Not Cool, Prudence!

We were tipped off by Lauren at Defend Yourself about an advice columnist who just simply doesn’t understand street harassment. Emily Yoffe writes for Slate under the name “Dear Prudence” and gave really bad advice to a person wanting advice around cat-calling.

….I find that I’m yelled at my old men and young men, standing on corners, driving by me, etc. It makes me tense, and now when I walk down the street I see every man as a potential threat. It’s annoying and demeaning, but I know I can’t haul every weirdo on the street to a sensitivity class. How should I deal?

Well, we’ve highlighted different ways to address street harassment in DC. And, so it was mind-blowing to read Yoffe’s response (after the jump)

Wait, my dear, just wait.  When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter,  men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her.  They apparently think the  prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old. Yet, their catcalls spark a vestigal memory in me —  a couple of decades ago I used to hear vocal judgments from men.  At the time it was annoying. Yet given their absence I have to admit it wasn’t all bad.

Since today is apparently the “men are pigs” day at the chat,  this also falls in the category of there’s nothing you can do but ignore it.  And maybe a catcall is better than finding you’re being photographed and your image swapped around by horny married men. (emphasis added)

Wow. Really, Yoffe? We should ignore it? And what does that do? Change people’s perceptions on how women should remain silent and just take it? And Yoffe’s advice on a 30-something husband taking pictures of random women and swapping it with other male friends was brilliant:

Let me go on the record that I’m all in favor of robust male sexuality and I don’t believe all men are creeps. However,  “understanding male sexuality” does not require one to accept that the man in one’s life will engage in obnoxious, embarrassing behaviors.  It’s one thing for a men, even  married men, to enjoy that daily life presents a bouqet of beautiful women.  Looking (not gawking)  is a simple, life-enhancing pleasure.  Until the advent of the phone camera, it wasn’t possible to record these happy experiences without running around on the streets obviously snapping photos. So now technology has enabled men to turn this little pleasure into the equivalent of swapping baseball cards. This sounds like a misdemeanor, not a felony, but it doesn’t really pass the “Eww,” test.   You weren’t initially snooping, but having found the pictures, you were naturally curious.  So hand him the phone and say, “Honey, I accidentally came upon this.  I understand every man likes to look at pretty women.  But what’s this about?”

When did criticizing male behavior equate to “all men are creeps”? We certainly missed that memo, since we love men, and believe that harassment does and can be perpetrated by women as well. Does that mean that all women are creeps? But, how can Yoffe not think that taking pictures of women without their consent is kosher? She doesn’t know what type of pictures they were or who the husband was taking pictures of.  And, let’s say it’s just a misdemeanor. We guess misdemeanors don’t have to pass the “ewww” test, whatever that means.

Clearly, Yoffe needs to a lesson on street harassment, technology abuse, and internalized oppression.

But, with all that said, here was Lauren’s response to Yoffe:

Dear Prudie,

I strongly disagree with your answer to “cat called” in yesterday’s chat. I know you would have helpful advice for someone who was facing harassment at work or at school, or emotional abuse at home, so why should targets of street harassment ignore it? Here are some reasons NOT to ignore it.
–You’re not really ignoring it. The writer said she felt tense, that it was annoying and demeaning, and that she didn’t want to see every man as a potential threat. Others say they are angry, scared, humiliated, and more. If your only option is to ignore it, you have to carry the burden of these feelings.
–He could have more in mind. Verbal harassment and unwanted touching—the pinch, the backside pat, the unnecessary body contact—can be a harasser’s way of checking out how far he can go. If you react passively, many harassers take that as a green light for further violation.
–If you don’t do something, it won’t stop. Women have a right to walk down the street –and be in other public spaces—unmolested. In interrupting harassment, you can help change the culture that allows women to be verbally accosted in public places.
For more about street harassment, and what you CAN do, see www.ihollaback.org/ with chapters all around the country, www.stopstreetharassment.org/, and http://defendyourself.org/aboutus.shtml. For ways men and boys can help stop gender-based violence, see www.mencanstoprape.org/, and www.raproject.org/.
I hope you’ll check out some of those resources and let me know if you’d like to discuss this issue further.
Lauren Taylor
If you are moved to let Yoffe (a.k.a. Prudence) know how serious street harassment is, please email her at prudence@slate.com or drop a comment and we’ll include it in our response to her.

4 responses to “Not Cool, Prudence!

  1. Golden Silence

    On Stop Street Harassment, I made a comment regarding this quote:

    “A: Wait, my dear, just wait. When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter, men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her. They apparently think the prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old.”

    I got the impression that she’s okay with her teenage daughter getting harassed by these men from the lack of reaction to it. Wouldn’t she feel disgusted that these men are harassing her daughter? Where’s that reaction? She seems more concerned with her lack of catcalling attention than she is her daughter getting harassed by these boorish creeps.

  2. I read this Prudence column the other day and I, too, was dismayed at her tepid response to this question, but I didn’t comment there a comment on Slate just gets lost in the weeds. But I will comment here …

    Really, Prudie? Women have been passively ignoring this type of boorish behavior for DECADES, and how has that helped? If ignoring the behavior helped the situation, by this point there would be nothing to ignore! But we ignore it and the harassment continues, violence unabated. And it IS violence, whether it is a holla, an unwanted touch, or otherwise. Since when does ignoring violence help? If you ignore the bully, will he go away? No! Boys have long been taught that the only way to make a bully stop is to stand up to him and defend yourself, so he knows you will not be bullied. Street sexual harassment/violence must be treated in the same way, because that is exactly what these men are: sexual bullies. And no woman deserved to be bullied, sexually or otherwise, and they shouldn’t be expected to just ignore it.

  3. I was happily catching up on your columns after vacation when I read your answer to the woman who wrote in asking how to handle street harassment and cat calls. I found your advice to ignore the calls shocking, and your further commentary that it was flattering disappointing.

    Women have a right to walk down the street without being harassed; I see attractive men on a daily basis and I somehow muster up the restraint not yell at them. Of course I like to look nice – when my husband, friends, or co-workers compliment me, it definitly puts a spring in my step. When a random stranger tells me how sexy I am, it makes me feel sleazy and awkward.

    I support Hollaback DC, https://hollabackdc.wordpress.com; this movement seeks to end the leers and jeers women face on a daily basis – b/c in the end it’s not flattering. When a man calls me ‘his baby’, I feel self conscious not pleased. When a group of men stop their car to honk at me I walk the other way or go into a store, I don’t congratulate myself for looking good. When I walk to yoga in a tank top and construction workers ask me to play with them, it doesn’t make me walk with pride, it makes me put on a long sleeved t-shirt in 90 degree weather. I wonder if your teenage daughter feels as flattered as you when she receives a cat call.

    I have always enjoyed your columns, and your advise is usually no nonsense – but this seemed way out of touch.

    ~ Ellen

  4. I wrote an email to Prudence voicing my displeasure, and this was her reply (I shared with her the link for this site):

    I did not say women should enjoy it. I said it was annoying and that the best thing to do was ignore it. I think posting photographs of these men is a bad idea and could lead to unpleasant and unintended consequences. And obviously the overwhelming majority of men don’t catcall.
    And I stand by my rather mild observation that being cat called is not a problem that lasts for a lifetime.

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