The Microaggressions We Live With

by Renee Martin

No matter how successful, street savvy, or together a woman is, it only takes the briefest moment to remind her that she is nothing more than an object of sexual gratification in our sexist patriarchal world.  To make matters worse, when violence does occur, it is too often suggested that somehow the victim brought it on herself.  How many times have we seen that after an assault the question quickly becomes, how much did she have to drink, what was she doing in that location, and (my personal favorite) what was she wearing?  All of these questions suggest women are somehow to blame for the crimes committed against us.

In an incident that has recently gone viral, 18-year-old Aaron Morris  grabbed a woman’s behind at a North Lauderdale, Florida, Walmart and justified his actions by claiming “her booty looked so good, I just couldn’t resist touching it.”  Clearly, Morris believes his attraction justifies his actions, but what is more disturbing is the fact that his supposed reason has become the punch line of various jokes, with people commenting that the booty should be introduced at his trial. By turning Morris’ alleged assault into a joke, people have minimized the idea that women have the right to live their lives without fear of assault. Morris’ actions, as well as the public reaction, are a manifestation of rape culture.

The truth of the matter is that to be a woman in this world is to be subject to all kinds of indignities based in gender.  It means that in public spaces, even when engaged in the most benign endeavors, we have to guard our person, while men occupy space at demand and walk freely.  Look around at a mixed-gender room and you will see that women attempt to make their bodies as compact as possible, while men sit with their legs spread and their bodies largely sprawled about because of a sense of not only safety but also entitlement. With each act of assault, or street harassment, we become less free. Though these incidents happen on a daily basis, they are not deemed important enough to be part of our national conversation. Yet all women have at least one story to tell about experiencing something like this.

I was 13 years old and on my way home when I felt something pressing against me from behind.  I wasn’t sure what it was and assumed at first that because the train was so full it was simply a matter of high traffic.  It wasn’t until I looked down and saw an arm wrapped around my thigh that I realized what was happening. I suddenly became aware of his hot breath on my neck and I remember shivering with revulsion.  I looked up at the man in front of me, my heart filled with fear, praying that he would say something.  I continued to feel the press of my abusers erection against my buttocks, but felt paralyzed to do anything, and it only stopped when my abuser had to switch trains.  I never saw his face, but I will never forget the fear I felt that day or how by his actions my personhood and right to bodily integrity was erased, simply because I dared to occupy a public space as female.  I felt dirty and cheap through no action of my own. We always hear about the fast-assed little girl, but what about the girl who becomes a victim because we live in a culture which teaches men that such invasions are a right of passage? What about the fact that we live in a society which teaches that female bodies are objects or commodities to be bought and sold at the whims of men?

The Hollaback movement was created specifically to give voice to the daily assaults with which women are forced to deal. It currently has activists across 50 cities and 17 countries and communicates in nine different languages. Women are attempting to stand up and hold abusers accountable, yet, in the face of all we have done, the assaults continue without abatement, and popular culture continues to encourage them.  No matter how much effort women bring to putting an end to these kinds of assaults, nothing will change until men universally decide to police their own behavior and respect the bodily integrity of women.

These crimes against us are not harmless, nor are they victimless, and whether we acknowledge it or not, they have become a part of our psyche. We are encouraged to take self defense classes to protect ourselves, but where are the social lessons to boys and men that teach that assault is not a right of masculinity but the sign of a predator? Where is this justice and equality in this situation? These everyday assaults are not minor incidents because they represent the perverseness of rape culture. If a woman cannot go about her daily affairs without worrying about unwarranted and unwanted attention or physical attacks, then we are still not equal and none of us is safe.

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha A.

    When I read about that Walmart incident I got very angry and wanted to find that man so I could have the satisfaction of kicking him right in his stupid ugly face. This kind of behavior has got to stop.

  • CurlySue

    Fantastic article!! There’s a reason so many men are afraid of women exercising their own sexualities. It’s because for hundreds of years, they’ve felt entitled to our bodies. And the idea of a woman owning every bit of her body and surrendering it to NO ONE but who she chooses to scares the sh*t out of them.

