More Thoughts on Street Harassment

So, my earlier post brought out an unexpected response from a close friend.   Basically, that I should feel lucky that strange men are yelling at me on the street based on my appearance.  That it’s a compliment.   And then there was mild chastisement for large sunglass wearing, texting “zombie” behavior.   Apparently, I should thank my lucky stars for having won the genetic lottery and smile big and purdy whenever some random dude on the street feels like he just can’t contain himself and has to make a comment to me about my body.  

Here’s the thing, and let there be no ambiguity in this, it is NOT OK for strange men to comment on a woman’s body or appearance while she’s going about her life.  It is NOT A COMPLIMENT.   It is HARASSMENT.   Plan and simple.    “Hey Baby!” is not a way to make a connection to another human being.  It’s INSULTING. 

Great Gallant This mostly verbal harassment involves excessive compliments and personal comments that focus on appearance and gender, and are out of place or embarrassing to the recipient. Such comments are sometimes accompanied by leering looks. The “wolf whistles” of a street harasser are one example of this.

Wikipedia 

Even the “you’re so pretty,” “you’ve got pretty eyes,” and “I like your hair” variety is still offensive.   Why?  Because IT IS objectifying.   They don’t like me.  They’re not interested in me.    They’re interested in my body, my eyes, and my hair, which are parts of the whole, but not the whole of the person.   Also, these are usually just ins to continue with some other line or to get more foul.    Heaven forbid you ENGAGE, because then they could start FOLLOWING you.   

On a personal level, I am NOT OBLIGATED to look you in the eye nor smile at you if you are a strange (unknown to me) man.   It’ll be a cold day in HELL when I start smiling at random strange men.    Why?   Because I have a strong Self-Preservation Instinct.  I’ve been told since I was a very young girl NOT TO TALK TO STRANGERS.

You may feel like I’m over-reacting, but I’d say that that’s because you haven’t experienced much of this.  It is a real problem.   And these interactions can be very dangerous.  For instance, this last May, 18 year old Mildred Beaubrun was shot and later died in Orlando after refusing to give a stranger her phone number.  

The first time it ever happened to me, I hadn’t even begun puberty.   I was eleven years old, and a grown man yelled something at me as I walked down the street.    Two men on a public bus also looked me up and down, and one turned to another and said, “you can tell when they wear shorts like that that they want it.”  You can’t tell me that that was a compliment.   It was gross intimidation, clear and simple, not to mention pedophilia, except that I just did.    And as a child, it was scary, because how was I to know how far that man would take it.  

And the thing is, it’s exactly the same today as it was then.    The men are still using the same words, sounds, and looks.    So, why shouldn’t I still feel like it’s wrong?   Why is it supposed to be different just because I’m an adult?   

So, yeah, I do the iPod thing.   Anywhere I’m walking, unless it’s after dark, I have my headphones in, so that I don’t hear this crap.   I stare at my phone when I walk down the street, hoping that if I’m occupied, they’ll leave me alone.   And I wear my sunglasses on BART, even when it’s dark, because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m making eye contact and taking that as encouragement.   

And apparently I’m not alone – Elizabeth’s Story

 

 

And I got a whole lot of linkage:

http://feministing.com/archives/007244.html

http://www.tolerance.org/news/article_hate.jsp?id=542

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Zone_(film)

http://www.thevillager.com/villager_118/justlookingaviewof.html

 

 

 

So, sorry Uncle Samurai, but you really got my blood boiling.   I still consider you a good friend, but I hope you’ll think a little more carefully about my perspective.

 

Just sayin’.

8 Responses to “More Thoughts on Street Harassment”


  1. 1 orange October 27, 2008 at 4:41 am

    I totally agree. This unacceptable behavior is not ‘hard-wired’ into male brains — it’s culturally created and socially supported. In some cultures the harassment is much worse, while in other cultures it simply doesn’t exist.

    On a different note, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to wear your ipod and suglasses if you’re alone. I think it’s important to be aware of your surroundings.

  2. 2 dd October 27, 2008 at 6:22 am

    As a woman, I try to discourage men from catcalling. If I’m in a safe place I’ll go up to them and tell them why women don’t respond well to being yelled at on the street.

    As a woman, I will also compliment people on the street and on the subway. But it’s always for something that they’ve chosen. An earing choice, a choice for a shirt color, a song they’re listening to on their ipod, and yes, hair style and color (but only when the color is obviously not natural). Hair style and color are choices people make and I feel it’s a true compliment to tell them I like their tastes.

    And I mostly compliment women. I less often will praise a man. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m more tuned into women’s fashion being a woman, or if I’m more comfortable approaching a woman, or if I don’t want to encourage further contact if the man takes my compliment as a come on. Probably the second one.

  3. 3 peggyluwho October 27, 2008 at 9:33 am

    @Orange – I only do it in places that I know are “safe” and I never actually have my iPod on so loudly that I can’t hear what’s going on around me. It’s more to give the illusion of obliviousness and/or to try to let people know that I would like to be left alone.

    @dd – I think the difference in the kind of comments you’re talking about making and the ones I’m talking about is that it sounds like you’re walking up to someone, looking them in the eye, and saying what you have to say to their face, as opposed to just hollering it at them. Also, if someone was uncomfortable, and chose to ignore what you had said, you probably wouldn’t be threatened by that like many cat-callers would be. I admire you for confronting cat-callers head on. I’m not that brave.

  4. 4 Jessica October 27, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    http://dandelionpages.blogspot.com/2008/10/solution.html

    i just blogged about this same kind of harassment- and i came up with an answer. i wear my “please don’t insult me or other women by whistling or honking when we wear short skirts” t-shirt as often as possible in public places that i know are safe in order to get out the message

  5. 5 peggyluwho October 27, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Yeah, I don’t even wear skirts, let alone short ones, so I shudder to think what that’s like.

    I think my personal version would be – “My name is not Hey Baby!”

  6. 6 petchie October 28, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I totally agree with you – I wrote about my experiences of street harassment yesterday and wordpress gave me an automatic link to your post!

  7. 7 peggyluwho October 28, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Hi Petchie – I saw your post yesterday, too. I’m not really well traveled, so it was interesting to read about your experiences in different parts of the world.

    I have been dreaming of visiting Puerto Rico for the last few years, by the way. Someday . . .


  1. 1 Walking down the street… « Petchie’s adventures Trackback on October 28, 2008 at 9:28 am

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