When The Target Of Street Harassment Is Age 12-17
When I don’t wear makeup and my hair is up in a ponytail afro puff, I experience somewhat different street harassment from when my hair is in a more “adult” style and I wear lip gloss, let alone makeup. Now, the patriarchal men who think street harassment is “flirting” (it’s not) will assume that these are men who like “real” women (read: they associate not wearing makeup with being willing to be more obedient to men, and thus “real,” or associate it with hypersexuality and independence, for which they cannot control; either way, misogyny and the politics of respectability are at play here) more than “fake” women who wear makeup.
It actually has nothing to do with this…at all.
The issue is that when I don’t wear makeup, men anywhere from 15-65 years old try to pick me up and it often devolves rapidly into street harassment, or it’s street harassment from the start (primarily with men 18-40).
I’ve had several teenage boys think I was a high school student whenever I was at a public library near a high school reading. This has happened a few times. I am assumed to be 16-18 on a regular basis. I am carded anytime I try to purchase scratch-offs or wine, where often the cashier assumes that I am 17. The point is, I easily look like a teen at times.
The street harassment in these incidents tends to be more sexually inappropriate than when I look my age, 33, because these men are SPECIFICALLY looking for teenage girls. Usually once I open my mouth, the way that I speak (the actual words used and my tone) and how I tell them to go away helps to reveal my age. They seem utterly…devastated or “tricked.” I, however, remain disgusted.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve experienced street harassment since age 12. The men who harassed me from 6th grade through 12th grade were THE SAME AGES as the men who harass me today. And though I experience more harassment overall now than when I was a teen, it is very telling how the harassment itself differs when I am presumed to be a teen versus an adult. It’s more sexual; more psychologically manipulative in intent. In many ways, it is actually worse and even more reprehensible when I think about what their motives really are.
I remember having a conversation with a few mutual follows on Twitter—about how I never really discussed street harassment with my parents. I endured this hell almost everyday in middle school and especially in high school. I dreaded walking home from the bus stop or walking home from school. My heart rate would increase just thinking about it. I had nightmares. What’s sad to me is not that I thought I couldn’t trust my parents (though my mother being highly religious and a past member of Black Apostolic churches where misogynoir was not only the norm but deemed “god’s will” was reason enough to feel fearful) with this, but that it seemed like some sort of truly sad and painful anti-Black woman “norm” and “rite of passage” where I grew up. Many girls that I knew though this was the ONLY way that men interact with women. They didn’t know anything different.
When I think about the fact that 60% of Black girls are sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday, the fact that most Black girls who become pregnant in their teen years have significantly older men fathering the children and that girls (just like adult women) bear the responsibility of what adult men choose to do, from street harassment to dating violence to sexual assault to rape, I get even more angry about this. This is rape culture. The same men who are spending their days hunting teens they do not know could be harming the ones they do know. In fact, the statistics reveal that some of them have to be.
Related Posts: The Beauty Binary, Street Harassment and Rape Culture, Race, Gender and Emotional Policing, On Being A Black Female Engineering Student: Street Harassment and Microaggressions At School, Street Harassment and Repeat Harassers