Yesterday evening I was walking back to my apartment from the parking lot I am forced to park in due to not being an in-state resident where I go to school. The lot is about a block or two away from my apartment.

It was about nine at night, and I was walking alone. I’ve walked this route many times alone, as I have lived here for six months with my roommates’ schedules sometimes lining up with my own, but not always. Again, it’s about two blocks away. I also live directly across from a police station.

Last night, as I was crossing the street and turning a corner, a car with two men in it slowed down and stopped behind me, and the man in the passenger seat asked me how I was doing. I gave them a confused look and said “Fine” and continued walking.

These men proceeded to back up and turn down the road that I was walking on, driving alongside me and saying things (I’m not sure if they were talking to each other or to me, though at one point one of them did say “Sexy” and “don’t be like that”, so…) I did not look at them, I did not respond to them -I continued to walk normally.

I walked about 3/4 of the block like this, with them following me in their car. Then, the driver got out of the car and crossed over to me and asked if he could walk with me. He was smiling. I said no. He asked why I “had to be like that”. I kept walking. They drove away as I was turning into my complex.

I made sure they drove away before walking inside the complex and then called my boyfriend, and then cried on the phone to him while I locked my apartment in every way possible.

Tonight I want to talk about harassment.

After this experience, and after I had some time to calm down and think, I began wondering what else I could’ve done. Should I have been more forward to this man about my displeasure? About my disgust? About my fear? What if he had reacted badly and tried to grab me -what would I have done? Would any of the three people next to the building have done something? And then I started wondering why I was wondering what I could’ve done differently.

After thinking about these things for a while, I began to get very very angry, and I still am. I am angry that these complete strangers thought it was an ‘okay idea’ to follow a single woman in their car at night and try to hit on her. I am pissed off that my rejection of them and their advances was seen as something negative (which can be inferred from his question “why you gotta be like that” when I walked away) while their unwanted advances (and stalking) is not seen as such. I am angry that when I wrote about this on facebook, another female friend of mine wrote that she had also been followed last week by a man in an SUV while she was running, who asked her if she wanted a ride multiple times on different streets and continued to follow her after she refused. I am angry that people don’t think street harassment is a real problem, and I am furious that people think that it is actually a compliment.

No.

It is terrifying.

Being followed by two people in a car at night is terrifying.

Wondering if you are going to have to defend yourself physically against someone is terrifying.

Knowing that you cannot run because of health problems while a stranger is approaching you is terrifying.

Also knowing that, if it came down to it, you probably could not defend yourself physically against said person -because of those same health problems -is terrifying.

I wish that I could see that man again. I wish that I could ask him why he thought his actions were anywhere near appropriate. I wish I could ask him if he honestly thought I was ever going to get in his car when I didn’t know him at all and he just followed me down a block. I wish I could ask him why he thought I wanted his advances when I was very clearly ignoring him. I wish I could tell him to stop what he was doing and to never do it again. I wish I could tell him how scared and unsafe he made me feel.

Instead, I will tell you all something very clearly:

If you want to hit on someone, and they are actively not looking at you or are turning away from you or are not responding to things you say: they are not fucking interested. Leave them alone.

If you ask someone if you can walk with them, or if they need a ride, or anything even vaguely similar and they say no, or I don’t know, or I’m not sure, or nothing at all: they are not fucking interested. Leave them alone.

I cannot go back in time and change how I reacted, but maybe this post will help someone understand that street harassment is not okay ever. No one likes it, no matter what anyone else thinks. It’s not a compliment. It doesn’t make our day. It doesn’t make us feel pretty. It makes us feel scared and terrified and shitty and it just reinforces all of the bad things about this culture.

And, yes, my situation could’ve been a lot worse, I am absolutely sure of it -but that does not make it okay or something that I need to get over. Street harassment needs to be talked about, it needs to be identified, because that’s the only way that we can stop it.