Essays — July 29, 2014 8:55 — 8 Comments

Women Against Street Harassment: A Call for Solidarity – Piper Daniels

It’s ten p.m. on a Monday at my local supermarket, and I’ve come in all my armor: yoga pants and an oversized Dyke March t-shirt, flip-flops, ponytail, no makeup. I have in my possession a ten-dollar bill, pepper spray, a pocketknife, and keys, which I lace through my fingers to create an additional weapon. And just to be clear, this is not a so-called bad neighborhood or, say, the zombie apocalypse. I’m merely a woman gathering breakfast ingredients. I’ve parked in a well-lit spot closest to the exit and remain hyper-aware of my surroundings. In my interactions with others, I keep my head down, avoid eye contact. When spoken to, I’m polite, but not in a way that might be perceived as flirtatious.

I offer this as evidence because I want you to make an informed decision about whether or not I provoked the thing that happens next, which is that a strange man begins following me around the supermarket, describing my body part by part.

In the checkout line, I can feel his eyes burning along the outline of my body. Hoping he won’t follow me, I rush to the door, ready my weapons, and make a beeline for my car. The car door is open an inch when I feel his hand on my shoulder, breath on my neck. He spins me around so I’m facing him, presses his erection against me, says, “wanna give me a ride?”

All around me, humans of the parking lot are dividing into two distinctive categories: those glad it isn’t happening to them who look away, and those entertained by this kind of thing who look closer. At the far end of the parking lot, a police car is pointed toward the road, poised to administer speeding tickets. Because protect and serve, right?

Next comes what is these days the hardest part of harassment, the part where a searing violence wells up in me and I want so much to use my weapons, but I don’t, because without impulse control, I’m no better than my perpetrator.  In this case, the best thing I can do is scream, “I don’t know you! Get the FUCK away from me!” while twisting and bucking free of his body. I create for myself a fifteen second window in which I’m able to get in my car, lock the doors, and reverse out of that parking spot, tires squealing. I report this to the police officer, identifying the perpetrator. (Yes officer, that guy screaming “you stupid cunt.”  Kind of hard to miss.) The cop looks annoyed, says, “That guy looks pretty drunk. Thanks for the heads-up.” Goes back to catching the real villains.

Two weeks later I’m at the same supermarket on a Friday night, in a dress this time, in the company of two male friends. I tell them about my last trip to the supermarket and a quarrel ensues, one friend insisting it is no less safe to be a woman than a man, an argument nauseous by now in its millionth pointless incantation. As we make our way back to the car, it begins—a large man follows me, describing how he’ll impregnate me, and why. Embarrassed and physically outmatched, I say nothing. One friend decides to stand up for me and a shouting match ensues. The other mutters, “I’m not trying to be murdered over some fuckin’ ice cream,” and here, for once, we agree, as I too, would rather not be murdered over his fuckin’ ice cream. This is my point, exactly.

I describe these two events, unfortunate but relatively routine in my life, because somehow they served as the final straw, and I was broken open. I could see that I was being destructive rather than proficient with my anger, that I had become so furious about the bullshit exacted upon my own tiny world that I was ignoring the epidemic of harassment happening all around me.  I decided it was time to be brave in a new way, and if you think I’m some lone Valerie Solonas, think again. Activists all over the country are fighting street harassment like never before, using social media to transcribe and video record their harassers in order to create awareness, visibility and, in many cases, accountability.

A Minneapolis-based activist known as Lindsey is at the forefront of this movement. In addition to creating a video forum for street harassment, she designed Cards Against Harassment, downloadable and printable cards women can distribute explaining how they feel about the harassment they’ve just received, a simple but ingenious solution for those instances when direct confrontation isn’t safe and must be avoided.

I am speaking now to those suffering the daily consequences of the rape culture we live so deeply and darkly within: take heart. The bravery and resourcefulness needed for you to leave your house each morning has already made you stronger than they will ever be. May it go without saying that on days homely and comely there is nothing you could do or say or wear or be that would make any of this your fault. May your well-earned fear and anger lead you to the understanding that you are not alone, that the best use of your power is to protect others by speaking out and dreaming up new and creative solutions for fighting back. Crucially, you must never lose sight of your own physical safety, but do not let them make of you a craven thing when bravery is so much sweeter.  If ever you’re called upon to go above your nerve, remember the countless Mia Zappatas of the world who never made it home, and do what is safely within your power to honor them.

I send you love, solidarity, and all the courage I can muster, as well as this mantra from poet Elissa Ball:


You are alive. Now

fight like it.



*For additional resources and to download your very own Cards Against Harassment, visit

*To read “Matador” and other poems from Elissa Ball’s The Punks Are Writing Lovesongs, visit elissa_334.html.

*For information regarding Women Against Street Harassment, email an inquiry to


Piper Daniels is a poet, a graduate of the University of Washington MFA program and a wonderful dancer.


  1. nancy says:

    loved it ! dance on girl !

  2. Tom Hamilton says:

    Great article piper.

  3. malcolmspeakeasy says:

    What? That type of stuff does not happen in my neighborhood. If anything, any such instance is immediately confronted by very pissed off dudes and more than probably get a serious beat-down by the boys in blue if he gets belligerent. You need to find a better neighborhood.

    Malcolm, living in Marconi/Arcade in Sacramento County, where Yes! You can dress provocatively without getting hassled.

    • Piper J. Daniels says:

      Malcom, I do not pretend to be an expert on what it’s like to be a man in your town or your world. Respectfully, when it comes to being a woman or even someone on the feminine end of the spectrum, you do not know what you’re talking about. Your insistence that you DO know what you’re talking about makes me pretty certain about that. Rape culture is a global issue and its negative consequences can be found in every town everywhere. If you are really invested in being the expert you claim to be, listen to this podcast on rape culture and street harassment @

      And keep this quote in mind:
      “The first resistance to social change,” said Gloria Steinem, “is to say it isn’t necessary.”

      • Piper J. Daniels says:

        Additionally, not everyone has the privilege of “finding another neighborhood.” People who live in dangerous, violent, or low-income neighborhoods should not have to deal with rape or street harassment either.

        Please check your privilege.

  4. Amara says:

    Malcom, are perceived by the public as male? If so, you don’t necessarily know what happens to women when they are alone in your neighborhood.

    Also, “dressing provocatively” is, in itself, a problematic phrase because it indicates that certain items of clothing (highly variable/subjective as to what would qualify) are responsible, at least in part, for the behavior of those interacting with the wearer.

  5. Sean De Tore says:

    Malcolm, until you’ve walked in a woman’s shoes (shoes which DO NOT have the power to incite cat calls or abuse because it’s the mind of man that does that) you have no right to assume the position of all-knowing. Street Harassment is a real thing.

    Maybe watch some videos on the matter: or listen to this: . Piper is strong. Women, are strong.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney