Stopping Street Harassment

I was probably 16, I remember because I was living in Long Island at the time.

Whenever I would go out, the Mexicans in their vans full of grass clippings would honk and holler at me. I remember not really understanding why. I told a friend about it – she said it happened to her too and I was shocked because she didn’t seem the type guys would cat-call over. Though, of course, neither was I.

For years, I ignored it because I had no idea what was going on or why. I assumed mindless things – like the fact that I’m black or walking down the street – induced the honking.

Flickr credit to: womenspeakproject

Though it continued to happen and perplex me, I had no words to really describe what I was experiencing. Until I was perusing on twitter and discovered it: street harassment. Where women are sexually harassed on a near daily basis but as I started hearing about other women’s stories, I realized that it was much worse than just honking.

Women on twitter talked endlessly about their dangerous situations. Many women commented on being followed by men, cornered (even in public spaces), or being touched. Some of these men – if not most of them – continued to make lewd comments at the women as they walked down the street. It’s difficult for me to really paint a picture of what these women experienced because I have never had those types of encounters. Perhaps it’s pure luck that no one ever threatened me with violence for rejecting them. Threatened to kill, rape or maim me because I said no.

There are some posts I have found through reading other’s blogs: “The Time I felt I couldn’t Hollaback” by Abigail Ekue at Random Musings and “Long Walk: Street Harassment” by The Feminist Griote.

Unfortunately, I can’t really expand much on the discussion – I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about street harassment as other women, nor have I experienced it outside of leering and rude comments made to me as men walked by. It’s a product of patriarchy, where even in public spaces women have no rights. Where we’re objectified and told that we need to do specific things to curtail this behavior, that it’s our responsibility to control men. It’s part of sexism that says that men are wild beasts who lack impulse control, and it’s other women who reinforce this mentality.

But there’s a great blog managed by Holly Kearl. You can read even more stories from women, who experience this world wide phenomenon.

If you’re a woman, have you ever experienced street (sexual) harassment? If you’re a guy, have you ever told someone to leave that woman alone? Why or why not?

Stopping street harassment requires the participation of both men and women. Find out what you can do. 

8 thoughts on “Stopping Street Harassment

  1. Street harassment is street harassment. No matter how “big” or “small” the invasion its still very much an invasion. Therefore, don’t minimize your experience. I like you had no words to describe this encroachment on my private space in a public arena. Now that I have the language to describe it I am empowered to stop it. If those of us who blog-blog about it, participate in anti-street harassment, & use social media to highlight this disgusting practice we can surely curtail it. Thanks for this post!!!

    • You’re welcome! I’ve been wanting to write about this for days now, but didn’t know how. So, I thought this was a good way to go about it.

      Yes! i definitely want to raise and spread awareness about this. It’s so problematic, and it’s a very real threat to our safety. Down with street harassment!

  2. Isn’t it interesting that every woman in this world has, or will experience harassment from men? What type of world do we live in where a woman can’t simply walk down the street without being spoken to in a degrading manner, be shouted at, or made a spectacle to their friends.

    The chances of women being violated by a man in their lifetime is extremely high. Women have fought over generations to be treated with respect and equality, to have rights and status in society. Even though in this day and age we’re not subservient to men (in a lot of countries) it’s like we’re constantly being degraded for having freedom to be who we are.

    When i was in school it was situated next to a campus and another school. A lot of boys and men in their 20’s would drive up and down the street. I would get people calling out rude remarks as they drove past, on several occasions i was called a “slut”. I didn’t even wear a skirt, or dress to school, or have anything provocative about the way i wore my clothing. Who is a man to judge a woman by calling her a whore, when they have no idea who she is? A girl can simply walk down the street and they can call her those names without a thought in their mind.

    How is calling me a “slut” going to make me notice you? Am i now a “slut” in your mind because i chose to ignore you yelling at me in a derogatory manner? Are you annoyed at me because i don’t pay you attention and instantly want to have sex with you?
    The funny thing is that i’m a lesbian. Yes, i had long black hair, i look feminine and if i might say so i don’t believe i’m unattractive. So first of all they assume i my sexuality, and judge me by implying that i sleep around with men and have no self respect. It’s a pretty big thing to say about somebody who hasn’t done anything at all to be called a “slut”.

    Too many teenage girls feel the need to impress boys. They openly and freely give in to sex, and wear provocative clothing to appear desirable. Some women truly make the image of us worse for everybody. I wish this type of thing would stop.

    • Yes! I was very surprised myself to discover that street harassment is a world-wide issue. But I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how quickly SlutWalk had manifested all over the world. It’s great to know that more women are really to stand up for their rights.

      I think it’s also important to keep in mind that the word “slut” has been used to not only oppress women but to also make them/us feel bad for their sexuality. Part of this sexist methodology is also reinforced by women, who endlessly police each other in terms of how they conduct themselves sexually. I say this in response to your usage of what is and is not a slut. There isn’t a specific way that a “slut” dresses or acts. Demonizing girls for displaying their sexuality in a particular way is part of the oppressive system that sexism and patriarchy function under. While I personally don’t approve of casual sex, I do believe we should create a space where women can practice their sexuality safely without being treated like second class citizen (or less than) because of their sexual choices. If a woman is considered a “slut”, people feel they have the right to take around her own rights – such as personal space (street harassment), reproductive rights (present laws trying to reduce a woman’s right to healthcare). If a woman is a “slut” she doesn’t deserve any of these things, and if she’s dressing a certain way (ie: “provocatively”), or acting a certain way (ie: drunkenly) then she has brought certain situations onto herself, and that in order to stop these things from happening, we can’t display “slut” behavior.

      This kind of policing is, again, part of patriarchy and sexism.

      So it’s important to keep in mind that the concept of a slut has been created to keep women oppressed and policed. And by challenging the notion of a slut, we are that much closer to taking on the very ideas meant to keep us silent and powerless.

  3. Amen! I’ve had men tell me I’m beautiful, which I always welcome and enjoy. It’s simple and flattering and respectful. What I hate are the stares and comments about my body that are completely unnecessary. I wish dudes realized how uncomfortable and inappropriate those comments are. This is good stuff.

    • Oh thanks, I’m glad you liked it! :D

      It IS very annoying and frustrating to have to deal with stares and rude comments. I hate this idea that because of my sex, men think they can treat me any which way.

  4. I just returned from spending a few months in Europe for work and it was painful to watch the way women were treated. I feel Europe is far more progressive in most social areas, but the US has cultivated a much more equalistic attitude towards women. Not a day went by when I didn’t experience cat calls from European men – just one of the reasons I am glad to be back on US soil.

    • Oh wow, really? When I was studying abroad for several months, I experienced no harassment of any kind while France, Egypt, Greece OR Italy. No one said lewd things to me (strangers didn’t speak to me period), I wasn’t cat-called or harassed in any way. Generally, I felt safe and free to wander around the streets of Paris and didn’t feel like anything terrible would happen to me. Unlike here in the States where I constantly worry for my safety and can’t go a day without being subjected to some kind of belittlement.

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