So, street harassment is a pretty hot topic right now, yeah? Sounds weird to say, since street harassment has always been a thing, but ever since that video came out of a woman getting harassed on the streets of New York, street harassment has become an issue where everyone from teens to cable news pundits are weighing in.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of ignorance and controversy surrounding this discussion, especially from men who don’t really think that street harassment is a big deal. Well, just so we’re all on the same page: Street harassment is a big deal; it sucks and it’s scary. Whether the awfulness of street harassment is an everyday occurrence for you or you just want to know what all the fuss is about, here’s everything you need to know about street harassment.
What is street harassment?
Street harassment is basically sexual harassment in public spaces. Sexual harassment includes inappropriate comments, innuendo, touching or other suggestive behavior. So this can range from whistling and honking to straight up saying, “You’ve got nice tits” or grabbing you without your consent. The intent might be to flatter or intimidate, but at the end of the day those who are victims of it–often women and/or members of the LGBTQ community–feel vulnerable, scared and pissed off.
Let’s get up in some stats for a second, shall we? In this whole great big world of ours, somewhere from 70 to 90 percent of women have experienced street harassment. In the United States, half of those who claim to have experienced street harassment have experienced it before the age of 17. While men can certainly be victims of street harassment, most victims of street harassment are cis-gender women, transgender women or any individuals who are perceived to be female.
Why does it even happen?
Good question! Honestly, if we investigate the power dynamics of street harassment, it’s mostly just a bunch of patriarchal nonsense at work. Many men–especially cis-gender straight men–are taught by our society to exert and reinforce their dominance over women in some pretty…creative ways. And by creative I mean yelling at women until they notice them. You might also notice dudes doing this in groups, which is just another way to show off how cool their are. Lame, right? Right.
Why are people making such a big deal about it all of a sudden? It’s not like this is a new thing.
Victims are starting to speak out about it more, which is great! Organizations like Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment have been making waves lately and for good reason. You’ve probably seen this video already by Hollaback but hey, why not check it out again for good measure:
While the video would have benefitted from showing more diversity in the harassers, it is still exposing the different ways that street harassment subjects women to a life of fear and objectification. Frankly, we should all be able to go to class or run an errand without worrying that someone is going to harass so the more awareness that street harassment gets, more work can be done to prevent it from happening.
Just because a guy talks to you doesn’t mean it’s street harassment. Since when is saying “hi” harassment? How else are guys supposed to meet girls?
Believe it or not, girls aren’t idiots! We can tell when someone is saying something suggestive and when someone is just being polite. Also, you have to wonder: Would this guy say hello to anyone passing by? Would he be as desperate to say hi to another man? Would he berate that man until he got a response? Probably not.
Also, why not chat up a girl at some sort of event, or a coffee shop or somewhere social? Not the street when people have things to do and places to go. Most romances that occur out of the blue like that aren’t caused by some dude yelling at a woman to smile.
Okay, but like…we all know that it’s mostly black and Latino men who catcall, right?
No. No, no, no, no, no. Anyone of any race, class, background, whatever can catcall. Period. White frat dudes do it, wealthy black dudes do it, old Jewish men do it, all kinds of men do it!
I’ll get personal here for a moment. I live in a neighborhood with a pretty high black population. Whenever I’m catcalled, it’s usually by black men. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve only been catcalled by black dudes. When I was studying abroad in London I was walking down the street in one of the financial districts and was catcalled by a white guy in business casual attire. He said, “Oh, I love a Nubian queen.” It happened so quickly that I had no time to properly react, but I was so grossed out. Not only was he being a gross guy, he was being a gross guy who used race in the harassment directed toward me.
Some might say it’s a race thing, some might say it’s a class thing, but know this: Don’t assume that some people are more prone to street harassment than others. You might be in for a pretty rude awakening.
Yeah, cat calling is annoying. Street harassment sucks. But come on, it’s just words. Just deal and move on, right?
No. Sure, many women are able to brush off the leers and the demands to smile, but street harassment can be incredibly dangerous. Some are followed home by their harassers, others are assaulted and some women have even died as a result of street harassment. For example, a 14-year-old girl was ran over after refusing to have sex with a man for $200. Some have even died due to street harassment. Yeah, died because they either didn’t respond to someone’s advances or they dared to speak out against them. Recently a 27-year-old woman leaving a funeral was shot and killed after turning down the advances of a man who approached her.
I was wearing something skimpy and was harassed by someone on the street. Should I just cover up more?
Strangers will hit on you in inappropriate ways whether you’re wearing a mini bodycon dress or a pair of sweatpants. It’s not about what you wear, it’s about these creeps exerting power over you.
Ugh, I get harassed by dudes on the street all the time! What should I do?
Here’s where things get complicated: There isn’t really one right or wrong thing to do in response to street harassment. You can ignore your catcaller and continue to get harassed, you can confront your catcaller and continue to get harassed. Here’s what you can do, however: Hold your head up and speak out about it as much as possible, especially to the men in your life. Who knows, maybe talking to your guy friend about how awful it feels to be sexually harassed in public will give him the strength to call out his friends if they’re catcalling women.
You can even use art to fight back. An awesome woman named Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has created a series of illustrations and murals in several cities that address street harassment. You should totally check out her site, StopTellingWomenToSmile.com, for some inspiration and empowerment.
There are also apps you can use to fight and report street harassment.
And hey, if you want a laugh, check out The Daily Show‘s Jessica William’s way of dealing with street harassment.
Seriously, there are so many things that people are doing to fight back, but it can be discouraging to see that there are so few results that we can actually experience. The sad truth is that street harassment will probably always exist, but it’s important to know that you are definitely not alone in your experiences with it. You’re also not being a dramatic baby for not appreciating unwanted, sexually charged attention from strangers. Keep being pissed off about it because you can’t fight back with complacency.
Have you ever been a victim of street harassment? Does one experience in particular stand out? Tell us in the comments!