Well Being

It’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week, And Here’s What You Can Do To Help

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This week is International Anti-Street Harassment Week. Here's why this week is incredibly important and what you can do to learn more, speak out, and prevent street harassment.

What is street harassment? it can be as simple as a catcall or a “hey baby!” or as blatantly offensive as public masturbation. According to Stop Street Harassment, it is:

Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender. 

That includes catcalls, honking, whistling, kissing, making sexual noises, sexual comments, comments about weight, clothing or appearance, vulgar gestures, flashing, stalking, and more. Basically, if it's unwanted attention of any kind, it could be construed as street harassment.

As long as I can remember, I've experienced street harassment. I am not unlike any other woman in that way; you'd have to look really damn hard and long to find a woman who says she's never been catcalled, whistled at, called “baby,” told to smile. For a long time, it was just something I dealt with inwardly, seething quietly after an incident.

But in the past few years, I've become suddenly much more angry and annoyed about street harassment. Why shouldn't I be able to walk down the street without having men make comments to me about my appearance? Why can't I schlep my dog outside at 7 am in glasses, pajama pants and a gigantic hoodie without having to endure beeps from passing cars and thumbs ups from truck drivers? I often find myself enraged and shaking after an incidence of street harassment: I want to respond, but the catcall or the honk happens too quickly before I can get my bearings and figure out what to say or do to let the harasser know that what they did or said is not ok. I end up gritting my teeth, looking at the ground, feeling taking advantage of, powerless, like I'm on display. My body is mine; It is not anyone else's to touch, leer at, comment on.

Even if you personally, as a woman, don't mind street harassment, that doesn't mean it's not a problem or something that threatens the safety and autonomy of other women, girls and LGBT people. Even if you personally, as a man, don't intend to be offensive or sexist, that doesn't mean street harassment isn't offensive or sexist.  It's a common argument that street harassment is a “compliment,” and that women should be happy that men think they're attractive. Guess what? Catcalling is not a compliment. Another common argument is that if women don't want attention, they should dress modestly…another example of sexist thinking that puts the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrators.

Street harassment has been going on forever and is incredibly pervasive (even “normal”) all over the world, but that doesn't make it ok. It's a way of asserting sexual dominance over people in the public sphere. It's about power and it's offensive, damaging, and yes, even dangerous.

Here are some ways you can help stop street harassment:

Speak up: If you feel safe enough, you can respond to the person harassing you or someone else. Stop Street Harassment has a really great guide on how to respond in an assertive, non-threatening way (including handing the harasser a pre-printed flier or card). It might be scary and awkward, but it might also help to keep it from happening again.

Report them: Report the harasser to a person of authority. If you're in public, this might be a police officer, a bus driver, a transportation worker or the manager of a store. If it's at a place of employment (yours or someone else's), report to the supervisor or to the company.

Raise awareness: Talk about street harassment with the people you know. Explain why it's not ok. Tweet about it. Share a link on Facebook. Email an article to someone. Write an article yourself; share a personal story. Participate in the discussion and hell, even start the discussion if you need to. Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post has a comical yet legitimate guide to “street harassment etiquette”—share that or one of the other sites and articles I've linked to in this post.

“Meet on the streets” on April 12 and 13th: Meet Us On The Street is encouraging people to take visible, public action against street harassment during the 12th and 13th of this month. That might mean chalking up the sidewalk in a public area, handing out fliers and posting poster, attending or organizing a rally, and more.

Become a member of the Hollaback movement: Hollaback has chapters all over the US and the world; the organization dedicated to ending street harassment participates in public, in-person, and online activism. Visit their site for more information. The other sites linked to in this post are also places where you can get information on how to become an active participant in the movement to end street harassment.

Photo: Flickr User TedConference