I recently mentioned a street harassment incident (they occur often, 10-75 times a week for over 20 years now) on Twitter, and I received a plethora of ignorant responses. I realized that these responses are common, so I documented them here.
1) "Gosh, where do YOU live?" This is asked for two reasons, besides the person being ignorant, of course. One is that they want to find a way to “contain” the negative behavior and associate it with a place where they don’t live, kind of like how people are currently pretending that racism is only in Florida and sexism is only in Texas. The second reason is that they want to be able to associate street harassment happening to a woman with some awful place that she “chose” to live in. This disregards class, race, culture and other factors that determine where people live.
2) “That NEVER happens to me!” Saying this is not empathetic, especially as a reply to someone explaining an awful street harassment incident. When cis hetero men say this, they are being ignorant of their male privilege. Of course they aren’t street harassed. (I am talking about street harassment here, which is highly gendered, not police harassment, for example, of Black men.) When White women (some of them are never street harassed or rarely street harassed compared to Black women) or women of a high social class (as street harassment does have some race/class factors at play) say this, they mean to infer the inferiority of the woman it has happened to. Because we live in a victim-blaming rape culture, if street harassment is deemed the fault of the person it happens to and it doesn’t happen to “some” women, it then implies that they aren’t as “low” as the women who experienced it.
3) "Just ignore it!" This is the lazy response from people who think they HAVE TO reply versus listening, understanding and empathizing with a woman who experiences street harassment. They are actually implying that the harassment is her fault for noticing it occurred. And at times, ignoring street harassment can have dangerous effects for a woman if that man is of the type who cannot handle being ignored and escalates the harassment to physical violence. “Ignoring” is a difficult thing to do anyway when speaking of something that happens with the frequency that I experience street harassment. How can I “ignore” up to 75 insults a week?
4) "Take it as a compliment; if you weren’t beautiful it wouldn’t happen!” This usually comes from patriarchal men who also street harass. They view anything they do, no matter how aggressive and dehumanizing as “flattering” for a woman. Further, this stance does not work. No matter how a woman looks, whether she is considered “beautiful” or “ugly,” men will justify harassment.
5) "Just move somewhere else!" This is the classist argument. Because street harassment tends to occur in cities (especially with public transportation) more than suburbs and in communities with higher male unemployment and poverty than ones that don’t have that, people assume that you can just pack up your S-Class Mercedes and buy a new mansion in a new city where though misogyny will still be present, naturally, it may not be in the form of street harassment. This also ignores the fact that no matter where I go, for example, I am a Black woman there. People decide to disrespect me based on who I am, not just based on what city I am in.
6) "You’re just saying that because the guy was ugly!" People who genuinely believe that street harassment is “flirting” think that disrespectful and aggressive men who are “attractive” are tolerable. After dealing with street harassment for over 20 years now, I know how utterly ridiculous this assumption is. I promise if the guy looks like Idris Elba and street harasses me, I am still angry. Plenty of physically attractive men street harass me (though most are ashy irritant pissants) and I am angry when it occurs. I don’t want to be harassed. I genuinely delight in a day where not a single man speaks to me. It’s peaceful and I am happy when I go home.
7) "Well say something smart back to him; that’ll fix him!" This response usually comes from those who have never experienced street harassment or it never became physical. While some men can be cursed out well (and I have done that) some cannot. Knowing which ones can and can’t is a guessing game that I don’t want to play in most cases. Just like ignoring one can escalate to violence, so can cursing one out.
8) "Go different places then!" So, women should not go to work, their coffee shoppes, their supermarkets, their bookstores, their laundromats, their gyms, etc. because men will be there and will harass them? Again, this is a location-associated response that ignores the fact that some women (like me and most Black women) are PROFILED and TARGETED for street harassment. It is about US, not the location.
9) "Well, a lot worse could happen!" This reeks of rape culture. Who is to determine what is better or worse? Only the person who experiences the wrath of misogyny, misogynoir, transmisogyny or homophobia (as some gay men are street harassed as well) knows what the experience is like. Even more legally serious violence like domestic violence and rape itself are brushed off as jokes or blamed on the victim. So the idea that I should be “thankful” for street harassment because it isn’t rape ignores the fact that no matter what happens to a Black woman, people will respond with victim blaming.
10) "What were you wearing; what did YOU do to cause it?" I addressed this response before in my post 6 Common Derailment Tactics Used In Conversations About Street Harassment and Sexual Assault and in Rape “Prevention” Advice That Doesn’t Include Tips For Men’s Behavior = Rape Culture. While the wardrobe comments are refuted over and over and why the street harasser or rapist is at fault is explained, people continually retreat to this ignorant argument. Girls are raped by their fathers wearing the clothing their fathers bought them. Women are raped fully clothed and in work clothes/uniform. Women are street harassed no matter what they wear. And regardless of clothing, the harasser or the rapist IS THE ONE AT FAULT.
Notice that in all of these examples ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY is applied to the men who street harass. None. Also, notice the lack of genuine concern and empathy for me or other women who are street harassed. Street harassment is a part of rape culture.
Related Posts: all posts tagged with "street harassment" on Gradient Lair