West Hollywood, CA

A Straight Man Harassed Me While I Exercised in Gay West Hollywood

Elle Silver

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I couldn't believe this was happening in West Hollywood of all places. I was out power-walking in a part of L.A. known to be a predominantly queer neighborhood. That's what I like about this area of the city. I can walk there at almost any hour of the day and feel safe. Even men out cruising late at night aren't interested in me but in other men. I'm left alone.

Typically when I'm exercising in West Hollywood, I share the sidewalk with gay men. Often these men are walking arm-in-arm with their male lovers. If anything, I get a few glares from men who want to let me know that they're not interested in me.

Guess what? I'll take a glare over a leer or some disgusting comments coming from a straight man's mouth any day.

That straight man who called me the C-word on the street in West Hollywood did so in broad daylight all because I told him to stop harassing me. How do you think this made me feel? It humiliated and angered me, and also left me feeling completely shaken.

I am a victim of an attempted attack by a man in my past so this makes being yelled at by men even more traumatic for me.

You don't think verbal harassment is hurtful and terrifying? It is.

Men should know better. Some do. Too many don't.

Cat-calls don’t make women feel better — only worse.

This wasn't the first time I'd been bothered by a straight man on the street in Los Angeles. I walk around the city a lot, so I'm ripe for harassment by men I don't even know.

Sure, maybe walking is a strange thing to do in L.A. But I walk a lot because it helps clear my mind. It's simply healthy for me. But because everyone else is so often driving, straight men feel even more emboldened to yell out their car window at women like me as we walk on the street.

These men holler, whistle, and cat-call as they drive by. You might think this would improve my self-confidence. I must be really hot if men are responding to me this way.

It doesn't make me feel more confident. It makes me feel humiliated, scared, and angry.

The men who yell at me from their cars often do so loudly as they drive past. This startles me. I walk to clear my brain and to relax. Here, some man is screaming at me, jolting me out of my peace.

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Photo by Keira Burton.

These men often say disgusting things about what I'm wearing and what they want to do to my body. There's a deep sense of embarrassment one feels when somebody drives by and screams such things at you.

You can't escape experiencing an incredible sense of weakness. There you are, on the street all by yourself, completely exposed. Men drive by quickly and say their piece. You can't even retaliate. They're in their cars. They speed by and are gone.

But still, because they've yelled at you in such a strident tone, you're left nerve-racked.

I certainly am.

Add to this the fact that part of my mind is always preoccupied with keeping myself safe from men. I've grown up with the understanding that too many men are out to hurt women. I feel traumatized by men and such cat-calling just increases my rage and fear.

This makes what might seem like an innocuous holler from a man as he drives by feel even more intimidating, even more violent.

That was why I liked walking in West Hollywood so much. Since the area is populated predominantly by gay men, I can finally walk on the streets as a woman in peace.

Or so I thought.

I once felt safer in West Hollywood than in other parts of L.A.

The day this man insulted me, I was wearing exercise shorts. They were comfortable to work-out in.

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Photo by Jake Ryan.

I felt like it was okay to wear these shorts in West Hollywood. Usually, I felt comfortable walking amidst all the gay men out strolling with their dogs. If I wore the same shorts up in a different part of Hollywood, say closer to Hollywood Boulevard, I would certainly get harassed by men.

I couldn't get away with such an outfit in downtown L.A. either. There's not really any other part of the city that I could wear such work-out gear and not be bothered by men.

Maybe in Santa Monica or Malibu but I don't live near the beach. L.A. is a huge city and I live close to West Hollywood.

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But what I didn't expect was that even in West Hollywood, a straight man would call me the C-word just for telling him to stop harassing me on the street.

I felt like this man wanted to actually hurt me.

I might add that I've been attacked before. This makes me even more nervous around men. This is also what made being catcalled by this straight man that day even more upsetting.

I was out exercising because I had a headache from being locked inside all day. I was walking to feel better.

Little did I know that this man would only make me feel worse.

I had been out walking for an hour when I was crossing the street in a crosswalk. A man stopped in his car to let me pass, then stuck his head out the window and said, "Work it, baby."

I stared at him aghast. Did we know each other?

"Yeah, shake it for me."

Shake it for him? I was exercising for me.

"Love the way you move," he said.

"Stop it, you're disgusting," I sneered.

He'd had a lecherous grin on his face as if I was giving him a private show. His grin turned to a scowl.

He called me the C-word.

The way he said it—he barked it at me. He wanted to hurt me with his voice.

I shot back an insult. He called me the C-word again.

He revved his engine as I reached the other side of the street and drove off.

It may seem to a lot of you that this was a little thing, something I should just shrug off, but it wasn't a little thing.

I thought I'd feel better after actually confronting one of these street harassers. I didn't. I felt worse. I felt hurt and victimized. Why should I get insulted just for telling someone to stop leering at me?

Add to the humiliation was how other people on the street were staring at me. Other people had watched this interaction go down and had done nothing to help or support me.

I felt so exposed, and why? Just for existing while being female.

I should be able to walk on the street in peace. If I tell a man to stop harassing me, he should do just that. But seriously, how about not harassing women in the first place?

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Photo by Keira Burton.

How about not pretending my body is the property of any man on the street?

This is what women must put up with all the time.

What made this even worse was that I had believed I was in one of the only places in L.A. a woman can feel safe: in gay West Hollywood.

But not even in there was I safe from straight men.

And that's sad.

I expect more of men. A man can help it. It's just some men don't want to.

There should exist legal consequences for street harassment.

I sometimes wonder if it's just that some men don't realize how vulnerable and humiliated it makes a woman feel to be cat-called and harassed on the street.

Or maybe that's exactly what they want a woman to feel.

I'd like to think this isn't true but I can't help wondering sometimes if it is.

Men should know better. Some do. Others don't. For those who don't, I'd like to see a world where a man can be prosecuted for verbally harassing a woman he doesn't know on the street in the same way he could be prosecuted for physically harming her.

Verbal harassment is also hurtful and terrifying. A punishment should exist for this crime.

Cover image by Bewakoof.com Official.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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