Campus Life

How to prevent street harassment

The ukulele curse

How many ukuleles did you have? Two? Why didn’t you limit yourself to just one?

If you replace “ukulele” with “drink,” you get the usual slew of questions women are asked after sexual assault. Unfortunately, as hard as I try, I cannot control how strange men act towards me.

Last Friday, I walked across the Harvard Bridge with my two ukuleles. A passing cyclist slowed down, grinned, and asked for one of my instruments. I generally decline strangers who want my stuff, so I politely smiled, shook my head, and kept walking.

We happened to be travelling in the same direction, so he started talking to me again. This time, I did not respond and kept walking. Had our interactions ended here, I’d consider him an oddball, try to forget my past experiences with street harassment, and play uke with my friends in peace. If you have never been approached on the streets, you might consider this a compliment and wonder why strangers like me spurn “innocent” questions.

Innocence depends on intent. Talking to strangers is pleasant when the conversation is brief with crystal clear, benign intent. Rarely do you find someone who ignores a quick transfer of information such as, “Excuse me. Where is the bathroom?” On the other hand, communication between friends takes more time and emotional investment. You should not expect these accommodations from strangers. Whether they bark or grimace at you is irrelevant if they point you towards the correct location.

I’d like to think the dude just wanted a free ukulele (who wouldn’t want a free ukulele?), but it was clear he wanted my affection. As I walked away, he called me a “stuck-up bitch” and shouted for a while. I moved too far away to hear the exact words, but I’m sure they weren’t very nice.

The cacophony rang in my ears as I continued along the bridge. To him, I was another rude woman. He was drunk and probably forgot me shortly. To me, the dread of being followed, being blocked, being touched by this strange man ruined my evening. Too livid for more social interaction, I shut myself off from my dear friends and played a ukulele alone.

For the record, I did make the risque decision of walking alone around predusk while wearing a mid-thigh floral skirt. Perhaps I should latch onto my buff climbing bros at all times. Perhaps I should bundle up from head to toe in the balmy Boston summers. Perhaps I shouldn’t carry around two ukuleles.