I’m mad. I hate being mad, but here it is.
I’m sure by now you have all seen the 2-minute Hollaback Street Harassment video of a number of street harassment experiences of a woman who spends 10 hours walking the streets of New York. If not, click here.
It has certainly brought street harassment into the spotlight.
The point of the video was to show what street harassment is and to let men know that, hey, by the way, not all woman like someone shouting ‘hi beautiful’ at them in the street. Or even ‘have a nice day’. It may seem harmless to some but what they may not know is that it makes many women uncomfortable and even afraid. The point of the video was to bring awareness to the fact and maybe encourage men to think “oh, maybe I shouldn’t shout at women in the street”.
But judging by the reactions that I’ve seen on twitter and facebook, it seems that in an attempt to inform men about what makes many of us feel unsafe, we’ve managed to trample on men’s fundamental right objectify women. They’re in an uproar that they can’t “be friendly” to women on the street. And of course the woman in the video is a bitch for completely ignoring the men who harassed her.
Here’s the thing: there is a vast difference between a courteous hello to a passerby and street harassment and when you’ve experienced street harassment you know that the intention is anything but courteous.
I live in a small city now. In fact, I live in an even smaller town butting up next to a small city. When I walk down the sidewalks or parks I am overwhelmingly pleasant and the people I encounter tend to be neighbours. I catch people’s eyes and say hello. Sometimes I even mutter something about the weather. I almost never feel like I’ve been harassed or objectified. I almost never feel like I need to walk away quickly or pretend like I never heard what people say.
Things were vastly different when I lived in a big city and my main form of transportation was my own two feet. All the hi there‘s and have a nice day‘s and smile!‘s did not feel like pleasant interactions between two civilized individuals. Their intention was clear and they felt like harassment. The words were often spoken with an appraising gaze (or stare), a rubberneck, and a tone that implied “I think you’re sexy and I have a right to say so”.
Sometimes I found it funny, other times annoying, but overwhelming I felt uncomfortable. And I’m not a person who is easily unnerved.
I quickly learned that the best way to handle these interactions was to completely ignore the men. Responding with pleasantries resulted in unwanted conversation with the catcaller that made me even more uncomfortable. Responding with an angry glare or comment resulted in unwanted confrontation that made me feel even less safe. Pretending that I didn’t hear or see anything was the only option.
That is the whole point that this video is addressing. Women want to feel safe and comfortable walking down the street and you’re making this hard for many of us. We’re suggesting that this isn’t the best way to interact with women in the street. We’re telling you, blatantly, that we don’t like this. Please stop.
If you really do have the best of intentions when you shout “hey beautiful” at a woman in the street then you’ll respect that it’s not always well received. You’ll understand that your right to make those remarks should not trump her right to feel safe. You’ll respect what you’ve just learned. You’ll stop.
While I’m mad that many men are responding so harshly to this video my heart is uplifted by all the men who have had positive response to it. You are our advocates and we desperately need you. We’re trying our hardest to make all men understand what we’re going through with street harassment and all forms of harassment and objectification but we need men on our side to help us make the message clear. If men tell other men it’s not okay, maybe they’ll listen.
Please share this with those who feel that the street harassment video is “an attack on masculinity”, or represents women’s “irrational fears”, or showed men who were “just being nice”.
And also share this:
America’s catcalling madness – from Salon
[Potential street harassment is] always context specific, which is something that a lot of men who are mad right now don’t seem to get. Women know the difference.
For someone to argue about the relative threat level of the words themselves is to completely signify a lack of understanding about where the real perceived threat comes from. In other words, if you tell a woman that an act of “harassing” wasn’t, in fact, “harassment”, all you’re saying is: “I don’t understand anything about the experience of living your life.”