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As a landlord at the beginning stages of one of the Hitchcock-type thriller stories so accurately described by Amanda S. Miller in this week’s cover story “7 Easy Ways to Screw Your Landlord” (7/6), it is apparent that big-buck law firms and others are making lots of money the way the system is currently set up. Change is slow and unlikely to come in the short run, so the onus of responsibility must and should fall on the landlords in D.C. to protect themselves and their interests.
Landlords really must do more than credit checks. When I interviewed for a job once they conducted a behavioral event interview that put me in various situations that were likely to occur on the job. Landlords need to be able to simulate situations with tenants to get answers to their questions about tenant integrity. When landlords have tenants in front of them during interviews, they have a perfect opportunity to see up close and personal what people are likely to do or not do in specific situations. Trusting references sounds like it can be dangerous for landlords in D.C., so perhaps landlords should learn to trust themselves by using their own measures of a tenant’s integrity, likelihood of conducting themselves in a respectful manner, etc. during their tenure as a tenant. The responsibility is and should be on the landlords. Thanks to Washington City Paper, landlords have been warned. Landlords beware!
Your piece “7 Easy Ways to Screw Your Landlord” was so lopsidedly anti-tenant and pro-landlord, it could just as easily have been written by Richard Luchs, Esq., king of the D.C. Landlord-Tenant Bar and senior partner in the law firm Greenstein DeLorme & Luchs, the last word in landlord care and feeding.
D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition
Mark Jenkins’ negative review of Sicko (6/29) is one of the most disappointing I’ve read, for or against the movie, because he casually disregards its pros and generally doesn’t tell the reader much at all. For starters, Jenkins shouldn’t be so quick to assure the American Medical Association they have no reason to worry. After all, in a recently leaked confidential memo, Barclay Fitzpatrick—vice president of corporate communications at Capital BlueCross—declared: “You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore’s movie, he is an effective storyteller.” Fitzpatrick goes on to write several pages complete with talking points for how the company should try to protect its image. If that’s the way Moore’s “opponents” are responding to the documentary, Jenkins’ review is not only out of touch with reality but failed to recognize the quality of the film, whether one agrees with Moore or not. Also, Jenkins suggests that Sicko is not balanced. Yet, as Terry Allen of In These Times insightfully wrote about similar claims, “truth is not always found in the balanced middle (‘Now, for the other side of Hitler’ or ‘Cannibalism: Pros and cons’).” Finally, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, in his review, said many critics are too focused on Moore as a “polarizing figure.” Jenkins seems to be one of those critics, and unfortunately for him, he missed a pretty good documentary.
Weather ’Tis Nobler
As a reporter myself, I’m usually reluctant to publicly criticize other people’s work. After all, nobody’s perfect. In the case of the Dept. of Media item “Dry Spell,” posted on washingtoncitypaper.com on July 5, I’m making an exception. Did you really just devote more than 600 words to haranguing an intern about not looking up Washington’s average seasonal rainfall statistics? You must be very proud of yourself.
Take Back the Street!
Thanks so much for this article (“Nice Ass!” 6/22). It’s great that a women’s issue can actually make the front page of a paper these days.
The underlying assumption of catcalling is that the women receiving such attention are not good girls anyway. In this archaic way of thinking, a woman who is dressed well, unashamed of her body, and out alone in order to work a job to support herself should be expecting these comments. A good girl would stay home or have a male chaperone, apparently. This “bad girl” characterization makes her at once appealing and deserving of ridicule. Of course, to the overwhelmingly uneducated men who have nothing better to do than to try to “pick up” women, the concept that a woman may want to choose her own sexual partner is completely foreign, as is the fact that a woman generally dislikes feeling as if she is being auctioned off while walking down the street.
