Note from Timaree: this is replay of the column from last year’s Anti Street Harassment Week!
As I biked down Broad Street, I saw a dude taking advantage of the disquietingly nice weather by jogging shirtless. And unlike the majority of shirtless men on Broad Street, this one was hot. We’re talking vampire movie hot. And there was a small part of my brain, likely tucked between the part that craves brownies and the part that wants to punch someone in the face, that thought, “I should totally whistle at him.”
For that moment, I fully empathized with the cat-callers who have plagued my daily commute since moving to the East Coast. It would have been pure admiration, a compliment even, that I intended for this guy: a sort of “keep up the good work” that I never would have said to him had we not both been heading rapidly in opposite directions.
So I get it. When women talk about street harassment and a man responds with incredulity, or a devil’s advocate position implying we ought to take it as flattery, I get it.
THAT’S SWELL, BUT…
But you know what happened right after the “I ought to whistle” moment as I passed that chiseled specimen? My frontal lobe kicked in and reminded me, “No, that’s really rude actually.” Yeah, he might enjoy it. And he also might enjoy it if someone wearing a latex suit pulled down his pants, spanked him with an open palm and called him a “filthy little boy” but that’s not for you to just TRY and hope for the best.
And the reason someone might feel entitled to go ahead and take those liberties with females is that they feel the price of accidentally insulting a woman is negligible. It doesn’t matter if a woman is startled, annoyed, offended or scared because they are perceived as being non-threatening and lower in status. Just as property crime is committed on targets that appear vulnerable, harassment is committed against people who are perceived as less empowered. So committing the act of harassment is, in essence, informing the person you perceive them as lacking in power….or at the minimum, lacking the ability to respond with an overhand right to the eye socket.
NO, BUT REALLY, YOU FIND IT A LITTLE FLATTERING, RIGHT?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but the days of finding that flattering are just long gone.
There was a novelty to it, at first, when i moved from the Midwest where it rarely happens (because not only does everyone know everyone but we’re all just passing each other in cars). I had long heard of other girls complaining about it without it happening to me, so I assumed it was some kind of compliment back then. And again, for some of the people who randomly honk and yell as a females passes, they think that’s what they’re doing.
But it goes from flattery to intimidation really quickly. It can be just startling sometimes. I almost get into accidents because someone suddenly yells at me and I don’t know if it’s because there’s a car about hit me or someone just likes red hair. And my reaction is just “fuck you, you fucking fuck” for making me feel like a skittish cat.
And then there are the cases that happen late at night, where someone drives right next to me, slowly, saying weird stuff out the window. I had a car with a couple dudes do that after the bars let out. They then slowed down to follow behind me (making every random turn I took) until I headed the wrong way down a one-way to ditch them. They laughed, almost cartoonishly, delighted in my freak out, like a couple of 8th grade bullies.
The thing about where this cat calling happens is: there are also random crimes of violence. And I don’t know if this dude is just old-school douchebag or one of those guys who thinks it would be a thrill to rape and kill a woman. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but a few weeks ago, the number of murders in Philly in 2012 was higher than the number of days that had happened. I have personally known women who were raped and killed in this city for the crime of being alone at night.
“RED,” “GIRL,” AND OTHER MONOSYLLABIC COMPLIMENTS
And aside from the fact that I have to be perpetually on guard (I eschew the luxury of listening to headphones, for instance), it’s also just obviously sexist (and not complimentary) the vast majority of the time. There’s an element of entitlement. Some dudes get mad if they ignored, because they think that since they paid this HUGE compliment of showing interest that they are owed conversation, a phone number, or something. The phrase “hey, baby” can often be quickly followed by a “fuck you, bitch” without even a hint of irony.
If it were actually a compliment, then “job creators” in really nice suits would get cat-called by young men who admire them. If it were about flattery, guys wouldn’t do it (or mocking variations of it) to intimidate other men. Think about every First Day of Prison scene in movies. Inmates don’t make kissy faces as a sign of reverential regard. It’s a show of intent to dominate sexually.
ANTI-STREET HARASSMENT WEEK
- At bare minimum, don’t diminish the anti-harassment movement or argue with someone who tells you that they have been harassed or intimidated. If you are lucky enough to live without this threat, it doesn’t make it any less real for others.
- If you observe street harassment, call it out. Respond to your friends with a “seriously, dude? I can’t take you anywhere.” Or tell a stranger, “Hey, cool it. You’re making us all look bad.”
- Share awareness of the issue with others
- Be aware that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly. In fact: the opposite. Friendly smiles and polite conversation are not the same thing and should be cultivated. By building a sense of community, we combat both the real threat and the perception of danger, making it easier for everyone.