Editorials — October 13, 2014 10:51 — 0 Comments

Women Against Street Harassment: Elissa Washuta Takes No Prisoners

Below is Part 2 of Piper Daniels’ conversation with writer Elissa Washuta – for Part 1 click here.


Piper Daniels: What would you consider to be your quintessential street harassment story?

Elissa Washuta: Four or five years ago, I took the bus from Capital Hill to where I was living in Lake City. It was around 1:00 a.m. I was in sneakers, jeans, a hoodie, and a backpack. I knew enough about that neighborhood to be terrified at that time of night. I was hiding beneath my hoodie, trying to look as much like a boy as possible, knowing my walk would give me away. As I walked, a car drove by very slowly, then turned around at the intersection, coming for me. I thought, you know what? I’m gonna fuckin’ die. The guy drove alongside me yelling over and over, “Get in the car, bitch.” I made it safely home that night, but this was a neighborhood in which I was later drugged.

PD: At what age did street harassment begin for you, and how did your location factor in?

EW: Before I was in Seattle I lived in College Park, Maryland. I was nineteen, living in an apartment on the edge of campus near the intersection of Knox Road and Route One. That’s where all the bars were, where the riots took place, and where most of the street harassment happened. The combination of alcohol, student housing, and frat row was all too often a recipe for disaster. I was harassed on the street all the time by drunk college boys. It happened so often that I didn’t even think about it.

PD: I have to say, I chose my undergraduate program in part because there was no football team. I had friends who went to Big Ten schools who were given rape whistles with their room key, and that to me is the worst rape joke ever. When people say street harassment isn’t a big deal, they don’t realize it affects everything, including the college you attend, though ultimately, there’s no way to fully guard against it.

EW: Regarding all these ridiculous “solutions” for avoiding rape—dipping our germy fingers in our drinks, wearing a female condom with hooks in it—when do you decide, tonight’s the night I think I’m gonna get raped? The night I was drugged I was at a neighborhood bar I went to all the time with my family. The night I got raped it was by somebody I knew.

PD: If a successful prevention method existed, we’d dip our fingers in our drinks every night. But because recipients of harassment aren’t causing the problem, they have limited power to change it. What amazes me is how successfully this myth of female prevention has been disseminated and maintained. It seems like there’s a little more awareness lately, a little less reticence on the part of women to talk about it openly. I think we’re tired of being told we deserve what’s coming to us.

EW: I’m tired of that, and I’m also tired of the pretty problem. There are harassment apologists that believe as long as someone calls me pretty, it isn’t harassment. It is then acceptable to publicly call me out for that. If I don’t enjoy being called out, then I’m a bitch. I wonder, where is the line? If I’m pretty, is it okay that someone wants to rape me? Is it okay to actually rape me? And I think there are men who would never harass a woman who still defend the position that this kind of thing is a compliment because, to be honest, making excuses for other men is easier than actually coming to the defense of women. I hear a lot of guys saying, I didn’t know it was going on to this degree. Okay, so now that you know, how much will you invest in that? If you hear it, if you see it, what are you going to do?

PD: From the time of your first street harassment encounter, have your opinions about street harassment changed?

EW: At one time I tolerated it and I certainly don’t tolerate it anymore. Wherever I go I’m hyperaware of it. I’ve learned that it’s okay to spend a large part of your paycheck on an apartment you can’t afford if that’s what makes you feel safe. In my new neighborhood, I’m allowed to be a human in the world after dark. I can actually walk at night, which is something I absolutely need.

PD: Recently, Doree Lewak of the New York Post wrote a piece arguing that catcalls are fun and flattering. Do you see any merit to her claim?

EW: If she personally wants to participate in a power dynamic in which she is subjugated, I guess that’s her choice, but I think it’s reprehensible that she uses her affiliation with a major news outlet like the New York Post to send the message that we should all be okay with this. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a deviant position she’s in. Much like conservative republicans portray S&M or queer sex as deviant, Doree Lewak is deviant to me. I don’t think it’s a good practice to present that as what we should all be doing.

PD: Is there anything we should all be doing?

EW: We should all be taking care of ourselves in the best way we know how and if we don’t know how, we should be asking the people whom we trust and look up to what they do to take care of themselves. We should be listening to our intuition, and if our intuition isn’t talking very loudly, we should listen harder. It’s what I wish I had been doing for a very long time. As a Native person, I just wrote this piece about rage, about how women of color are taught to be civil, be reasonable, if they want anyone to listen to their argument. Meanwhile, the message they’re getting over and over is fuck you, you don’t matter, I can say whatever I want to you, and Native women just keep getting raped and disappearing. So it seems to me we need to understand that sometimes, it’s not only acceptable but necessary to forsake civility for a fuck you.


For more information about Elissa Washuta and her new book, My Body Is A Book of Rules (Red Hen Press), visit here.

For more information on Women Against Street Harassment, visit us on


Twitter @WASH_seattle

Email @ WomenAgainstStreetHarassment@gmail.com


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

Leave a Reply

The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney