Guest Post! We need to take street harassment seriously.

Today I am SUPER excited to feature a guest post from the brilliant Sarah, one of my most awesome former students and a kickass feminist.

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Sarah wrote this editorial for a New York Times contest, and as much as I’m a little bitter that she didn’t win, I’m glad that I can post it here for you. Click below for her article.

Eyes straight ahead. Hands at your sides. Walk straight ahead. Don’t look up. Don’t smile. Just walk.

If you’re a girl or a woman, and have ever walked by yourself somewhere in a densely populated area through a group of boys or men, chances are, you’ve subconsciously repeated these steps to yourself in your head. Chances are, you’ve felt the blood rush to your cheeks and your vision become foggy as you count the seconds, maybe even minutes, until the whistles, names, and so-called “compliments” cease.

On the surface, calling out to women on the street may seem like harmless flattery, and it may feel like that at first, as well. But, in a world where, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “street harassment is the most pervasive form of sexual violence for men and women in the U.S.” and where, according to a study by George Mason University, one in three women will be sexually abused in their lifetime, street harassment is the gateway drug in a society where sexual violence is normalized.

What are we teaching our brothers and sons when we tell them it’s okay to call out at girls like they’re objects for their pleasure? More importantly, what are we teaching our sisters and daughters when we tell them to expect such harassment, or when we tell them that it’s their own fault?

We’re teaching them that sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are okay.

Last March, artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh continued her anti-street calling art campaign through various Brooklyn neighborhoods, featuring portraits of women with messages like: “My name is not Baby,” “Women are not seeking your validation,” and “Stop telling women to smile.” Hoping to explain to men that street harassment “makes [a woman’s] body feel like it isn’t [hers,]” Fazlalizadeh has encountered some backlash, with one man stating that her campaign was “ridiculous,” because “a woman likes nothing more than being told she is beautiful.”

There’s nothing wrong with accepting and appreciating compliments from strangers when they’re given genuinely, but what many fail to realize is that there’s a difference between giving a compliment and purposefully making a woman feel uncomfortable and small in the presence of a man. Unfortunately, when a woman is approached in the street, it’s usually a result of the latter scenario.

Like many, I hope to be able to one day have children of my own. But, I refuse to pass on this normalization of harassment to the next generation. However, I can’t stop my daughters from being victims until I teach my sons not to victimize. The statistics are clear: it is imperative that we take action to put an end to street harassment.

A few guest post notes:

1. I will not tolerate meanness or trolling on guest posts. I’m not that bothered if you want to give me a hard time, but don’t mess with people I care about (and if you are writing a guest post for this blog, you are someone I care about)! Discussion and opposing perspectives are always welcome, as long as they’re respectful.

2. Opinions in guest posts are not necessarily those of I was a High School Feminist.

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11 responses to “Guest Post! We need to take street harassment seriously.

  1. I generally have avoided the worst of street-harassment though there have been occasional incidents. What I encounter on a more regular basis is what I think is a subtler version of the same issue. Outside of school and certain social situations, I would consider myself a rather shy person in public. It was when I started to pick up my head when I noticed that men some men seem rather shocked if you meet their gaze or if you just happen to be looking up and not with your gaze directed at the ground. Some guys will stare in a more openly hostile manner until you drop your gaze. I know it’s a minor thing but I find it unsettling.

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  2. Reblogged this on BroadBlogs and commented:
    Eyes straight ahead. Hands at your sides. Walk straight ahead. Don’t look up. Don’t smile. Just walk.

    If you’re a girl or a woman, and have ever walked by yourself somewhere in a densely populated area through a group of boys or men, chances are, you’ve subconsciously repeated these steps to yourself in your head. Chances are, you’ve felt the blood rush to your cheeks and your vision become foggy as you count the seconds, maybe even minutes, until the whistles, names, and so-called “compliments” cease.

    Excerpt from “We need to take street harassment seriously.” Read the rest here, (and vote on how you experience it):

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  3. “Eyes straight ahead. Hands at your sides. Walk straight ahead. Don’t look up. Don’t smile. Just walk.

    If you’re a girl or a woman, and have ever walked by yourself somewhere in a densely populated area through a group of boys or men, chances are, you’ve subconsciously repeated these steps to yourself in your head. Chances are, you’ve felt the blood rush to your cheeks and your vision become foggy as you count the seconds, maybe even minutes, until the whistles, names, and so-called “compliments” cease.”

    Wow, if women are experiencing these sort of psychosomatic symptoms from getting catcalled or wolf whistled, it’s more serious than I have ever thought. I voted as one of the Other in your poll, and said “As a woman, I haven’t experienced this enough to have an opinion on it.” Reading what another commenter, Cat, wrote actually gave me a possible explanation for this…I am a masculine-minded, feminine-bodied person, so despite the fact I look like a woman my body language is male. As in, I sit like a guy, lean like a guy, eat like a guy, etc. I don’t direct my eyes downward, and when I walk usually 1 hand is in my pocket and the other is just doing whatever.

    Perhaps such non-verbal signals prevent the majority of cis men from seeing me as an object to be scrutinized? I don’t know, just a thought.

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  4. this is so true!!! Men need to learn and show a good example of what is acceptable. It’s not okay to honk at me. You are a stranger. It’s not okay to wink at me. You are a stranger. It’s not okay to stare at me and make me feel uncomfortable when I am with my friends, in public. You are a stranger. It’s not okay if I say no when you ask me to dance to call me names. You are still a stranger. It’s my choice, my body. I should not have to feel uncomfortable and angry if I choose to wear a tank top at the grocery store, knowing full well some guy is going to do something that will make me feel uncomfortable. I am absolutely disgusted with how men in our society feel it is okay to act.

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  5. Not to mention sometimes the catcalling is anything but complimentary. Just imagine the kinds of comments you get from some guys for daring to go out in public while being fat and female – how *dare* you clutter up the dudebros’ view by showing your unf*ckable self. How dare you even exist at all…

    On a related point, the ‘Smile!’ thing also angers me. I’m very tempted to say “Dance!” in reply – they want me to smile, I expect them to entertain and give me a reason. Or simply say something to turn it horrible like “My father just died.” (These morons don’t need to know it was actually last year.)

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