Friday, August 2, 2013

Life as a Woman: My brush with street harassment

I usually use this space to reflect on pop-culture or my opinions on contemporary feminism. But today I am sharing a story of an experience that I had that directly affected me as a woman.

WARNING: The following post contains very graphic language and a very pissed off feminist.

I was standing on the street in the Exchange district with some friends this past Saturday night enjoying the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.  (If you don’t know of it, it’s awesome. Find out more here). Anyway, the square was packed with loads of people, live music was on the stage and a grand time was being had by all, for the most part.  I was chatting with a work friend, and some ladies she had come with to see a show and because of the loud music and huge crowd it was already a bit hard to hear each other.  After a few minutes of standing there we were approached by a group of four or five young men, I would guess mid to late twenties. One of them was wearing a chicken suit.  They immediately interrupted our conversation by bursting in with a boisterous, “Hello Ladies! Out on the town tonight?” trying to suddenly chat up the women I had been in conversation with up to that very second. Chicken Dude in the meantime,  made eye contact with me and gleefully said, “Want to see my little cock?”

I looked around at the interrupted group and responded with, “What the fuck is going on here? Can you go away?”

I don’t think it was the response they were expecting.

They were still amused by our presence there for some reason, but they seemed shocked that I would speak to them that way. And instead of apologize and walk away, instead of roll their eyes at me and walk away, instead of saying, “Fuck you lady” and walk away (all, including the latter, I would have preferred to what actually followed), they stuck it out.

Never mind that they came out of nowhere and demanded our attention, they seemed legitimately surprised when I a) didn’t feel like humouring them and b) wasn’t particularly polite about it. “Whoa! Whoa! Relax! You don’t have to be rude! What’s wrong with you?” And so on and so forth.

Clinging to his HILARIOUS bit, Chicken dude pulled out a tiny plastic rooster. His ‘LITTLE COCK’ I presume.


 OK, I’m back. And just as irritated as I was before.

“OK, OK, ha ha. I get it. Can you seriously go now?”

But oh no, they were in it, to win it (the former “it” being my face, and the latter "it" being, what? My approval, I guess.) They explained to me that it was Chicken Dude’s bachelor party, and that they were celebrating his upcoming nuptials by getting drunk and harassing women on the street  out on the town and making him do silly things.

“You’re too grumpy,” the Leader of the Pack informed me. “Is that right?” I asked. “Yeah, you should chill out. Stop being grumpy.” 

“Well,” said I with a smile, “I’m standing here with my friends and I’ll be whatever the fuck I want to be.”

And here’s what’s weird: at this point, despite the exchange of words, the interaction had taken a turn from hostile, to neutral, and was teetering on friendly. It seemed like they were gearing up to walk away, and my spidey senses that had alerted me to their presence were wearing off. For a moment I thought, well, maybe it’s no big deal after all. Maybe they’re just out enjoying the fringe.

Which was the precise moment that one of them stuck his finger up my ass.

Just to paint the picture and so people don’t start calling the cops, I was wearing jeans, and it was an outside the clothes poke. No skin touched. But somehow, in the moment, that didn’t provide me with much comfort.

"WHAT. THE FUCK. DID YOU JUST DO?" A voice said. A rumbling, deep, fire laden, hell-cloaked voice that came from inside me.

"This guy just touched me! He stuck his finger up my ass! Do you understand that you just assaulted me on the street? Do you know that I could call the cops right now? This just went from barely cute, to majorly fucked up, and you had better WALK THE FUCK AWAY RIGHT NOW."

To which they all looked really scared and apologetic. One of them took the offender by the shoulders and pulled him away which the other said, "Oh my god, I am so sorry. He's really drunk. I am so sorry he did that. I hope the rest of your night is really nice."

Oh no wait. That's what happened a world called "Appropriate responses from decent dudes who occasionally cross a line but know how to be human beings about it." In the world known as "Downtown Winnipeg" this past Saturday night, here's what really happened after I lost my shit:

For a moment they all looked at me with dense eyes. "Whaa?

ME: You're friend just touched me.
ME: So? So he fucking touched me! That's assault! You just assaulted a woman on the street!
FINGERER: (Sarcastically) Yeah. Yeah I assaulted a woman on the street.
ME: did! You need to go away! Now! Leave.
(All the men stand there.)
ME: Why aren't you leaving?
(This goes on for several minutes. They play dumb. I angrily explain dropping many F bombs. Finally, from what seemed like boredom, the Fingerer and another guy wander away, in absolutely no rush,  leaving me with Chicken Dude and Leader of the Pack, the latter whom starts STOKING MY ARM)
LEADER OF THE PACK: (Trying to touch my arm) Why don't you just relax, baby?
ME: (Pulling away) What the fuck did you just say?
LEADER OF THE PACK:  You need to chill out.
ME: I need to chill out? You're friend just touched me on the ass!
LEADER OF THE PACK: I don't know that he did.
ME: Um, well, I am telling you that he did.
LEADER OF THE PACK: He was just kidding.

