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.


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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.

Be a Sexy Racist for Halloween

IndianI don’t know why the classic ghosts, witches, and ghouls seem to have taken a backseat to Spongebob and the Playboy bunny, but as I dug through racks of Halloween gear I found myself the most puzzled and horrified by the large number of “ethnic costumes” as they were labeled.

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a short sexy little number or something just for laughs I guarantee you there will be a racist stereotype in costume form to fit the bill. Continue reading

Hungry in Hungary

MP900424322“Oh, you’re just kidding! I don’t believe it.” My roommate said peering over her glasses in classic librarian fashion as she dangled her feet off the top bunk.  “There can’t be homeless people in America, Kelsey.  How is that even possible?”

Several evenings a week my five Hungarian roomies and I would sit on our bunks, comparing life in the States and life in Hungary (no, the capital isn’t “Thirsty” and people there aren’t “hungry.”  But if you do ever find yourself feeling hungry in Hungary, you have got to try a bowl of goulash).

Hungry Americans was a novel concept for my roommates.  The fact I not only had the word “homeless” in my vernacular, but I’d seen and even been on a first-name basis with homeless individuals was contrary to everything they’d believed to be true about my homeland.  My roommates, though, were not the only ones working through misconceptions that summer.  In addition to my toothbrush and a pile of extra socks, I’d packed my fair share of stereotypes, too.

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Brandless: Keep Your Logos Off My Body

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I’d barely even given brands a second thought until I got my first job as a retail sales associate at a local department store.  After a couple of weeks, I realized an interesting dynamic: most customers were willing to spend much more money (sometimes up to double or even more) for the exact same plain t-shirt if it had a familiar brand name like Nike© stitched across the front.

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Feeling Somber: The Death of a Terrorist

angel-in-irish-cemeteryThe sheer level of devastation that has been caused by one person is overwhelming. And his death, even if it does provide a sense of closer to some, doesn’t even begin to take away the damage.  For the people impacted the most by 9/11, I imagine this only brings back all their grief afresh. 

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