Monday, August 15, 2011

Reader Confusion: Sexual Harassment

Last fall I wrote a piece for the F-Bomb called "Street Harassment and Sluts" inspired by my experiences in Ecuador, but that was/is certainly relevant to my life in the United States. Recently, one reader, Matt SS, posted his opinion on it in the comments section, and I want to clear up some confusion. So, Reader Confusion series #2 commence!
You guys are fucking clueless, Jesus Christ. Men aren’t afraid to go out at night because of rape, although it happens to us too, but we are certainly afraid of getting robbed. I live in St. Louis and sometimes we beat Detroit in the most dangerous city awards. If you see someone following you down the street for more than a block or two, you are scared shit-less. I was walking down a fucking major street and these guys came up to me and asked if I had a lighter or matches, and they kept asking and told me to turn out my pockets and asked me what was in my pockets and stuff. I ran. I thought they hit me, I felt something on my ear, and I ran, and they laughed, so maybe it wasn’t a fist, but a mosquito. Feminists talk all day about how we don’t know how women feel about being alone at night, or feeling like someone is following, and maybe we don’t. I know some girls who say they don’t get it, but then you turn around and pretend like men are never afraid. How the hell do you know? You aren’t men, you don’t read minds. We have black street gangs here, and if you are black especially, but sometimes white, and you wear the wrong color, you get shot. Period.
Sure, when I went to college I wasn’t really concerned about being robbed, because I was out at night with my friends, and there are often other people out that are students, but not every place in the world is a college campus.
Btw, in a 90% black school, as a white male, I get plenty of unwanted female attention, not because I’m [cute] really, but because black girls think its funny to hit white guys on the ass and stuff, so we experience sexual harassment, as well as fearing for our lives while walking alone at night. You don’t own fear.
No, women certainly do not own fear. Violence occurs across classes, races, sexualities, and genders. The post was talking exclusively about sexual harassment as it occurs to women (specifically, in my experience), and I think what I wrote last year bears repeating:
Sexual terrorism forces women to work around a”rape schedule.” We don’t go out too late. We make sure to bring a buddy. 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 was in not saying that men never experience harassment or random violence. On the contrary, many men do. About a year and a half ago a friend and I were walking to the subway from his house one night, and we talked about our experiences with harassment. He had experienced an elevated amount of harassment from people, especially in his then-neighborhood in South Philadelphia, because of his sexuality. Despite the fact that he got called a "fag" nearly every day, he said to me, "I don't think men will ever be able to understand the kind of fear that women experience walking alone at night."
"I think you might be able to come pretty close," I said.

Dear Matt SS, men are not the only people who get robbed. I too, live in a large city, 5th largest in the country, in a neighborhood that many people consider dangerous. I don't think there are many women or feminists or people in general who would deny that occasionally men fear for their safety. I think we can universally acknowledge that personal safety is something that concerns everyone regardless of gender, race, or class background.

By the way, just as a personal thing, I tend to be wary of gangs no matter the race of the gang members. Also, I'm quite certain there are gangs where I live, but personally, I have never been affected by them or been aware of their activities. Also, I think you might be racist.

I'm glad that you felt safe on your college campus, but college campuses actually aren't always an incredibly safe environment. Click here for some statistics on sexual assault on college campuses. This is a problem on every college campus. I attend a large, urban, state school where sexual assault is a problem, but it's also a problem on "safe" suburban campuses. A girl I knew from high school found out that her small liberal arts college on the east coast had the highest number of rapes on campus after her roommate was raped their freshman year.

Oh, Matty Matt, I am sorry that you get hit on as a joke. Unwanted attention is always unpleasant. However, I think fundamentally what makes the experiences of verbal sexual harassment different for a heterosexual man different from those of a woman (any sexuality) or gay man or transperson is that these groups do not hold societal power. If a guy turns his motorcycle around so that he park it next to me and talk to me while I'm waiting for the bus, I don't know how that interaction is going to go. Motorcycle dude in that situation did this in broad daylight, and turned out to be fairly polite in asking me out and took it well when I turned him down. But I can never know for certain how an interaction is going to go when I get called out on the street. In the daylight I feel a degree of safety, but that doesn't mean that I am absolutely safe. Fortunately I have never had a sexual harassment experience go beyond a conversation, but the fear of potential sexual violence is felt much more strongly by women and members of the LGBTQ community.

