Pondering Silence in the Face of Street Harassment

by Loolwa Khazzoom • October 26, 2014 • Keeping It Raw

I just came back from a walk around my neighborhood. As I was walking down one street, a woman and man came out of a house. It was late and dark, so I wanted to make sure they were not startled and that they knew I was friendly. So I said hello with a big smile. Not only did neither of them say hello in response, but the man looked at my chest and down my body, without a word.

I felt instantly violated and felt my whole left side – where he had been, and of course, where my heart is – clutch down.

I didn’t say anything, and as I continued walking, I pondered why I had been silent. First, I was startled. No matter how rampant daily doses of male assault against women are – from the visual and beyond – they startle me, unless I am in an environment, like a dense urban area, where it happens constantly. These days, I generally stay away from bustling areas and crowds, so it doesn’t happen regularly (blessed be); and it’s so far removed from the way I live my life, it startles me every time.

Second, I’m new to this neighborhood and looking to befriend my neighbors, not get into arguments with them. Third, and related to second, though this is in no particular order but rather is a non-linear mashup, if I were to say something, chances are – true to form in most cases – the guy would not apologize or even care. To the contrary, he would probably make some remark exacerbating the situation, along the “don’t flatter yourself”/”you’re not that attractive” variety, effectively not only denying his behavior and bypassing its impact but simultaneously twisting the situation by insinuating that I want him to sexualize me, then further escalating the assault by directly or implicitly insulting how I look.

So much happens in one fell swoop, thanks to the multi-layered dynamics and impact of our patriarchal, rape-culture society, that it can take your breath away. It’s flat-out exasperating. To confront it in a nanosecond while on a walk is doable but takes tremendous energy and entirely turns around the vibe one is going after – in this case, a peaceful and joyful nighttime walk, inhaling the fresh air, getting some exercise, and taking in the pretty view. In other words, confronting the guy felt like the worse of two evils.

I find that in most cases, if someone is engaging in asshole-like behavior, chances are that if I say or do anything in response, they will not apologize but rather escalate the situation, because that is the nature of people who engage in asshole-like behavior. And that in turn means I have to be in a combat mindset, in order to successfully and effectively confront such behavior. I do not want to walk around in a combat mindset. On one level, it’s easier to just “ignore” the behavior, which is what I did and why I did it.

It’s kind of like when you’re constantly assaulted by the “happy holidays” refrain, it’s easier to just say thanks or say nothing at all, than to attempt to educate the well-wisher on the nationalization of Christmas and how it indicates the preferential treatment of Christianity, which in turn is unconstitutional.

Still, in both cases, it really sucks. Which, I am realizing now, is why I withdraw further and further from society in certain regards. After decades of being out there with my heart wide open, engaging the issues and speaking from my soul, it has become clear that the problem (whichever one it is) is endemic, systemic, entangled, entrenched, and so on. And at some point, one has to choose how one wants to live life – constantly fighting, or avoiding the places of negativity, focusing on the places of positivity, and enjoying what you can in this short time on this otherwise glorious planet.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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