Street Harassment: It’s Not a Compliment

Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.

Street Harassment SignIt always bothers me when men say things like “If women on the street said that I looked nice, it’d make my day!” right after I’ve complained about something a stranger said to me.  Some even tell me that they’re jealous of the attention.  Perhaps it’s because they’re picturing something harmless or even sweet, like when the elderly gentleman I see most mornings on the bus shyly and politely compliments me on my smile.  Unfortunately, what they don’t understand is that the things random men shout from their cars or from across the street aren’t compliments, it’s street harassment.

Not Exactly Complimentary

Sometimes women can be flattered by attention from a stranger, but I think it’s important to be careful to not label all the various forms of “attention” from men as behaviors that would be appreciated.  For example, when the guy at the cell phone store called after me, “You have a beautiful smile!” I was amused by his impulsive compliment.  But lewd declarations like “Smile for me, whore” or “Nice rack” or “Great legs, c—” are a whole different animal.  Deirde E. Davis, in her article The Harm that Has No Name, says that these kinds of comments can be recognized as street harassment by “the unacceptability of ‘thank you’ as a response; and the reference to body parts” (Davis 55).  Street harassment can also include leering, catcalls, wolf whistles, pinches, or grabs.

There are a lot of different degrees of street harassment, and even something as mild as “Smile for me, Baby” or “Don’t you look pretty”can be frightening depending on the context.  Even women who may not mind being whistled at in the middle of the day as they walk through the mall, would feel completely different about the exact same behavior if it was dark and they were alone.  Whenever I find myself alone after dark or in an unfamiliar area and a man decides to show even a hint of sexual interest it’s scary because I feel out of control of the situation, small, alone, and unsafe.

Feeling Alone and Scared

In these settings I find any kind of attention frightening and intimidating because “[r]egardless of whether there is the possibility of actual rape, when women endure street harassment, they fear the possibility of rape” or sexual assault (Davis 484).  When I’m walking down a dark street and a man whistles there’s no way for me to know if he’s thinking that I’m a cutie or something more sinister.  All I know is that if it’s the latter, I’m in trouble.  My heart starts to beat faster as I walk with my head down in order to avoid eye contact; I scan the area looking for a way to make a quick exit.  And I don’t breath a sigh of relief until he’s out of sight again.  In order to try and limit these encounters, if I’m out at night, I never wear anything even remotely formfitting, sit as close to the bus driver as possible, and quietly keep to myself.  The goal: invisibility.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t even have to be nighttime for street harassment to be frightening.  Back before the city finally put a sidewalk on the main street by my house, I’d have random men in cars literally pull their cars off the road so that they could drive directly behind me.  They’d follow very closely for about a block while often whistling or yelling out their window.  It was terrifying because there was no way for me to escape from  being their personal show; the car directly behind me felt like a gun to my head instructing me to walk on.  I was beyond thankful when the city finally built a sidewalk.

Whether it’s happening at night or even in my own neighborhood, street harassment isn’t a compliment; it’s dehumanizing and sometimes even terrifying.


Other Articles of Interest:

Confessions of a Bride-to-Be

Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved. frustrated-bride

Being engaged has got to be the most annoying life stage I’ve encountered yet.  I know in movies the couple looks like they’ll soon go riding off into the pollution-enhanced sunset and spend weeks living off of wedding cake.  But in real life being engaged is like wearing a big sign around your neck that says, “Please, I beg you, tell me what to do!”

Everyone from random people I happen to bump into on the bus to friends and family all inform me that my wedding is my party, so I should do whatever makes me happy.  Despite the fact conversations are always prefaced with, “It’s going to be your special day!” I often feel like I’m the one who isn’t getting a voice in the matter, and it makes me want to tell everyone to just butt out.

Is it Really My Day?

I’m not sure what it is about weddings—mine, specifically—that makes every single Earth creature feel like they’re entitled to an opinion.  A coworker told me that when people get engaged everyone feels the need to share their advice.  To a degree I can handle random advice because it can be helpful or at least laughable sometimes, but it’s the random bossing that’s irking me.