And I want to emphasize again, since it seems like you, poor, dear Matt, might be a racist, race isn't a necessary factor in harassment. I'm a white lady, and I've received unwanted attention with varying degrees of hostility from a wide range of races. White dudes too. Men are certainly not the only perpetrators of violence or sexual hostility, but the fact is that most people in the world live in cultures and communities in which the threat of sexual violence is felt very strongly by women and the LGBTQ community. This is a facet of personal safety concerns that men are also privy to. Being robbed or jumped is of course something that concerns men, and I know you can understand that kind of fear, but sexual violence is different because we live in a "rape culture," where women's bodies are fundamentally devalued and sexualized until they are devoid of personhood. Until sexual violence and harassment has ended, a large portion of the population (not just feminists!) is going to feel heightened levels of fear about their personal safety.

I think if you are so riled up about this topic, you should turn some of that energy toward doing something. We can work together! I suggest you check out Men Can Stop Rape: Creating Cultures Free From Violence.

Together, we can work for... Better Days (sorry for this weak segue, I really like this song).


  1. Great post! There is also the concern that, more often than not, the woman is the physically weaker of the two people in a confrontation, so if something were to happen, we may not be able to defend ourselves. Most men walk around with at least some confidence that they could fend someone off.
    Poor Matt SS, so passionate and yet so idiotic...

  2. Am I the only one who was a little uncomfortable with this post. While I understand this is your blog, and the comment in question showed a serious lack of judgement and as a result you may be upset. But the tone is really condescending and confrontational. And I felt this was more about bitching out the person in question than being actually educational, despite the abundance of information.

    Generally, people don't respond well to this kind confrontation, regardless of however deserved.

    I'm willing to bet that Matt won't walk away from reading this post thinking how what he said was misguided, but rathe, he'll even more convinced that he is in the right and that all feminists are a bunch of easily angered bitches.

  3. I hear ya, fellow feminist, but sometimes I am a rightly annoyed feminist (bitch?) and just want to get it out.

    See this old post

  4. Really informative. It's really time to stop sexual harassment.

  5. I never noticed this post until now, I clicked a link that went to the post on the fbomb yesterday that started this and saw that you had posted this.

    I am not racist. I have a very specific meaning here, in a sense all majority people are racist and all minority people are race biased, but I mean aside from that. The race of the person who is following me was specifically relevant to my post, because in the area where I live, most of the gangs tend to be black. My area has some really bizarre demographics with regards to class which means that the number of white people in gangs as both a percent of the white population and a total number of gang members is smaller than the number same two measures for black people.

    Most people from my area, of any race, have a higher than average understanding and experience with racial dynamics.

    @A Fellow Feminist, if I was likely to come to the conclusion that feminists are bitches, it would be far more likely to be drawn from the first comment than the OP.

    My comment was tinged by a previous discussion earlier in the day and was perhaps not related enough to the original post on tfb to warrant posting, however I disagree that it shows a serious lack of judgement.

    I disagree that I implied that only men get robbed and that fear of rape in the majority of women is as powerful as you imply. I think a lot of men regularly live in just as much fear as women.

    I think that the OP here was indeed condescending, for instance calling me racist when she doesn't know enough about me to make that judgement, and it was also quite unrelated to the rest of the post. However its not even close to the worst thing I have heard. By some standards its quite tame.

    As a radical ideologist I disagree with a lot of ideas that feminists really support, even if I believe that all people should be judged upon their individual identity and not race, gender, age, physical ability, etc. So I and my associates tend to get into quite a lot of drama with feminists, and also other progressive movements that are based on a specific kind of liberal ideology.

    For instance the theory of ideological privilege is not well received among most of those groups. Nor do they like to confront their own hypocrisy and prejudice. Just try to bring up their own blatant or latent racism to a bunch of white feminists, woo boy does the shit hit the fan.