  • CurlySue

    In related news, that man in the mugshot has a face to curdle milk.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    those men who bother women are generally low level punks trying to prove something.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    “There’s a reason so many men are afraid of women exercising their own sexualities”

    the reason is that men are afraid they cannot keep up.
    that is the reason for the repression of female sexuality.
    punk assed males.

  • Yb

    I can’t breathe!!!! Omg I’m crying over here.

  • African Mami

    This chile needs Jesus and braces. Bless his heart!

  • The Comment

    and a shave…

  • Nina

    Ive started to talk back instead of ignore – sometimes it works, sometimes it encourages them, but its better than letting them get away with the satisfaction of me walking away while they talk trash, they get off on that too.

    I usually say really loudly – Youre so disrespectful, women shouldnt have to deal with your street harrassment. Do something constructive, dont harrass women walking down the street.

    Sometimes if they are really rude – I say “youre making my eyes bleed, you wish buddy”

  • Ms. Information

    He looks like a Roots extra

  • shadow

    I feel so sorry for what you went through as a child, smh.

  • Nope

    Guys on the street yelling obscene comments at women have a lack of self control. They take it up a notch when they invade your personal space like this guy and the man on the train. The next level is rape. Men know the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. I think hip hop culture encourages this lack of self control. A lot of the songs sound like they were made by some thirsty men from a street corner. It’s not a cute look. I think that’s where the b***s and hoes come from. These men on the street and rappers who don’t rap about anything but booty have no self control (or creativity) but they are embarrassed by their lack of self control, how much women impact their life, or station in life, so they have to call you names to feel some kind of power and put you in a lower position of being a sex object.

  • Annonyed at this unexcusible behaviour

    This is a whole bunch of mess!!! I can’t believe he justified his actions with he couldn’t stop himself. I am tired of that excuse. This is a great article. I feel your experience at 13 I have had several messed up experiences in my childhood as a girl. We do need to teach not just men but our boys about acceptable behaviour. I recall more than once my bar strap being pulled and snapped on me! It was not funny to me and it hurt! That was ages 12-14yrs by male classmates. That type of behaviour changes girls, basically getting you ready for the rest of your life of harassment physically verbally by men it sucks. I bet if a bunch of girls went around dong something similar there would be a big news intervention on what’s wrong with our girls etc. Sigh..

  • The Comment

    *tears in my eyes*

    LMAO!!!!!!!! EXTRA!!!!!! Damn……

  • http://gravatar.com/ominahomina anon

    ” No matter how much effort women bring to putting an end to these kinds of assaults, nothing will change until men universally decide to police their own behavior and respect the bodily integrity of women.”

    I totally disagree with that statement. So, we’re that helpless, huh? No, we’re just not doing enough, collectively to put a stop to it. Because many women, too , subscribe to the ideals and perceptions of men.

  • Jaslene

    Maybe from now on we take the action of grabbing their penises and pinching them or saying derogatory comments back or take the action setting them straight by knocking the shit out of them.

  • hmmmmm

    From the Huffington Post: “The teen should be glad he didn’t suffer the same fate as the man who allegedly grabbed a woman’s buttocks on the L train in New York City in July. The woman chased her attacker onto a train, where passengers dragged him out onto the platform, and held him until authorities arrived, according to the New York Daily News. The incident was also recorded on bystander’s cellphone.”

    The message: Stand up. Speak up. In the moment.

  • Patience

    I have started to talk back as well. It is humorous to me how their reaction is to get upset for you not allowing them to have control over you.

    Most recently I had an older man tell me, “Smile!” I responded back with, “Don’t tell me what to do!” He didn’t like that, so he said, “Well frown then!” I told him, “Thanks. I will do that.”

    Besides that, I may say to them, “I am not a shorty” or “I am not your sweetheart”.

  • African Mami

    YES!!!!!

    How are ya darling?

  • Ms. Information

    Good sis…how are you?

