Street Harassment and the Big Picture Effects

By Zadie Lacy

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sexual harassment is a term that seems far away from day-to-day life and the people of everyday. However, statistics show that more than 65% of women surveyed have experienced street harassment at least once in their life.

In comparison, only 25% of the men surveyed have reported experiencing street harassment. The majority of these men identified as part of the LGBTQ community and were targeted mainly by trans slurs and homophobic verbal abuse. Public places should be a place where everyone is welcome and an equal part of the community, not a place to put others down.

According to Hollaback!, street harassment is “a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.”

The topic of what defines street harassment varies due to different opinions, beliefs, and prior experiences. However, street harassment is a form of sexual harassment and should be taken seriously. We need to not only take action to end street harassment, but correct the beliefs and standards of our society that encourage it.

One reason that street harassment isn’t taken as seriously as it should be is the argument that the comments made about a person’s body are “compliments” and women should be “more appreciative.” However, a constant running commentary on your body and how you look in public isn’t complementary. Complimenting a woman on her shirt or her shoes is very different from yelling something about her body, the way it’s shaped, her race, etc.

By saying that women “should be more appreciative” and should just say “thank you” (as exemplified in Hollaback!’s video “10 Walking in NYC as a Woman” by anonymous men) is incorrect for several reasons. One reason is the underlying idea that society has instilled in us that women need validation from men to have confidence in themselves. Likewise, LGBTQ folk need to have a running commentary on their lifestyle, aesthetics, and topics of the like.

The line of thought that the street-side comments are compliments that should be appreciated basically implies that the harasser, rather than the victim, is deciding how the victim should feel about the harassment. The victim doesn’t have the power or the right to interpret the harassment in their own way; instead, the harasser is telling them that they should feel some way. Every person is entitled to their own feelings and thoughts.

This is yet another example of men (the majority of the reported cases of harassment come from men) feeling that they have some right to take ownership over others’ bodies, and even their feelings, through harassment. This is reflective of the messages sent to us through the media in our patriarchal society and the cultural “norms” and standards instilled in everyone.

Many victims report avoiding certain public places and leaving their homes less often due to the fear that street harassment provokes. This is something that shouldn’t be a reality in our culture. The physical acts of harassment can span from staring at the victim, all the way to physical assault. Grabbing or touching of any sort, blocking pathways, using verbal abuse, and stalking are all things that perpetuate the epitome of our patriarchal society’s downfalls.

Some people suggest that victims of street harassment simply retaliate and stand up for themselves. Often times, the victim is shown more violence once they fight back. In some extreme cases, victims are killed for standing up for themselves. For example, Mary Spears, a twenty-seven year old woman, was shot and killed after refusing a stranger her phone number while leaving a funeral for her friend. Cases like Spears’ are not only horrific, but becoming more and more of a violent and terrifying phenomenon, where women are disempowered by strong objectification that the media perpetuates time and time again.

So what can be done? Educating the public is a start; we need to spread awareness that street harassment is a form of sexual harassment, and things like cat-calling and stalking should not be tolerated. We should be conscience of the messages the media is sending us, and the “standards” and norms of our societal values. There should be more supervision put in public places, like cameras in shops and more police/supervisors out on the streets to monitor this behavior and put a stop to it. The goal of these introductions is to make sure public places are equally available to everyone, and a place where people can feel safe and part of the community. More education and awareness will promote positive messages of equality for future generations.

Categories: Opinion

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