Experiencing street harassment as a deaf woman.

Since entering my 30s, I’ve learned how to receive compliments. I have also learned that compliments are often used by men as bait to get women talking to them. For some, paying a compliment entitles them to a woman’s attention.

A plus of being deaf (as deaf as I am, anyway) is being blissfully ignorant of any catcalls that are sounded my way. For these volunteering their opinions about me out loud, not getting any reaction out of me must be maddening. It’s glorious.

On occasion, some bozo tries to override my inability to hear by following me.

I’ve been in Victoria for five months, and it’s already happened three times. Most recently, I was sitting on a bench scrolling through social media, getting annoyed with people on the internet, when I noticed a shadow cast over me.

*guy does hearing people stuff*

I don’t like telling strange men that I’m deaf but, this was a predicament: I was seated, and he had corralled me in. I was in a busy area, but it wasn’t quite busy enough to make like a sardine and get lost among other pedestrians in a bait ball.

BaitBall.gif

I settled on a reveal of my deafness as this is often more acceptable than doing the “go away” gesture, and usually has the same payoff. He was insistent on communicating with me and repeated himself, probably hoping my hearing would kick in. I started signing to him hoping he’d get the idea that I understood him as well as he now understood me. This led to some rudimentary gesture that implied he was complimenting my t-shirt.

At the time he noticed me, I was alone on a bench, my legs crossed, and I was kind of hunched over my phone. He must have had to try hard to get a glimpse of what was printed on my loose-fitting t-shirt.

It was just a bait. It was an excuse to harass me. Because this interaction was not going as planned, he asked me to hand over my phone!

You want me… to hand over my $700 phone… so that you can harass me in text? Mmm! I love me an accessible creep!

I got off the bench and hurried past him, into a grocery store that was just a few steps away. He escorted me for those few steps before realizing that I was about to go in a building from where he was probably banned.

What he should have done after I ignored him the first time was yell a misogynistic term at me and then carry on like a normal douche bag. If I could have higher expectations from those sorts, he should have carried on enjoying his orange Slurpee when he passed me as I was seated on that bench hate-consuming social media.

The two other instances of the year were less threatening. Last month, a guy walked alongside me trying to talk to me for an entire city block before finally flipping me off. Before that, rather than choose any of the other empty tables, a guy decided to join me. He shoved the seat back in once he realized that I wasn’t interested in doing anything other than stuff my face with a muffin.

A question I should have asked my 20-year-old self more should have been: “Would this strange man be treating me the same way if I were also a man?” If yes, then they might be genuinely kind.

A question I have for everybody else is: how should I deal with these type of men?

One of the self-defense techniques I’ve used in the past was to… drool on myself. I looked at the guy blankly and spilled saliva over my lower lip. It was during a time when I had to find a way to avoid revealing my deafness. It was risky, but it worked. This might seem funny to you, but can you imagine feeling so threatened by a stranger that you’d do something like that?

No wonder many hearing women politely engage with these scum: they don’t know what else to do.

 

 

If you’re interested in reading a version of this post as written by 22-year-old me, click here.

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