If I was asking all the busybodies I know to pay for the wedding I’d understand a little more if they felt the liberty to at least share their opinions. But they’re not writing out the check, Mr. Munger and I will be paying for our matrimonial shindig ourselves.

I once complained to a friend about how I felt like no one was listening to me when it came to my wedding; no one believed me when I talked about what I wanted.  She said that was horrible, and then asked if I’d decided on a dress style.  I think she was trying to show how she was different, how she could actually listen.

I described the tea-length dress to her that I was contemplating, hoping for once I’d be allowed to have my own opinion, only to be told how every woman wants a long train, so my dress idea simply wouldn’t due.  She then went into great detail describing the long, lacy gown I should sport on my wedding, and how that’s what would really make me happy.  What I think would make me happy though is if people would let me have my own opinions, even if it’s not what they’d what for their own wedding.

Can’t You Plan Your Own Party?

But it isn’t just my dress ideas that people discount.  I’ve had people try to veto or change everything from the location, the size of the wedding, the dessert, and even who will be in the wedding party.  And it’s all in the name of what would “really” make me happy.  Now if someone wants to have a seven-foot-tall cake, several hundred attendees, and the reception at some great hall that’s fine.  It’s not my style, but it also wouldn’t be my wedding.  So I wouldn’t presume to know what the bride and groom’s feelings and preferences were or what would make them happy.

It’s not like I’m claiming it’s morally wrong to have a bridal train, I’m just saying it’s not what I what.  I also feel like the fact that I’ve been very well acquainted with myself for a number of years now ought to make me an expert on my personal tastes.  I like cupcakes rather than tall, elegant cakes.  I prefer summer dresses to ball gowns.  I’m not a big fan of super feminine décor and the idea of making my own invitations by hand, no matter how much money it might save, makes me want to pull my hair out.  But that’s just me.

I know it doesn’t fit the Barbie-Dream-House-style wedding, but Mr. Munger and I are both introverts who like smaller gatherings, so a tiny, casual wedding would suit us both nicely.  It would make us both happy on our wedding.  And isn’t that what “it’s your day” should mean?


Other Articles of Interest:

The Pre-Father’s Day Blues

j0399119Tomorrow is my commencement ceremony for community college.  After two years of hard work, I’ve successfully completed my two-year Associate of Arts degree and will be transferring to a university in the fall.  I’m excited and proud of myself, but reaching another one of those bigger milestones in life without my dad being there to cheer me on makes me miss him even more than normal.

And Father’s Day, my least favorite day of the year, is also this weekend.  Another fatherless Father’s Day.  The cutesy little Father’s Day crafts littering Pinterest, the random cashier asking if I have any plans with my dad this weekend, and tacky cards proclaiming things like “You’re the best dad in the whole wide world!” all make my heart ache. 

On Tuesday, partly due to all the Father’s Day propaganda, the reality that Dad won’t be at my commencement to see me decked out in my academic bling hit me hard.  And it’s continued to be a rough week as a result.

Sometimes I wish my life and my emotions were more simple, straightforward.  That when something exciting happens—like when I graduate on Friday or when I get married in about a year and an half—I could just be happy.  But instead of just feeling accomplished or excited, there’s always a shadow hanging over everything because dad won’t be there.  I’ll be planning or anticipating something positive but then, out of nowhere, it will hit me that Dad won’t be there.  And then I feel like a little girl crying her heart out at her father’s funeral, wanting nothing more than to just see him again.  I almost feel like I need to plan in a day before any major holiday or life event where I can fall apart and cry.  

Between graduating and Father’s Day it’ll be an interesting weekend—wonderful, difficult, exiting, sad, messy.

Living Gluten-Free: What the Menu Isn’t Telling You

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Celiac.  An autoimmune disease that makes my body respond to even the slightest amount of gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) the way other people’s body’s might respond if there breakfast had been seasoned with arsenic.  I’m flat in bed with the most severe digestive pains for almost a solid week after the smallest amount of gluten sneaks its way into my diet.  As a result, this makes eating out a challenge to say the least.

I used to blindly walk into an unfamiliar restaurant with my fingers thoroughly crossed in the hopes that there was something on the menu I could eat without too much modification.  And then I’d see it.  That small little asterisk in the corner of the menu indicating that they served gluten-free bread.  I’m safe here!  They know how to feed me!  I’d breath a sigh of relief.

