Street harassment

The good news is that a Hollaback! has started in the UK (actually, I thought it had started a few years ago). This article from the BBC:

Why do men shout at women in the street?

From whistling to catcalling, and even groping, street harassment is an everyday reality for many women around the world. But now a new wave of feminist groups are organising to stop it.

One dark evening in south London, a group of men slow their car behind a young woman walking alone.

They call out to her, propositioning her to get into their vehicle.

She keeps walking, heart rate quickening, ignoring their lewd comments. The men continue to follow her and their words get more aggressive.

Just before she reaches the nearest underground station, she’s had enough. She strikes the men’s car and flees down the station steps.

In a rage, the men leap out of their car, chase her, grab her by the neck and pin her to the wall.

This was an experience that drove Vicky Simister to take action and found Anti-Street Harassment UK.

It’s one of a new wave of groups tackling an age-old problem. At the forefront of the movement is the international Hollaback! campaign group. Having started in the US, it will open another dozen chapters next week, everywhere from India to Croatia.

Hollaback! and Anti-Street Harassment UK offer forums in which women can share their experiences, share photos of their harassers and view maps of where previous incidents have occurred.

Most people would recognise that what happened to Simister was totally unacceptable. But what if the incident had not escalated into violence? What if Simister had not been followed? What if it was just suggestive remarks shouted across a street?

Day in and day out millions of women are whistled at or shouted at on public streets. It’s unpleasant, and for Hollaback! activists it’s all part of the nasty business of street harassment.

They’re in a long tradition – going back to the 1970s Reclaim the Night movement – of trying to make the streets safer and more pleasant for women. Much has been done, in the West at least, to deal with harassment in the workplace, but the streets remain a different proposition.

A study by suggests that 95% of women say they have been the victims of leering, honking or whistling and a large proportion have been groped or grabbed in public.

Emily May, the founder of Hollaback!, is on a mission to stop the harassment.

“It stems from a broader culture of gender based violence,” says May. “To shift that culture it takes people standing up and saying street harassment is not okay because most people in our society don’t want it to exist.”

When a man shouts “hi gorgeous” or “come over here love”, the recipient of the comments might be annoyed, but the remarks are often disregarded by bystanders, so the problem goes largely unaddressed.

“Women are advised to ignore it, and we don’t speak up about it. Therefore, these men keep on doing it and push boundaries further and further,” says Simister.

And it’s dangerous because it’s difficult to distinguish which men simply shout and which ones may use catcalls as a gateway to violence or sexual aggression.

“If a guy is checking out a woman it’s annoying, but that’s how sexual predators who are honing their craft test how far they can go,” says activist and filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West.

And street harassment varies from country to country. In the UK and US, most women will experience only shouting, but in many parts of the world street harassment can escalate to groping and more frequent public sexual assaults.

In India it is euphemistically referred to as “eve teasing”, in Japan groping on the subway has long been a problem, and the attack on Lara Logan in Egypt gained international attention.

But why do some men harass women in public?

Street harassment occurs because our society has always allowed it and dismissed the behaviour as “men being men”, says Hadleigh-West.

Culturally, men have been indoctrinated into it, and it’s been a privilege for them to walk down the street fantasising about women. The culture hasn’t checked the behaviour.”

Because society has perpetuated this as a cultural norm, men tend to engage in street harassment as a way to prove their masculinity, says Northeastern University associate professor of sociology Kathrin Zippel.

Often times it’s not really about the women, it’s just about the men performing masculine acts for each other and establishing a pecking order amongst themselves. What is really going on is the dynamic among men.”

So can the leering, the catcalls and the grabs ever really be stopped?

“Some activists have targeted city planners and the public transport officers to make the case that women should not face harassment in the streets,” says Zippel.

In response some countries such as India and Japan have created women-only subway cars.

But critics say this sort of measure is only a temporary fix.

“I find recreating segregation in public to be highly problematic. In the short term it might be a good solution, but they also notice that if women step onto mixed cars there are less women on them and the ones who are experience more harassment,” explains Zippel.

To take the burden off women, the founder of Holly Kearl suggests that councils gather survey data on assaults and sexual harassment and then work out what kind of responses work.

On college campuses in the US officials addressed safety concerns by adding more lighting, installing safety phones and redesigning bus stops

Not all men impose unwanted attention upon women, and Kearl agrees that it’s important for these men to join in the movement to stop street harassment.

“We have to engage men. In our society it is easy to sexually objectify women, so it is important to make men realise that every woman you harass is someone’s mother, sister or daughter, and she is a person who deserves respect.”

When men take accountability for the actions of themselves and their peers, it helps to create a cultural shift in attitude. If a man feels that catcalling won’t be accepted by his peers, he is less likely to engage in the behaviour.

“When men are made aware of it, hopefully by women they love, they can listen, hear and see what is going on. It becomes an individual responsibility and men really do care when they get it,” says Hadleigh-West. “I have seen enormous change happen in the consciousness of men.”