You touch on the issues of what some have called cultural relativity, more specifically that catcalling is apparently part of Hispanic culture. If this article had ventured into Northern Virginia, it would have found that such catcalling comes almost exclusively from Hispanic men. It’s not racist to say so; nor is it an exaggeration to call it sexual harassment. We cannot let one group’s cultural unawareness play out on our bodies. When I was 16, I rode the bus three to six times a week to get to work. Simply waiting at the bus stop is now an invitation to be heckled. I don’t care if it’s part of Hispanic culture; if we were in Mexico, that argument might make sense. But in this country, as in any nation to which people immigrate, it should not be a ridiculous expectation that people alter some of their actions. It’s called integration.
Earlier this week, the usual staring and glaring took a different turn. Taking the Metro into the District for work, a man my father’s age sat next to me in the outside seat. He proceeded to stare directly at me for the next 10 minutes (which at such a close range is not only creepy but awkward). I listened to music and tried to ignore it. After all, it’s no big deal, and he doesn’t mean anything by it. After some strange behavior on his part, I looked down and suddenly realized that his hand was on my thigh. I screamed, “What the fuck are you doing?!” He obviously did not speak English, and he looked at me with these surprised and sad little eyes, as if to say, “Did I do something bad?” He got off at the next stop. Though I’ve had my fair share of hassling from such slobs, I had never experienced anything like this…and never expected to, especially at noon on a Monday.
This is a problem for all women. And it shouldn’t be. There are plenty of ways for a decent man to meet a woman that don’t consist of reducing her to a collection of body parts with the help of the usual diminutive (and slightly sick) words like “baby” or “sweetie.” From what I’ve seen, all these men seem to be interested in women of one type: breathing.
Falls Church, Va.
I read Kimberly Klinger’s five-page lament about feeling like a racist because she doesn’t like being intimidated and sexually harassed as she walks around her neighborhood, and I’ve just got one thing to say: This apologetic liberal guilt crap has got to stop.
Of course she tenses up when she walks past groups of men who look like the men who are always harassing her. I lived in Mount Pleasant in the late ’70s and early ’80s when there weren’t many Latinos, but there were LOTS of very vicious Rottweilers and other attack dogs chained up in the front and backyards of my neighbors. The result? I grew up terrified of dogs. It didn’t matter that there were many dogs that weren’t going to growl menacingly and try to rip my throat out as I walked past. The dogs that I encountered on a daily basis were a threat, and I reacted accordingly. Nobody faults me, and I certainly don’t beat myself up for having been scared of dogs, because inter-species relations don’t suffer the same hyper-permissiveness of inter-racial and inter-cultural relations.
Joe Eaton’s article on D.C. catcallers even mentions “the argument about how catcalling is part of Hispanic culture and how she shouldn’t impose her values on others.” What this argument tells us is that the Latino and other men for whom harassment is a part of their culture are allowed to impose their values (values that say it’s OK to objectify and intimidate women) on others, but that those upon whom they are imposing their values are not allowed to react. Does this mean that black people who encounter racists from the American South should placidly accept harassment and insults because racism is a part of certain Southern cultures? Or what about the effeminate boy who gets bullied by the football team ? Are years of teasing, belittling, and outright attacks acceptable if bullying is a part of jock culture? By this logic, as long as the aggressors aren’t bothered by their own actions, their victims shouldn’t be either.
We need to stop pretending that the gossamer cloak of culture can obscure the ugliness of these people’s behavior and call these men to task for what they’re doing. Because when nine out of 10 women ignore you or yell at you for catcalling them, there’s no way you can keep acting like those are just harmless compliments you are hurling at them.
The City Paper missed an important opportunity to create constructive dialogue around the pervasive street harassment occurring in Washington, D.C., in its June 22 cover feature, “Nice Ass!”
While the topic of street harassment is one of vital importance, it is unfortunate that the City Paper chose to trivialize the issue by turning it into an anthropological joke. Street harassment is not a nuisance; it is a form of violence against women. The City Paper often writes from the perspective of men and infuses its articles with racist and sexist stereotypes. This article is no different.
