Content warning: physical street harassment, sexism, gender violence
Men, when you were conceived, there was a fifty percent chance you could have been born a woman.
The sun was shining as I walked toward Smith Warehouse on South Buchanan Boulevard. I was practically skipping—it was my first day back at Duke and it wasn’t absurdly humid.
Walking the opposite way on the sidewalk were a small group of high school boys. Even though I had never been physically harassed, I have always felt a small twinge of fear when I am alone and pass a group of boys. I practice what I might say or do if Something Happened. Other women have told me that they do the same.
Say “f--- you.” Kick them. Run.
As I saw them part to make room for me on the sidewalk, relief started to replace that tiny fear. But just as that small relief started to bubble up, I heard a thwak and felt a slap. Speechless and stunned, I continued to walk. Then I became furious and looked back to yell.
“S---, you don't do that to a woman!”
They turned to look at me, but didn't say anything back. Their jaws may have dropped, but I'm not sure; I had already turned away. I later learned that calling them out was quite an unusual thing to do, especially for a 20-year-old woman.
Between gasps of air, I started to name and verbalize what had happened to me.
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Random boys on the street... just smacked me on the a--.
By the time I was at Smith Warehouse, ugly tears coated my face and air struggled in and out of my lungs. Naturally, the staff asked me what was wrong, so I started to explain that I had been groped on the street.
“Why did that happen to me?” I cried. “This has never happened to me before!”
It was a rhetorical question—both for me and the women who had surrounded me to support and listen. As a 4’10” Asian girl who is still occasionally mistaken as a middle schooler, I knew it had nothing to do with my sex appeal but everything to do with my gender. Some of the women murmured that they remembered when it first happened to them.
“I’m mad at those boys, but I’m more mad that they could grow up thinking that was okay!” I sobbed.
I felt enraged, frustrated and powerless. In the moments before walking past them, there was nothing I could have done to reverse the boys’ formative years of social conditioning and the long history of women’s oppression that culminated in my being groped.
Staff there were celebrating something with pizza and cookies. I felt a little sheepish interrupting.
“I don’t know how to put this,” I laughed weakly through tears. “But I just got harassed on the street.”
What you just read is the narrative I have been crafting for over a few weeks now, which the Women’s Center was instrumental in helping me create. In recounting what happened to me, I neither self-blame (“I should have said something more...”) nor second-guess (“What if I hadn’t taken that route?”). Instead, I emphasize that I did say something and that I sought support from the Women’s Center and, later, from my friends. I also want to recognize that I am neither black nor transgender or gender non-conforming—groups that face a higher risk of harassment.
“Women should never walk alone” and “Durham is dangerous” are not the implications of my story. It is not the responsibility of women to avoid the street harassment that happens everywhere. A of the US found that 65% of all women had experienced street harassment in their lifetimes. You can read hundreds of stories like mine on Seventy-eight of transgender people report being harassed while in grades K-12. in the US will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.
Rather, I want my story to push men to engage with feminism—but differently from how they might usually do so.
If men connect to feminism at all, it is usually through the women in their lives. This could have been my sister, daughter or mother, they think.
Actually, men, it could have been you.
When you were conceived, there was a fifty percent chance you could have been born a sister, daughter or (future) mother. You could feel slight twinges of fear and rehearse “what ifs” every time you walked alone past groups of boys. You could have been smacked on the ass by complete strangers in broad daylight.
Men, know that your privileges were given to you by the chance flip of a coin. Feminism is neither a war on men nor a war that only women should be fighting. “” from you too, every time you suppress your tears or calls for help because you’re afraid of not being “strong” or “independent.” is real.
Men, it may seem like there’s no space for you in FEMinism or the WOMEN’s Center, but there is.
In addition to many other programs and services, the offers two and a half hour long for the prevention of gender violence and offers for first-years to get to know their staff and interns in Marketplace. The hosts a nine-week learning community, wherein male-identified students interrogate masculinity and patriarchy through an intersectional lens. Next time you're looking for a class that rounds out your Trinity requirements, take a look at the offered by the department—being a woman is not a prerequisite.
With all of these opportunities of varying commitment levels to learn and grow, there is no excuse.
Men, feminism is for you too.