Post by Sidney W.
Featured Image by Emily May
Picture this: It’s late August and you’re at the beach with your friends, enjoying the last couple days of summer. Everything’s going great until out of nowhere a boy yells at you: “Hey! You’ve got a nice fat-” Looking back on that moment there’s so many things you could’ve said. You could’ve yelled back, threw some curse words. But you didn’t, you put your head down and walked faster. What could you have said to them? They wouldn’t have taken you seriously. You’d be laughed at. You walked away feeling violated and embarrassed. And maybe it was meant to be a compliment, but that’s not what it felt like. It created a huge feeling of unwanted vulnerability. That’s what it’s like almost everyday for a large majority of girls and women everywhere.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
In it’s definition of street harassment, the organization Stop Street Harassment includes “whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, and rape.” In 2008, a survey of 811 women done by the organization Stop Street Harassment found that 99% of the women surveyed had faced some sort of street harassment and over 75% had been followed by a man they didn’t know. Over 50% had been sexually touched and 25% had been assaulted. In 2014, the same study was taken with 2,000 women and over 65% of them had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Statistics don’t tell the whole story though, what they don’t tell is how violating and degrading cat calls and sexual harassment can be.
Image by Emily May
What It Does To Women
Cat calling and sexual harassment can be one of the most publically humiliating experiences of someone’s life. Not only is it an extremely vulgar thing to be put through, but many women are made to feel like it was their fault and that they were over reacting. Brittney Gilbert, a woman who tried to report her assault on public transport told CNN, “My experience […] was disappointing and surprising. I didn’t expect anyone to give me a hug but I was just surprised at how difficult it was to file a report. [The policeman] didn’t say to me ‘You can’t file a report,’ he just kept questioning if that’s what I wanted to do.” This act of questioning her intentions creates self doubt and makes them feel as if they shouldn’t be talking about their own experiences. One woman describes sexual harassment as the feeling of “your existence [being] violated.”
Another woman said she felt “degraded, disgusted, and unsafe” after being harassed nearly everyday on her way to work. It’s gotten to the point where women are afraid to tell people because “they might laugh or refuse to do anything, and so add further to [their] humiliation.” Women are now so afraid of someone’s response they won’t even report sexual harassment. They’ve stopped reporting an actual violation of their body and safety.
The daily experience of lewd staring and men shoving their genitals in her face made a woman say that she: “felt like a sex object and […] felt disrespected.” It also made her feel “as though there’s nothing [she] could do about it,” saying she “felt powerless.” Sexual harassment hurts women’s safety and their own comfort in their bodies. Sexual harassment tells women they aren’t allowed to have control over themselves and that others have a say in what happens to them.
The Dire Consequences
So the question being asked right now is probably, “Why don’t they fight back?” and, “Why don’t they just stand up for themselves?” Well the frank answer is that many times fighting back can lead to even worse things like rape and even death. In 2013, after a 14 year old girl refused a man’s payment in exchange for sex, he kidnapped her then ran her over repeatedly with his car. That same year, a woman named Jackie Monney was hit by a car after refusing a ride home. After the first hit, the driver turned around and hit her again, dragging her body with the car.
Another woman in Georgia was sexually assaulted by three men after ignoring their shouting and vulgar remarks. In October, 2014, Mary Spears was shot twice in the head and killed by a man for refusing to give him her number. Her fiance and four other family members were also shot. Cat calling and street harassment can be a terrifying experience for women because they never know if they’ll become the next woman on a missing poster or the next victim on the news. Everyday women are faced with responding to a normalized possibly life threatening interaction and yet they’re supposed to accept it as though it’s perfectly okay.
So Why Do People Sexually Harass?
Sexual harassment and assault is usually a way of showing dominance and power. It’s a man (usually) saying he has control over a woman’s body and he can do whatever he wants with it. Ms Magazine calls it a “form of entitlement” and further describes it as “the (primarily) male street harassers believe they have the right to access girls’ and women’s bodies. They feel they can say and do whatever they want, and if women don’t comply, well, then they’re a bitch or ugly, and the men may feel justified in grabbing them, throwing trash at them, assaulting them or running them over.”
The Economist calls it a “form of intimidation” and that it treats women as “sexual prey.” Another reason people sexually harass is because our society has made it a normalized, common thing to do. There really aren’t major consequences to doing it so why not? They get away with it anyways!
Image by Hossam el-Hamalawy
Why We Shouldn’t Harass Women On The Streets
Other than the fact that street harassment is completely unnecessary, there is many reasons to simply not harass other human beings. Maybe there aren’t usually consequences to the harassers, but there are to the victims. Time Magazine’s Ashley Ross said, “To legitimize catcalling is to give voice to those who don’t deserve it: the man who told me he wanted to perform oral sex on me, the man who said he wanted it the other way around and the man who said he could have me if he wanted me. Instead of empowering all women, you empower the man who grabbed my dress in the East Village, who licked his lips and looked me up and down.” Sexual harassment and cat calling objectifies and degrades women. We need to bring to light how terrible and scarring this is. It’s happening to not only women but also young girls worldwide.
One woman told the Stop Street Harassment organization, “ We as a society can and should change this culture that we promote and live in. It should not be up to the victims to change their lives and patterns to make harassers comfortable. This is not a problem that should be ignored. Women and girls should not have to be confined in their homes just so they avoid getting harassed because that is not fair, and that is what’s being promoted by blaming the victims of street harassment.”
A very nice description of what cat calling and harassment is to women is displayed in this debate from CNN over cat calling and this video of a woman’s experience of walking the streets of New York. The woman from the CNN video, Amanda Seales, makes an excellent point when she talks about how we should be focusing more on stopping street harassment because so many women have been vocal on how uncomfortable it makes them. We should be focused on what we can do to make women more comfortable in their daily lives and in things like their commute to work so they don’t feel so unsafe and vulnerable. The most important thing to understand is that cat calls and sexual harassment are not compliments. The idea that they are is very harmful to women everywhere because what they really are, are potential threats. They make women uncomfortable and unsafe. Who knows what a derogatory comment will lead to? When a woman is yelled at on the street, a million ideas of being murdered and raped run through her head. Instead of focusing on what the woman can do to prevent harassment, we should be focusing on how to teach the assailants how to respect other human beings.