  • Candi83

    Same here Nina!!
    I was groped on a bus on 2 separate occasions and I never told the bus driver or called the police. I thought no one would believe me or I brought this on myself. I regret not speaking out about the situation because we need to teach this miscreants that it’s NOT ok touch anyone (especially women) without their permission.
    If someone is really being disrespectful and rude, I tell them off. I usually don’t need to yell but I let them know that their comments are not appreciated and tell them would they be happy if someone talked to their mom or sister like that?

  • Candi83

    @ Renee Martin

    A similar story happened to me on public transit. When I was 19, I got groped on the bus. I regret not trying to tell the bus driver or the police. I was worried that no one would believe me or some one would think that I brought this on myself. After that incident, I vowed to myself that if anyone touched me or said something that was very overtly sexual, that I will speak out.
    Unfortunately, there going to be miscreants like Aaron Morris, but women AND men need to speak out against them. Whether it be telling someone that their sexual advances are not welcome and in this case prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.
    Also people have to teach their sons that it is not ok to sexually harass women.

  • The Comment

    I’d rather just stab them 10x’s like they do in prison. Just turn around stab them in the chest, with a smile of course….exit.
    And while they dying stare in their eyes and say,”next time u decided to grab my a$$ make sure you brush your teeth and comb your damn hair.”

    I know this isn’t very PC but that is how I feel.

  • Leena

    They would probably like it…

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    a man has self control.

    do not be fooled by punks. they are doing what they want to do because they feel they can get away with it. when some of them get their ass kicked it will stop.

  • ChillyRoad

    ” That type of behaviour changes girls, basically getting you ready for the rest of your life of harassment physically verbally by men it sucks.”

    Not in my personal experience. Some of us don’t let bad experiences shape their lives and views of other human beings.

  • ChillyRoad

    Thanks for your perspective James. Ive thought a lot about this subject. Many would suggest that if men had a greater respect for women, than these abominations wouldn’t happen. I tend to disagree. I think if men had resect for themselves, they would not exhibit such dishonourable behaviour. They would view themselves as above such gutter lifestyles.

    What self-respecting man would want to grope a woman? What self respecting man would want to be standing on a street corner grabbing his privates and yelling obscenities to total strangers? The thing about men having respect for themselves is that everyone, not just women, will benefit from it.

  • somewhiteclutchfan

    Yay, like buttons! Ugh, this Walmart story and all related points. Good article.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    a man has self control because a man has self respect.
    there is a big difference between a man and a dog.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    oh my god YES! hip hop definitely encourages this crap. there are soo many terrifying lyrics that are along the lines of “I came up with my d*** in my hand, dont make me leave with my foot in your ass……….be cool”” <—-shake ya ass by mystikal. SMH

    sooo many things i've heard and my reaction is WHAT?!?! did he just say that? and so many people repeat it and see nothing wrong with it and say "it's just a song! stop being so sensitive"… until they become the result of what was "just a song".

    this is why i avoid guys who listen to rap cause too many have their brains fried to mush by it and follow everything the rappers say.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    little boys are starting early with this crap. me and my friend decided to walk to the grocery store and we see a bunch of little boys riding their bike on the street. they were all hispanic except for one black boy. that ONE black boy passed by friend who is a grown ass woman and said to her ” ew. bitch you ain’t got not ass”. i was so appalled. i wanted to cuss him out so bad but.. he was like 9 or 10! ALREADY practicing on harassing women

  • LuvLife289

    Whenever a man pinches or touches my behind I do the same to him. And ask “How do you like it?” smh!

  • The Comment

    be nice to have on some 80s gel nails to really dig n2 their butt.

  • The Comment

    I soo agree with you……unless it is MF DOOM or some underground rapper…forget it….

  • http://gravatar.com/pocketsizednegro Courtney**

    There are a lot of comments saying to stand up for yourself, or tough talk about doing the same things to men. This can and has gotten women killed. I’m not saying sit there and take it, but you have to be smart about how you respond to these assholes. Some are truly unhinged and you wouldn’t know it until it’s too late. And even if they’re not unhinged, anyone with enough male entitlement to harass a woman or girl or feel entitled to their attention/time/body probably doesn’t have too much of a boundary stopping him from escalating that into assault or even murder because we didn’t “respect their auth-or-it-ah.”

