So I haven’t been touching on the subject of feminism much lately because I’ve been going through a period of extreme frustration regarding the absolute lack of understanding and empathy that the topic receives. For each person who really gets it, there are ten who really don’t – and have no interest in learning. Of course I’m not giving up on discussing all of the different aspects as they make themselves known, but I needed a second to breathe and re-group. I mean it’s not like I could just stop learning and talking about something I’m so passionately interested in. That doesn’t happen. But I was having a major white girl moment.
I just couldn’t.
There’s been a bit of hoopla regarding street harassment on the internet lately. It really started with this video that featured a woman walking around in NYC for 10 hours while she secretly recorded the entire experience. The point was to highlight the amount of unwanted attention she received in this time.
It was a lot.
Some of the comments were blown out of proportion a bit. I can’t fault anyone for saying hello or good morning. I was raised in Maine, a place that literally refers to itself as “a friendly state.” Strangers do in fact go out of their way to make eye contact, smile, nod, and have a brief but friendly chat. While I’m sure many of the greetings in the video (and that happen in life) are not so innocently intended, I cannot lump them in with the actual harassment. I refuse to help create a world where even a simple “hello” is negatively construed.
This video was edited to include these possibly harmless comments such as those in the problematic remarks, which some understandably found fault with. There were actually several aspects that viewers seem to have problems with. Another was the racial bias. It’s interesting to consider how much race and culture has to do with harassment versus how much of it just has to do with being male. It’s a topic that I’m not at all educated on and won’t speculate on. I’d rather not add to the problem of the uneducated opinionated. That being said, it certainly is a valid point of contention.
Another (less valid) point was freedom of speech. It’s a public sidewalk, after all. If religious nuts can spend their days screaming about God and promoters can shove a flier in your face, why can’t a guy make a rude and/or unwanted comment toward a woman?
Well of course it’s your right, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s an issue of morality and being a decent person. Unfortunately many people don’t realize that this “freedom of speech” actually makes many women uncomfortable – even unsafe.
Which leads me to the sentiment I find most concerning about this whole topic. The most popular attitude regarding street harassment (aside from outrage) is that women who are subjected to it should be flattered.
They’re asked what they were wearing, as if it’s their fault, as if they went out with the intention of receiving such attention. Let’s be real; women all dress for men. The outfits we wear, the way we do our hair, and the makeup we put on is all to ensure that men, even those we see for mere seconds in passing, find us attractive. I mean, if a woman goes out in public with even a trace of visible skin, she should know the kind of attention she’s going to get. It’s obviously her fault. She was probably dressed like a slut anyway. What do you expect?
It’s more likely that she’s making it up, anyway. Since men don’t experience this kind of harassment, it doesn’t exist.
If you’re of this mindset and actually reading this, I really hope that you continue.
We live in a world where most women don’t feel safe walking down the street alone at night because of fear. Fear of what? Honestly, for me, there isn’t one specific thing. Whether it’s being physically attacked, mugged, touched, raped, kidnapped, or anything else you can think of. It’s far worse for women who live in big cities, of course, but it can happen anywhere. Approximately 1,270,000 women are raped each year. In 2010, 25% of women who were raped were attacked by strangers. That’s 1 in 4.
There’s a reason why women feel unsafe being alone in public. Those are just two of them.
By having to worry about and guard against being raped, coupled with culturally supported myths about rape, women are restricted in their behavior and intimidated into feeling less good about themselves and less trusting of others.
Of course, street harassment and rape are not the same thing. They aren’t even close. But they’re certainly linked. Rape is not about necessarily about satiating sexual desire. There are several theories, but in my opinion, it is about power and control. This is because in our society and pretty much all cultures, men are placed in a position of dominance. They are the superior gender. It is an attitude of entitlement.
They believe they are entitled to a woman’s body.
The believe their approval is desired, their opinions sought after.
They believe we exist to please them.
While this attitude by attackers and cat callers may not be a conscious one, it’s there. It’s not about sexual desire; it’s about exercising that power.
A “hey baby, you lookin’ sexy” might as well be followed up with a “you’re welcome,” though manners seem to constantly be overlooked in what is apparently supposed to be a complimentary situation.
But let me get one thing straight right now.
My self-esteem is not so low that I need a random person on the street to make me feel better about myself. Further, if it were, a stranger passing by would not actually improve it.
No, I’m not the most confident person in the world. Of course I’m not. There are very few women who completely love the skin they’re in. However, I do not want or need the opinion of a stranger. I did not ask for their opinion of my body. I don’t care that it’s a positive one. It was unwarranted. If someone were slinging insults, no one would question street harassment. However, since it’s supposedly intended as a compliment, women are supposed to be appreciative.
That doesn’t work for me.
I do not exist for other people. I do not exist to be complimented. I do not find my self worth in my appearance. I do not ask my friends if I’m pretty and I certainly do not ask strangers. What others think of my appearance will not change how I feel about myself. Only I control that. My worth is not determined by anyone but myself.
Further, I do not find comments from people on the street to be complimentary at all. I actually think they’re quite insulting. They’re intended as a favor; men tell us we look nice and in return they think we are obligated to pay attention to them. We’re then forced to do either two things:
1) To acknowledge these men and possibly (probably) be subjected to further harassment
2) To ignore them, be labeled as rude/a bitch/stuck up, etc., and then possibly continue to be harassed, anyway
I do not owe anyone gratitude or anything else because they like the way that I look. To assume otherwise is presumptuous and arrogant. I did not ask for the attention, I do not need it, and I don’t want it.
I do not exist for men. I do not exist for other women. I do not exist to be complimented. I do not exist to be validated by others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to force those opinions on others. I do not find value in a passer-by’s opinion of what I look like. I should not be subjected to it.
Despite using the term “compliment,” I don’t actually think these comments that are thrown at women walking down the street are actually intended as such. I know, I know.
However, considering that they are, at best, based on fleeting, shallow observations and at worst, lewd and offensive, it just doesn’t seem like these comments are genuine.
Let’s be optimistic for a moment, though. Let’s just say, hypothetically (not to mention generously), that all of these cat callers actually are trying to be nice. Maybe they really don’t understand that yelling obscenities and following us when we ignore them isn’t flattering. Maybe they really do think they’re being complimentary and that we’ll appreciate their efforts. If this were the case, if they were doing this for us, then they would make an effort. This effort would be to understand what actually does make us feel good. They would be accountable for doing things that don’t make us feel good. They would respect our personal space, both physically and verbally. They would respect what we want.
You can be sure that the men who make these remarks do it consistently. If they had honest intentions, they would have learned that their actions are not well-received and that they are not appreciated. If they really wanted to make women feel good when they walk down the street, they would not only change their actions, but they would encourage others to do the same.
That is clearly not what’s going on. As such, I think that it’s safe to assume that these comments are not well intended. That they are, in fact, harassment.
It’s an unfortunate truth that women have to deal with every day. It’s an unfortunate truth that men are also affected by. I’m talking about good men. The kind who would like to strike up a friendly conversation in a coffee shop but don’t, for fear of getting coldly rejected. A fear that’s based in reality. A reality that exists because women view strange men talking to them as predatory rather than friendly. A view that exists because of the reality that is street harassment.