I had my outfit all picked out. It wasn’t too revealing but showed off my athletic curves and was the brightest shade of pink my eyes have ever seen. But there was no way I’d wear this out. Sure I felt good in the confines of my Harlem apartment, but I knew it would be different once I stepped out the door. The damn-I’m-looking-good would quickly shift to why-did-I-wear-this once the block boys started making their incessant comments.

Even if I tried to distract myself by tinkering on my BlackBerry, it wouldn’t shield me. I’d feel naked until I reached my intended destination.

I attend a lot of events that require me to dress up a bit and my style leans towards anything with sequins, ruffles or bold prints.

The nature of some (not all) men on the block: they feel the need to comment on any woman who passes their line of vision, whether she’s five feet away or on the other side of the street. And women like myself who dress extra “fancy” get the loudest commentary.

“You don’t want to talk to me MJ?” That was the comment when I rocked a thrifted sequin vest.

“BITCH, YOU DON’T EVEN MATCH!” Those sweet words were uttered after I ignored a man’s advances. He clearly didn’t appreciate me mixing a tribal print dress with a lace top.

I’ve never really had issues with men in any other setting, it’s just the men on the block. I’m sure these same people wouldn’t dare say such things if they were alone or around other civilized folks in a social setting.

Eventually I stopped wearing anything I thought would illicit explicit hollas and I even avoided going down certain streets where I knew there would be a cluster of men. My bold patters were gone. Hems got longer. My four-inch stilettos turned into two-inch moderate heels. The moderate heels turned into flats with heels in my purse.

I dressed down for the men.

After I changed (literally) the comments were still there, but the level of harassment wasn’t as intense. I got less grief walking down the street, but I felt way more toned down than I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until a guy I was dating pointed out how silly this was.
Him: You would never let me tell you how to dress, would you?
Me: I didn’t even verbalize an answer. I just gave him a side eye with my face screwed up.
Him: So why would you let someone you don’t even know change how you move?

He hated the fact that I was being harassed, but even more than that, he hated that I was dwarfing myself.

Not only was I giving these men power over me, but I was taking on the burden of thinking I was somehow responsible for their bad behavior.

Shortly after that I went back to my way of dress: sequins, ruffles and all!

The gargantuan balls some men magically grow on the street corner didn’t have to turn me in to a shrinking violet.

The men haven’t changed and the “cat calls” are still there, but at least I’ve changed (not literally this time). I keep it moving, knowing that their disrespectful behavior is more of a reflection of them, not what I choose to wear.

I stopped dressing (down) for the men.

- Patrice J. Williams


  • http://selfra.blogspot.com Dan Tres Omi

    And i apologize for all the knuckleheads. While i don’t harass women on the street, i condone it through my silence.

  • FauxBLAsian

    I appreciate this post. I had a middle-aged guy look up my dress (I did have on tights, but…) in front of my mom and then proceed to tell her that I looked good. Oy vey…

  • Jazmine Bennett

    I totally get where you’re coming from. Some boys (not men) are really desperate and rude, and you really can’t tell what someone’s intentions may be. Which is why I carry mace now. =] I still dress down a lot but sometimes I don’t as long as I don’t mind being stared at on those days.

  • Joanne_

    and i hope you wore your pink ensemble….did you!? wow, your block seems horrible, i don’t think i’ve ever experiences such harshness….i’m at a point in life where if someone doesn’t like what i’m wearing, i just think or say, “ah well, I LOVE IT AND SO DOES SOMEONE ELSE” gotta keep it movin cuz these fools don’t have a clue =)

  • http://brklynbabylon.wordpress.com MW

    I’m a NY’er too!
    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people (men and women) will talk irregardless of what you do.
    At the end of the day, the best truths come from whether you are at right with yourself.

    If I rule out a pair of four inches because they’re inappropriate that’s one thing (and then, why would I buy them?!) but for the sake of someone else? I couldn’t.

    Because that person’s now defeated you, you’ve defeated your spirit . . .where’s the win?

    I’m sorry people are so ignorant love!

  • http://gorgeousspice.blogspot.com/ Gorgeous Spice

    You have to look pretty in pink regardless of the heckles. it is your right to look good

  • Toni

    So true girl and even when you don’t wear anything revealing you still feel awkward but if you keep the motto “I look good” and a nice pair of headphones (not that I am saying you need to but I like a little runway music when I walk out) then all you can do is keep it moving (with a smile). Men in NY are used to being ignored and are just doing what anyone that wants attention does..it’s human nature. I hope to feel less insecure about other opinions (not saying your insecure) and just do me. I can’t lie though, wearing my tight dress or mini skirt is a little bit more bearable when I can cover it up under my coat but when the summer hits, the only thing I’m covering up is my the mouth on my insecurities and strutting (switch and all because I naturally have one..yes knock knee girls do lol)

  • Liah

    C.C. your articles are right on time! I’m guilty of doing this.

  • Interested

    Girl, do you and please do not let those pathetic losers interfere with your style! Any “Man” who is so intimidated and threatened by the precense of a sexy sista in a hot outfit that he has to make lewd and vulgar comments is not a man at all IMHO, just a sniveling, weak, coward little piece of nothing, period. I hope more sistas follow your lead!

  • http://www.abarbiedefined.com kearea’

    omg this was such a great read for me. i did the exact thing and didnt even realize how silly i was for changing my style so i wouldnt get approached by jerks. im glad you wrote this. i will certainly go back to my preferred way of dressing

  • Eve

    Definitely can relate…I shouldn’t cover me up to avoid the attention, it’ll happen because I’m a female. Choosing to ignore.

