I am very hopeful that the IT’S NOT A COMPLIMENT campaign will have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls in Guyana. I have first hand knowledge of how street harassment changes you and the harm it can cause. I have spent years navigating the gauntlet that walking on New York City’s streets is for women. I put up with instructions to smile, the comments about my body, the kisses and lip smacking, horn blowing and the endless, nasty abuse by strangers. But one experience stands out above all others. I garaged my car in the building where I lived in Manhattan. Every day I would call for my car and one of many attendants would bring it to the front. I began to notice that one of the attendants was overly attentive to me. And he became attentive in a discomforting way, in a way that made me feel uncomfortable and ultimately unsafe. I began to do things to avoid this garage attendant…I always sought to have one of the other attendants fetch my car. Even when one of the other attendants brought my car he found a way to work his way to me to say something about the way I looked that day or to ask where I was going or what I was going to do. As women, we are socialized to be pleasant, to not be abrasive, to not insult or hurt anyone’s feelings, to be polite and so instead of stopping him directly I began to consider moving my car to another garage. Then one day he brought me my car and pointed to a letter that he had left on the car seat. After I left the garage I opened and read this letter. It was a love letter to me from him…and with each word he wrote on that page the personality of a man who was delusional emerged. Then I became downright afraid and I was forced to act. I wrote management and told them in writing the entire story and enclosed a copy of the letter he had left for me. I copied my own attorney on this correspondence. The man was abruptly fired and I was assured that such a thing would never happen again. The funny thing is I always had power over this man. He was an attendant in a garage where I was a paying customer. But I failed to use my power until I could no longer take his frightening behavior. Now we have an opportunity to push back against obnoxious, discomforting and frequently frightening behavior by men against women on streets, in stores, in garages, in office places and everywhere. We do have the power to change this.
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