Picture it: Lolita Day, the winter of 2017, in New York City. Roughly 45 degrees, cool but not cold. I keep seeing people pass with red holiday coffee cups and Christmas tree sales have popped up on corners. It’s a beautiful day to be decked out in your lolita finest.
I am walking down the street with my friend Lili, and we are in matching rosy dresses. As it’s our ‘cultural holiday’, we are decked out in full sweet lolita regalia. Admittedly I think there are a minimum of five bows on my head. As we continue down the street, a hipster-looking guy, with both full lumberjack beard and the faschy haircut, says very loudly, loud enough for the whole block to hear, and in a Cookie-Monster or Avenue Q styled voice, “ALWAYS SAY HI TO PEOPLE IN COSTUMES!”
I’m no stranger to street harassment, especially in lolita, and I am no longer embarrassed or cowed by these kind of head-on, confrontational interactions. When I was younger, I was first shocked, scared, or intimidated by being yelled at in the street. Then, when I was a little older, I decided that yelling back might be the better answer. (Which is when I wrote the article, ‘Why New York City Lolitas Swear’, as my original response to catcalling.) As the years progress, I have gone from scared, to angry, to resigned. Whether the comments are rude, crass, sexual, or just outright loud, I no longer have a problem firmly – but politely – responding.
As we pass, I look him in the eye and say levely, “Don’t be rude”. Usually, calling someone out brings them back reality, but this guy perhaps is not used to being called out. He continues to yell, to the eardrums of the entire block, and still imitating Cookie Monster,
“I am talking to my daughter! She is six! I am not being rude! She is six so I cannot be rude to her!”
As I cross the street I call back, “Street harassment is a serious problem.”
At this point, we are officially a block apart, but this guy is not giving up. He says, as Cookie Monster, who I recall being significantly more polite, “YOU ARE LOOKING TO BE OFFENDED!”
I respond simply, “Teach your daughter better.”
I can only assume when this man gets home to his East Village apartment, and says to his wife, “Honey, you won’t believe, I was so annoyed by these girls on the street who didn’t appreciate me yelling at their existence when I was really just playing around with Olivia/Madison/Emma today!” And I’m sure he spun it so that he didn’t come off like a complete insert-swear-here, but here is what actually happened, Mr. Cookie Monster.
You saw people that looked different, and decided to entertain your child at the expense of these passersby, who you don’t see as quite the same people as yourself. I will personally never understand what compels people to yell at other people on the street for any reason. Your daughter saw you yell at women on the street, for dressing in a way you either did not appreciate, or respect, and that it is okay to humiliate them in a public space. I wonder who else you feel comfortable yelling things at on the street.
Someday, I guarantee you, someone will yell things on the street at your daughter, no matter what she wears. It doesn’t have to be sexual. It doesn’t have to be about her looks. It doesn’t matter if she is wearing a giant bow on her head or stained sweatpants. It is about power, entitlement, and about getting the right to police women in public for whatever arbitrary rules you feel like that day. Even if you think they just look funny. Even if you think it is just a joke to you. And what is a joke to you, is not a joke for us, who regularly fear for our lives, that your jokes turn violent.
As we watch countless celebrities and powerful execs go down as habitual predators, as it’s revealed (at least, to the mainstream public) exactly who is ‘that guy’ that everyone knows to avoid, you’d think there would be a little more caution in the air. They’re claiming this is a witch hunt. ‘Who could be next?! We live our lives in fear!’ They tell us. Clearly, not so, because this keeps happening. Women are still being harassed on the streets, in the workplace, or anywhere they happen to be.
To the Cookie Monster wanna be, sir, let us also reflect on this point: ‘you are looking to be offended.’ Yes, of course, I am out with my friends, having a good time, until I am yelled at in public, and my first thought is, “Yes! A catcall! I have been waiting all day for this! I am going to be so offended!” No one is looking to be offended. Offended means to have been the subject of one who has committed an offense. Offense, just like the guys who maneuver hockey pucks down the ice and try to smack them into your face. Offense, as in, to strike first. And yeah, that is kind of what it feels like to get yelled at on the street when you’re otherwise minding your own business – a smack to the face. So, why would anyone want to be offended?
Street harassment isn’t a new topic here on the Doll. It seems like it’s a topic we must revisit again and again, and the stories are innumerable. Some of them are annoying; some of them are almost humorous; some of them are scary. No matter whether your experiences with the public are good or bad, in lolita fashion you will always have Experiences.
I’ve approached older ladies who refuse to stop taking pictures and shoo me away when I attempt to talk to them, as if I was not allowed to talk and speak, and should behave more like a zoo exhibit. In the same five minutes, I was approached by a slightly tipsy gentleman who, despite the efforts of his friend, told me my ‘beauty would, like, save the world, so like. SLAY girl, SLAY.’
I like talking to people who are interested in my clothing, mostly. I like receiving genuine compliments. Likewise, I don’t like being insulted, made fun of, or simply cornered for a good half hour wit an impromptu interview about what I am wearing, and why. Lolita fashion (and other alt-styles, I’m sure) seem to be the only people who it is still okay to question at length as why we choose to wear these clothes. I see many oddly dressed people in the streets, some of which I find attractive, some of which I don’t. But I’ve never felt the need to make them justify their existence to myself, or the world at large. There is never a reason to catcall, yell, insult, or confront anyone for their clothing choices.
I am not a character. I am not performance art. I am not looking for attention. I am not looking to be offended. I am simply being myself.
Oh well, I suppose it could be worse. At least I’m not Cookie Monster.