Our Streets, Our Selves: Tips for Post-Harassment Self-Care

Feature Image via Shutterstock

Street harassment is no new thing, but it has been in the spotlight, following Doree Lewark‘s controversial piece in the NY Post. We recognize that it is ridiculous and potentially dangerous to make statements such as ‘catcalling is awesome and so flattering!’ for all folks who get harassed, so let’s take a moment to focus instead on how to practice self-care after street hollering.

Unfortunately, the micro-aggression of street harassment takes a different kind of detox than, say, free radicals. The repetitive trauma of being out in the world as a person who isn’t considered to be an actual person (i.e.: women, people of color, queers, folks with disabilities, poor folks, fat folks, etc.) works its way into muscles (tense shoulders, stiffened backs, tightened jaws) and patterns of being (taking different routes home, constantly checking surroundings, etc). Studies have linked the trauma of walking around in the world as a sexualized body to that of combat PTSD faced by soldiers returning from action. Flawed though it may be, the United States has a system for aiding those in the military who suffer from PTSD, but currently has no institutional strata for sufferers of sexualized violence, which street harassment falls under. Fighting back isn’t always a safe option, nor an option for everyone, so the often radical-seeming idea of self-care is what is currently available to us.

I get street harassed on a daily basis, partly due to the area of Oakland I reside in (which sees a lot of transience, racial tension, gentrification, and general street activity, since I live pretty near the urban epicenter of the city), and partly due to the overt sexualization of femininity. When I was particularly devastatingly street harassed yesterday while walking home from a coffee date with a friend, I reached out to my community to help create this gentle guide.

1. Reconnect with your body

Because repetitive micro-trauma often takes you out of your body (through disassociation or escapism), it’s important to reconnect with yourself. After getting yourself to a safe place (the nearest store, your home, a friend’s house, your car, etc), take a moment to ground yourself. This could be by using somatic techniques (such as cradling your body in a hug), putting your hands on the surface of something in order to concentrate on what it feels like, taking deep breaths, humming from your belly — whatever trick you have for bringing yourself back to yourself is key.

2. Reach out for support

Because harassment sometimes feels like a public private thing that happened to you, it’s important to find someone or something that can hold space and bear witness to you. Having a friend come scoop you from your location (if you’re far from home) and sit with you and mirror back to you how valid your fears are helps to dissipate the trauma; you are, after all, not alone in this. If you feel like what you really need is alone time, reach out for support virtually, or through the phone. You can even find support in your favorite book of poems, passages from dog eared fiction, your tarot deck, your dog, or a podcast you love.

3. Physical touch from others, if you want it

It’s a radical act of self-care to have control over when and how you get touched. Practice regaining your sense of autonomy by asking someone you trust and care about to hold you a certain way, or rub your shoulders, just the way you like. If sex is something you feel up to, it can be a powerful way to reconnect with yourself in ways that change the cellular trauma of what happened to you.

4. Carve a space for yourself

If you have the luxury of a little free time, lay on your bed (or in a room that feels comforting to you) and stare at the ceiling. Put on Mariah Carey. Allow your job to be only feeling yourself breathe.

5. Get dressed up, however that applies to you

It’s important to remember that nothing you did caused your harassment. You are worthy of walking around in a world that loves and appreciates you in ways you want to be loved and appreciated. Nothing you could have done, changed, or predicted would have stopped this from happening to you, and to the millions of others who experience it on the daily. Your miniskirt is not a crime. Your fat/disabled/masculine/brown/black/genderqueer/femme/pierced body is divine, and you’re still the fantastic magical creature you were this morning.

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July Westhale

July Westhale is a Pushcart-nominated poet, activist, and journalist. She has been awarded residencies from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Sewanee, Napa Valley, Tin House and Bread Loaf. She is the 2014 Poetry Fellow at Tomales Bay, and was recently a finalist for the Creative Writing Fulbright.

July has written 12 articles for us.


