I am proud to say that I participated in the March on Washington. And I am currently working on a blog post that sums up my experience. But today, something more important came up and I feel the need to speak up about it. This story exemplifies one of the reasons I marched yesterday.
Yesterday, I marched on Washington in support of women’s rights and today, I witnessed the degradation of a woman’s rights.
This morning, I boarded the DC streetcar to get myself home after spending the weekend celebrating the Women’s March with friends. Upon boarding, I realized that the air in the streetcar was tense. There were two men speaking in harsh tones to each other and a woman seated near them trying to read a book. I didn’t really think much of the situation, whatever was happening wasn’t my business.
But, it wasn’t long after the car started moving that I heard the men talking about the ‘pretty lady’ sitting near them on the streetcar. A younger man was chastising the older man for ‘trying to get with her’ and arguing that ‘he had no chance’. The pretty lady they were talking about was squirming in her seat obviously trying to ignore the men.
When the streetcar was forced to stop by a parked car, things got heated as the older man turned to the woman and tried to strike up a conversation with her. She said nothing, put her book in her bag, and walked to the door of the streetcar, pressing the button to try to open the door. But, the door wouldn’t open. The older man stood up and proceeded to stand near the door and near the women. She continued to ignore him, as he continued to talk to her. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but the look on her face said she was uncomfortable. In an effort to support her, I moved myself closer to the door and tried to make eye contact. But it was obvious we both felt utterly helpless.
At the next stop, the women quickly exited the streetcar and ran off into a local business, for a moment the man tried to follow her but she was faster than he was so he board the train again. He immediately turned his attention on to me. Luckily, my stop was a short two blocks away which allowed me to escape before he was able to say anything to me. But his leer was enough to let me know he wasn’t a good man.
As I quickly walked home, clutching my keys defensively, I couldn’t help but realize the juxtaposition I had just experienced. Yesterday, I marched. Yesterday, I was elated. Yesterday, I felt strong. And in just two minutes this man made me feel worthless. He made me feel scared. And he made me feel powerless.
I would like to tell you all that this is the first time I have experienced this. But I would be lying. In my time in DC, street harassment by complete strangers has quickly become normalized. Most of the time it seems’harmless,’ just a strange man looking you up and down, or someone winking at you on the street. But sometimes it is really bad, it is a man who yells at you because you won’t say thank you when he ‘compliments’ you, it is two men following you down the street when you are alone, it is a man who won’t leave you alone on the streetcar.
I tell this story because it is a reminder that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to women’s rights in this country. On a macro scale, we need more women in elected office, but on a micro level, we simply need to allow women to feel safe. We need men to stop treating women like objects and that starts on the streets. We need men to leave us alone. And that starts with us having serious conversations about how we speak to and treat the women of this country.
By tomorrow, I will have finished my account of the women’s march which will explain the elation and the power I felt to be a part of a massive group of strong, nasty women. But today, I want us to really consider, how much longer it will be until women can feel strong on our streets, even when they are alone.