Why Street Harassment is Definitely Not OK

Happy International Anti-Street Harassment Week! Through March 18-24, communities are coming together to speak out against the social acceptance of gender-based street harassment. It is pretty obvious what street harassment is. It can range from inappropriately long stares to catcalls to outright physical and sexual violence. All of these instances contribute to making the streets unsafe and upholding gender inequality.

This campaign is the product of the Stop Street Harassment website and blog, which were founded by Holly Kearl, along with the participation of various organizations across the globe. This informative site hosts many resources regarding street harassment and ways that we can proactively fight against it including a list of assertive responses one can use when harassed on the street. The site also features men who are blogging, intervening, and speaking out against street harassment. I really encourage you to check out some of the amazing things that are being done.

The movement has already had many successes. Last year, Safe Delhi organized a march for Anti-Street Harassment Day that had over 600 attendees including the participation of local police enforcement. Many countries, including Canada, Afghanistan, Argentina, and Belgium have upcoming events for the week.

International Anti-Street Harassment Week has inspired this YouTube video, in the Sh*t ___ Say style, showing men’s responses (or rather what their responses should be) to men who say sh*t to women on the street:



While a bit redundant, the video is a great step towards ending street harassment. If women address harassment and recognize it as such, they are seen as being too sensitive or instead blamed for ‘soliciting’ the attention. Men need to be more involved in this movement; maybe their voices can bring the needed awareness to how this every day act is actually oppressive. The extent that street harassment has been normalized in our society is completely disheartening and I am glad that there are people, both men and women, who are addressing the issue as a collective group.

I have had people point out to me that street harassers are not only men, women do it too, which is true. Yet the major differences are that: 1) The extent to which women are harassed on the street is much greater than that of straight men; and 2) Street harassment is only one form of the large-scale subjugation of women in our society and representative of the unequal power dynamics between men and women.

It should not be OK for anyone to be sexually harassed. Street harassment is not the same as flirting; it should not be the way you try and get your next hook-up or boyfriend. I mean, does it even work? I should not have to feel uncomfortable or automatically put my guard up when I pass a group of guys on the street and you shouldn’t want your sisters or mothers to have to go through that either -- and trust me, they have on many occasions.

The psychological effects of street harassment have yet to be studied. I’m sure that it would be difficult to get conclusive results anyway but I fear the negative effects street harassment can have on a young girl’s confidence or image of herself. Women should not need, and men should not assume that women need, their verbal approval on the street.

Street harassment is a manifestation of our patriarchal society. It is only one of the many ways that  women are sexually subjugated every single day. Movements like this bring awareness to the issues of street harassment but we need policymakers to continue the work. The path for effective anti-street harassment legislation will be a difficult one; it will be hard to set clear, distinct, and fair criteria and punishments, but I strongly believe that it is necessary to try.

Photo Credit: meetusonthestreet.org

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Justine Gonzalez

Justine Gonzalez is currently pursuing her masters degree in Urban Policy from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. She has her BA in Sociology and Spanish from Smith College. While at Smith, she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow which allowed her to do independent research on the relationship between race, nation building policies and education. Justine is currently living in New York City where she was born and raised. Her interests range from immigration policy, social justice, race, class and gender inequality.

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