  1. This is the most amazing thing. Thank you!

    ALSO THIS:”It’s a radical act of self-care to have control over when and how you get touched.”


    • Oh god. This forever this. It still baffles me that this isn’t taught by parents, by schools, by everyone, and hammered home. It’s up to me to choose whether I am touched or not, be it on the street, in a bar, or in a long term relationship. Please step the fuck off, you’re getting too close to my autonomy.

  2. I really feel this article in the blood and bones of me. I dissociate often now, following several fairly horrid non-consensual incidents when I was younger and, later, when I moved to Paris city of romance, strong coffee and men who chase you down the road until you lose them or manage to jump into a tube full enough that they won’t attempt to walk towards you.

    I think it is really important we are believed, too. To have outside validation of our private bodies being made public. If you don’t feel like you have someone in your life you can call to come pick you up or talk you down from whatever situation some knob jockey has put you in I recommend finding somewhere like the Women and Girls’ Network: http://www.wgn.org.uk They are ace, and with them it is not a matter of immediacy, you can talk to them about historic violences to your body/well-being, too.

    Lastly, if you don’t feel confident for that or for calling a friend or family — i know several members of my family would consider a call of that kind ‘attention seeking’ or ‘too sensitive’ — or you just want to find comfort in a stranger, then you can always message me and I’m sure plenty of other autostraddelites feel similarly.

    x x x

    • Cornelia, Thank you for posting this. It’s important to have solidarity & know that there are people out there like you. & I’m so sorry about your experiences. You’re in my thoughts <3

  3. “Your fat/disabled/masculine/brown/black/genderqueer/femme/pierced body is divine, and you’re still the fantastic magical creature you were this morning.”

    This so much.

  4. Also sometimes you just need to put on loud music and stomp around and yell and be ANGRY. And then take a shower or bath and wash it all away.

  5. I used to experience the “regular” catcalling street harassment and still do every now and then, but since gaining 40lbs i more often get called fat and ridiculed for my body on the street. Is this the same thing? It feels like the same thing.

    • My very-religious Catholic aunt and I actually bonded over our experiences of street harassment because I get harassed for being visibly queer and gender-nonconforming while she gets harassed for being heavier than harassers think she ought to be. It’s absolutely the same basic phenomenon, in a variety of terrible manifestations. I’m so sorry you deal with this.

  6. “Studies have linked” doesn’t link to any studies. I would love to read those papers if you have the links somewhere.

  7. So important. Thank you. My headphones finally broke, and commuting to/from work has gotten so much more tense/awful. So thank you. again. and again and again!

  8. On my walk to Queer Bagel Night once I was street harassed. It was weird, bc it wasn’t the part of town where cat calling usually occurred. I was so taken off guard that I wasn’t very assertive, which left an opening for him to get in my face and literally pull my hair. He even followed me for three or four blocks after that. I’m usually the type to bury and bottle my feelings, but one of my friends at bagel night immediately knew I was off. I didn’t want to kill the good mood, but I decided to unload my story (bc frankly my emotion bottle was hella full). It led to a round of street harassment stories from others where we all listened to and validated each other. Rather than dragging the night down, it was a way for us to lift each other up.

    Rare circumstances led to that night; it’s great to have these strategies for when that’s not available. Great article!

  9. Loved this.

    “Your miniskirt is not a crime. Your fat/disabled/masculine/brown/black/genderqueer/femme/pierced body is divine.”

  10. It’s nice to be reminded that just because something happens every day does not make it okay. It’s not something you can (or should) just get over.

    Thanks for writing this. We need to know it.

  11. This is great. Just taking a minute to remember that I am entitled to practice some self care in general is something I need to do more often. Thanks!!

  12. Beautiful. Thank you. That last point really got to me. Back when I lived in the city, the route of the day always determined what I wore. Wearing a skirt made me feel vulnerable and I would feel stupid for putting it on. But how fucked is that? How lame is that? I’m sick of apologizing for wearing what I want.

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