Choosing to live my fullest life in Philly

A student reflects on street harassment in the city and how she learned to live her life free of fear and apprehension.


As many girls do, I often feel uneasy in the presence of men, as I’ve noticed their wandering eyes and creepy stares throughout my life. In my small Pennsylvania hometown, I can recall grown men looking down my shirt as a teenager and the times I’ve wondered if guys intentionally touched me while passing by in crowded rooms. 

When I moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple last year, blatant harassment became a larger issue. There have been a few instances where I’ve felt more uncomfortable and unsafe than ever before, and the threat of assault or harassment is often in the back of my mind.

Last spring semester, a man followed my friend and me into the 7/11 on Liacouras Walk, asking to take us home and making lewd comments when we ignored his advances. He became so aggressive that someone else in the store asked if we were okay and apologized for our experience. 

The man eventually exited the store, but as we left, he stood outside and continued to scream at us from across the street until we yelled back that he was disgusting. 

Earlier this semester, a teenage boy told my friends and I that we looked good while we were walking to the Independent Blue Cross Student Rec Center. He proceeded to follow us down the sidewalk, refusing to leave us alone until we lied and told him we were all in relationships. 

He refused to respect us, but he respected our made-up boyfriends. 

A few weeks ago, a man on the subway made my skin crawl as he stared me up and down and grabbed his crotch. He knew I saw him, but he continued to put his hands in his pants, only stopping when the train he was waiting for arrived.

The scariest part about these experiences was knowing each of these men had an immense amount of physical power over me. As a 5’3” female, I wouldn’t stand a chance if any of them attempted to engage physically.

These encounters have prevented me from looking for a job in Center City because I’m fearful of commuting alone. I often get nervous taking short-distance walks as it starts to get dark outside. 

Each of these situations gave me a sickening pit in my stomach. I not only felt unsafe, but I would often find ways to convince myself any instance of harassment was my own fault. 

I thought I should have worn a less revealing shirt to 7/11, and I wished I could’ve gone home and changed into something with more coverage when I saw the man being inappropriate on the subway. I told myself I should have worn sweatpants to the gym instead of shorts, and that I shouldn’t have been out walking alone. 

Like many girls, I made myself believe there was always something more I could’ve done to ensure my safety and brought the negative attention upon myself.

However, I grew tired of feeling like I couldn’t do what I wanted, like wear my favorite outfits or go on a coffee run alone, out of fear of being harassed. It was unfair to feel the need to meticulously plan out my day or wear clothing with more coverage just to feel safe in my daily life. 

I began to reflect on my experiences as a woman living in Philadelphia and have come to change my perspective and reclaim my narrative: street harassment has nothing to do with how I go about my life, and everything to do with disrespectful men. 

I shouldn’t have to act extra safe or extra careful, men should simply respect women. 

I now do what I want with my day when I want without worrying I’m making the wrong choice for my safety. Riding the train or walking to the gym doesn’t constitute harassment. How people choose to treat me is entirely up to them, and I should never feel the need to change anything about myself.  

I still continue to experience street harassment on and around campus, and more frequently this semester than last year. Although I still feel anxiety and fear in such threatening situations, I remind myself my reactions are valid and there isn’t much I can do to prevent it. 

It might sound like a scary consideration, but I find comfort in knowing that no form of harassment is my fault, and it prevents me from limiting myself in my daily life.

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