A few months ago I read an article about a new website launched in Toronto called HollaBack T.O. The purpose is for women to take stand against street harassment and post experiences, locations, and photos of sexual harassers in their city. It was inspired by a website out of New York City, HollaBack NYC. Sick of being made to feel unsafe, objectified, and or otherwise perved on by men in their city, women came together and started the blog to destroy myths around street harassment and hold creepers responsible.
Well let me say, women in Vancouver (or anywhere in North America, really) are certainly not immune from this kind of daily sexual harassment. And today when a man old enough to be my grandfather groped me with his eyes and growled “You are gaw-jus” as I walked through my neighbourhood, I decided it was just about time to Holla Back, Vancity.
While virtually every woman I know has been subjected to street-level sexual harassment (by which I mean catcalling, leering, stalking, indecent exposure, groping, and/or unwanted sexual comments) there seems to still be two sides to this “debate”. There seems to be a camp of defenders of street harassment (overwhelmingly men) who claim women enjoy being screamed at from cars, women only pretend to not like it to “tease” men, women are asking for it because of the way they are dressed. All these lines are alarmingly similiar to the excuses and myths about women who are raped.
Sounds harsh? Not really. Men who harass women on the street are part of the same spectrum of the rape culture. They use their power and male privilege to intimidate women and restrict their equality. And, like abusers, they use it to control women. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how many women adjust where they walk, what time of night they walk, how many people they walk with, what they wear etc. Street harassers, like rapists, have been able to control women’s behaviour. Even women who have never been raped have learned very early that they are not safe on their streets and their communities.
Need even more proof? Ask women what happens when we tell street harassers to “Leave me alone” or “Don’t say that to me” or, my personal preference, “Go fuck yourself”. We’re met with anger, hostility and sometimes even violence. All for acting as if we have power and a right to safety, and for some reason, deserve respect.
Next rebuttal I’m often met with: “But some women do like it. They smile, giggle, wave, etc”. What I would then ask you is, under what circumstances did she come to believe her physical appearance and sexuality were her best (or only) asset? Under what circumstances did she learn that male sexual attention, however lewd or unwanted, was the only kind of attention she could accept? And given the hostility, described above, we experience when we reject this harassment, perhaps it’s in her best interest of personal safety to pacify the male harasser and hope the interaction quickly passes.
For those of you who don’t feel safe to Holla Back, I respect that you’re making a choice about what’s in your best interest at the moment. But here’s my call out for women to start talking about street harassment, challenging the myths that keep it going. So I’m saying as a woman, a feminist, a survivor, and a human being : Holla Back Vancity!
And in the meantime, I’ll stick with “Go fuck yourself”.Tweet