“Get a job!”

This past summer my friends from work and I were walking down Yates street when we were verbally assaulted by a group of men. We were all wearing heavy backpacks with all of our clothes and gear for our job (we worked at a summer camp). The men started yelling at us and telling us to “get off the street and get a job”. One of the men proceeded to tell me and my other female-bodied friend to “use what god gave [us] and make some money”. They followed us for the rest of the block yelling at us.

This was my first encounter with such an aggressive form of street harassment, and even with all of my experience in the prevention and education world, I was shocked into silence. I felt attacked and scared, a feeling I’d never wanted to have associated with my hometown. I didn’t know what to do. It made me think also about the importance of not making quick judgements or judging people off of their appearances–because after all, we all had jobs.

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4 Responses

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  1. Elicia Loiselle says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. I’m sorry this happened to you and your friends. One thing that leaves me uncomfortable about your post is that, at the end, you state that this taught you about the importance of not making snap judgments about people because the street harassers targeted you as unemployed even though you had jobs. I think this can be misinterpreted to imply that the harassment would have been more justified if you were unemployed. As in, the only reason not to harass people for being unemployed is in case your wrong and they actually do have jobs. It’s kind of like when people say “you shouldn’t call her a slut because she might actually be a really nice girl” rather than saying “you shouldn’t call her a slut because you have no right to make any judgments about who she is or what she does and it’s not okay to call anyone a slut full stop.” No one is entitled to street harass anyone, full stop. It is the very idea that some people are less human than others (and, therefore, more deserving of violence than others) based on class, race, gender, citizenship status, ability, etc that enables and condones violence in our culture. Every person has the right to be treated with dignity, full stop. I’m not saying you don’t agree with this – I’m just saying that it reminds me to be really aware about how framing a story in a particular way, or focusing on particular details, can have an unintended harmful impact.

    • Eunice says:

      That was definitely not my intention in telling my own story. I understand that assault or harassment is never acceptable, full stop. I had no intention of giving anyone the impression that the harassment would have been “more justified” if we had been unemployed. The only reason I added that final comment was because it felt relevant to my own experiences with what happened. I understand that there can be unintended harmful impacts from what was said, but at the same time I find it important to stay true to my own lived experience and my feelings surrounding it. I am sorry that my story can be misinterpreted, and hopefully those who read this story also read the comments so that they may understand that I had no intentions of harm from what was said. Thank you Elicia for bringing this up.

      • Elicia Loiselle says:

        Hi Eunice,

        Thanks for your reply. And also thanks again for sharing your story of street harassment. I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that your intention was to shame anyone. Nor did I want to suggest that you in any way condone the harassment of folks who are unemployed. Rereading my post though I can see how the tone of it could feel that way, so I apologize for that. I guess the reason I made the post is because hollaback is a public blog and a really good place to have discussions about the many different forms of oppression that are enacted through street harassment, including classism and the dehumanizing of people who are (or are perceived to be) unemployed or homeless. I also have a deeply personal connection to this, which is another reason it’s important to me. In rereading your story I can see how, with your final comment, you’re drawing attention to the way people who street harass justify their actions based on assumptions they make about people – not just the assumption that people are unemployed, but also the assumption/belief that people are less entitled to respect and dignity because they are unemployed. So it seems like ultimately we’re on the same page because we’re talking about the need to dismantle all of these (individual and societal) assumptions/beliefs that work to justify violence. Thanks again to you and also to Renee for engaging in this discussion in such a respectful way, which allowed me to rethink the tone of my initial response. In solidarity, e :)

  2. Renée says:

    I didn’t get any sense of judgment towards anyone unemployed—at all. Eunice didn’t frame or make any derogatory suggestion at all, intentionally or unintentionally, that would somehow shame anyone without a job, or someone backpacking, living on the street, or anything like that. There are no “unintended harmful impacts from what was said.” If anything, her final comment simply underscored the fact that the harassers made assumptions.

    At any rate, we all agree, as Elicia said, “No one is entitled to street harass anyone, full stop.”

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