Last Friday night I was out with a group of friends and street harassment came up (one of the many great side effects since we started this blog; gender based public sexual harassment is becoming a common topic of discussion among my friends). A couple of my male friends were debating about “the line.” You know, the line between hitting on/flattering a person and harassment. So I explained that personally I prefer it if guys did not just walk up to me and immediately say something about my looks. Yes, it can be flattering at times especially if the saying of compliment is done in a tactful way. However, a majority of the time it is not flattering nor tactful and I find the men who automatically say something about my appearance incredibly obnoxious. Other women may feel differently.
The thing is – it is not up to anyone to decide what one individual finds flattering. Perhaps one woman finds the comment “Ooo, baby you look fine” funny or just an annoyance, while another finds it much more aggravating or threatening. Sexual harassment happens on a spectrum and can range from comments like “Heyyy, baby!,” to leering, to groping, to public masturbation. And it can lead to serious violent assaults, rape, and murder. The men who harass believe they have a right to objectify women and say/do whatever they want. That’s the problem! Just because I have left my house does not give you free reign on my body or the right to say whatever comes to your mind. In the end, what it really comes down to is control and power.
After living in DC for two years, I have learned what streets to walk on, and which streets and parks to avoid when I am alone. Sometimes I cross the street in order to avoid harassment. At times it is unavoidable and I have no choice but to walk through the gauntlet. Whether I am on the street, on the metro, in the store, or in a bar, gender based public sexual harassment has become a daily part of my life. When I leave my house in the morning, I know it is something I will have to deal with.
Daily, I am blown away by the things men will say or do. Just last Saturday night I was out at Local 16 on 16th and U for a friend’s birthday party. We are all dancing and having fun. I start to walk to the other side of the room to talk to a friend when I feel a pull on my belt loop. A guy I don’t know has pulled me up against his body and whispers in my ear, “Where you going? You have to dance with me.” (The line has definitely been crossed!!) I tell him, “Back off!” and give him a little push. He follows up with “What is your name?” I walk off only to be immediately asked by another strange man where I live and if he can have my number so we can catch up. Catch up? I don’t even know you! I decide at this point, I would much rather go home than deal with this.
There are a lot of really great men (like my guy friends that I mentioned in the beginning of the post) who don’t harass women. There are also men who are engaged in ending public sexual harassment in DC. But this is a community problem and we need everyone, especially DC men to be our (female) allies. When they see us being harassed, we need them to say, “Stop harassing women – no one likes it. Show some respect.”
Can you imagine the affect this would have if enough men stepped in and said this every time they saw sexual harassment occurring? We would see a positive change.