Street Harassment: A Dehumanizing Reality - Street Week


By Nicole Stinson

Photo courtesy of Xplode Magazine.

The simple of act of walking down the street still brings with it the risk of whistling, sexualized comments, and unwanted touching. These actions mostly target women.

Buried in the continuance of rape culture, females are often told to take such offenses as a compliment. For this reason most people underestimate the severity of these public encounters, says Holly Kearl, Founder of Stop Street Harassment.

“Many women have also been called sexually explicit names, grabbed, followed, and flashed,” she tells BTR. “Women never know which man who starts off saying, ‘Hey Baby’ may escalate into something worse.”

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, is one of many who have been subjected to the dehumanizing experience of street harassment. She describes the greater social implications to The Guardian: “It’s a way of letting me know that a man has the right to my body, a right to discuss it, analyze it, appraise it, and let me or anybody else in the vicinity know his verdict, whether I like it or not.”

A respondent to a study in Ottawa, Canada, also highlighted the disparity between genders and their experiences on the street. As a woman, she feels like she always has to watch her back, what she wears, how she acts, where she sits on transit, and be wholly cautious of everything around her.

“Even though I think I’m a strong, young woman who refuses to let that kind of narrative dictate what I can and cannot do, those considerations are always in the back of my mind,” she writes.

Her boyfriend, on the contrary, does not have to deal with these prudent factors when he is out in public.

Emily May, co-founder of Hollaback!, tells BTR an unfortunate reality: “At this point in history, every country accepts street harassment as the norm.”

Stories are frequently posted on the Hollaback! website, as well as on Stop Street Harassment, and the blog Harassment of New York. The situations they describe reveal that despite a slow increase in awareness, such demeaning encounters are still rampant in society.

A blogger on Harassment of New York recently posted:

“I was walking down 23rd with two friends, complaining about the never ending closure of the 23rd street F stop exit. One of the girls started yawning and a man walking in the other direction leaned in and growled into her mouth ‘so sexual’ and quickly walked on.”

Another wrote:

“A sidewalk-cleaner pointed the end of his broom at my crotch and made an exaggerated kissy face. When I looked disgusted, he looked overjoyed.”

Groups like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment take initiative to fight back. The latter hosted its fourth International Anti-Street Harassment Week last month. Campaigns included chalkwalks with anti-harassment messages, rallies, workshops, and online promotions.

Chalking along Hawaiian sidewalks read messages like, “my body is not a public space,” “whistles are for dogs not women,” and “don’t holla at me.”

Others took to the streets holding signs stating, “Your compliments are creepy,” or “Women are not outside for your entertainment.”

Despite global media coverage–including The New York Times, The Himalayan in Nepal, and Liberation in France–International Anti-Street Harassment Week only attracted the support of 23 countries and amounted a Twitter following of just over 1,000.

Bates pointed out to Stylist some of the issues that must be confronted for the greater battle against street harassment. Awareness may be low for those who don’t go through it personally, as they will rarely notice it in their environments.

“Many people have no idea how extreme women’s daily experiences are – how they are made afraid simply for leaving the house or having the audacity to walk unaccompanied down the street,” she writes.

Though street harassment may not disappear in a tangible time, we should acknowledge its prevalence–as well as the message–and the efforts–of the forces who write, organize, and protest against it.