Why I Wear Trench Coats: An Ode to Anti-Street Harassment Week





Street Harassment[street huhras-muhnt] – Any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender. (stopstreetharassment.org)
During my tween years my mom always brought me these huge clothes. My typical attire consisted of baggy jeans, basketball sneakers or boots. In the summertime it was baggy skorts and modest shirts. My mother did the best she could to shield me from the unnecessary and unwanted attention and to keep me looking my age for as long as possible. Now, as an adult, I know why.
When I became a teenager, I began to shed all of those layers and wore clothes my size. Around this same time, I began to receive a lot of attention, most of it unwanted and very unnecessary. I became a victim of street harassment. Day after day being approached by boys and men in the street, confronted, hissed and hollered at, like property. Like an animal. Some days, in busy NYC, I would not be able to clear a block without hisses and honks from cars.
So I buy trench coats. Three-quarter’s length is my favorite. They cover my whole self and deflect some of the unwanted attention I would usually receive. It works as a shield, in a variety of styles and colors and doesn’t interfere with my personal self-expression. It’s like an added layer of protection in the concrete jungle. If I showed less, then maybe I would, in turn, endure less. I try to fade into the background whenever possible, fight my anxiety and live.
Not to say that there aren’t any friendly gentlemen outside who are genuinely interested, but even as an adult, I don’t believe that the danger of strangers is any less. Also, the sheer volume of the episodes of harassment is extremely overwhelming. It may not be considered that serious to others, but everyone should have a right to breathe easy and feel safe when they go outdoors. Me, I just feel anxious.
I’ve been followed and waited for, jumped out at, phone calls interrupted, touched, grabbed and pleaded with. The ownership they claimed with their eyes hardened me and made me perfect the scowl on my face. But most of all, it made me nervous and afraid. I never feel completely safe outside, especially in the summertime. I have to carefully choose what I wear and be mindful of my body shape. I cannot just leave the house wearing what makes me feel good without fear of being approached and accosted while I’m just trying to get from one destination to the next in peace. It does not matter if I am with my grandmother or child, sexual advances and lewd comments are still made. It is common practice for me to cross to the other side of the street if I see a group of men up ahead, and I always avoid making eye contact.
I never thought that street harassment was something that anyone was paying any real attention to, aside from the harassed, because it was just a way of life for as long as I could remember. But it is now being recognized for what it is, harassment. It has been identified by many groups and the law, as unacceptable. International Anti-Street Harassment week was held last week from April 7th– April 13th. Some organizations held “chalk” parties where women could get together and write anti-street harassment messages on the ground. Women are encouraged to report those who are engaging in harassing and threatening behaviors toward them. Organizations are even encouraging men to get involved and take a stand as a means to change these undesirable interactions between men and women.

It’s a valiant effort and a huge step in the right direction, but I doubt the problem will go away any time soon, because these instances often happen quickly, and in passing, not always someone exposing themselves or groping women on a train. There’s also a real fear of reporting people who reside in the same neighborhood for fear of repercussion. We can only navigate the best way we know to minimize the blow of the harassment. I know I won’t be hanging up my trench so soon.

What do you think of the video? Do you think reporting street harassers will reduce harassment in general? What are your street harassment stories? Would you participate in a chalk party?

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