    At the end of the day, I don’t think this issue will get better with women talking amongst themselves. We need more articles about sexual harassment and male privilege on men’s websites, in men’s magazines… because this is an issue that starts with men and it will need to be resolved by men. Fathers (and mothers) need to start teaching their sons better. Men need to grow a pair and call their fellow men out when they witness these behaviors in the public sphere. They need to start policing each other. I wish sexual harassment/assault awareness campaigns had a fraction of the support, ads, commercials, and billboards that the marriage equality/bullying campaign has… maybe we’d actually get somewhere. As it is, apparently this issue, as common as it is, just isn’t sexy enough to catch on :-/ Well, aside from that one post on VSB. That turned out well….

  • YBOE

    Yeah! WHAT ABOUT THE MENNNZZZ?!?!,
    seriously you girls – dont forget about them! Because they dont get enough spotlight on their own, do they? How dare we speak about our experience!

    You all should be ashamed of yourself… OR give out fistbumps to everybody who wants them.

  • ChillyRoad

    @Nope

    “They take it up a notch when they invade your personal space like this guy and the man on the train. The next level is rape.”

    But this isn’t backed up by any research done about rapist.

  • Patience

    Yes, they are starting young. A few months back there were two young boys walking on the other side of the street as I waited at the bus stop, and one of them yells to me, “Damn, you phat as shit!” I’ve also heard young boys say, “Who dat!” when I have walked by. One of the reasons why it sucks that I don’t look like a woman in her late twenties is that I get harassed by teenage boys, men my age and older men.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    oh my god me too! i’m 21 but people ALWAYS think i;m 14 or 15.the youngest someone has ever said was 12.. this was like 7 months ago. i was sooo hurt! yet people who actually look their age are always telling me to appreciate it -_- i never knew how common it was until i made a youtube video about people thinking you’re a child when you’re an adult. aha

    but yeah i get hit on by teenage boys all the time cause they think i’m their age. the odd thing is that i get hit on by 40 and 50 year old men who think i’m 15 also. sick bastards!

  • Simone L

    Thursday I was walking to pick up my son and this guy who I passed when crossing the street, pulled up alongside me and curled his finger in a “come here” kind of way. I gently shook my head and kept it moving. I don’t know what the hell you think I am to think you can just beckon me over to come to your car. My legs are working and I’m married. Guhbye

    Another time, my cousin and I were walking to church and we heard a guy driving past say “psst”. As we muttered to each other what nerve this fool has, we eventually looked up and saw it was my dad, heading to church too, to drop the car off for my mom and walk back home. We cracked up; we were so relieved it was my dad and that we didn’t look up instantly, like that kind of thing caught our attention.

  • Patience

    I’ve gotten the ‘come here’ finger more than what I care for and have always found it odd that for a man to want my time and attention, he expects me to approach him and not the other way around. That so is ass-backwards.

  • http://gravatar.com/thedelphiad Dominique Millette

    The next person to see him should kick him in the nuts.

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  • cabugs

    Hey. Can I ask for the link to the video please? Believe it or not I have the same “problem”. It doesn’t help that I am also under 5 feet tall. I think that is actually the major contributing factor. I also find it sick that men who are 26+ try to get with me since I clearly look younger than I really am to anyone who doesn’t know me. I am 19 btw, and the youngest I’ve gotten recently is 12.

  • apple

    i effin hate this mess.. it makes me afraid everytime i see a group of ..black men…i get nervous..and scared… and you can just never say “no thanks” or “oh i have a boyfriend” and god forbid you accidentally make eye contact, thats like an invitation.. i have been cursed out,grabbed,chased,two guys grabbed their genitals at me as one called me a b*tch.. and it doesn’t matter what you wear, they don’t care..the thirst is unremarkable.. almost animalistic…it ruins a good day, a day when you’re just strolling happy like a mary tyler moore intro then to hear “say girl! i know you hear me!”

