Street harassment: it’s not a gender thing it’s a jackass thing
Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
So there’s a video that is being watched on the internet these days…
And there is, as is the case any time one video identifies one gender over another and pokes fun of the chauvinistic actions of a portion of that gender’s members, outrage. Some of the thought behind the outrage in this case is that this is man-hating and hating men doesn’t help anyone because not all men act like this.
There’s a difference though, between hating men and hating jackasses and from what I can gather having watched this video a number of times, it calls on the latter group, not the former. Not all men are jackasses, but as pointed out in this video, the ones who think it’s appropriate to harass a woman walking by them—whether they yell “smile more,” or “your tits look awesome in that dress,” are jackasses. All of them, no grey area.
So, man who doesn’t harass women in the street=possibly not an a jackass. Man who harasses women in the street=jackass. Yes, women can be jackasses too, women can harass other women, women can harass men, men can harass men. They’re all jackasses, not just the men who harass women. They’re all making other people feel uncomfortable for their own gain—whatever that gain is.
Reading through many of the comments on the various sites that have shared this video has centred around what constitutes street harassment.
Well, Huffington Post, around the time the video came out shared their own tales of street harassment with their 21 Pictures that Prove The Sidewalk is a Hostile Place for Women. This story does a great job of filling in the blanks between what thoughts might be going through a man’s mind as he makes the decision to street harass a woman (as shown in the Buzzfeed video) and what words are actually coming out of their mouths.
At first glance, it might appear as though statements like “can I put my dick in your a*ss?” are on a different level than ones like “smile.” That the suggestion of a smile is just being nice to someone—paying them a compliment. But then you realize that all these women have identified feeling uncomfortable having had strangers say this to them—meaning they’ve all been harassed. And in zero per cent of cases, harassment is ok.
And that’s one of the problems, in the case of street harassment at least. That people try to explain away the problem as “it’s just a compliment, relax and get on with your day.” Seriously, some people truly believe that giving unsolicited comments to someone on their physical appearance is considered complimentary.
These comments appear almost everywhere the video has been posted. Comments like this one from the Huffington Post version:
Don’t read too much into it. It just means that they think you are hot. Give them a smile and a wave. Take it as a compliment and go on with your day.
So how does one go about defending a statement that someone else has identified as harassment? How does a man read that women feel threatened by these comments and want to defend the people speaking them just because they also have a penis?
It’s also possible that some men who have never experienced street harassment (like me that I can recall) and don’t street harass themselves can go forever without seeing an example of it. But this isn’t a case of seeing is believing. “I just don’t see street harassment happening,” isn’t the same as trying to explain to your kids the existence of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. Women see this every day whether we do or not. We don’t need them to prove it to us, we need to listen and do what we can to make sure it doesn’t continue.
One of the statements in the video references that they don’t have a sister so they have no idea how offensive the comments are. That’s the only one I felt was a little slanderous because all men, whether they have had a sister or not should be able to piece together that a woman is a human and that that alone should be reason enough to understand they don’t deserve harassment. It’s like dads to daughters like myself. It shouldn’t take having a female that you care for to realize that females shouldn’t be treated differently.
I’ve never been on the receiving end of street harassment so I can’t be sure how I’d react, but I can tell you that if a group of guys I was walking by started commenting on my physical appearance, I wouldn’t just “take it as a compliment and go on with my day.” I’d feel upset, or intimidated or like I had to get away from them as fast as I can.
My wife on the other hand is a woman, so I asked her what a woman thinks about being told to smile or that their tits look great in that red dress:
Catcalls aren’t compliments. They are pretty strong messages for women. Be pretty. Be sweet. Be submissive. Be grateful that I’ve even looked at you. And sometimes, the message is to be afraid. Sometimes catcalls are very real threats to personal safety.
It’s a pretty contradictory message we’re sending women and girls, here. On one hand, protect yourself, don’t get raped, and for God’s sake, don’t be a damn statistic. But on the other hand, lighten up! Be pretty. Smile. Come talk to me.
I can tell you that I’ve been catcalled. I’ve been yelled at, whistled at, woofed at, honked at, had sexual gestures made at me, sworn at, and more than once, followed. And it’s never a compliment.
I don’t think the issue lies with finding another human being physically attractive. I personally have seen many other humans, both men and women while walking down the street, and have thought them to be physically attractive. The issue lies in thinking finding someone attractive gives you the right to vocalize to them just how attractive (or unattractive) you think they are.
Hollaback!, an organization who’s vision is “a world where street harassment is not tolerated and where we all enjoy equal access to public spaces,” has a great list of myths surrounding street harassment. Some that stuck out to me included:
Myth #3: It’s only a harmless compliment/flirting.
Myth #4: That’s just how men are. Deal with it.
Myth #5: Street harassment is fine as long as the harasser is hot.
Myth #7: Look at what she’s wearing! If you get harassed, it’s because you were asking for it.
Myth #9: Anyone who complains about street harassment is a man-hating, bra-burning psychofeminazi who hates freedom/needs a boyfriend/needs sex to loosen up/ugly.
Myth #10: As long at it’s not violent, it’s not harmful.
I strongly suggest you read through more of the information on street harassment that they provide both as an international organization and one that is run within cities around the world. And to further prove that being a man doesn’t mean you have to defend men who treat women this way, it says right within one of their myths (the That’s Just How Men Are, Deal With It one) that “Hollaback! was founded by three men (and four women), a third of our board is men, and half our donors are men.”
So, they’re the experts and for research and activism and reading about people sharing their stories about sexual harassment, I’d start there. But for tips on what to do when you come across another human being walking down the street and you have an urge to speak to them, I have a system of my own to help you out if you’re son inclined:
Spot the person walking.
Think of what you’d like to say to that person. Get your sentence (or phrase or paragraph) perfect.
Smile because humans all need more smiles and say “hi,” not the long sentence you had perfected.
Did they say “hi,” back? Did they engage in discussion? Yes? That’s wonderful, maybe they do want to talk. No? Then…
Keep walking, or waiting for your bus or buying a poutine at the food truck stand or whatever it was you were doing in the streets.
It’s important to know that most men do not street harass. That most men are good people who understand street harassment is degrading in all forms. This isn’t a men are the worst issue, it’s a people who are bad people issue.