Walking As a Woman

Responses to Street Harassment Video

By Daniela Conde ’15

For the past four years at USD I’ve had internships off-campus. My often-daily commutes lasted a total of three to four hours a day sometimes longer on busy days, returning back to my dorm around 11pm. As an Ethnic Studies major and critically conscious scholar the first thing that came to mind when watching “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Wom[y]n” was of course the notorious gendered intimidation and violence that happens daily in our country’s streets, the racialization and criminalization of the men of color in the video, in addition to the historical pattern of victimizing white womyn and leaving the experiences of womyn of color, transgender, and Queer folks as afterthoughts.

Navigating the streets of New York and using public transportation is by no means new to me. I have had to use public transportation for the past 22 years of my life in my multiple homes of Puebla, México, Oceanside, California, Brooklyn, New York, Bayonne, New Jersey, Solana Beach, CA and now back in San Diego, CA. I developed a strategy as a 5-year-old walking down the streets of México: I would pick up a rock or any sturdy object for self-protection and I would keep it until I arrived at my destination. I also programmed myself to watch every corner I turned and practiced sporadic sprints. My independent spirit and petite stature demanded that I continue this habit as I walked and used public transportation on my own in the streets of Brooklyn, New York as an 11-year-old to get to school everyday, instead of a rock I now carried a multi-purpose filled to capacity stainless steel water bottle.

A year and a half ago, I remember being stranded around midnight in City Heights, San Diego, CA. I missed the last bus headed north and was at an ultimate high-level of stress. I sat down alone in the dark and began to yell at myself for being so poor, for not having a car, for being so irresponsible and especially for not having my stainless steel water bottle to defend myself. For me, the streets are not an option – nor do I have the luxury of making a 10-hour recording for a viral video that is limited in its commentary because it ignores the factors of race, sexuality, among others. I do not want to undermine the distress of the actress in the video yet it hurts me to realize that she will never understand what it feels like to navigate the streets of México where catcalling and verbal abuse escalates 175%, or to have to run away in despair because an older white man decided to target you in an isolated street of Brooklyn, or when you are cornered and attacked by two young men walking after school in Oceanside, or to die in the streets of East Hollywood like that of an un-identified transgender sister last month(!), October 2, 2014.

An intersectionality framework, education, creative campaigns, grassroots community involvement, and the support of allies, such as men, is key when working in gender and social justice issues like this. By inadvertently targeting men of color as the main culprits of street harassment erases the history of white men using gendered intimidation, violence, and rape as a tool for colonization and imperialism. Nevertheless, I am disappointed in all of our men of color who perpetuate and vomit the sexist sickness out into the streets as a form of internal oppression and patriarchal socialization; they are also responsible for feeding the culture of rape. Their racialization and criminalization in this video does not excuse them of their actions – it is important to critically engage men in these discussions too.

This long-term process of human dignity and gender justice, especially for some of the most marginalized groups like womyn of color, transgender and Queer folks, in our streets is a movement that requires ALL of our energies. The Hollaback! organization is doing important work regarding street harassment in addition one of my personal favorite artists Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, based in my home Brooklyn, New York, is creatively and critically taking part in this transnational movement. In “Stop Telling Wom[y]n to Smile” an art series and social justice campaign “attempts to address gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of wom[y]n, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces.” Fazlalizadeh does not leave the voices and stories of womyn of color and other oppressed folks behind, but rather centralizes them and creates an empowering and aesthetically enlightening aura of hope in the streets for womyn like me.

We must continue to work together through intersectional grassroots initiatives and collectives who are slowly uprooting the white heteronormative patriarchal foundation in this country and the specific problems in each community. We need to collectively affirm the dignity of all womyn; for we are sacred, self-determined, and powerful beings.

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