It’s that time of year again folks! Spring has officially sprung, despite winters best efforts to hold on, and it is well past time to put that over-sized, subway-scented coat at the very back of the closet. Or under the bed. Or maybe just burn it. For now is the time of light layers, chic raincoats, and pretty but useless scarves! But with the advantage of lovely weather and lighter layers comes a downside. People are flocking outside, freed from their winter long hibernation, and can be seen everywhere just standing outside enjoying the sunshine. Sadly, this means there are far more opportunities for street harassment. I’m referring to the men standing on street corners and subway stations just waiting for women to walk by so they can whistle, cat-call, make obscene gestures and partake in a plethora of obnoxious and disturbing tactics to get attention. This behavior always completely baffles me. For one thing, it’s completely inefficient. Honestly, when was the last time a woman heard some idiot drawl “aye baby that ass is fine’” and she promptly stopped and screamed “TAKE ME NOW!” in response? It’s unheard of. But more importantly this behavior, no matter how you slice it, is harassment. Last year I lived in a beautiful area of New York in West Harlem. I was right on the river, with gorgeous pre-war buildings and a great view of Riverside Park. So naturally, I liked to take walks around the neighborhood on the weekends. But in order to do so, I had to arm myself with sunglasses, headphones and sometimes a book pressed to my nose. And still, despite my best efforts not to be disturbed, men of every age on every corner would make it their mission to try and get me to talk, smile or otherwise engage with them. Some seemed just content to yell at me in Spanish, English and then Spanglish (trying to find something that worked, I guess). My personal favorite is the guy who followed me halfway down the block, until I cursed him out. I guess he believed the violence in my eyes, because he backed off, finally. I grew so uncomfortable with these unwanted advances that I started avoiding certain streets and stopped taking walks just for leisure in my neighborhood. I adopted a quick no-nonsense walk to and from the subway and rarely stopped in between. And guess who lost out? Certainly not the losers who, I’m pretty sure, are standing on those same street corners as I write this. There is something seriously and culturally wrong when a man in his mid-50’s feels he has a right, nay a duty, to publicly and lewdly comment on a 23 year old girls’ body. He feels so entitled in sharing this disgusting opinion that he is perfectly comfortable following this girl around her neighborhood, despite her clear rebukes to his advances. For those of you still on the fence, let me clear this up for you- this behavior is not okay. It should not be taken as a compliment or brushed off. It should certainly not be acceptable behavior from anyone, at any age. People far smarter and more eloquent than me have written blogs and articles about the gender inequality inherent in this behavior and the underlying threat of rape. At the very least it is disrespectful, and at the very worst it’s assault. So this year, I’d like you all to join me in adopting a whole new philosophy on street harassment. It’s past time to fight back, and thankfully, we are not alone in this. From the greatest subway campaign Philadelphia has ever seen, to street art in New York, women (and men) everywhere are declaring that they have finally had enough. And it’s time for us to join them. A great beginners resource for fighting back is http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/. There are stories, ideas, and strategies on ways you can personally fight street harassment, including these four suggestions:
Strategies for assertively dealing with harassers, Reporting Street Harassers– For example- taking a picture of any offensive behavior, getting the police involved, etc, Bystanders should take action too! (supporting someone who is being harassed by helping them to fight back), Get creative! Making signs (pictured below), posting on social media, or wearing awesome t-shirts (pictured below).
Now I know some of you may be thinking this is a whole lot of effort and perhaps it would just be easier, and potentially safer, to ignore street harassers. After all, some guys may be bad, but the majority are probably just joking or having some fun. Assuming this is true, it’s all the more reason to end this behavior now. We must end it for every boy who witnesses his father, uncle or friend harassing a girl and decides this is a socially acceptable way to have fun. We must end it for every girl who will be exposed to street harassment starting at puberty and ending only at death. I for one will not be able to face them knowing we could do better, but didn’t. Quick guide to all the resources listed in this article: Articles: “Street Harassment Isn’t That Different From Rape” “A quick something on street harassment, rape culture, and the garment of destiny.” Campaigns Meet Us On The Street Faz street art IHollaback PHILLY stopstreetharassment.org Images Catcaller form Damn Boy T-shirt I was harassed right here- featured image