At which point my head exploded and angry feminist brains rained down on all.

No, to be totally honest, I was so fucking pissed off at this point, I am not even totally sure what happened. Eventually they sort of wandered away. I yelled after them to Chicken Dude: "I feel sorry for your fiancé!" To which he made a big show of being offended my and stepping up to me. But his chivalrous friends pulled him away. This is where they stepped in!

I would like to find his fiancĂ© out there trying to enjoy an evening with friends and shove my finger up her unsuspecting ass. See what he has to say about that. Oh no wait, I wouldn't because a) ew and b) I'm a normal human being who doesn't treat other humane beings like (literal) puppets for my amusement no matter how drunk, rowdy or engaged I get.

And here's the thing that really, really, really bugged me about the whole event. It wasn't the obnoxious way they invaded our space immediately upon showing up. It wasn't the way they tried to make me feel like it was my fault that I didn't enjoy their playful little game that at no point had I opted to play, and it wasn't even some entitled, drunk, frankly gross douche bag violating my body on the street. It was how totally powerless I felt when, while standing up to him, I explained what he had done, I stood up for myself, and yet he and the "men" around him didn't fucking care. They didn't care that he had touched me without any consent. They didn't care that I was offended, hurt, enraged. They didn't care that I was screaming in their faces and threatening to call the cops. I didn't matter one fucking bit. It was irritating to them when I didn't laugh at their jokes. I possessed holes they found mildly amusing. I made noise when you pressed certain buttons. That was it. I had never felt so inconsequential and dehumanized in my entire life.

And if I can feel this way after one, tiny violation of my personal space that lasted three seconds, I can only have nightmares about what it must be like for sexual assault and rape survivors who have their stories questioned and ridiculed. What a fucked up fucking world.


  1. This article reminded me entirely of your situation. And a warning these idiots might become the guy in this story:

  2. Wow. That story is unbelievable. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

  3. Totally bizarre. This is why I keep asking Lauren to take basic self-defense. In a less densely populated scenario, it could have gotten really ugly. Two suggestions (and you know I am not in favor of violence). 1. Pepper spray at short range. 2. A very determined kick in the privates, a pivot kick to the shin, or a stomp on the instep of their foot (right near the ankle). Feeling powerless sucks, and those who exploit such situations should be held accountable. I'm surprised that no guys nearby stepped up.
    You may live in Canada, but your post sounded like a New Yorker! :)

  4. I had an encounter with these same men, same night. I was locking up my bike outside Cinematheque and two of their party slapped my ass as they walked by. Then they got into a shouting match with me and my husband. They also used the "sorry, it's my friend's bachelor party" excuse on us, which did nothing to mitigate their assholelry.

    1. I am curious to know what time that happened. My incident was around 10:30. Was yours before or after? I would like to think that my freaking out on them would have put a damper on their will to bother ladies...

    2. Based on your description I would say our experience was after yours. They seemed to be on their way out of the Fringe site.

  5. Remain detached. Make the call. Raise the bar. Men before boys. Zero tolerance.

  6. Ah--now I have the info I missed during your CBC Radio IV this am. The men in question were drunk. All is explained.
    Let's be clear that I don't think being drunk is an excuse for either idiocy or assault. Let's also be clear that I think women have the right to be out in public w/o being harrassed in any way by men.
    But-- we're all pretty much known forever that consuming alcohol causes impaired judgement. Thus, drunk people do things they would never consider doing while sober. Arguably, some people drink for precisely this reason-- so that they can wriggle out of their cultural restraints and behave like boors with impunity.
    Further, men in groups behave differently than they do as individuals. It's called mob mentality.
    For the above two reasons, groups of drunken men are scary, and rightly so-- both b/c they have the strength of numbers, and because they collectively lack executive brain function.
    What can be done about this? Well-- consistently enforcing laws against public drunkenness might be a good start.
    Could you have done something differently? Sure. You could have kicked him hard in the groin as John Krouskoff suggested, and risked being charged with assault yourself. You could have ignored him, and felt even more powerless and insignificant. Or you could have whipped out your phone, taken his picture, and dialled 911 to report an incident of harrassment as soon as the group refused to move on when they were asked to do so. Would that have changed the outcome? Who knows?
    I'm pretty sure about this: your read on the situation is absolutely correct. First, you felt powerless b/c you were powerless. When someone who's bigger and stronger than you are decides to manhandle you, there really isn't much you can do about it unless someone bigger and stronger than he is decides to intervene. Second, these guys really, truly didn't care how you felt. The question is, why?
    Who raised these louts? Why have they attained chronological (but obviously not cognitive) maturity thinking it's acceptable to 'celebrate' a buddy's upcoming marriage by getting drunk in public and wandering around assaulting random women? What kinds of values did their parents teach them? Did their parents even bother trying to teach them any values, or did they abdicate all responsbility and leave it to the entertainment/pornography industry as soon as their curly-headed boys hit those difficult teenage years?

    1. Aren't you going to post an entry about the aftermath of your radio interview & what happened next?

      Seems to me that would only be fair.