  • Politicalguineapig

    The truth is men don’t care. They only care about how they appear to other men, and there’s no empathy left over. A man who is aroused has no blood to spare for his brain, and women have to be aware of that. I avoid as much interaction as I can with men. I don’t really care what happens to my body, but I’m aware of my responsibility to other women.

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  • billy

    man yall are crazy , the percentage of men that do this is so rare, it would be nice if we could eradicate this crime , but criminals will be criminals. Gosh men get groped by women too , if I called the police because a girl grabbed my ass I would be laughed at. We live in a sexist society. and these dudes need to go to the strip club, ass and titties are not that serious , you have been fooled by the media into glorifying fat covered in skin thats all ass and titties are fat and muscle covered in skin, it is nothing special it will not feel like warm melted butter over pancakes in the morning.

  • Bruce McGlory

    I wonder if the same excuse would work for the women he assaults. “His face was just so punchable, I just couldn’t resist repeatedly punching it!”

  • Bruce McGlory

    men of respectablility don’t rest of lies, Billy.

  • Bruce McGlory

    And the vast majority of the time, it isn’t considered a crime. See Julian Assange. See Kobe Bryant. See Ben Raplisburger.

  • Candi83

    lol +1

  • http://gravatar.com/teachermrw teachermrw

    Reality is: he’s probably got a girlfriend, and a truckload if kids by different women.

  • ez

    i say be very very careful of how you respond to a nasty man. most times i’ve stood up for myself the situation is escalated. i can’t cope with that, you’ve got no idea what the consequences may be. upping the ante is scary. i am a firm believer in the avert-your-eyes-and-scurry-away-scared approach. just like they want you to do. then you mostly get left alone. i try to stay home a lot

  • Charlotte

    talk about art imitating life. Mystical was convicted of taking part in a gang rape of his hair stylist in 2003.

    http://rapdirt.com/mystikal-sentenced-to-six-years-for-sexual-battery/7003/

  • Charlotte

    I wish it were that simple, but girls and women face harassment in all levels of our patriarchal society. Unless more men stand up to these ideas and actions thus creating solidarity w/ women the same will continue

    “60% of Black women have experienced sexual abuse from black men before the age of 18.”

    http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2011/12/60-of-black-girls-are-sexually-assaulted/

  • Charlotte

    While I agree that is can be risky to confront a predator, it must be done.

    I am so sorry that you have had experiences that tell you that the best way to not be a victim is to behave like one. Predators only pick easy prey.

  • Charlotte

    This is a time for you to listen to another’s experience and realize that women and men have a vastly different socialization which are based on experience.

    There are several women who feel that they are trapped in their homes due to constant street harassment.

    Perhaps you don’t understand and can’t relate, but to be dismissive of this real problem adds to the problem

  • Charlotte

    talk about art imitating life! Mystical was convicted of taking part in the gang rape of his hair stylist in 2003.

    http://rapdirt.com/mystikal-guilty-in-gang-rape/5254/

  • Charlotte

    rapist notoriously have boundary issues, unwanted touching, standing too close, inappropriate jokes/comments/conversations

  • ez

    PPPPPPPPPPPPPPFFFFFFFFFFFT, predators only pick easy prey? what is YOUR idea of ‘easy prey’ is not another’s. behave like a victim? what does that mean? do you pretend that you can predict criminal behaviour because it makes you feel safer? HOW I BEHAVE HAS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DECIDE TO DO.

  • Charlotte

    Common advice that police and those trained in self defense is to tell women to not appear to be an easy target.

    Don’t misconstrue my words as “victim” blaming.

    I have experienced innumerable amounts of street harassment/microaggressions. I have noticed that when I stopped averting my eyes and cowering in the hope that I would just be left alone and decided to squarely look groups of men in the eye. Or to verbally challenge harassment, I have had alot less issues with feeling like and thus acting like a victim.

    Each situation is different, so one must use there instinct/experience to assess each situation.

    My life experience has led me to this conclusion, your’s may lead you into another direction.

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