ELIXHER founder and editor-in-chief Kimberley McLeod reflects on her experience with street harassment and the importance of community:
Summers in the city used to be my favorite. Drum circles in the park. Sidewalks lined with quaint tables and chairs for weekend brunch. Crop tops and denim cutoffs. Rooftop happy hours that always seem to end too soon.
But summer has changed for me. Or perhaps more accurately, I have changed.
Depending on how much skin I decide to bare, some days I barely want to leave the house. I’ve been relishing in going without makeup. Instead of welcoming the sun’s soft kisses on my naked skin, I’ve been hiding nervously behind these tired eyes and bushy brows. Some days not even the ease of being foundation-free works to propel the boys/men lurking in front of my neighborhood bodegas, barbershops or construction sites.
I’m no stranger to catcalls. From the age of nine, as soon as my young body began to blossom, I was hollered at and called everything from “baby” to “bitch.”
My methods for dealing with street harassment have changed over the years. As a teen, I politely responded to my “suitors” to avoid any confrontation. I would smile and lie about having a boyfriend to deter any further advances.
In my early twenties, I got angry and started flipping people off. My middle finger would fly defiantly in the air at drivers that gawked or whistled at stoplights. Realizing that probably wasn’t the safest tactic, I began firmly telling my harassers, “Have some respect.” Some got aggressive, but I stood my ground, confident that my retort would discourage them from harassing other women.
One man, I remember, was caught completely off guard. He stumbled over his words and mumbled, “I’m, I’m sorry” in response. I sauntered off to my airport terminal, feeling proud.
Now, before I leave the house in anything that reveals more than an elbow or ankle, I grab a jacket/shawl/sweater, anything that won’t expose any cleavage/leg/erect nipples or that will conceal how snugly my dress/skirt/jeans cling to my curves.
Catcallers these days have had some of the most violent reactions. One, a kid no more than 14, shouted he was going to “fuck me up” when I paid him no attention.
I’d like to believe it’s because I’m wiser. I’ve been fighting patriarchy through my activism and queerness in ways that systematically and socially scream “fuck you.” But the truth is I’m exhausted. And at moments I feel like a regressed feminist, failing to fling my fist in the air at any anti-woman moment.
I’m worn out. Weary. I’m not as fired up as I used to be — and that scares me.