Have you ever been walking alone and heard a scream from a strange man? The scream is usually something sexual, “I’d hit that,” “Look at that ass,” or “Come to daddy” (all very original stuff).
That’s street harassment.
Street harassment also includes: flashing, groping, public masturbation, etc. Street harassment happens CONSTANTLY. Some people like to file these experiences away as boorish behavior by some dough-brain dude, but it is more than that. Street harassment is a form of intimidation used to exert power over women, especially members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups. It is unacceptable behavior that causes people to live in fear. How many times have you cut a run short because somebody followed you, said they were going to “give you what you need,” or some variant of those creepy-deepy behaviors? How many times have you flipped some dude off for shoving his tongue between his fingers and leering at you? I’ve lost count.
Like any other form of sexual violence or harassment, street harassment is never your fault. It isn’t something to shrug off as “men being men” or “the way things are.” Maybe street harassment is an issue facing us now, but it doesn’t have to be.
How do we stop street harassment?
The Hollaback movement is fighting back by sharing stories and pictures of street harassment on their various regional websites. People submit their experience and drop a pin on a map to document the threat. It’s a cool concept, and if it empowers women, I’m all about it. If you feel like “hollering-back,” that’s great, but keep your safety in mind.
If you feel that responding to threats will make them worse, don’t respond. It’s that simple. Whether or not you “fight back” to physical or verbal harassment is a personal judgment. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to respond. Note: I am not telling anybody how to react to harassment/violence/assault. I am telling you that your response is a valid one, because nothing warrants sexual harassment or violence.
The ultimate way to stop street harassment? Teach young people that yelling sexual demands to strangers is creepy (not to mention, no one in the history of sex has ever gotten laid by screaming “suck my dick” to a stranger. And that’s a fact.). Teach them that flashing their genitals to strangers is unacceptable, and while we’re at it, teach them that it is assault when you touch someone without their permission! You read that right, the same solution as always: education. We can end street harassment by teaching men and boys to stop engaging in street harassment. So if you can, tell your pals, your brothers, your uncles, and anyone else that’s willing to listen. Tell them that it is scary, and maybe they will think twice before whistling at some poor girl walking to her car.