Ten Steps to Holla Back

by leahatherton13

This poem is dedicated with no love, to the creeps who think it’s ok to harass women in the street.

For more information about street harassment and what you can do to put a stop to it, I can recommend Hollaback!


1. Damn straight I look good in these jeans. Considering how much blood, sweat and
shopping trauma went into finding these little beauties, I would hope so.
Granted, that was five years ago. Before the knees wore out and the colour wore out and the hems wore out and I wore them out hiking that one time and seriously?

2. ‘Baby’ is not my name. Neither is ‘cutie’, ‘sweetcheeks’ or any name you might apply to
a kitten, a baked dessert or whatever it is you’re failing to pronounce in sign language.
Yes, it’s true, I do in fact have a name, and a number. You will be getting neither.

3. Opening conversations. Now, being British I’m sure you’ll be familiar with most of our normal social greeting rituals: the wave-come-nose-scratch; the painfully obvious comment on the weather; the use of pointed nasal inhalation at some European-minded anarchist jumping the queue and sorry, I digress. It’s charming, in its own quirky little way.
Yelling ‘hey sexy, nice tits’ at me from across the street – not so much.

4. Hissing, meowing, or that weird thing about sucking your teeth. I don’t get it.
I’m not a cat. You can’t lure me in with tuna, confuse me with laser pointers and
dousing yourself in catnip will not persuade me to jump all over you, though you’re
welcome to try.
In the interests of good communication, may I suggest that instead you
stand and say in a loud, clear voice, ‘I am a sexist douche’.
You’ll still be creepy, but points for honesty is better than nothing.

5. To the bros in the gym: I understand that a woman in the zone known only as the Man Pit
can be a strange and daunting experience, but word to the wise – help is welcome.
Help, is telling me when my bar slants, when my hand drops, or when I happen to execute a routine three times perfectly with the style of Jackie freaking Chan.
‘Help’ does not mean leaning on whatever I’m using, patting my backside and trying to intimidate me out of your gym.
Yes, I punch like a girl.
Try not to get knocked out.

6. Do not mistake my smile for an invitation. Do not mistake my laugh for an invitation.
Do not mistake my clothes for an invitation. Do not mistake my eyes for an invitation.
Do not tell me to smile, and mistake it for an invitation.
Invitations are earned, not asked for.
Do not mistake my ‘no’ for an invitation.

7. The first time a man whistled at me in the street, I thought it was a compliment.
Gratitude is a familiar coat, one we learn to wear the way we learn to take the training wheels off these new bodies, the way we learn to flaunt and barter, the way we learn our worth
is valued, somewhere between yes and only ever hearing yes, between one and paralytic, we learn the hard way. We gamble the only assets we have and like any gambler, even when we win, we lose.
The last time a man whistled at me in the street, I did not think it was a compliment.
When I told him to leave me alone, he heard yes, heard joke, followed me half a mile of road home.
When you gamble the only asset you have, even when you win, you lose.
Making me feel unsafe in my own body, is not a compliment.

8. When I slap down your ‘compliments’, get angry. Tell me you wouldn’t screw me anyway.
Tell me I’m so ugly I should be grateful when you tell me all the disgusting things
you would do to me. Tell me I’d be lucky to be raped.
Call me bitch. Call me cunt.
You are only listing one thing you can’t handle, and one thing you can’t have.

9. Yesterday I was a terrible feminist. Yesterday, I said (and I quote) that I should have expected trouble, for running through a rough part of town.
We learn to expect trouble, to cover up, learn to hide our bodies, to lower our eyes.
From mother to daughter, from friend to lover to friend, we learn to expect trouble. We learn stories about bad locks and good keys, open windows and happy burglars.
We learn that our bodies are siren calls, the smell of good food in a crowd of starving.
We learn it is our fault if the starving come to dinner.
We learn to become part of the problem.
Yesterday I had to remind myself, that my body is not the problem.

10. When I wore a slinky dress, it was not for you.
When I decided my cutoffs were the most comfortable thing in my wardrobe, it was not for you.
When I let my hair down, it was not for you.
When I put on running tights, it was not for you.
When I danced to my favourite tune, it was not for you.
When I waited for the bus, it was not for you. When I  walked home anyway, it was not for you.
When I got up this morning, it was not for you.
When I get up in the morning, it is not for you.
When I tell you to go fuck yourself, that is not for you.

10. Enough is enough.