I'm finishing the project after four days. To summarize: After hurting my foot and winding up on crutches, I noticed an increase in comments I was getting on the street. I decided to record and map all the comments I received on my way home from work for the rest of the week.
The map was part whimsical, and part born from frustration. I'm not the first person to talk about street harassment, and this wasn't the first time that I experienced it. Something about being on crutches made the experience more potent, as if I was being targeted specifically, if not deliberately, because I appeared more vulnerable.
The comments I received fell on a wide spectrum. Some were kind, playful, or sympathetic. Others were a bit infantilizing or bordered in offensive or intrusive. Others were clearly sexual, offensive, or even predatory. I've chosen to group them all together for an important reason.
I do not believe that a single man who made any of the comments on my map wished me harm, physically or otherwise. I believe they all had benign intent, and some probably thought they were encouraging me. I believe each man regarded his comments in isolation: as a single, direct interaction. However, pieced together over a 2.5 block commute, over four days of a week, and more, the comments affect me and my thoughts the same way they affect my map: they overwhelm, they disrupt, and they engulf.
There are more issues than simply magnitude. The fact that comments increase when I am limited physically, struggling visibly, and probably looking only at the ground two feet ahead of me, implies that the commenters are encouraged by me being disempowered. Commenting on any aspect of my body - the size of my thighs or the limits of my mobility - reaffirms that either of those are inherently valuable. Comments that are sexually aggressive like "Can I hit that?" and comments that are infantilizing or use pet names like "Baby," "Ma," "sweetie," "or "honey" are clearly motivated by gender, and assert the authority of the speaker over that of the target. Comments that are less hostile, or even apparently friendly, can still be disruptive and intrusive. Taken all together, they're overpowering, distracting, draining, and discouraging.
Most importantly, if I'm thinking about how I look, or how you look at me, or if I am safe around you, then my thoughts are not where I'd like them to be: focused on my day at work and the work left to do. Women who have experienced how verbal harassment can quickly escalate to physical harassment and assault at the hands of a stranger do not have the opportunity to ruminate on emails and data integrations: we are bracing ourselves and our bodies for scrutiny and confrontation.