In the comments section, a selection of comments reveal the extent of the problem, just how culturally ingrained this shit really is. Most of the justifying comments are from males (quelle surprise) but a few from females who obviously do not know a slippery slope or continuum when they see one.
Now, don’t all jump at once to line up to be “Mrs Newtonne” (although frankly, I think Mr Newtonne is having a wet dream):

I totally oppose any behaviour that makes other people feel threatened or uneasy. But suggesting men shouldn’t look at a great pair of legs, etc. is ridiculous. When I walk with my wife, she always looks at other women, sometimes making comments to me like “great figure!”. If women are pretty and dress attractively they must expect, even hope, to attract!

Lulu has no concept of an objectification continuum:

Lulu Flo:
[…]If someone looked at me appreciatively I don’t think I’d mind (I’d prefer a glance or a friendly, acknowledging smile than a lasting leer – who wouldn’t?) It’s the cars and vans that beep their horns at me, men that make comments, etc. that I dislike.

JohnGonzales uses the ‘menz are wired that way’ and ‘women do it too!’:

The article acknowledges that not all men do this. But it’s a biological fact that men find women attractive and vice versa. It’s not ‘men’ who are at fault. It’s the ‘no consequences’ way of thinking that is to blame, and it’s a product of the increasingly liberal society we’re in. More and more women are guilty of it these days as well; just go out in a big city at the weekend and you’ll see it.

james Allen also is from the ‘menz are just wired this way’ school:

james Allen:
I was once walking behind a very attractive big bosomed girl getting off Waterloo underground station. It was incredibly busy and looking at the guys coming the other way Id say almost all of them were stealing a downwards glance at her as they passed.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, it’s natural. If anything it’s amusing at how similarly we all response when presented with beauty.

I had to get through half the comments before finding one male who recognises the problem (sort of):

As a man I’m appalled by how so many of the obviousy male respondents are refusing to even try to understand how women feel – preferring to project their expectations.

My workplace (engineering) has a leering culture, although behind the womens’ backs due to ‘political correctness gone mad’. As I refuse to participate in this culture I’m regarded as ‘not one of us’. Thankfully.

Facing the other end of the problem is Andi:

I’m what you might call a larger lady and I don’t get “hello sexy”, I get “fat cow” and similar yelled at me – often by teenagers or younger. I even had someone spit at me in the street recently. And it is noticeable that these are groups of young males together, clearly bolstering their egos by their behaviour.

yottskry uses the ‘just wired that way’:

“We dress in a way we find comfortable and pretty, thats all!”

And men find you pretty in it. We are wired a certain way, which is to appreciate (and at a biological level, search for) attractive women. If women are attractive, men will look at them. That said, there is no excuse for lewd comments, groping, unwanted attention or catcalling… but just *looking* and appreciating comes naturally.

Alex_politic believes it is ‘not menz problem’:

I’m sorry this is just another case of ‘manophobia’ and discrimination. A small number of men do 99% percent of the cat calling and and sexual harassment yet the entire gender are grouped together. Implying we all need to be educated to “make men realise that every woman you harass is someone’s mother, sister or daughter, and she is a person who deserves respect” Is simply derogatory and insulting

Finally Alice, who isn’t a feminist, but at least she knows that something is terribly wrong with the whole situation. The comments she referred to seem to have been deleted by the BBC, man, they must have been OTT:

I just saw some comments suggesting that women are “asking for” this sort of behaviour due to their dress, and I have to say it made me feel physically sick. I’m not a feminist, but I do think that that’s unacceptable- surely everyone has the right to wear whatever they want?! I’ve had this happen to me recently, and it’s terrifying. How would most men like it if it happened to them regularly?

Lardy, there is little to no hope…

16 thoughts on “Street harassment

  1. FAB Libber

    Males not respecting female’s boundaries reminded me of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating putting his arm around HRH Queen Elizabeth. The no-touchies policy on HRH is backed by royal etiquette, but that was not enough to stop a male prime minister dude touching her.

    Even more disturbingly, when I was looking to dig up the archive on this, a picture search revealed this:

    Proving that no female is above being treated as a sexual commodity.
    The rest of us regular women, do not of course have a huge number of body guards to protect us day-to-day.


  2. FAB Libber

    Not sure. But the dudely politicians cannot keep their hands off female politicians or heads of state etc.

    Michelle Obama did touch QE2, but that does not carry the same sexualised dominance message, plus, in checking the news reports, QE2 did a similar gesture to MO first, so it was a return gesture (and possibly an automatic spur-of-the-moment thing).

    None of the dudely politicians should be going all touchy-feely towards HRH, because they are all well-briefed on royal protocol first, forms of address (first and subsequent), hand shaking only if she instigates it, etc. Now, even with all this in place, with dudely politicans fully briefed, the whole royal protocol thingy, the dudes still paw her. The point I am making is that even with all her protections in place, dudes still manage to ignore the rules and go for it, just as they do every other female’s boundaries. It’s a dude thing.


  3. jilla

    It was Bush, and she was sitting at the time. He came up behind her and put both hands fully on top of her shoulders and rested them there as he stood talking to the press. It was so Freudian creepy.


