woman.

This rape test + harassment connection is real. Who knew that the ways in which we responded to a comment sent a signal to would be rapist?

From Friendly to Hostile to Bitch in 10 Seconds

Hey, why so serious, honey? Give us a little smile.” My sense of humor, he didn’t know, was temporarily out of service, so of course I didn’t give him a little smile. But in not smiling, I had again violated the code, provoking another seizure of silent suffering that became verbal. As I passed the sleeve on the street, it hissed a word at me, with the edge of anger to it, with a sharp rebuke in it: “Bitch.

This account describes a common pattern, in which the target’s failure to response results in escalation and a superficially friendly interaction is transformed into one that is transparently hostile.

I realized that one of the reasons why I was so insistent about my gentlemen friend’s insistence at walking on the outside is that I am already subjected to hella patriarchal social relations, in the streets, with men that I don’t know. My tolerance for taking that shit off of someone that I choose to be around was reasonable.

In some ways, I realize that I saw what he was doing as a further extension of what I have to navigate all the time. Because I be in the streets and I believe that women and men have a right to do so autonomously.

Am I saying that his wanting to walk on the outside is the same as street harassment? Of course not. Am I saying that both are patriarchal in that they are rooted in the idea that men, by virtue of being biological males have the right to protect and dominate women? Yes.

I think one of my favorite lines from this paper is: Central to the freedom to be at ease in public spaces is the capacity to pass through them while retaining a certain zone of privacy and autonomy — a zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent.

Do you feel autonomous on the street? Why or why not?

Do women have the right to be autonomous on the street?

Why is it so much of a challenge for some Black men and women to accept that the way in which women are treated in the street has implications for all of us?

Racial Sexism?

Any thoughts on Street Harassment?