  • justjewel

    that’s crazy! I think you should say something back… Do you know them? tell they mama you know they probally still live right upstairs with they mama’s!

  • http://www.thefabchick.com TheFabChick

    You are not alone is this scenerio. I’ve often times felt like I’ve had to dumb down my style for men I would encounter in the streets. One day I did said eff this, i’m wearing whatever my soul say’s I should wear, because no matter what, they will have something to say. And yes you are right, it’s definitely a reflection of them not you! Good post. :-)

  • Brighterday4K

    I’ve had this happen to me many times and I do the same thing. Most of the time I continue to dress myself down. I feel vulerable and uncomfortable with some of the comments I receive. I have my fly days (of course). But for the most part, I don’t like to bring unwanted attention to myself. You never know what kind of creep is making plans for you.

  • http://capriciousdevotee.blogspot.com/ TheCapriciousD

    Completely get what you mean…dressing up and looking fly is all good until you actually get outside and have to deal with the mens…

    When rocking a skirt, I sometime pack the heels in a bag and rock flats or flip flops until I get to my destination, just to avoid the attention the skirt+heels combo gets you.

    But this is really sad the we have to discussion stuff like this…SMH at disrespectful men.

  • Moni

    I totally agree with this post. I grew up in Harlem. I’m 23 and I moved away a few years ago. I didn’t wear shorts until recently for that very reason. I’m a sexier dresser now that I no longer live there.

  • boogaloo

    “At the end of the day the best truths come from whether you are at right with yourself.”

    Thank you for that I needed to hear that. Although I am a memeber of the “I don’t care what people think of me” club, sometimes I let what others think of me affect me and like you said people are gonna talk regardless. Thanks!

  • binks

    Your block sounds horrible, when in doubt get some mace and a switchblade…lol. But I never did this, I always dressed the way I wanted regardless of what people thought, sure most didn’t like it and I heard some snide remarks but oh well even from friends but oh well I dress for me, if others happen to like it then it is a bonus if not do you anyway. Never compromise yourself for others and that goes for anything, but those men(boys) are just horrible and need home training because ain’t no way should you talk to anybody like the way they did you. I think your block as a whole should do something about that because you never know when one grow balls enough to be dangerous… just a tip so be careful people are crazy these days.

  • Interested

    Binks, I like your mace and switchblade idea. I am not advocating violence, but we all know how those Black women-hating losers get when they don’t get their way.

  • fraulein17

    omG! this article totally speaks to me. whenever i take the bus or train i always do my best to wear something ugly so men wont harass me. whenever i wear something decent or awesome then here come the stupid bastards bugging me about where my man is and if i can give them my number. recently this man in my neighborhood has been following me so now i cant go anywhere without having my dad,boyfriend,or brother walking with me.

    i really hate that i have to change myself just cause some people dont know how to be decent respectful human beings but i have no choice. unfortunately if i dont wanna get hurt or attacked then i wear baggy ugly clothes and dont wear makeup.

    unfortunately we live in a world where men FIRMLY believe that if a woman wears certain things then they’re “asking for it” and that it therefore gives that man permission to touch proceed to “holla” or most cases rape her. this is the “rules” of the world and even though i hate it i must abide by them. no matter how i feel or how other women on clutch or anywhere else agree with me most men dont read clutch or even care about how uncomfortable women feel or care about us wanting to wear whatever we wanna wear without getting harassed.

  • Interested

    That is just plain disgusting. But this is supposed to be a “Free Country” right? I guess not if you are a Black female.

  • so true

    believe it or not, i was just sitting here writing a journal entry about my struggle with this exact same thing. i grew up in NYC also and I have felt basically hunted by men on the street ever since adolescence, when the comments and catcalls began, often by older men. and i have definitely become more and more conservative in my dress over the years because of it. the thing is, i found that many times, that made no difference. as women, we deserve to be treated with respect no matter what we have on.

    **these things never happened to me in white neighborhoods or from white men.**

    instead of changing how we dress, we need our men to learn greater respect for the women in their community so that this type of behavior becomes completely unacceptable. and yes – we need to wear whatever the hell we want and walk proud! :)

  • Interested

    So true, exactly!

  • fraulein17

    cosign! it sucks so much! i wanna wear cute stuff so badly sometimes but i feel like i cant for my own safety. even if its not hoochie and i’m not showing leg,boobs, or butt i still feel unsafe if i look super nice.

    but thats the only way these animals will stop bothering me :(

  • http://blaquestarr.tumblr.com/ Blaquestarr

    I live in Harlem as well. I understand the block and what you can expect. Then one day, I walked my block, to the corner store, and to the train in a classical all-white Storm costume I had put together for NY Comic Con. Complete with blue eyes, white flowing wig, and cape blowing in the wind.
    The block was silent.
    Do you, because in the end, boys will never know how to approach a female fully confident in herself, not just in what she has on.

  • http://nappyheadedblackgirl.com/ nappy headed black girl

    lol I love it!

  • mischa warren

    fantastic article!! I love that Cocoa&Creme’s thoughtful and offbeat topics on fashion!!
    ..i’m a new fan..

  • mischa warren

    ove you uptown girls!!
    uptown girl

  • chin

    really appreciate the article

  • yo

    I live in Harlem too. The cat calling is the WORST there! I can’t even get outside of my door w/o the looks and the comments. Earbuds solved this problem! It’s like a magic bubble!

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