Thursday, 24 February 2011

It's Harassment.

c/o Ash Campaign
I HATE getting commented on/wolf whistled/beeped at by men in the street. It's been happening much more frequently in the last few days and it really winds me right up. And no, before any of you think 'how nice' it isn't, it's not flattering, it's not a self esteem boost, it's actually degrading, humiliating and actually quite intimidating.

It is almost always groups of men/boys, they seem to silently dare each other to see who can say something to the random girl walking by.

"Hey Hot Stuff"
"Looking Good"
"Ooh I'd like to tap sum of that"
"How are you doing pretty thing?'
"Look at the arse on that"

Totally unsolicited, totally unappreciated. It makes me feel incredibly vunerable and insanely angry. I wish I could tell them to 'sod off' but for fear of provoking something violent I don't, I walk to the station/shop etc with my head firmly down for fear of encouraging comments with accidental eye contact.

I am not a girl who totters about in the highest of heels and the shortest of skirts but even if I were, nobody deserves to be commented on like a piece of meat.

Maybe some girls respond positively to it but I don't need validation from a pack of leering blokes trying to impress each other with artless bravado.  Do any of them ever imagine that a girl is going to stop in her tracks, turn around and give out her number, immediately ask them how far their flat is, tell them they are the one and they have never felt such strong attraction towards anyone before, they must have them right here, right now?

It is actually called street harassment and there are many groups trying to do something to discourage it, whether that be by education, encouraging women to speak out or passing laws.

"Because of street harassment, from a young age women learn that public spaces are male territory," Kearl said. "They learn to limit the places they go, they try not to be in public alone — especially at night — and when they are alone, they stay on guard."
Lawmakers Probe Street Harassment of NYC Women, Associated Press 

The end of street harassment

The movement to stop street harassment is growing fast, reports Rosie Swash
    Last month, a group of lads chased me down the street making kissing noises. They were "only having a laugh", they said afterwards, which somehow didn't make me feel much better. Around the same time, a friend was getting off a bus during rush hour when she felt a hard slap on her bottom, and looked around to see a man grinning at her. Almost every woman I know has stories of wolf whistles, catcalls and unwanted propositions whispered in their ear, and street harassment can often feel inescapable – especially come summer. Sometimes the attention is distinctly sinister. "I'm usually a jeans-and-trainers kind of girl," says Sarah Francis, "but a couple of weeks ago, well into the hot weather, I finally buckled and put on a dress." Shortly after leaving her house, Sarah realised a man was following her, making crude remarks. When she didn't respond, he started kicking her feet. "Suddenly I felt a terrible pain on the back of my head, and when I turned around I saw he was throwing stones at me." Sarah ducked into the nearest open doorway, her leg bleeding, and two builders helped her out. The violence she suffered was clearly more extreme than the average street harassment, but her feelings will be depressingly familiar to many women. "I was shaking and scared," she says, "and I felt angry that he had intimidated me." Emily May, founder of the anti-street harassment website, says women regularly express these sentiments when visiting the New York-based site. HollaBack offers people the chance to upload pictures of their harassers, with a description of what happened – often a woman will just post a few lines explaining where she was when someone walked up and said: "I want to fuck you." The response from fellow readers is always supportive. "Women tend to just brush off the odd nasty comment or quick grope," says May, "but the goal of HollaBack is to externalise an experience which can make women feel ashamed, intimidated or depressed." There are HollaBack websites for Mauritius, Chicago and Toronto, and a UK site has just been started by 22-year-old Julia Gray. "The site gives women an outlet for their frustration," says Gray, "and promotes recognition that this is a widespread problem." Both Gray and May feel that the anti-street harassment movement is gaining momentum fast. One woman who felt compelled to act is 25-year-old Vicky Simister, a financial analyst, who has found street harassment particularly problematic since moving from Ireland to London for work. "I was walking down a busy road in the middle of winter," she says, "wearing a huge jacket, when these two guys slowed their car down to pay me 'compliments' about my appearance. This escalated into sexual comments. I eventually lashed out in frustration, and they got out of their car and ran after me, physically assaulting me. The police were called, but I wasn't happy with their response. One said: 'They said they were following you, but only to say nice things.'" After this, Vicky set up the London Anti-Street Harassment campaign (Lash), to lobby MPs and journalists, and begin a serious debate. "I want women to put their hands up and say: 'We don't want to be treated like this,'" she says, "and I want men to realise the impact their words and actions have." It's often suggested that street harassment is inevitable. But, as May says, while it might not be considered "as serious as domestic violence or sexual assault, street harassment is on the same spectrum of violence against women." The fact that it is so often just accepted by people suggests women's bodies are still considered public property – an attitude the anti-street harassment movement aims to change.
 - Rosie Swash, The Guardian, Friday 20 August 2010
There are some strategies here to deal with it and try to help stop it.  These points I thought were particularly interesting.

  1. Tweet street harassment stories on Twitter. Add @catcalled #hbnyc or #streetharassment to your post and it will be added to @Catcalled, @HollaBackNYC, or @StopStHarassmnt’s respective thread of harassment stories. Keep your own log of harassment experiences the way @streetharassmnt does.

  2. Put up anti-street harassment fliers, posters or signs (click on link for street signs) or hand out anti-street harassment fliers. Here's another example of a street harassment poster.

  3. Write and submit an article or op-ed about street harassment to a magazine or newspaper.

  4. Start mapping where you are harassed (google earth offers a free tool to do so with a tutorial) or contribute your story to someone who has a map to help visually show its volume. If there are patterns about where it occurs, then you can ask the police or a local business to help intervene in that area.

  5. If you are in a position of mentoring (as a family member, teacher, or friend) educate boys not to speak with disrespect to women and empower girls to stand up for themselves and challenge disrespectful behavior.

I wonder if men know how intimidating and enraging it is, maybe it does come down to educating them that it just makes women feel objectified and vulnerable on their own streets. I'd like to think that many of them, on discovering that, would stop.

"A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
Albert Einstein

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