Street Harassment and Sluts
I’m currently studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador, and I love nearly all of it so far. One of the things I do NOT love, however, is the prevalence of harassment here. I'm kind of accustomed to harassment because I go to school in Philadelphia. Usually when guys yell, "I loove youuu!" or call us pretty and stuff we're on the street and they're in cars, or we can easily get away from them.
However, last Friday, a few friends and I had to sit diagonally across from some 3 drunk harassers while we were trying to enjoy a French-fry break from our discoteca-night. And they would not give up. We ignored them for a while, and then one of them came over with a half-full glass of beer and offered it to us.
"Absolutamente no (Absolutely not)," I said immediately. It did work in the moment, and he went back to his table, but he and his two friends continued to wave at us and blow kisses. Later on I told them to "Callate, por favor (shut up, please)" which didn't work. The men here seem to be all about harassing the gringas (foreigners). We talked about this in my Spanish class and I brought up the term "el terrorismo sexual (sexual terrorism)."
I first heard this term last Spring when my friend, Beth, and I were going to a friend's party in South Philly. Like smart girls, we went together for safety, but unfortunately received a few shouted comments from cars and honks as we were on our way. "It's sexual terrorism!" Beth said. And immediately it made perfect sense. She'd talked about it in a class, and it really is what street harassment should be called. Sexual terrorism forces women to work around a"rape schedule." We don't go out too late. We make sure to bring a buddy (like Beth and me!). We stay in lighted areas. We don't go certain places. We carry protection (mace, air horn, whistle... etc.) It’s healthy to be attracted to someone you see in public. It is healthy to be attracted to people period. What is unhealthy is that some people (mainly men) are taught that it is okay to vocalize such attraction in an unnerving and terrorizing way. I know, "sexual terrorism" sounds kind of dramatic, but check out the definition. It works.
Also, the idea that we should be complimented by such actions is kind of sick. The "Well, you should feel complimented because it means you looked good"- explanation needs to go somewhere lonely and die a painful death. This post and comic at Sociological images does a perfect job illustrating how street harassment reflects a serious social problem in the way that we are constructing manhood/womanhood. And this post called "Hands Up If You've Experienced Street Harassment" at The F Word does a good job of illustrating how many people actually experience street harassment. I think the first time I got honked at I was in middle school and the first time it happened to me in person I was in 9th grade, and it was a very unnerving experience. (I still remember the guy's name: Mitch. And he had both a missing tooth and a gold tooth. I know, right?)
So yeah, it definitely is not enough to simply identify the problem. And I'm sure it is somewhat healthy for these douches to get a healthy dose of "NO" (a la what I did), but it's going to take a huge change in the way we think about sexuality and how to express sexuality. Right now there's a lot of hyper-sexualized expression (street harassment, sexually explicit music videos, gender constructions in advertisements, "Girls Gone Wild," scandals on shows like "Maury," etc.) and a lot of hyper-repressed sexual expression ("Twilight," Purity Balls/rings/True love waits whatever, inadequate sex-ed, slut-bashing and not a lot of healthy sexual expression in between. It's easy to get sucked into either one of the extremes because that's what's in our (American as well as Ecuadorian) culture.
Among other things to do my part to make this shit better is that for the past year (since I read Slut! by Leora Tanenbaum I've been trying to eliminate "slut" from my vocabulary. (Think Tina Fey in Mean Girls: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores! It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores!”) Which for the most part, other than a few slips, I think I've done pretty well. All in all, I think it’s encouraged me to try and use a wider variety of vocabulary words and has made me quicker to ask others not to use “slut” either. If there are going to be men who continue to shout “slut” at me from the street, I will certainly not be contributing to the use of the word.
Liz P blogs about feminism, current events, pop culture, and teens at her blog Our Turn.
More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Media, Violence against women
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