My week of logging all incidents of street harassment has come to a close. This was an interesting experiment. I have to admit that when I was walking around, I would instantly remember the journal, then become hyper-aware of my surroundings and – just truth-telling here – almost eagerly await any harassment so I could document it. This is not how I typically behave when strolling the streets of my city. Admittedly, I’m glad I was often disappointed at how little I had to record.
So, just how much harassment did I experience? A total of 4 incidents. All were at night, and all were in my neighborhood or close by. They were things like, “Hey!” accompanied by ogling, or a guy driving by and honking to get my attention, then waving and “nodding approvingly.” Things that were largely annoying. Fortunately, there was no physical contact or aggression.
This week made me was realize how little I know about street harassment. For instance, is 4 instances of being harassed in a week really considered a low amount? Does it depend on severity of harassment? I have no idea what is considered a normal amount, or how much other women experience it, so maybe 4 is high. I consider it low largely because the experiences didn’t scare me or cause me to change my behavior in any way, so I was able to quickly brush them off. Had I experienced 4 incidents of being groped, or something worse, I think that number would seem a lot higher.
Honestly, for some of the things I recorded, I even wondered whether I should record it at all. Is a smile that’s a little too eager and clearly not a simple “hello” actual harassment? The deciding factor I used was this: If it were up to me to determine how this walk would go, would I want this to happen? If my answer was no, that I would prefer it didn’t happen at all, then I considered it harassment. No one made me feel afraid or unsafe, but I did receive unwanted attention.
In case you are wondering what the definition of street harassment is, the website StopStreetHarassment.org offers its own definition as well as some others:
Stop Street Harassment’s definition:
Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.
Micaela di Leonardo, author of “Political Economy of Street Harassment” (1981):
“Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women… in a public place which is not the women’s worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures, the man asserts his right to intrude on the women’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.”
Jessica Valenti, author of He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know(2008) and executive editor of Feministing.com:
“While I’ve heard the argument that street harassment is actually a compliment – you know, because we’re supposed to be flattered that strange men are screaming at us about our asses – it’s really a super-insidious form of sexism. Because not only do perfect strangers think that it’s appropriate to be sexual toward any woman they want, but street harassment is also predicated on the idea that you’re allowed to say anything to women that you want – anytime, anywhere.”
The fact that I wondered whether to record some of my experiences, when they meet the definitions provided by Stop Street Harassment (there are more too) kind of worries me. Have I become so accustomed to street harassment that only the really scary stuff, and the following and the loud and obnoxious stuff, registers any more? Have I developed a tolerance for street harassment? Do other women do this too? And if so, how much of it is a survival tactic, and how much of it is being too tolerant?
From what I’ve read recently, street harassment is all too common. The positive part of this is that a lot of women, and allies, are speaking up. As I mentioned in my last post, I typically don’t, but I may start. It makes me uncomfortable to even think about having to talk back, but really, it’s the better way to go. Street harassment won’t stop by people keeping silent.
If you experience street harassment, you can log it at Hollaback DC (other cities have Hollabacks too). Stop Street Harassment also has a lot of resources, including advice on reporting and how to respond.
Also, I’d like to give a quick kudos to The 42 blog for its post on street harassment. Thank you.