This Is What Street Harassment Looks Like—in Sixteen Languages


It began with a simple idea: I asked women I knew if they would write their experiences of street harassment on a T-shirt. Two fellow women’s rights activists from NOW-NYC and I were preparing a spoken word performance for the NYC Anti-Street Harassment Rally, and we thought it would be incredibly powerful if, during the performance, we each allowed our bodies to carry the proverbial weight of all that women endure as they attempt to navigate their daily lives — walking home or to work or to school, riding the bus or the subway, eating a meal at a restaurant or having a drink at a bar — amid the ever-present threat of street harassment.

What started out as a small project blossomed, as more and more women began to share their experiences with me. The ink of their markers bled into the fabric, permanently inscribing on my shirt thirty-eight stories of street harassment written in sixteen languages: Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese, Danish, English, French, Hindi, Italian, Jamaican Patois, Lebanese, Moroccan, Nepali, Serbian, Spanish, and Tagalog.

The examples they provided range from the cruel to the vulgar, from the heartbreaking to the violent. What too many women know — and what too many of these writings encapsulate — is that statements harassers often pass off as innocent or even complimentary can escalate to violence all too quickly should the intended recipient reject those advances.

Collectively, these stories provide a multicultural demonstration of how street harassment is a global problem, a demonstration of how far we still have to go before every woman, everywhere, can feel safe and respected in her own body — and as she moves within that body to navigate the public spaces where she lives her life — as is her right.


Chinese (in black, on sleeve): “You have big boobs that move like waves.” (The statement was made to the contributor as she exercised.)
Moroccan (in orange, at top): “Psst. Psst. Can we do something, sweetie? God, god god, what a beautiful butt! Come kiss me.” Then after the contributor rejected the harassers’s advances, “Go, you whore!”
Hindi (in red, near collar): “Your place is in the kitchen!” (The contributor indicated that this comment was made in Tamil to her and her friends, who were wearing short shorts while riding a bus in India. The contributor did not speak Tamil, so one of her friends translated the remark to her in Hindi.)
Tagalog (in black): “Hey, sexy, give me a kiss!”
Amharic (in green, at bottom): “Hey, hey! Are you deaf? You ugly face!” (The statement was said to the contributor after she ignored her harasser’s advances.)

Nepali (in green, next to sleeve): “Slut!” (This was said to the contributor after she rejected her harasser’s advances.)
Spanish (in green, on sleeve): “Psst, mamí! How delicious!”
Arabic (in green, partially visible): “Ah, beautiful, your boobs are out.”

Arabic (in pink, in Latin script, at lower center): “What’s up, cherimoya?”
Afrikaans (in black, at bottom):
“My little sweet one, let’s go fuck!”
Amharic (in green, at center, partially visible): “Hey, hey! Are you deaf? You ugly face!” (The statement was said to the contributor after she ignored her harasser’s advances.)

Arabic (in green, at top): “Ah, beautiful, your boobs are out.”
Serbian (in pink, at top): “Suck my dick!”
French (in black): “Oy, love, come on now! What’s your number?”
Danish (in red, partially visible, first at bottom): “Mmm. Hey, beautiful! Great breasts!” (The contributor recalled this comment being made to her sister, who was only around 14 at the time, as the two made their way to a swimming pool. The catcall was the first the two had ever endured, making it especially indelible.)
Italian, dialect spoken in Florence (in orange): “Suck my dick!” (The statement was written by the contributor on behalf of her sister.)
Italian, dialect spoken in Tuscany (in red): “Suck my dick!” (The statement was written by the contributor on behalf of her sister.)
Italian (first in green): “You’re a pig!” (Written by the contributor on behalf of her sister, the statement was said after the harasser’s advances were rejected.)
Italian (second in green): “You’re a slut!” (Written by the contributor on behalf of her sister, the statement was said after the harasser’s advances were rejected.)

French (in green, at top): “Oh! I want to have sex with you!”
Jamaican Patois (in black, green, and red, at center): “Girl, do you think it’s bird season?” (The comment was a jab at the contributor’s thin legs.)
Spanish (in orange, written diagonally across bottom center): “You with so many curves, and me without any brakes.” (The contributor wrote this on behalf of a male friend, who grew up in a family of women, whom he often accompanied through the streets in order to keep them safe. The comment was among those he would hear harassers say to women.)
Spanish (in pink, at right): “How beautiful!”
Lebanese (in green, at bottom right): “What’s up, whipped cream?”
Danish (in red, partially visible, first at bottom): “Mmm. Hey, beautiful! Great breasts!” (The contributor recalled this comment being made to her sister, who was only around 14 at the time, as the two made their way to a swimming pool. The catcall was the first the two had ever endured, making it especially indelible.)
Italian, dialect spoken in Florence (in orange, partially visible): “Suck my dick!” (The statement was written by the contributor on behalf of her sister.)
Italian, dialect spoken in Tuscany (in red, partially visible): “Suck my dick!” (The statement was written by the contributor on behalf of her sister.)
Italian (first in green, partially visible): “You’re a pig!” (Written by the contributor on behalf of her sister, the statement was said after the harasser’s advances were rejected.)
Italian (second in green, partially visible): “You’re a slut!” (Written by the contributor on behalf of her sister, the statement was said after the harasser’s advances were rejected.)

Arabic: “Oh, you’re so gorgeous! Can I have a chance?”

Moroccan: “Oh, boy! She looks like a bullet! Can we talk?”

The full impact of the above examples are illuminated for an English-speaking audience through translation, but in at least one instance, understanding the full impact of a statement spoken in English requires telling the story behind it.

“Here, piggy, piggy, piggy!” is one such example, which I wrote on the shirt on behalf of my step-sister-in-law, Jenn, who lives in Texas. She tells her story below:

So a little while ago as I was getting our mail. A group of men (mid to late 20's) in a Chevy pickup drove past me medium speed while throwing pennies at me and yelling Here piggy piggy, piggy along with pig sounds. I’m not a size 0 ( I’m size 16) and I’ve been trying to lose weight (which I thought I was doing well at), so thanks guys for making me feel even more insecure about my body and lowering my self esteem. To be honest, never really thought of myself as pretty or beautiful but as average looking and a big reason I don’t take pictures of myself and always behind the camera.. Confidence level 0.

Jenn’s story shows, perhaps more than any other here, what street harassment is truly about at its core: an attempt to show women that we don’t have power over our own bodies in public spaces; to show women that our own bodies are for men to sexualize or enjoy, to mock or reject, as they please; an attempt to show women that our own bodies — that we — exist for men.

We don’t.