As I later discovered, though, I was wrong.  Those little notes on the menu or that the cute little homemade “It’s gluten-free!” sign can’t always be trusted.  Sometimes, even my favorite little indie restaurants don’t have a clue.

A little sandwich shop with their grandma’s-kitchen theme made me completely drop my guard once I saw those six deceptive words—”gluten-free bread available upon request.”  Perhaps it was the partly due to the homey tone of the place, but I felt like these folks most know how to take care of me.  So I ordered fried eggs and gluten-free toast.  It wasn’t until I was getting up to leave that I realized these well-intended people had thrown my bread right into the same crumb-filled, gluten-infested toaster as everyone else’s.  And, without knowing it, they’d put my health in serious danger.

Even one of my very favorite indie coffee shops is guilty of a similar offense.  I know the manager by name and every Monday a group of friends and I meet there for a few games of Apples to Apples.  They care about their customers and the quality of their products, but that doesn’t mean they know the first thing about gluten.  In fact, the “gluten-free” cookies were made on a wooden cutting board and on the counter right next to a pizza and a couple of sandwiches (all major don’ts due to cross-contamination).  It might be wheat-free, but it’s not really gluten-free.  And, for other folks like me, it’s not safe.

Yesterday, while on the bus, I ended up talking with the manager at a new little diner that just opened.  He was more than happy to talk about his restaurant, even informing me that he’d tried offering gluten-free bread for a while.  It was no longer on the menu though because it hadn’t sold enough.  “But you could order something in a wrap,” he said very sincerely, “because that would have less gluten.”  Less?  But I literally can’t even have a crumb!

Anyone who tries to sell me on a flour wrap because it has “less gluten” doesn’t know nearly enough about celiac disease for me to feel comfortable with them feeding me.  I don’t think any of these independent businesses are intentionally misleading their customers; like a lot of people, they just don’t understand what gluten is or how serious celiac disease needs to be taken.

I’ve eaten at some wonderful, extremely careful indie restaurant run by people who go out of their way to keep me safe, but because not every place is like that gluten-free folks have to do some investigating because anyone can write “gluten-free” on cardstock or buy a loaf of bread.  (For more essays and recipes on living gluten-free, check out my blog The Crunchy Cook)

How to Get Your Kids Ready for College

CollegeAs an English composition tutor working at a community college, I read over about 30 assignments a week and talk in-depth with every one of my students about what they’re struggling with. This gives me a unique insight into why so many students who have graduated from high school still aren’t ready for college-level work. The biggest problem: Many college students can’t read or write.

Sure, they can read the words on a page. But reading is more than a hefty vocabulary, it’s being able to understand and explain what something is about. It’s picking up on the themes and ideas presented in the story, not just the order of events. As a result, my students often completely miss the point of an essay.

The Importance of Writing:

They can also type words on a page, but what no one has bothered to explain to them is that writing is communicating. It’s not about grammar rules or beautiful handwriting—it’s clearly, effectively communicating what you think, feel, or have researched. Writing is talking on paper, so if you learn to capture themes and ideas while communicating verbally, you also learn to write.

In order to teach me how to write, my mom had me start narrating before I was even reading. She’d read me a story and ask me to tell her what I could remember. It felt like a game, but mom’s game taught me several very important things that helped prepare me for college. I learned how to summarize information and sort out the less important ideas from the heart of the piece, how to concentrate while reading or listening, and how to feel comfortable explaining what something was about and also expressing what I thought about it. These are all important tools that a college student needs to succeed.

Thanks to literally years of practicing narration at home, when I got to college and had to write summaries of readings or a research paper that paraphrased other people’s ideas it wasn’t hard because, unlike a lot of other college students, I was ready.

A Diploma Doesn’t Always Equal an Education:

Being ready for college shouldn’t be taken for granted. One student I know who graduated with honors from her high school couldn’t take college-level classes right away because she’d only passed into basic English. She had fabulous grades in high school, but she’d never even written a paper. Shockingly, one of her assignments for a senior paper was a fill-in-the-blanks essay, already outlined down to the sentence (“write a sentence here about your future career”). It required no creativity and very little thought.

