I’d like to share a personal fun fact that is not fun: I get directly, personally harassed in Chicago multiple times per day, every single day. And not in the celebrity “I like you” sense but in the “I hate you and people like you” sense. Since I’m a man with long hair, among other distinct features, I become a friendlier target to harassment in Chicago than many others.
It’s usually basic harassment like this:
- People in cars intentionally try to run me over when I cross streets, going as far as to sit idle as I approach and time it so that they make the attempt to hit me as I cross a crosswalk or intersection.
- People approaching on the sidewalk, even though I always stay to the side and leave room to pass, try to drift into my path and attempt to bump or otherwise obstruct me.
- Men suddenly powerwalk to approach behind me on an empty sidewalk, whether because a) due to my long hair they think I’m a woman and they’re predisposed to harassing women, or b) they know I’m a man, and just want to intimidate/harass me because they think it’s wrong I exist the way I do.
I offer the necessary caveat:
- Outside I keep to myself, mostly stay to the right side on sidewalks/paths, and avoid unduly obstructing any pathways. I give way for others when useful.
- I avoid areas prone to bad behavior, like River North or key parts of Wrigleyville on a Saturday night.
- I’m not going out of my way to engage anybody unless engaged. All of this behavior is unsolicited and initiated by others.
- And these are not vagrants or clear mental-illness cases. These are normal people, typically men, and of various races/backgrounds/ages.
- This has happened pretty much daily (I’m kind of surprised when a day ends and it hasn’t happened at all) since the day I arrived in Chicago at the end of 2014.
All of this kind of misleads how much I worry about it: At this point I’m used to it and it’s just a regular, occasionally annoying part of life. I abhor bringing it up at all: It amounts to little more than complaining, and it’s something I have no real control over. It’s a city-wide phenomenon (one I don’t ever experience to this degree anywhere else, not even NYC or LA), it happens to a lot of people, the Chicago police do not address harassment unless someone has been directly assaulted or threatened (and even then they won’t bother doing anything half the time, or will make it a huge hassle for you to take any action).
Basically, there is nothing of use anyone will do about it. All I can do, and do, is exercise awareness when outside, know when/how to take evasive action when it’s approaching, and avoid it.
I bring it up because it also happens when I run, and it turns out harassment on the Lakefront Trail is a huge problem, an elephant in the room no one has ever shown any serious interest in directly addressing. This definitely affects many runners in Chicago, and probably a lot of people in general across the board.