think about it
Your cart is empty
Visit The Shop

Street harassment


Hey, baby, what’s your name? You’re looking fine. Show us your tits. Look at those legs. Look at that arse. Its ok, honey, there’s more of you to love.

Street harassment. Something I’m sure the vast majority of females have experienced at one time or another in their lives. The most distinctive time I can remember was when I was thirteen. I was all dressed up to go to the movies with friends and walked past some men at the train station. I could feel their eyes on me. It felt like they were boring holes in the back of my head. Then, one of them said the above. Thirteen years old and I felt dirty. I felt small and unworthy.

Unfortunately, it’s happened many times since then. I’ve lost count in the following years, exactly how many times. I’ll just stick with ‘a lot’, which is totally a scientific way of counting, I’m sure.

It has happened when I’ve been dressed up, it’s happened when I’ve been out for a run. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, what I’m doing or who I’m with, it happens anyway.

Sites like Holla Back were created to combat street harassment that women face daily. I both think this is a good idea and a … not so much bad idea as one I’d be wary about. I think we live in the constant fear that if we say something back, we’ll be hurt. Or killed. I remember reading a quote from the Gavin de Becker book – The Gift of Fear (which is a teeny bit problematic in itself, but that’s a whole other post). I may be paraphrasing a little, as I can’t find my copy right now, but it goes something like this:

Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.

So, I’m good with Holla-ing Back, but only in the circumstances that are comfortable and safe for me. I don’t think that a woman who cannot say something back, or is too afraid to say something back, is in any way weak or meek (and I’m not saying that the Holla Back sites imply that in the slightest, but it has been a comment I’ve come across before).

I wish the men who do this sort of thing to women wouldn’t. I wish women weren’t seen as property and as things, rather than human beings. I dress for myself. I don’t need or want the opinion of some random man on the street whose idea of a stimulating conversation is commenting on how my tits look with his friends and, then, when ignored or rejected, commenting that I’m too fat anyway.

(Image Credit)

8 thoughts on “Street harassment

  1. I was thinking about this the other day actually, Sonya – I was walking home behind a few women, one of whom had a man leer at her and say “You…stunning”. She uncomfortably quickened her pace and he then very pointedly told her to just take a compliment when it’s given to her.

    I think a lot of the time these comments ARE benign, and men even think they’re just being flattering. The problem I have with it is that when I step outside my house, I don’t inherently invite judgment, and the suggestion that a woman should just “take a compliment” is actually kind of offensive. It suggests that we are always ready and willing to have a leering eye cast upon us, constantly desire male attention/validation, and that as a result, such attention would never be unwelcome. I don’t think most men who wolf whistle or yell out to women think about it in these terms, but this is the behaviour that slides by under some kind of guise that we should be thankful that someone finds us attractive.

    But you’re absolutely right, often these aren’t benign circumstances. Often they’re threatening and no one should ever feel like they have to talk back if they don’t feel safe or comfortable doing so.

  2. Completely agree with you! It’s so frustrating how a lot of men don’t seem to realise/believe that this happens, or that it happens anywhere near as often as it does. It really affects women’s lives, on a daily or even moment-to-moment basis. I often find myself actively relieved if I walk past a group of young men and they don’t make any remarks, which is a sad state of affairs, when those men are probably just going about their business and don’t need me making assumptions about them any more that I or other women need assumptions making about us. The men who do make these remarks are contributing to an embattled mentality in which women are afraid of being harrassed all the time, and for what? Is it really worth it? I can’t see what they gain from it, when any sense of power they might derive is offset by how deeply pathetic and creepy it makes them look to anyone with a brain.

    Just as a side note, I thought that quotation was from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I could be wrong though. I’ve definitely seen it attributed to her.

  3. I’m really shocked to hear that comments have been made that women are wrong not to take on their harassers and that they are ‘weak or meek’ if they don’t. I don’t think any of us can ever make that call without being ‘that woman’ in ‘that situation’.

    With experience you get to think of things for yourself that you could have said or done and might say or do if a similar situation arises, but to criticise women for not reacting in an ‘approved’ fashion is so wrong.

    We all have to make our ‘reaction’ decisions as the situation arises. We all do our best to deal with these situations, it’s all we can do.

    The problem I have with even the ‘compliment’ types is that it’s still a man thinking he has the right to claim our time and attention. He’s not asking if he can speak with us, whether we’re busy or not, if we have better things to do than to listen to random comments about our attractiveness. No, he’s just assuming that he has the right to claim our attention and to make judgements about our appearance. It’s not as threatening as other forms of harassment but it’s still definitely harassment.

  4. Sue — “The problem I have with even the ‘compliment’ types is that it’s still a man thinking he has the right to claim our time and attention. He’s not asking if he can speak with us, whether we’re busy or not, if we have better things to do than to listen to random comments about our attractiveness. No, he’s just assuming that he has the right to claim our attention and to make judgements about our appearance. It’s not as threatening as other forms of harassment but it’s still definitely harassment.”

    I completely agree! It’s like Dunja said — seemingly benign, but still assuming that our time isn’t important, we aren’t important and should just take it and be GRATEFUL for it.

    Het — I’m pretty sure you’re right! I think de Becker might have been quoting Atwood now that you mention it.

  5. Hear hear! How about “If your opinion as to whether I’m attractive or not had any bearing on my day or on my life, I would ask for it!”

    I prefer to value myself based on things other than how pretty I look when I step outside my house, and the suggestion that I should invest anything in the judgment of some dudes pandering to archaic boys’ culture (notice how they’re usually in groups) is offensive to me.

  6. I started reading this thinking “God, she’s just whining, she’s lucky guys give her a second look.” mostly because I’m never really looked at like that. However, something similar to this actually happened to me the other day, but through my boyfriend and a friend of his. I was at his cricket practice before work, and another gut on his team points at me, smirks and says “good job” while pulling a ‘not bad’ face and patting him on the back. I felt good about it, i’m never usually noticed, but after a while i realised, he was just congratulating my boyfriend on his acquisition and possession of me. In my boyfriends defence, he said something along the lines of ‘i guess i’m just lucky’ but still, last time i wear a skirt in public! :P

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>