Street Harassment, Constantly Reminding Women That They Are Women

Ever hear, “Hey ma! Come over here!” or “You’re a** looks good in them jeans!” while you’re walking down the street? 70-99 percent of women get comments like these, and worse, on a daily basis; sometimes these comments are accompanied by gawking, stalking, and groping.

The person treating women in this way may see it as he is complimenting them on their looks and they should take it is a positive thing, but many women see it as passive aggressive behavior and it makes them feel unsafe.

Stop Street Harassment , a nonprofit organization says, “Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening, and/or harassing and it is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.” This behavior is punishable by a $250 fine and/or 15 days in jail in New York State (punishment varies from state to state) but it is still one of the most under-reported crimes by women and LBGTQ group.

Though it seems as if laws are vague in regards to street harassment, the United Nations is aware that women are victimized daily across the world. In March of 2013, for the first time, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women included several clauses  about sexual harassment in public spaces in its Agreed Conclusion. The UN called on the United States to “increase measures to protect women and girls from violence and harassment, including sexual harassment and bullying, in both public and private spaces, to address security and safety, through awareness-raising, involvement of local communities, crime prevention laws, and policies” and to “support the development and use of information and communications technology ….as a resource for the empowerment of women and girls, including access to information on the prevention of and response to violence against women and girls; and develop mechanisms to combat the use of information and communications technology used to perpetrate violence against women and girls.”

Hollaback!, is one organization that raises awareness on this issue through community based initiatives. As of now, Hollaback! has a presence in 79 cities and 26 countries across the world. They have numerous resources available to women and girls on their website which includes: a blog where women can share their experience with street harassment (which doubles as a support system), statistics regarding street harassment, instructions on how to deal with street harassment in a safe manner and how to intervene if you are a bystander, and instructions on how to bring awareness in your community.

There is a growing movement by artists, writers and activists to bring awareness to the on-going issue of street harassment. One artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, took out to the streets of Brooklyn and posted sketches of women with captions such as “My outfit is not an invitation,” and “You are not entitled to my space.” She calls this continuous moving exhibit, “Stop Telling Women to Smile” and she has brought it to many cities across the United States, including Atlanta, Georgia and San Francisco, California.The reason behind her naming it that phrase is because it is one of the subtle yet annoying comments women hear from harassers.

Writer, Mercedes Frias, has a number of articles on gender-bias and street harassment. Her first article is called Catcallers, and she says that she was inspired to write it by a conversation she had earlier that day.

“I was telling a colleague about having to constantly deal with catcalls on the street and how uncomfortable they made me.  She claimed that the attention I received was a result of the way I dress (a great example of America’s horrible habit of blaming the victim).  I argued with the fact that whether I wore a dress, jeans, or a winter coat, the feedback I “attracted” (according to her) remained the same.”

Mercedes received very little negative feedback on this article, despite controversy surrounding this topic. Since street harassment has become such a normal thing to experience everyday, most don’t see it as a threat or as being disrespectful.

“Surprisingly, I received very few negative comments.  However, the reason for this might’ve been related to my views and the amount of readers I had at the time.  It was the first article I posted on my blog and it did not get as many views as my most recent ones (about 400 compared to 4000).  I deleted it about a month ago with intentions of revamping and hoping it gets the attention it rightfully deserves. Although the feedback I received, as uncommon as they were, was from women agreeing with me, I recently spoke to a few co-workers at my school and two teachers (female) actually said that catcalls make them “feel pretty.”  An older woman told me “you’re going to miss them when they stop.”  I tried to explain that while on your way home from the train at 11pm, the last thing you need is a potential threat expressing his desire for you.”

Bringing a stop to street harassment cannot be done by an individual, it has to be done through community-based initiatives to bring mass awareness.

“Education.  It is the only thing I can think of that will actually be effective.  Educating the men that are in the streets deliberately making women feel uncomfortable will definitely minimize the harassment. “ http://

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About Gabriela Calogero

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