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BY YASHAR, cross posted from the current conscience
The other day, my friend Dina was talking about her experiences of being catcalled—street harassment is a more accurate term—while walking around the streets of New York.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard about the epidemic of street harassment. Many of my women friends have remarked about experiencing and dealing with this kind of harassment and how unsafe it makes them feel.
For Dina, one particular instance of harassment on the streets of New York was cemented in her memory. She was walking alone, during the day, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, when she heard a man taunt her, “Hey baby, you’re lookin’ good…”
“Don’t call me baby,” she responded.
He looked her up and down and said, “…fucking dyke.”
For the record, Dina is straight—not that it would have been okay if she weren’t.
This wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time Dina faces street harassment. She has been harassed in public places, and on a number of occasions, followed by men. Many studies indicate that almost 100 percent of women will face some sort of street harassment at one point in their lives.
Most men don’t even realize street harassment exists as a very real, serious problem. Yet, many women see this kind of harassment as part of daily life. For the few men who are aware of it, they assume the extent of street harassment is something akin to harmless, or at worst, annoying flirting, which still problematic if that attention is unwelcome.
The reality of street harassment is far worse than what most men think or believe. In cities large and small, women have to contend with comments that range from the mildly offensive to the disgusting. Beyond being verbally harassed, many women are followed and some women are even forced to deal with the same harasser on a daily basis. And for some women, this “harmless” harassment leads to assault.
But I realized, as Dina was telling me her story, that I have never actually been witness to the kind of street harassment my women friends tell me about. If a woman is walking down the street with me, other men generally won’t engage in any kind of harassing behavior towards her because street harassment, like all forms of harassment, is about attacking the vulnerable.
And despite what some readers of this column may think about my gender, I will never know what it feels like for a woman to walk down the street alone. How am I to fully relate to the pain, fear, and humiliation of street harassment when I have never witnessed its full form and lack the the personal experience of being harassed on the street?
Street harassment is simply one issue that plagues women in their everyday life. They are constantly barraged with discriminatory obstacles that we don’t even see as obstacles.
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