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Dear street harraser: A one-sided interview



You’re probably used to one-sided communication, because what is street harassment if not one-sided? So, I’m responding to your comment about my body in a format you’ll understand: Acute observations that you neither asked for nor will feel comfortable responding to.

1. What is your success rate with this breakfast cereal-themed pick-up line?

2. From a logical standpoint, your “compliment” is problematic. There are many foods that are thicker than oatmeal. Like peanut butter, for example. Oatmeal can be downright watery.

3. For future food-related catcalling, I suggest that you compare your subject to a food that isn’t often described as “bland” or “lumpy” or “bowel movement inducing.”

4. It’s awesome that you can identify a person’s body shape even when they are covered in shadow and wearing a shapeless coat. That must come in handy for other occasions when you need to remind someone of the existence of the male gaze.

5. Or maybe you don’t have this x-ray/night vision ability. Would you have said this to any feminine-looking shadow walking by your group of friends that night? Was this not a heartfelt expression of true admiration? Geez, and here I thought I was something special.

6. If you couldn’t tell what I looked like, what was the purpose of shouting this unnecessary and invasive observation at me? For comic relief? There are other methods for making your friends laugh. Cheesy puns and “That’s what she said” jokes have a 100 percent success rate last I checked.

7. Was this just a performance art piece showcasing the complex intersections between racism and sexism that street harassment straddles? Because it could have been. Here’s my reasoning:

a. You were imitating the intonations of what a racist grandpa thinks a black man sounds like (complete with a “daaaaayum”). It was almost as if you had to shed your whole “white college boy” persona to feel comfortable comparing a stranger’s body to oatmeal. Thought-provoking.

b. A quick Google search informed me that you found that pick-up line from a YouTube video. The line is read as evidence in a trial against a black man, who apparently said it to an undercover cop. Was this a conscious decision on your part to highlight the mass incarceration of black males in America? Are you commenting on the way our society criminalizes people of color or on our education system’s role in socializing non-white people from a young age to be insubordinate?

c. Was all of this a social commentary about the lack of autonomy women have over their bodies in this country? It probably would have made for a more pithy social statement if you had chosen a woman of color, since historically white dudes like you have granted them practically no autonomy over their bodies. Sure, you don’t allow me, a white woman, to dress as I please or wear as much make-up as I’d like or have a body shape you don’t approve of. But my chances of experiencing sexual violence are lower than that of a woman of color. You obviously didn’t think this theoretical performing arts piece all the way through.

8. However, since the likelihood of it being a performing arts piece is 0 percent, I’m going to assume that this was some sort of proving-your-masculinity-to-your-friends kind of thing.

9. Did you enjoy comparing me to cereal? Did it give you an ego boost and a power rush? Was it as fulfilling and enriching an experience as eating a bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal?

10. If it wasn’t, then maybe you aren’t happy with the socially constructed gender roles our society has established. Maybe you’d appreciate a world where you’re not constantly expected to dominate and overpower. It would certainly give you some free time that you’d otherwise be using to research pick-up lines.

11. (If so, then you might be an f-word (feminist). Shhh, I won’t tell your posse.)

12. An imperfect, but quick, test to find out if what you’re going to shout at a stranger counts as street harassment is to question whether you would say the same thing to your friends or family. Your oatmeal statement probably wouldn’t pass:

a. “Wow, Mom. You look really nice today. In fact, you look thicker than a bowl of oatmeal!”

b. “Brad, have you been working out? You look thicker than a bowl of oatmeal!”

13. Seriously, though. What is your success rate with that line?


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Julia Comnes

Julia Comnes