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On Street Harassment

I vividly remember the first time I ever experienced street harassment. I was on my way to class and saw in the distance a group of young men drinking and carrying on in a very loud and obnoxious manner. A young woman, who was a great distance ahead of me, lowered her head, tightened the grip on her shoulder bag, and walked by as quickly as possible. As I approached, their attention quickly turned to me and they shouted, “HEY...HEY, YOU...HEY...!” Now, ladies and gentlemen, I could have easily lowered my head and just ignored these comments but it’s hardly in my nature not to respond to such idiocy. I didn’t even have to say anything -- my mere middle finger in the air sent these three young men into frenzy. “Well, FUCK YOU BITCH! YOU LOOK FUCKING WEIRD ANYWAY!”

Now, I know that most of you reading this may be quick to point out that I did antagonize them, to which I would have to respond that I was walking down a public street on my way to class while these guys stood outside and very purposefully chose to yell at pedestrians. And because I didn’t welcome their attention—and actively rebelled against it -- they felt it was perfectly acceptable to demean and insult me. I was:

1) A bitch because I stood up for myself and didn’t just passively walk by and ignore them and

2) Suddenly unattractive because I hadn’t catered to their ego.

If anyone was antagonized it was me.

Unfortunately, I live in a society that socializes most young men to expect young women to reciprocate their attention and if -- the horror! -- a young woman dares to question that expectation, she is suddenly deemed a ‘bitch’, ‘fat’, ‘ugly’ or a ‘freak’. Unfortunately, my experience is all too familiar for most young women. My personal experience, however, is relatively mild in comparison to some stories I’ve heard, including one in which a young man threatened the very life of the young woman who spoke out against his and his friends’ heckling.

This kind of behavior is absolutely inexcusable. Alcohol is often given as an excuse, yet I know plenty of fantastic men who can enjoy an adult beverage responsibly.

Now, some young men may say, "Well, I have nothing but positive (or no) feedback when I’ve hollered at a female." To that I say it was the exception rather than the rule. Also, one must consider why a woman would respond that way, aside from just assuming that she likes it. A young woman may respond positively (or not at all) to your verbal advances because she’s thinking about her safety. Can you understand why a woman may feel it is in her best and safest interest to comply? To do otherwise is to risk even more verbal harassment and perhaps threats of violence. You are also thinking from a very privileged position that enables men to behave in such a manner with little to no direct consequences for their actions.

Some young women reading this may claim to like the attention. And to them I say you may feel that way, but I know I do not like that kind of attention and I’m willing to bet that the percentage of women that feel the same way I do is fairly high. Opening up a conversation with another human being with comments like, “HEY...HEY...YOU!” isn’t exactly the most flattering. Women are not inanimate objects to be yelled at or unnamed dogs to be called upon whenever a man thinks it is the appropriate time for them. Furthermore, I have every right to question this kind of behavior from men and should be able to do so without being insulted or having my life threatened. I can honestly say that the day I experienced what I did, I was genuinely afraid to walk back past that house for fear that the guys may begin to heckle me even more and or possibly approach me.

So, instead of just complaining, I'm going to propose a new alternative to street harassment: guys, if you find yourself wanting to holler at a young woman walking by you, I caution you to maybe, instead, wave at her and smile. If / when she acknowledges your presence, you can always open with, “Hey, how are you? What’s your name?” This at the very least shows that you recognize she has an individual identity because you’re starting with the very basic concept of her name. However, if waving and smiling doesn’t do the trick, don’t take it personally. It is okay if women do not acknowledge you. Yeah, it sucks. No one likes rejection, but just because it didn’t go the way you wish it had, it doesn’t mean there’s anything fundamentally wrong with anyone in the situation. There is absolutely no reason to demean and insult anyone because they don’t reciprocate your attention. This entire exchange is known as decent human behavior, and I think it's something we should try to remember how to do.

And lastly, ladies, we have to stand up to against anything less than respect from men. If we accept disrespect, we're just perpetuating the cycle that allows it to continue, making our ultimate goal of equality that much harder to achieve.



More articles by Category: Feminism, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence, Gender bias, Sexual harassment, Equality, Sexism
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Amanda P
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