We Done Already Told Y'all: Black Women Don't Owe Men a "Hello"

by Ogechi Emechebe This week was International Anti-Street Harassment Week (April 12th through 1...

by Ogechi Emechebe

This week was International Anti-Street Harassment Week (April 12th through 19th), the purpose of which is for women around the world to join together to discuss street harassment, share their own stories of being harassed, and to create a call of action for ending street harassment.

A few days ago, I watched a video circulating on my Facebook feed about a young black woman, YouTube vlogger MeekFro, rejecting a man’s advances while shopping at a store. The video posted online was a shortened version of a longer video, in which MeekFro was approached by a number of men, and followed by one, which made her and a friend feel uncomfortable while on vacation in Miami.

After the shortened video gained popularity, many people criticized her response, saying she was a “stuck-up bitch” for dismissing the guy. Some commenters even went further to say she deserved to be punched in the face. My heart sank as I read these disgusting comments, which were largely coming from black men and women. There was nothing wrong with her rejecting the young man and she had the right to shut him down, especially at 3AM.

In revisiting the topic of street harassment, I worry how much longer I have to ask this: When will men finally realize they are NOT entitled to women's space, attention, and bodies? Women have shared endless stories about being followed, catcalled, stalked, and given (often sexist) “compliments,” but men keep dismissing us, claiming we should be flattered for being noticed.

Newsflash: Women do not walk down the streets to seek validation from men, nor are we flattered by the unwanted attention and uninvited comments. Sometimes, we just want to go about our day without being hounded at every corner by men.

The problem is, men who catcall and harass women on the streets do not see us as autonomous beings. This is especially true in how they view black women. Street harassment is a mechanism used to reinforce power by intimidating women, dominating public spaces, and making it uncomfortable for women to enter any space. Street harassment makes us feel as if we’re treated like we exist only for male consumption, sexual gratification, and exploitation.

I’m not particularly bothered when men say a friendly hello or respectfully compliment an outfit. I’m bothered by the men who chase me down asking for my number, the men who follow me, the men who can’t take no for an answer, and the ones who yell vulgar comments as I pass by. It makes me uncomfortable and I deserve to exercise my right to exist in public.

Black women know all too well the horrors of this and are often accused of being “fast-tailed” when men make crude remarks on our appearance and bodies. While women of all races experience street harassment, black women’s experiences are particularly harsh and racialized, and our harassment is often at the hands of black men. These nuances inspired blogger Feminista Jones to create the hashtag #YouOkSis, which gave women of color a space on Twitter to share their stories. I’ve noticed debates on street harassment have brought up opposing viewpoints from black men and women.

It’s upsetting to see so many black men accuse of us of being rude for saying we don’t want men trying to "holla" at us all the time, rather than them examining the ways they're making us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Reports show that more than 60% of women have experienced sexual harassment, not to mention the other forms of sexual violence and abuse we face—often at the hands of black men. Many fear leaving their house to protect their bodies from the exploitation and abuse that black men in our communities inflict upon us. And what bothers me most is the hypocrisy some black men display by saying how we dress must be why we get harassed by men.

Black women usually defend black men's rights to walk down the street in any clothing choice (hoodie, saggy pants, snapbacks, etc.) because doing so doesn’t mean they are thugs nor does it give policemen the right to profile and harass them. We listen compassionately to their stories of police harassment and brutality, the ways in which they are made to feel uncomfortable in public spaces simply for existing as black men. We rally and protest for their right to exist as human beings.

But when the tables turn and black women share their stories of feeling objectified and threatened, black men are quick to throw us under the bus and blame us for the violence committed against us: We must've had our booty hanging out. We’re fast-tailed "hoes". We shouldn’t dress in ways that bring attention to our bodies. We should stop mean-muggin’ and say thank you when men hurl “compliments” at us.

If we reject a man, we’re painted as bitter, lonely bitches. We're told, "That’s why most black women are single." Yet, these same folks criticizing us for being "rude" or "dismissive" are the same ones who will blame us if a man attacks or kills us because we decided to give him a chance by accepting his advances.

It’s a lose-lose situation for black women.

I’ve politely rejected advances from some men, only to have them get upset and call me derogatory names and insults. As invasive as some men may be, women are often taught to suppress their feelings of annoyance or discomfort with kindness, so we don’t “provoke” a violent situation. I’ve had several cases where I hid how irritated I was, for fear that a man with a fragile ego would attack me if I was too aggressive with my rejection. But being polite doesn’t always stop a man from harming you: Mary Spears was a mother of three who was killed for rejecting a man’s advances. This is a reality that that black women fear.

Black women are not public property. We are human beings, we have boundaries, and we have the the right to enforce them. We deserve respect, and men must be taught to respect without condition. I long for the day we don’t have to say, “That’s someone’s mother, sister or daughter,” for men to realize their bad behavior.

I’d rather men see us as human beings, who deserve the right to exist freely without being harassed, sexually objectified, or threatened.

I'd rather men see us as their equals.

Ogechi Emechebe enjoys reading, writing and cooking. Her topics of interest include gender equality, social justice and healthy lifestyles. She describes herself as a gym rat with a slight obsession of eating healthy. Email her at emechebe1021@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter @IgboGirl21.

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