If you're a girl growing up in New York City, you learn about street harassment at an early age. The lesson is not optional. As soon as you approach adolescence, as soon as your shape starts to change, men on the street start saying things to you. It's a confusing and often scary realization that girls come into suddenly: The simple act of walking your body down the street is something you have to learn how to do all over again. With a game face on.
When I went through this learning experience, I was attending an all-girls school in Manhattan. We had an assembly where we were taught how to respond if men made lewd remarks or flashed us on the street. I distinctly remember getting the instruction to walk out into moving traffic rather than get too close to a man lurking in a doorway and saying dirty things to you. Because if he laid hands on you — if the harassment went beyond words — you might not escape in one piece. Better to risk getting hit by a car.
It's a confusing and often scary realization that girls come into suddenly: The simple act of walking your body down the street is something you have to learn how to do all over again. With a game face on.
That was a long time ago, in a city that was far more dangerous than it is today. But despite the record-low crime numbers that the "new" New York regularly racks up, the city's young women still have to learn the same lesson I did: By the time you are 12, 13, or 14, depending on how quickly you mature, you can expect regular and sometimes disgusting comments on what you look like and what men want to do to you. The issue is getting much more attention now, thanks to groups like Hollaback, but it hasn't gone away — in New York or in pretty much any other city where people actually walk down the street.