These are our streets too!
There is a strong connection between street harassment and violence against women.
From March 18 – 24, you may have seen men and women coming together around the world to fight street harassment. There were marches, events, discussions, panels, performances, and a wide range of innovative events online. We were honored to be a cosponsor to the worldwide event, International Anti-Street Harassment Week. We engaged in spreading awareness both on and offline, and encouraging our supporters to take action against street harassment on a daily basis. However, the most important contribution we made to this movement: discussing street harassment with the young high school women we mentor.
Most women and girls around the world, approximately the 80% to experience street harassment at some point in their life, can attest to the fact that if men deem them attractive on the street, their reaction is as follows: you (an attractive woman) walk down the street, men and boys in the vicinity scan your body as you walk towards them, look you up and down as you pass, and swivel their heads around to further inspect your buttocks as you walk by. This is degrading, and it most often does not stop there.
What is street harassment? Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault.
What 10 high school girls in Brooklyn think:
We brought the discussion of gender-based street harassment to the high school girls in our Young Women Rock! Mentorship Program last Wednesday, March 21, 2012. What became clear: young women in public high schools often face gender-based harassment both on the street and in school. These young women walk to class and get stared down by testosterone-filled young men, who are also waiting there when they go to their lockers, go to lunch or even while they are participating in after-school programs. Our mentees defined street harassment as, “when men – young and old – shout at you on the street, follow you on your way home, or just look at you… They make you feel unsafe, and that you want to cover up (even if you are covered up). They make you feel like you are just an object.” The girls sited often being grabbed on the shoulder or arm by men on the street who want their attention. Their reaction was always to push past and keep walking without saying anything, but often the men followed them for at least one city block.
We had the girls create slogans for Anti-Street Harassment Week, an activity that empowered them! It generated a heated discussion about who’s responsibility it is to fight street harassment – why are we making signs? Their conclusion: it is everyone’s responsibility. When asked if they thought there was a way men could effectively call out street harassment, they responded with a resounding, “They would just join in.” And I could not blame them. I have never once seen a man step in to stop street harassment, whether towards myself or another woman or girl. Our mentees said often there are groups of men (or boys) who will harass them on the street corner. They feel vulnerable, they feel unsafe, and they are often quite a walk away from home. This is dangerous – groups of men? This needs to stop – accepting street harassment is accepting all the necessary steps leading up to rape.
“Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.” – Stop Street Harassment Campaign
Call them out!
With outlets such as Hollaback! and HarassMap, you can help end street harassment by calling it out when you see it, and when you experience it. Hollaback explains, “As you catch those creeps in the act, you can submit your story to be recorded and mapped on ihollaback.org. When it comes to ending street harassment, the best response is a badass response, so start holla’ing back.” We encourage you to download the Hollaback! Android or iPhone app today!
Other ways to take action
We call on men to intervene when they see street harassment occurring. This does not have to be a confrontational response – a simple “Are you okay?” to the woman, “waddup?” to the man, asking directions or creating another distraction work to diffuse the situation. For more ways to get involved, check out Men Can Stop Rape’s Where Do You Stand campaign.
No action is too small. Some of the best ways to get involved in the anti-street harassment movement and to make real strides in ending street harassment is to speak out against it. Street harassment has become a social norm in our society – and the way to un-condition this mindset and behavior, we must show that it is unacceptable. You may choose to use art to raise awareness, post signs or stickers in public spaces, host an event that promotes safe streets, or even join an anti-street harassment organization or campaign. You can find more ideas here, here and here.
Before you leave, we encourage you to watch the award-winning, 4-minute film, “Walking Home,” below: