A lot of firsts for this article. The first time I bought spare change news was recently, and the first time I bought Ms. Magazine was recently. Browsing through Ms. I was happy to see a story featuring Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. If you haven’t heard of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh I’m pleased to introduce her to you. And if you haven’t heard of spare change news, I’m also glad to introduce that publication to you.
Spare Change is a newspaper that covers issue of homelessness, and human rights in general. It is sold by homeless people on the street. The homeless person buys it for something like 35 cents then sells it for a dollar. They keep any profit they make from selling the newspaper. I really liked the articles in the issue I bought.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s has become famous for her art that boldly address street harassers and those who are harassed. She is quoted in the Ms. Article saying “I hope when women see [her art], they’ll feel less alone in the streets.” I certainly felt an immediate gravitation to her work when I first saw it. I felt that someone else “got it”. I was happy to have someone on my side, making art that is very public, in the street where a lot of harassment happens. Her art is also really smart in that it addresses the harassers directly. The art makes a statement that is not dependent on the harassed. It doesn’t make it their responsibility to speak up in the moment. I think that’s really important.
I even bought my boyfriend a T-shirt from her website, not because he harassers people (that I know of) but because it is really important for cis-gendered males to show people when they are conscious of problems like this, problems of sexual harassment. Just the act of him wearing the T-shirt makes a political statement within itself that is powerful because he can recognize his potential part in the problem. He can start conversations with other cis-gendered males when wearing that shirt that has a different effect than if I were to do it.
But what I really want to get to is how the issue of street harrasment relates to another article I read in Spare Change News. In an article titled Homeless Receive Foot Care at Clinic, Kelsie, a volunteer with a the clinic, tells of her conversations with homeless people. She says:
“In the streets, people will pass you by and sometimes people aren’t even nice. Most people will ignore you and pretend you don’t exist, and I think for some of them it kind of internalizes in a way that’s like ‘if no one cares about me why should I care about taking care of myself and my own health?’…”
After reading that quote. I immediately felt a pang of guilt. What do I do when I see a homeless person on the street? The answer is 9 times out of 10 I ignore them. I started to ask myself why.
1. That is how my mother taught me to deal with homeless people. Pretend they’re not there.
2. I don’t often carry cash so I don’t have anything to give them. Also, I know this seems unfair in comparison, but really, I don’t make a lot of money. I’m not homeless, but I’m struggling to make ends meet.
3. I see homeless people a lot. A lot. It takes a lot of my energy to interact with people when I’m going from point a to point b.
4. It reminds me of harassment. Really. I know it’s not the same but it often feels the same to me as when a man is in my face asking me to smile. Telling me nice ass, or whatever it is that a sexual harasser want to say- or do.
To quote Fazlalizadeh again “Street harassment isn’t always the construction worker shouting form across the street…street harassment is about a man forcing himself into a woman’s space.” The homeless man asking for change often feels reminiscent of this, of another man forcing himself into my physical space. Of course making this comparison might be ridiculous. The intention of this homeless person is wildly different from a harasser. And I know that. But I can’t help feeling them in similar ways sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. Have I become so accustomed to sexual harassment in public that my immediate response to most men on the street is that it is for reasons of sexual voilence towards me?
I feel the same way about canvasers, or whatever they are called. You know, people who stand on the streets with clipboards asking for money for a good cause shouting
“Do you care about children?”
“Do you care about LGBT rights. If you do you’ll stop and talk to me.”
“Don’t walk past me if care about women’s rights?”
Of course the answer is yes. I do care about human rights, in general.
But again the feeling is there. The feeling of “Am I about to get harassed?”
There are a particular bunch of canvasers that live outside of my house. I literally see them 70% of the time I enter or leave me house.
With them I feel this same reminiscent intrusion of my space as when I am sexually harassed on the street.
I think to myself, Just because I’m in public doesn’t mean I need to interact with you, and it doesn’t mean I don’t care about human rights.
Their tactics of yelling at me as I pass feel too similar to how I experience street harassment. I want to scream back “If you care about women you’d find another way to get attention for the cause.”
Even today walking to my next destination I feel someone creeping behind me, following. Quietly a male voice says “You dropped something.” Unsure if I’m paranoid or if I did hear something, I just keep walking. I can feel a person still following me- creeping after. I hear it again, twice this time“you dropped something. You dropped something.”
I realize it’s not my paranoia, it really is a man following after me, telling me I dropped something. I turn around and am face to face with a man, a canvaser, “You dropped your smile.”
Disgusted because he tries to get my attention for a good cause by following me down the street, forcing himself into my space with a line that comments on my appearance and how it needs to change- for him. I wave him off an mutter “uuugh” and quickly scoot away feeling icky.
I hope to get some insight from you dear readers. Why has my brain combined sexual harassment, homelessness, and canvasers? Is it wrong for me to automatically cross-link homeless men begging for money with street harassment? (Probably, how do I stop it from happening though??) With canvassers? Have I become so accustomed to sexual harassment that any man getting my attention on the street has now become automatically associated with sexual violence?
Your thoughts please.