Spring is here and street harassment kicks into a higher gear as women and men shed the winter jackets. Street harassment is defined any action or comment between strangers that is disrespectful. It may be unwelcoming or threatening and it is definitely harassment. Street harassment is an issue because it limits women’s actions in public spaces around the world.
One of the barriers to ending street harassment is society’s reluctance to admit that it is a problem. A contributing factor to this is attitudes are companies who, in the throes of capitalist logic, decide to trivialize street harassment. Recently a company called SkirtSports has come under criticism for their use of a campaign known as the “Skirt chaser 5k,” an event billed as a party that happens to have a 5k run in it. While not everyone takes issue with this event, many runners have spoken out against a campaign that trivializes real fears that women have faced while running.
This event has been added to a list on streetharassment.org as one of a number of companies who are trivializing street harassment. Holly Kearl of stopstreetharrassment.org maintains a list of companies who treat street harassment as a joke or a compliment. The site lists "current offenders" and "reformed offenders" as well as a breakdown of the advertising campaign, why each instance is problematic, and what a concerned person can do to take action against the trivialization of street harassment. The organizers for the Calgary event, Transrockies, responded to criticism of the event saying that they understand that the name “skirt chaser may have some connotations to a time when sexist behaviors were accepted by society,” but they fail to reflect on the reality that women have been sexually assaulted, abducted, and raped while running and the time that sexist behaviors were accepted by society has not passed.
However, there have already been positive results from the attention gathered by Kearl's website stopstreetharassment.org and companies have responded positively to the feedback that they have received as a result of the website. Yes-to-Carrots, a company that sells beauty products, had packaging that said, "Yes to whistling (and being whistled at)."
The company is based in the California Bay Area, where a study asked 54 women about their experience with street harassment and 100% of the sample had dealt with harassment at one time or another. They didn’t say yes to being whistled at. In January of this year, a woman was stabbed for ignoring a man who was harassing her in San Francisco. While not all forms of harassment end with such violence, it is worth considering that the flippant view of street harassment in society enables the entitlement of the harasser, and they are able to brush off their actions or justify them as compliments.
Street harassment and the trivialization of it by companies and individuals are complicit in making women aware that wherever they go they will be treated as sex objects. Even in sports like running, where many women train hard and are serious athletes, they will have their physical appearance praised above their abilities at best. At worst they face the risk of escalation when confronted by street harassment.