The Power of Power

Erik Kondo runs a nonprofit called NOT-ME!. He is a tremendous ally in the movement to end street harassment and recently developed this blog, loaded with resources on how to deal with street harassment. He also sent us the following story where he describes the harassment he receives because of his disability. Although we primarily focus on sexual harassment, this story is a powerful reminder that harassment is about power, in its many, many forms. Whether that is power related to your gender, your race, your class, your abilities, your weight, your age, or whatever, it’s still about power.
Here’s Erik’s story:
Yesterday I went for a short bike ride. I ride a two-wheeled handed cycle that is the height of a standard recumbent bicycle. During that period of time, I received three unsolicited comments:
1. A middle aged women in a car on her phone yelled at me as I rode by “GET A FLAG!!!”
2. A male biker said “That looks hard.”
3. Some kids yelled “Wow, cool bike.”
My responses were as follows:
1. The Finger
2. “It’s not, really”
3. A wave
Here is my point, regardless of whether or not I should have a flag on my bicycle: it is DISRESPECTFUL to yell at me. And I don’t like it. And I don’t care or want to hear the driver’s opinion even if it is good advice. It is OBNOXIOUS AND RUDE to make unsolicited comments to people you don’t know.
The 2nd issue is WHY this woman choose to yell at ME. I don’t believe that this woman yells at all men on recumbent bicycles. She was comfortable yelling at me because she saw it was a handcycle and therefore, I was not threatening to her. So she yelled.
What I am getting at is this issue of disrespect is something that most men can relate to. They get it. They know when someone is doing it to them. You want to get men to understand that unsolicited comments to women that they don’t know, regardless of whether they are complimentary or not, is disrespectful and inappropriate behavior. This is an effective strategy for going after the “Charmer Wannabe”-type harasser and the “Peacocking Showoff” [for definitions of these types of harassers and others, please see Erik’s work here]. Trying to paint these men as “sexual terrorists” will only alienate potential male allies.
From the male viewpoint, there is nothing more ego-inflating than a bunch of young women you don’t know publicly commenting on how good you look. In fact, I would say that for the average guy, a car load of women driving by hooting and hollering at him would be the highlight of his day/week/year. He would proudly tell all his male friends about it. But if he felt that the women were being disrespectful to him, he would be furious and embarrassed.
Therefore, I am saying that focusing on how SH makes women feel is much more powerful than focusing on the specifics of the behavior.
For creating SH-free zones, I suggest not trying to ban specific actions such as hooting & hollering. Make them DISRESPECT-free zones—or RESPECT zones—where any type of disrespectful behavior to girls and women is not tolerated.
Ever been shouted at like Erik for the way you look, the way you were dressed, or the way you were breathing? Help us give those wankers a real run for their money. Do it with $5.

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