Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You Know It's Officially Spring When...

Street harassment comes out in full force!

Yes, friends, it is surely springtime, because the leerers and commenters and whistlers are out again. Welcome, springtime, WELCOME!

The fabulous Mandy Van Deven has been posting on the Bitch Magazine blogs about street harassment, and I've really been enjoying these posts not only because I'm a feminist and this concerns me, but I get harassed nearly on the daily.

I'm not saying this to be like, "Oooh, I aM sO HaWt, men cannot resist me" (this is absolutely untrue), but to illustrate the point that street harassment is ridiculous. It doesn't really matter what I'm wearing. I've been harassed while wearing skirts and shorts as well as jeans and sweatshirts. (One day when I was walking to the grocery store in jeans and a sweatshirt, a man actually turned his car and followed me... down the WRONG WAY of a one-way street to tell me I was "sexy as shit" and ask me to dinner. Needless to say, I was busy.) Stuff like that is mildly amusing, while other instances can be much more unsettling (like when I passed a man, a woman and small child, and the man said, "That's my son, see? ... I can give you one. I could give you two. C'mon. What do you think?").

On one of Van Deven's posts I commented:

I think one of the jarring things about street harassment for me is that it exists outside of social norms. Whether I'm in my hometown in Maine, or in Philadelphia where I go to school, or Quito, Ecuador where I studied abroad, the style with which street harassment is expressed is distinct from any other type of social interaction that happens between people who know each other or are getting to know each other. It always just comes across as bizarre. But it comes in shades of bizarre, so when old men I've never spoken to on my block tell me I look pretty that's less bizarre than when a man drives down the wrong way of a one-way street to tell me I'm "sexy as shit."

My solution is usually to not engage, and I'll say thank you if I get a somewhat polite comment and no thanks/I'm busy if it's a dinner invitation or an offer to be the father of my child (as was offered to me this morning). I've fortunately never had any super-negative experiences with street harassment, and can usually shake off honks and cat calls (pretty much incessant in Ecuador), but the only time I've really ever felt unsafe was once in a bar in Ecuador when three drunk men would not stop hitting on/calling out to three of my friends and me and I finally told them to shut up and leave us alone, but I definitely would not have done that if we'd been in an alley or something. My question is, if street harassment is so outside of social norms of interaction, how does it become normalized as an appropriate expression by some people (mostly men)?

She replied a few hours later and said, "your analysis and question are making me giddy. :-) Some of the other comments have asked something similar, so I've definitely got this on my list of things to address in future posts."

Street harassment is really jarring. Recently I had a conversation with a feminist, straight, male friend about street harassment, and there was something that he was just not getting about it.

"I get cat-called sometimes," he said. "It's kind of fun. I'd love to have women tell me how good I look all the time."

"Okay, well, I get cat-called like every day. And it's not welcome. We have different power relations with men and women," I said.

The basic argument in favor of street harassment is that when it's solely a man commenting positively on a woman's looks, she should feel complimented. Um... I don't actually get dressed to impress the men of my neighborhood. If I wear shorts it's because it's hot out. (Cue: first verse of "U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah.) And I don't feel complimented when I hear "hey, baby!" to me, I feel shitty.

Last semester I wrote on The F-Bomb about an experience with harassment in Ecuador, but I want to use this post to talk responses.

After I wrote the post for The F-Bomb, my mom e-mailed me to tell me she a.) was proud and b.) had talked to my dad and he was worried about me talking back to street harassers. Quito isn't the safest place in the world, but neither is where I live now in Philadelphia. I assured her that I would never talk back to someone if I actually felt threatened.

Street harassment in Ecuador was so frequent that after awhile I started to tune it out, and after awhile of that... I started being royally annoyed. So instead of just walking past men who called out to me, I'd shake my head at them and mouth "No," emphatically. Sometimes I'd do this when I was with a large group of friends and my friends wouldn't even notice because they were busy ignoring the dudes. In Philadelphia, when men actually engage in conversation with me, I usually deflect and try to get away as quickly as possible, but recently I was walking home and wearing a skirt (I'd been at my internship and had to dress business-y) and some construction workers on my street started to whistle and call out to me.

"No!" burst out of me.

"Oh, sorry," one of them said.

"It's okay," I found myself saying. "No it's not," I thought, but I kept walking. I wished I'd turned on them and actually given them a piece of my mind, but I was tired.

Which is why these printable forms are so great. I think I'm going to test them out in the next week and carry a few with me and see what happens.

1 comment:

  1. I kind of want to hand out those flyers, just because.