I’d like to see a day when I don’t have to worry about having obscenities yelled at me or disgusting gestures made out of car windows when all I’m doing is walking to work or going about my business. I am sick and tired of being told this is all ‘harmless fun’ – it is not: it sends a worrying message that aggression towards women is acceptable and even desirable.
. . .
Street harassment is so normal and pervasive (it’s everywhere) that we don’t even register it many times when it happens – but it’s there and it’s eroding our sense of safety, self and what we believe is possible. How many women feel safe walking home after a night out? We should.
That’s from a thread over at the London Anti-Street Harassment campaign (here). The women express those familiar feelings of fear, intimidation, and the impotent, boiling rage of those harassed and bullied by men who think it’s amusing to shout out “nice tits” or whatever to some woman who is out in public. What makes you furious is that you have no effective come-back. Swearing or fuck off gestures usually attract laughter or escalated abuse or an amazed huffiness. When seeing a cluster of blokes hanging around outside a pub (the smoking ban has made this worse) or a gang of guys walking along the pavement, women will cross the street or make detours to avoid passing them, for fear, at the very least, of being embarrassed and humiliated.
Recently I wrote a post which among other things dealt with men who think they are entitled to intimidate random strangers – if the random strangers are female. The example I gave was of a Muslim woman who was spat at by co-religious males because they didn’t approve of her cycling and the clothes she wore. This looked to me like yet another way of keeping women down and I thought at the time that a Reclaim the Streets! like the Reclaim the Night! movement was needed, and then I read this in the Guardian:-
Vicky Simister, a financial analyst, . . has found street harassment particularly problematic since moving from Ireland to London for work. “I was walking down a busy road in the middle of winter,” she says, “wearing a huge jacket, when these two guys slowed their car down to pay me ‘compliments’ about my appearance. This escalated into sexual comments. I eventually lashed out in frustration, and they got out of their car and ran after me, physically assaulting me. The police were called, but I wasn’t happy with their response. One said: ‘They said they were following you, but only to say nice things.’”
After this, Vicky set up the London Anti-Street Harassment campaign (Lash), to lobby MPs and journalists, and begin a serious debate. “I want women to put their hands up and say: ‘We don’t want to be treated like this,’” she says, “and I want men to realise the impact their words and actions have.”
It’s often suggested that street harassment is inevitable. But, as May says, while it might not be considered “as serious as domestic violence or sexual assault, street harassment is on the same spectrum of violence against women.” The fact that it is so often just accepted by people suggests women’s bodies are still considered public property – an attitude the anti-street harassment movement aims to change.
(Actually from what the women on the thread are saying, street harassment is particularly bad in London, so no, it‘s not inevitable if it varies from city to city. Some think it has been getting worse in recent years.)
Right on, sisters! I wish you all the best for this campaign.