Feminism | Posted by Amanda P on 06/29/2012

On Street Harassment

I vividly remember the first time I ever experienced street harassment. I was on my way to class and saw in the distance a group of young men drinking and carrying on in a very loud and obnoxious manner. A young woman, who was a great distance ahead of me, lowered her head, tightened the grip on her shoulder bag, and walked by as quickly as possible. As I approached, their attention quickly turned to me and they shouted, “HEY…HEY, YOU…HEY…!” Now, ladies and gentlemen, I could have easily lowered my head and just ignored these comments but it’s hardly in my nature not to respond to such idiocy. I didn’t even have to say anything — my mere middle finger in the air sent these three young men into frenzy. “Well, FUCK YOU BITCH! YOU LOOK FUCKING WEIRD ANYWAY!”

Now, I know that most of you reading this may be quick to point out that I did antagonize them, to which I would have to respond that I was walking down a public street on my way to class while these guys stood outside and very purposefully chose to yell at pedestrians. And because I didn’t welcome their attention—and actively rebelled against it — they felt it was perfectly acceptable to demean and insult me. I was:

1) A bitch because I stood up for myself and didn’t just passively walk by and ignore them and

2) Suddenly unattractive because I hadn’t catered to their ego.

If anyone was antagonized it was me.

Unfortunately, I live in a society that socializes most young men to expect young women to reciprocate their attention and if — the horror! — a young woman dares to question that expectation, she is suddenly deemed a ‘bitch’, ‘fat’, ‘ugly’ or a ‘freak’. Unfortunately, my experience is all too familiar for most young women. My personal experience, however, is relatively mild in comparison to some stories I’ve heard, including one in which a young man threatened the very life of the young woman who spoke out against his and his friends’ heckling.

This kind of behavior is absolutely inexcusable. Alcohol is often given as an excuse, yet I know plenty of fantastic men who can enjoy an adult beverage responsibly.

Now, some young men may say, “Well, I have nothing but positive (or no) feedback when I’ve hollered at a female.” To that I say it was the exception rather than the rule. Also, one must consider why a woman would respond that way, aside from just assuming that she likes it. A young woman may respond positively (or not at all) to your verbal advances because she’s thinking about her safety. Can you understand why a woman may feel it is in her best and safest interest to comply? To do otherwise is to risk even more verbal harassment and perhaps threats of violence. You are also thinking from a very privileged position that enables men to behave in such a manner with little to no direct consequences for their actions.

Some young women reading this may claim to like the attention. And to them I say you may feel that way, but I know I do not like that kind of attention and I’m willing to bet that the percentage of women that feel the same way I do is fairly high. Opening up a conversation with another human being with comments like, “HEY…HEY…YOU!” isn’t exactly the most flattering. Women are not inanimate objects to be yelled at or unnamed dogs to be called upon whenever a man thinks it is the appropriate time for them. Furthermore, I have every right to question this kind of behavior from men and should be able to do so without being insulted or having my life threatened. I can honestly say that the day I experienced what I did, I was genuinely afraid to walk back past that house for fear that the guys may begin to heckle me even more and or possibly approach me.

So, instead of just complaining, I’m going to propose a new alternative to street harassment: guys, if you find yourself wanting to holler at a young woman walking by you, I caution you to maybe, instead, wave at her and smile. If / when she acknowledges your presence, you can always open with, “Hey, how are you? What’s your name?” This at the very least shows that you recognize she has an individual identity because you’re starting with the very basic concept of her name. However, if waving and smiling doesn’t do the trick, don’t take it personally. It is okay if women do not acknowledge you. Yeah, it sucks. No one likes rejection, but just because it didn’t go the way you wish it had, it doesn’t mean there’s anything fundamentally wrong with anyone in the situation. There is absolutely no reason to demean and insult anyone because they don’t reciprocate your attention. This entire exchange is known as decent human behavior, and I think it’s something we should try to remember how to do.

And lastly, ladies, we have to stand up to against anything less than respect from men. If we accept disrespect, we’re just perpetuating the cycle that allows it to continue, making our ultimate goal of equality that much harder to achieve.

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  • Trevor Allen @ at 11:38 am, June 29th, 2012

    Amanda, great article! This is horrifying… I didn’t realize that this thing happened a lot in the States. I really have only seen this -and as a matter of race experienced this- in Latin America. It’s so sad that these people you are calling “men” -which really don’t deserve that title if this is how they treat women- feel entitlement to the reciprocation of interest. Thank you for the eye-opener.

  • Camille B @ at 4:56 pm, June 29th, 2012

    I completely agree with your opinion. We need to stand up for ourselves and then we will truly have equality.

  • MareikeS @ at 3:35 am, July 1st, 2012

    Great article! I totally agree. Just reading the beginning of your post, I got that sinking feeling I always get when I see a group of (young) men ahead of me on the street. I’m still working towards the courage to do more than just keeping a low profile.

  • James @ at 3:54 am, July 1st, 2012

    Why don’t women just talk to men? Oh wait, that’s a ‘man’s job,’ right? Equality’s a two way street, countless dudes I talk to say ‘hey, wouldn’t it be nice if a girl romanced me for a change?’ You just want the social advantages of traditional femininity with the financial advantages of ‘equality.’ A dude yells ‘hey,’ and that’s harassment? Find something real to complain about.

  • Anna @ at 4:13 pm, July 1st, 2012

    My “street harrassment” situation is kind’ve different, but when I read this article, I thought of it right away. So, I was out on a walk, and, of course, I had my cell and had it on. I was about one block past the pub when i noticed some college guys who had been previously standing just outside were following me. I’m actually not 100 percent sure that they were following my, but it was terrifying. They didn’t leave until I took out my cell and called my Dad asking him to pick me up. For a year afterward I was too scared to go on a walk by myself. That was a couple years ago so I was probably 12 or 13. And the one thing I remember the most is walking down the street, almost in tears, praying, “God, please protect me, please protect me,” over and over again.

  • Amanda A Paniagua @ at 10:21 am, July 2nd, 2012

    James, you’re arguing something completely different.

    Do women talk to men? OF COURSE THEY DO. Hell, the last guy I dated I walked up to at a coffee shop and asked about the book he was reading, chatted him up, gave him my phone number and we dated for almost two years!

    There is a HUGE difference from a woman walking up to (face to face) a man and introducing herself and a random dude from a porch yelling at random women that walk by on the street.

    “You just want the social advantages of traditional femininity with the financial advantages of ‘equality.’”

    What social advantages do you speak of? Please, enlighten me, because as far as I know being a woman in the twenty first century still means a decreased pay rate, the constant struggle of having to decide career over family and lack of adequate health services including but not limiting abortions.

    Did you read the last part of the article? There are OTHER ways to approach women without making them feel like dogs.

  • Allyssa @ at 12:55 pm, July 2nd, 2012

    @ James- Two words: Rape culture. And it’s prevalent in America.

  • Georgina @ at 8:01 am, July 5th, 2012

    James, are you seriously moaning that nobody ‘romances’ you on an article about street harassment? Yelling at a woman in the street is not ‘romancing’ them. It’s telling that woman that she is an object, and makes her feel unsafe and threatened. Not romanced in the slightest.

  • FemRage: Street Harassment | FemRage @ at 10:20 am, August 11th, 2012

    [...] wrote an article a month or so ago and in it I highlighted the tendency of some men to find it completely acceptable [...]

  • A Follow Up to Street Harassment (Trigger Warning) | FemRage @ at 10:11 am, December 3rd, 2012

    [...] past summer, I wrote on the topic of street harassment and highlighted my friends’ and I’s personal [...]

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