Eaton begins the article by questioning the frequency and severity of street harassment, discounting the experiences that he acknowledges many woman have shared with him. He defines harassment as something natural to men of color, referring to harassment as “part of Hispanic culture.” Men of all races engage in street harassment. Any woman who goes to Adams Morgan or Georgetown on a weekend —no matter what she wears or how she looks—will most likely get ogled and verbally or physically assaulted.
Further, his decision to harass women as an exercise in journalistic method acting is offensive. Did the writer even consider the feelings of the women he chose to harass? Did he consider how it would affect the rest of their day? He interviewed several women who told him how street harassment affected their mental and physical health, yet he chose to inflict that violence on others.
Lastly, we cannot help but question the amount of research done for this article. D.C. is nationally recognized for its rich history of 30 years of antinstreet harassment activism, especially by women of color. It’s unfortunate those voices were only superficially included in the article.
Natasha Abbas, Selina Musuta,
Amaya Roberson, and Katie Seitz
INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence,
Washington D.C. Chapter
While Eaton tried to cross the gender divide and find out what street harassment is like for women, he only skimmed the surface.
For many, especially young women who live in the city and walk or use public transportation, it is a daily burden and threat. I teach self-defense, and students tell me that when they are harassed, they feel intimidated, afraid, angry, violated, humiliated, etc. Street harassment maintains and enforces men’s dominance in public spaces. It is a power trip; it is not a “compliment.” It is on the spectrum of violence against women.
But there are things women (and men) can do. Ignoring it is one option many women try, and sometimes ignoring it is the smartest, and the safest, choice. But if all you know how to do is ignore it, you don’t really have a choice. Without a choice, most women feel powerless in the face of male aggression. Here are some other strategies:
First, talk to the harasser. Talking back to harassment may be difficult, but it is simple. You don’t need to be creative or sarcastic or mean. Just tell him what you want.
• Tell the harasser what he’s doing that you don’t like: “That’s harassment.” “Stop making kissy noises at me.” “You’re standing too close.”
• Add what you want him to do: “Don’t talk to me.” “Take your hand off me.” “You need to back up.”
• Use your voice, facial expression, and body language. All three should be in synch. Avoid giving mixed messages (like having a nervous smile on your face while saying “Leave me alone!”). Even just keeping your eyes up and looking at him can change the dynamic.
• Project confidence and calm. You can act relaxed, serious, and in control even when you don’t feel that way.
• Make no excuses. Being polite is fine at first, but if the harasser doesn’t respond, drop the niceties. You don’t need to apologize for how you feel or what you want. You also don’t have to wait for your “turn” in the conversation.
• Use statements, not questions. “Leave me alone,” not “Would you please leave me alone?”
• Stay on your own agenda. Don’t respond to diversions, threats, blaming, guilt-tripping, or name-calling. Just stick to your point.
• Attack the behavior, not the person. Tell the harasser what he’s doing that you don’t like (“You are harassing me”) rather than questioning his worthiness to walk the planet (“You are such a jerk”). Avoid cursing, name-calling, put-downs, and other things that could raise the temperature unnecessarily.
• Repeat yourself—it often gets him to stop. And if he doesn’t listen, or respect your request, that gives you important information about him and his intentions.
• Decide when you’re done. You don’t have to wait for the harasser to apologize or have a personality transplant. Success is how you define it. If you said what you needed to say, and you’re ready to leave, do so.
• Be prepared for parting shots. As Eaton saw, harassers often change course when things don’t go the way they planned. A minute ago you were the sexiest thing on two legs. Now you are a cunt or a dyke or massively ugly. That’s OK. Your job isn’t to convert the harasser—your job is to take care of yourself and to say what you need to say.
Also, talk to friends, family, co-workers. Break the silence. Get support—this stuff is hard to deal with. Share ideas for handling harassment. Ask the men in your lives to listen to you and support you. This is what Klinger did with Eaton, and to his credit, he tried to get it. Men can support female friends and family by believing that harassment is a problem, understanding that women do not invite it, and not judging women’s feelings about it. They can become allies by interrupting abuse in public places.
Lauren R. Taylor