  4. jilla

    The problem is men think it’s an award they won when they are shown being the jerks they are.

    It needs to go on Facebook, so it can be searched by potential employers. l


  5. Selah

    “We have to engage men. In our society it is easy to sexually objectify women, so it is important to make men realise that every woman you harass is someone’s mother, sister or daughter, and she is a person who deserves respect.”

    I fucking hate the sentiment that because every woman is “someone’s” mother, sister, or daughter, that’s why she is deserving of respect. It’s not simply because she is a person, it’s because she’s “someone’s” (aka some MAN’s) mother/sister/daughter. Someone = other people = men. Women = valued for relation to men.


  6. ball buster

    What Selah said ^^

    I’m a large rotund woman (size 22, modern measurements), and I get both those kind of reactions. Sad to say, it’s usually young , thin women who snort or laugh at me for being fat, and men who leer and sometimes whistle. I know, hard to believe but it happens. I believe they do it to be sarcastic, NOT because I’m actually attractive, and it’s embarrassing. Either that or they’ve just bonked a couple of “fat chicks” and think they are King Deciduous of FatGirlLand. Go them (not).

    When I was a young, slender reed (180lbs) I had a friend who was 350lbs, and she was sexually harassed by a man about five foot two and a hundred pounds. When she reported it to the residential authority, they laughed at her because of her size. They couldn’t believe that a man would *literally harass* with someone “of her physique” and she just wasn’t used to “male attention.”


  7. Selah

    bb, I think you said in another post that we were body twins and now I’m sure of it—I’m a 22 as well! Hah!

    They couldn’t believe that a man would *literally harass* with someone “of her physique” and she just wasn’t used to “male attention.”

    There are just so many layers of wrong there … ugh!


  8. FAB Libber

    Well, I am contemplating a series of posts on fetishes – there is a (male) fetish for everything, including “chubby chasers”.
    Which is not wrong because the women are large, it is wrong because the dudes don’t see the woman as human, but as a sexual element or fetish, in this case, a body type that appeals to them. Just as some dudes get hung up on butts, boobs, hairy/bald pubis, whatevs.


  9. FAB Libber

    Well, I probably was not going to mention it except in passing, mainly because there are some seriously creepy fetishes out there that will make your stomach churn.


  10. joy

    I like being “fatter” (I’m only on the rounder side of average for my height), because men look at me less. Definitely less than they did when I was anorexic.

    People often talk about “pretty women” (I guess I’m one, although I think “pretty” is a disgusting term and that all women are naturally beautiful) gaining weight or “letting themselves be” “fat” in order to hide from men. Most people think of this as sad, as some kind of TRAGEDY, and they lament these “poor, sad” women’s lack of “self esteem.”

    Let me tell you, I have so much more self-esteem and happiness now than I did when I was starving myself. It has only a little to do with the fact that I eat dessert more often.


  11. FAB Libber

    Getting older has much the same effect. Certainly it is totally wonderful not to be constantly oggled by dudes. Frankly it always gave me the feeling of being “public property” being constantly gawked at. There is far more self-ownership when not viewed as public property.

    I never really got the “it’s so flattering” thing. I guess these YW need external validation rather than internal validation.


  12. ball buster

    Selah, awesome! 🙂

    Fab, you were reading my mind. I thought about doing a page about hobbling, and how feeder/feedee relationships kind of do the same thing. Check this out:

    Joy, yep I’ve seen that too. “How could you let yourself go!?” they holler. Well shit, doctors have already said that an extra 25lbs of body fat helps buffer against disease and stuff. Nothing wrong with that.


  13. FAB Libber

    So here you go, some of the etiquette surrounding HRH, a 22-fucking-pager in fact:

    Royal wedding guests ‘told how to greet the Queen’

    Those lucky enough to be invited to the royal wedding have been sent a 22-page guide on how to behave during the ceremony.

    With Prince William and Kate Middleton’s nuptials less than three weeks away, Buckingham Palace officials have issued a list of instructions and tips.

    It includes advice on how to greet the Queen and an order to curtsey or bow as she enters and leaves Westminster Abbey, the wedding venue.

    Guests who come face to face with Her Majesty must wait for her to offer her hand before providing theirs and addressing her as Ma’am.

    The dress code is also a significant theme of the guide, with ladies asked not to choose white or cream outfits that could clash with the bride’s dress.

    ‘Wearing the right hat and not overdoing it is important. Men in the armed forces should wear uniform and male civilians a lounge or morning suit. A top hat should be carried, not worn, inside the church,’ a Palace source said.

    About 1,900 people are expected to pack into Westminster Abbey on April 29th for the ceremony, including 50 members of the royal family, friends of the couple and celebrities such as Elton John and David Furnish and David and Victoria Beckham.

    William and Kate announced their engagement in November last year.

    Now given that there is a 22-pager on this stuff, and that politicians, dudely politicians are well-briefed in meeting with HRH, some dudely politicians think they are above all that. So, not much hope for us ordinary FABs, without a 22-page instruction book about protocol and establishment protection.



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