Even though she had a high school diploma and had even graduated with academic bling, she wasn’t ready for college. When it came time to write a college paper, her high school grades didn’t mean anything. I honestly think that if she’d never taken an English class a day in her life but had been read to as a child, had lots of practice narrating, and read whatever caught her interest, she would’ve been so much more ready to succeed in academia than she was as an honors student.

Filling in the Gaps:

Based on the academic gaps I regularly see in college students, I believe that whether parents are supplementing their child’s education or homeschooling, it’s very important to focus on reading and narration. I often wish I could go back in time to when my students were children so that I could read to them, have them practice narrating what we read together, and encourage them to read about topics that strike their fancy because then, by the time college rolled around, they’d be ready. 

It might seem too simple to actually do much good, but regularly being read to and being given plenty of practice narrating makes a world of difference in a child’s education.

Lent, Luther, and a Whole Lot of Confusion

ashwednesdayI was a freshman in college.  And, in order to attempt making small talk, I’d just asked a Protestant student from one of my English classes—whose favorite topic was talking about his church—if he was doing anything for Ash Wednesday.  He stared at me as if I’d just asked him what he was doing for Chocolate Moon Day.

“It’s the first day of the season of Lent,” I said, trying to jog his memory.

“What’s Lent?” He blinked at me looking confused.  Guess there was nothing to jog.

“Well, it’s when some church-going folks set aside special time for God.  Sort of like Advent during the holidays—when people read a section of the Bible and light a candle.  Lent is a reflective, thoughtful time, so some people will sometimes fast or give something up in order to focus.”

Looking skeptical, he asked what kind of church I went to.  At the time I was identifying as a displaced Presbyterian and I was somewhat irregularly crashing at a local Lutheran church while I figured things out.

“Lutheran?”  He questioned.  The word sounded foreign to him as the syllables left his mouth.  “Is it a Protestant church?”

“Of course, Lutherans are Protestants!  Martin Luther is who the Lutherans are named after.”  A surprised but not snarky reply.

He just blinked at me.

“Martin Luther … as in the Reformation?”

“Martin Luther, huh?  Are you sure you’re not a Catholic?”  He looked at me suspiciously.

“Well, I’m not really a Lutheran …. but, yes, I’m sure Lutherans aren’t Catholics.  Lutherans broke off from the Catholic Church during the Reformation.”

More confused blinking.

“Really, they’re not Catholics, Lutherans were the very first Protestants.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of them before.”  He said still looked highly skeptical, but commented how it was “interesting” and that he’d never heard any of the stuff about Lent or Luther before.  He self-identified as being Protestant and he’d never heard of the Reformation or Martin Luther?  I invited him to attend the Ash Wednesday service with me, but he was playing Frisbee with his church youth group and that took precedence.

I thought my classmate and I had finally made some headway, but the next time I ran into him at school he asked: “So, Kelsey, how’s Lent going?  Hey, what religion did you say you were again?”

Sigh.

The Cow that Ate Baby Jesus

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved.

j0227579Paper snowflakes and candy canes hung from the ceiling, the windows were now the stage for two-dimensional holiday scenes, and a small, wooden nativity sat in a corner. It was just about as festive and tacky as a four-year-old Sunday school classroom can be in the middle of December … and the kids loved it.

The majority of my small class played with the wooden nativity scene as they acted out the Christmas story with some minor artistic licensing unless, of course, there was a Lego© family and a T-Rex present at Jesus’ birth.

“Teacher, do cows eat this stuff?” asked Nate, a cute little boy who was playing with a black and white dairy cow, holding up a few pieces of hay in his chubby hand. I answered in the affirmative, so the plastic cow continued munching away on the hay in the feeding trough where the little wooden baby Jesus was sleeping.

As Nate looked down at the toy bovine towering over the manger, panic suddenly shot through his whole body like a bold of electricity. He dropped the dairy cow as if he was holding a smoking gun. “Uh, Teacher?” he asked in a shaky voice. “Was .. uh … baby Jesus eaten by a … uh … cow?”

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