Street Harassment: The Black Girl's Bat Mitzvah


Ask any Black woman you know, and she’ll probably tell you street harassment has happened to her. Ask any teenage Black girl you know, and she probably thinks it’s supposed to.


Street harassment, in its own sick way, was the way I figured out I wasn’t a little girl any more. Even though, at 15 years old, I was very much a child. It's almost a rite of passage. The Black girl's Bat Mitzvah.

If you’ve ever followed the conversations on Twitter, you’re probably pretty versed on what street harassment is. It’s when some mouth breathing asshole decides that a great way to get a woman’s attention is to honk his horn at her. Or make passes at her while she’s walking down the street minding her own damn business. Or physically stop her. Or call her a cunt when she doesn't give him the response he wants. He "deserves." Or worse.

There are, of course, levels to this shit. Some of these idiots are harmless. But — and fellas please pay attention — when it's dark and/or you're alone, it can be very hard to differentiate between harmless idiot and fucking criminal.

In high school, South Street was the place where aimless teenagers went to roam, um, aimlessly. And between the water ice spots, the cheesesteak stores, and the dotting of stores where flashy niggas could get Girbaud jeans, Guess denim sets, and whichever other much-beloved urban clown suits were popular then, there were lots of younger (and older) men around, circling like vultures.

“Mmm lemme get a lick of that ice cream, girl…”

“Damn, she got a fat ass!”

Et cetera and so forth.

When you’re 15, the shit is normal even when it makes you uncomfortable. If you’re skinny, or not the girl with the “big ass titties,” maybe you don't receive the same attention. But — and this shows how truly warped things can be — sometimes you crave the validation that comes with such crudeness. Of course, I was young then. Very, very young. But, I'm being honest. And that's fucking scary.


My crew and I each handled it a different way: I ignored and sometimes rolled my eyes or sucked my teeth to express my disgust. My friend Jenna offered a polite “No, thank you” as she power walked through the rancid pack of dudes. Lauren, the most outspoken one — which is saying something if you’ve met me — usually retorted with a quip of her own. All of these tactics have earned us a “WELL FUCK YOU, BITCH.” as we walked back to the car.

Embarrassing? Not as much as it was dangerous at times. There was the dude who so thirsted for a friend’s number that he wouldn’t move to let us out of parking spot until he got it. Whatever number she gave him, it was fake, and he dialed it almost immediately and started banging on the window when he realized he got got.


I thought about all of this today when en route to my beloved oasis, Whole Foods, conveniently located across the street from my building. Since becoming The Black Girl Who Lives In On The First Floor With The Big Hair in a building surrounded by old White folks that haven’t yet made their pilgrimage to Florida, I frequent the store around twice a week, throwing on something quick to head over and come right back, usually $40 short on my return.

It is with reverence and eyes bigger than my stomach that I approach the hot food bar. Surely, there are Blacks that prepare this food, for the macaroni and cheese, though lacking the crispiness on the corner edges, reigns on high on the nights where lazy dictates the culinary goings on in my home.


Today was no different from the others, and, to wit, it was hot as all the damns outside. Accordingly, I left my house in a loose fitting blouse, Levi's cut-off shorts, a pair of socks, and Adidas slides. Whole Foods has become the adult equivalent of my college cafeteria, and I dressed the part.

The street was buzzing with rush-hour traffic and began to bottle neck because of the left-hand turn at the light. I walked briskly up the sidewalk, where there are few pedestrians. A car slowed down. A horn honked. I looked up to see where the noise came from — one of your dusty cousins. I left the store. I waited at the light. Again, honking. This time a car from the opposite side of the street. I gave him the finger. The car slowed down. And I panicked.


In that instant, I became 15 and vulnerable again. Not entirely sure what the heck to do if the chopper sprayed, or if he was crazy enough turn the car around. Because you can’t exactly run in no damn Adidas slides.

The car passed and so did the moment. Even though I was just across the street, I high-stepped back in the quiet solitude of my crib, wondering what the success rate is for that kind of thing.


And I locked my door.

Maya K. Francis is a culture writer and communications strategy consultant. When not holding down the Black Girl Beat for VSB, she is a weekly columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's 'The Philly Post' and contributes to other digital publications including xoJane, Esquire, and Sometimes TV and radio producers are crazy enough to let her talk on-air, and she helped write a book once. She cites her mother and Whitley Gilbert as inspirations.



I was a late bloomer. And by late, I mean that guys didn't really notice me until they noticed other guys noticing me, in my early twenties. As a teenager, this stung, to be in groups of girls and never get "hollered at." Tuh.

No one called it street harassment back then. We lumped most strange-male interactions under the umbrella term "holla," although it wasn't always a literal shout. Like Maya said, this was rite of passage, a badge of honor like growing out of old shoes: uncomfortable, but you knew it meant you were growing up. So even though it was embarrassing, it spoke to your social standing among women in a twisted way.

To my chagrin, the only men who hollered at me on the street were old men, 40, 50. And even then, it was *weird* to me. Because when I was 17, I looked maybe 13,14; I am small and slight and I never wore makeup. And that always disturbed me because if I LOOKED nearly prepubescent, what did these grandpa-azz men WANT with me? Nothing nice.

Street harassment doesn't actually speak to the desirability of women. The insults after rejection that follow "compliments" come from the very same place, to the very same woman.
It's never felt like a prelude to love to me. It is sport, aiming words at a moving target and getting pissed your shot goes wide right. And people always get touchy about their hunting privileges being called into question.