Street Harassment: Why Ignoring it Doesn't Work

Spring is spreading like an electric blanket over the city. This means two things: Spring vegetables are showing up at the co-op where I buy groceries and in the streets, Spring mini-skirts are too. I once heard Chicago cops have a different name for Spring, they call it “rape season.” One thing that I notice is once I shed my winter layers and walk out of the house in a sun-dress, the creepy “hey babys” and honking horns suddenly become a lot louder.

We’ve been told that when we are harassed on the street to just ignore it. What that means for me (and I’ll guess most of us) is that we don’t say anything, we keep walking and after those initial trembling moments we push what just happened out of our minds. I think that we aren’t processing what happened. Anyone who has been in the victim’s heels can tell you street-harassment can be violent, it can leave you scared, embarrassed and vulnerable. Not to mention it is a threat, part of a continuum of sexual aggression, with an unconscious nod to rape. To process all of this on the street would be so intense, it is no wonder we would rather ignore it. But the problem is that we are then forced to dissociate.

It does seem really easy to write this issue off. After-all this is nothing new, feminism has been kicking this one around since it’s conception. Too many feminists have taken an approach of shaming men. I think the stance of “all men on the street are potential rapists” is totally offensive and quite dangerous to men’s mental and emotional self-esteem. This only reinforces the behavior and plants seeds of shame in wonderful men for just being men.

But guys, there is one thing that I’ve got to make clear here. When you do approach us, we have to be defensive. Our defense is warranted because of the stories each woman carries with her about street harassment, our collective experiences do not lie. I don’t think most men do this, it is part of a niche machismo culture with a long history that very few males adhere to. However, I also think that most men know someone who is sexist. I think guys need to be aware of what is going on and how it feels, I want men as our allies.

Contrary to what the stereotypes might be, street harassment eschews lines of class and color. This is also why I say I bet every guy knows someone who is sexist. It seems no matter where a woman steps out in hyper-segregated Chicago, cat-calls are abound. One thing I would like to share is that I’ve noticed the level of anger and response to rejection has been different in different cultures.

When I moved to Chicago I quickly learned that if you leave the house in your going-out wear, there will be a lot of negative, unwanted attention. But it was the first time I went to Wrigleyville with it’s mob of drunk white boys on the street, that I felt truly scared and couldn’t even dissociate through the yelling and responses of bitch/cunt/slut as I tried to ignore abusive come-ons. It would be easy to label this as white male privilege, but I also wonder if there is a feeling of entitlement because I am also white– and I look more like the punching-bag for Mommy issues.

I mentioned earlier that our male allies should realize that we have to be defensive if they approach us. While it might be a stretch for me to say that all men who consider themselves allies should never approach a woman on the street, I won’t argue against it. Women need to have more of an upper-hand in dating, take the process into our own hands. If woman approaching man became the norm (or equal) we might not have to throw a cock-eye to every guy that came up to us. The stink-eye is warranted, so men being expected to initiate and approach us is utterly unfair.

What we can do is be ultra-aware. We live in a place where it is less safe to look or dress femme. A woman who is dressed provocatively is NEVER “asking for it.” Ever. But when she chooses to wear a sexual/femme outfit, she should know it is her choice and might carry with it potential abuse or danger. Even though it is not her fault, if something happens it is her responsibility to process it and make sure that she’s not just emotionally checked out. Emotionally ignoring this sexual-harassment internally chips away at one’s self-esteem and self-worth. That is what it was made to do.

The problem is we don’t have the tools to deal with these things. Our tools have been our hyper-vigilance, rape-whistles, pepper spray or keys gripped tight between knuckles. Our emotional tool has been to push away, to write it off as background noise. To actually be present to the experience and process it is to realize we live in a society where one sex is still singled out and abused in public. It is a lot to realize, and not thinking about it in the short-term might be easier. But if we want to evolve, we’ve got to understand and communicate where we are now.

Source: sexgenderbody

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