Heckles

Illustration: Brennan Bova

I am a homebody. Not only because I’m introverted and prefer a night in to a night on the town, but also because I’d rather avoid the uncomfortable walk home from the ByWard Market, where even the McDonald’s isn’t safe.

I should feel comfortable walking alone in the streets of Ottawa, but I don’t. Just a couple weeks ago, on my way to meet a friend, I got harrassed four times, in broad daylight, by four different individuals. And before anyone even asks “but what were you wearing,” as though that matters, let me tell you that their point of entry was the fact that I was on my skateboard. Honestly, they weren’t even creative about it.

Shouts of “hey skateboard girl! Nice skateboard,” honks at intersections, and a man who literally lunged at me, ruined what was supposed to be a really good day with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and that’s not even as bad as some of my friends’ stories.

Street harassment is an issue that women have been dealing with for years, and somehow in 2018, it’s still a problem. As the capital of Canada, Ottawa needs to do better to ensure that all of its citizens feel safe.

Maybe that looks like holding each other accountable when we see someone behave in a way that makes someone else feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Or maybe it looks like following France’s recent lead, where, after a woman was hit in the face for responding to her harasser negatively, the country made street harassment a crime, with fines of up to $870 on the spot for things like catcalling, whistling, or otherwise disturbing someone’s peace when they’re just taking a stroll.

While it’s disappointing that these initiatives on the part of the government are necessary, they’re also long overdue. Sure, Ottawa has had a wonderful turnout for events like the Women’s March or the SlutWalk, but we need more. We need to be able to feel safe in our skin every single day, regardless of what we’re wearing or where we’re going. We, as does everyone, deserve to feel comfortable walking alone down the street with headphones in, without worrying about sticking our keys in between our fingers, or constantly being aware of the people who co-exist in our surroundings.

Government action would be great, but even better, would be if people stopped harassing each other altogether. In fact, it’s not that hard. Hell, you could give it a try today!

All you have to do is control the urge to stalk, whistle, honk, yell, or shout at other people. Go through your day without intentionally trying to make someone else feel like crap, and you’ve done it! Congratulations, you successfully did not harass anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to stay in when I could be going out, and I’m still going to grudgingly take out my headphones when I’m walking down Rideau street. I’ll still avoid shortcuts in favour of well-lit streets at night, and I’ll still call my mom on the way home from work (if my battery is sufficiently charged). All I ask is for you to please just not talk to me.