Thursday, May 5, 2011

Writing writing writing...

I'm in the home stretch! My last exam is next Wednesday, and after that I'm free free freeeee!

 Right now, though, I'm working on putting together my writing portfolio to turn in tonight. One of the things I'm including is this piece I wrote on street harassment (it's not as droll as it sounds, promise), which everyone knows is an issue I get really fired up about.

 So if you're bored and lookin' for something to read, here ya go. Yes, there are citations. Don't panic. You're allowed to ignore them, I won't get mad. They're just there because a) it was part of the assignment and b) I don't wanna get thrown out of college for plagiarism. Onward!


It is nine o’clock in the morning as I trudge sleepily down Broad Street: sunny, but still cold enough that I have bundled myself up in three layers of clothing and a scarf that obscures half of my face. I’ve only been awake for 25 minutes, and already I have been accosted. A round-faced man with a graying beard, he only leans out his car window into the cold for a moment to shout some embarrassingly unoriginal, demeaning remark at me. At this point I no longer notice what these men have to say to me; I hear but I don’t listen. I feel that I’ve heard it all, from the old-school whistle to more modern (and generally more offensive) calls, which usually begin with “Eyyo girl!”

Click through to read the rest...

I used to get irate, spinning on my heels to give the offender a piece of my mind- the last thing he’d been interested in when he remarked on my appearance- to make sure that one man would never again verbally harass a woman on the street. Sometimes I believed he wouldn’t, but most of the time I knew better. I knew he’d write me off as a crazy hormonal bitch, or a bra-burning feminist, or a lesbian. The next girl he targeted wouldn’t object, whether out of fear or complacency, and he wouldn’t think twice.
On this morning, I simply roll my eyes and keep walking, thinking how moronic it is that so many people think you’ll only get harassed if you “ask for it” by wearing provocative clothing- most people would agree that bundling oneself in so many layers of clothing that a look best described as “Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man” is achieved hardly qualifies as dressing provocatively. And yet this idea that women somehow deserve to be objectified based on their appearance persists. In any group conversation about street harassment, at least one person will chime in with something along the lines of, “Well, if you're gonna wear short skirts and low-cut tops, you have to expect that kinda thing.” All too often the contributor will be a woman. If this were the case though, how would we account for studies in Egypt and Yemen that show that 83% of women surveyed in Egypt and 90% of those surveyed in Yemen have been harassed on the street? (Abelhadi 1) Women in these countries tend to dress very modestly, in many cases going as far as wearing a veil. Even the most stubborn supporter of the “Dress Modestly, Don't Get Harassed” school of thought would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument that these women are looking for that kind of attention.
Of course, not all women go the route of placing blame on harassment victims because of what they wear. Many women have internalized a completely different idea, though it is just as offensive to female dignity. This type of woman will justify a stranger's comments on her appearance by telling herself and others that these comments are complimentary. This depressingly prevalent belief is likely a result of the way our culture emphasizes that a woman's primary worth is based on her appearance. When television, movies, magazines, and even family and friends make women feel they must strive to be beautiful, it makes sense that these women would then accept male attention to their physical appearance, however inappropriate or even rude the expression of that attention may be, as complimentary. The problem with this is that allowing men to make judgments on the appearances of women only perpetuates the link between a woman's worth and her appearance. If women do not realize the harm of this kind of behavior and call for change, it will only continue to spread.
Already, street harassment is a part of daily life for many women, particularly those who live in cities, where they are more likely to walk or take public transportation. For these women, demeaning, inappropriate, or sexist comments create greater problems than the momentary fear or anger that accompany an isolated incident. Repeatedly having to deal with this kind of affront can make a woman feel unsafe. I would hope everyone could agree that every person has a right to feel safe and welcome in the public spaces of whatever place they call home. In this regard, harassment becomes a matter of dehumanization. When women are constantly forced to deal with harassers, it creates a fear of walking alone, even in broad daylight. After all, there is no way of knowing if the men making comments, gestures, and noises will turn violent if they don't get the reaction they are looking for.
This fear is not unfounded. The websites of organizations dedicated to stopping street harassment, such as the aptly named blog Stop Street Harassment, are full of stories of women who ignored their harassers or told them off and were then threatened with violence (2). There have been times in my own personal experience in which I felt physically endangered in such a situation. For example, while walking home from class one afternoon, a man loading furniture into a van looked me up and down as I passed by, then said in a slippery, greasy voice, “Hey girl, you sexy,” drawing out the word sexy in a snake-like way. Rather than deliver a speech explaining that I am not an object to be sexualized, that I don't seek or appreciate such evaluations from random strangers, or that it is not my duty as a woman to coyly accept such “compliments” in order to boost the fragile egos of men like him....I simply rolled my eyes. Apparently this was not the reaction he anticipated following his ever-so-gracious “compliment,” because he immediately became furious and began shouting insults and threats at me. I picked up the pace and walked the last block to my apartment as quickly as I could without breaking into a sprint, wanting only to put some form of barrier between us. I could still hear him screaming obscenities at me as the doors to the lobby of my apartment complex fell shut and locked automatically behind me.
This kind of reaction to rejection is intriguing, because it seems that most men who treat women this way are not actually seeking any kind of contact with those women (although, sadly, there are many who escalate from verbal harassment to physical assault). Case in point, men who yell at women from moving vehicles clearly do not expect anything to come from the interaction. Similarly, a man making sexual remarks to a woman as she walks by can't possibly have any realistic expectation that she will swoon and throw her panties at the suave Prince Charming who likes “the way that ass move when she walk.” More often, men engage in this kind of behavior because it provides a feeling of power or simply because they are socialized to believe they can (2). This helps to explain why some men get angry and even violent when a woman flat-out rejects his poor behavior: women are not “supposed” to challenge the authority a man is given by virtue of simply being a man.
This very real threat of violence and assault leaves women with few other options than to acquiesce, quietly ignoring or “playing along” with harassers. Unfortunately, this only creates an environment in which street harassment can continue to affect women all over the world. It will take a major shift in the way our culture values and respects women to remedy this problem. Hopefully this shift will take root soon, because a world in which, according to the American Association of University Women, 62% of women say they are “always constantly assess[ing] their surroundings in public because they've experienced or fear experiencing harassment” is a world that definitely needs some work (Kearl 3).

Works Cited
Abdelhadi, Magdi. "Egypt's Sexual Harassment 'cancer'" BBC News. 18 July 2008. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. <>.
Stop Street Harassment. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. <>.
Kearl, Holly. "Always on Guard: Women and Street Harassment." American Association of University Women. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. <>.

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