As a woman I regularly suffer what they call “street harassment”. Whistles, insults, touch-ups…men treating women as objects are numerous. And they crack down at every street corner.
At the age of 12, I was wearing a B-bra, measuring 1m50, and my new stretch marks on my hips and thighs testified to recent physical and hormonal development. I was taking my first steps in puberty, learning this ” new me” and learning what I like, things that weren’t simple for my part. But, above all, I had to confront exterior looks. Therefore, at age 12, in this manner, I lived my first experience of street harassment. I didn’t know the term, and I ignored that it acts as a real phenomenon in society.
It was springtime and hot. Arriving at a pedestrian crossing at the exit to my neighborhood, I stop. A van passes in front of me. Inside: 3 or 4 men open the window and honk the horn.
Go on, dearie! Give us a blowjob!
[literally, “suck us!”]
Eh, you’re too good, you know!
When I returned home I told my sister, older by six years, of this experience; she responded to me, “You have to get used to it. It’s to be expected. Boys will be boys”. [Literally, ” That’s guys.”] If this “first time” naturally shocked me, being totally unprepared to receive such advances given so openly, I ended up adapting and integrating it as a rule. Around 14 or 15, I even thought that a stranger’s whistle in the street to be a compliment. I had integrated it into my education. I considered it a norm. “It’s to be expected. Boys will be boys.[literally, that’s guys.] As a woman I’m supposed to please them.” I’ve come a long way.
What Is Street Harassment?
It was brought to the attention of the media through the release of the documentary Femmes de la Rue[literally, Women of the Street](2012), produced by Sofie Peeters from Brussels, and acts according to the collective Stop Harcelement de Rue [literally, Stop Street Harassment; link in French]: “(…)behaviors addressed to people in public and semi-public places, to accost them, verbally or not, sending them intimidating, insistent, disrespectful, humiliating, threatening, or insulting messages due to their sex, gender, or sexual orientation.”
It really makes being in the street a pain in the butt when you’re a woman (note that doesn’t only affect women, as the sidebar above specifies), and has nothing to lose with being pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, or hairy. And when you wear a rolled-over pullover or miniskirt, there’s often the guy at the descent to the metro who comes to ask for your number, and bawls you out when you make the choice to ignore him. Anyway, a recent study proved that 100% of women using public transport are victims of sexist harassment [link in French].
In public spaces, men invest more public space than women, who only cross it. The reason isn’t hard to understand. The other day, I was visiting a large French agglomeration. It was 4 P. M. and I was at the metro exit. I opened the city map to try to get my bearings. I was barely standing there 2 minutes when 3 guys come to accost me:
“Eh, dearie, have you lost your way? Because in exchange for a blowjob we can help you find it” [literally, “because if you suck, we can help you recover it!”]
Not feeling like responding, I prefer to get myself out of there. A minute later, another guy, different from the others, comes towards me: ” Eh, miss, whatcha looking for? If you want, I can accompany you home. We could get to know each other. ” What did I do? I pulled out my smartphone and started my GPS. Too bad for the old school positioning. Too much of a pain in the butt, too wearying, too insecure.
HAVEN’T YOU LOOKED FOR IT A LITTLE?
In France, being a woman in a public place consists of developing multiple strategies for your daily life. It’s concentrating all your energy on vigilance in going about. It’s changing sidewalks when you hear a man walking behind you. It’s reflecting on your outfit every morning: “Today, I’m taking the metro. I’m going to limit risks: no skirt.” It’s spending time finding verbal replies to potential aggressions. It’s having a tightened stomach and therefore closing your trap when it arrives. It’s lowering your head and speeding up your steps upon the approach of a group of men. It’s this everyday, and it’s wearying.
Even a few years ago, I felt responsible: “Shoot! Maybe if I hadn’t worn shorts so short?” But no more. I’m responsible for nothing. Absolutely no woman is. We dress as we like, we go where we want, alone or together, according to our fancy. Justifying a phenomenon of harassment, shot against a woman, due to her outfit or her behavior, is to make her responsible for the aggression, to the benefit of the one really responsible.
Likewise, many people are confused as to the difference between harassment and flirting. I often hear that whistling at a woman on the street “is a compliment”. To make things more clear:
(Chart by Paye Ta Shnek )
Translation of table:
Expressing politely, in an an adapted context, one’s desire to know a person or see them again, and respecting their eventual refusal.(flirt)
Whistling at a person anywhere: Parliament, on the street, at work, or in transport.(harassment)
Commenting on a person’s appearance or outfit who didn’t ask or whom you don’t know.(harassment)
Insisting after a refusal or lack of a response.(harassment)
Taking a person’s refusal for timidity.(harassment)
Following or imposing your presence on a person who hasn’t responded or expresses a refusal to exchange.(harassment)
Sending sexual texts to a person who hasn’t consented to that game.(harassment)
Using your position to obtain favors.(harassment)
Threatening a person to accept your advances.(harassment)
Touching/pinching butts/breasts outside of a mutually consenting encounter.(aggression)
Hugging/kissing[the French word embrasser means both] a person by surprise or against their will.(aggression)
Placing a woman against a wall by surprise or against her will outside a mutual and consenting encounter.(aggression)
And for those still not convinced: am I supposed to have something to square with the opinion a stranger holds about my physical appearance?
Having force, you could turn a bit paranoid anyway:
” Eh, miss!”
“Well, nothing. Do you have the time, please?”
Very recently, the creation of non-mixed compartments on public transport in Germany has revived the polemic. The idea is to create cars specifically reserved for women, in order to fight the phenomenon of harassment. Well, yes, there’s nothing like the Middle Ages of course! Anyway, speaking of flashbacks, we could just simply require women to stay home and only go out in the presence of a man. Radical but effective, no? In fact, the “little” problem with this German law(already in force in other countries) is that it’s (again) women who must bear responsibility for the harassment of which they are victims. It’s always on them to adapt, not on their aggressors.
To finish, just a little advice: for flirting, there are spaces and contexts specifically made for this. You’re in a pub in the evening and someone catches your eye: you decide to approach them. If this person consents to the flirt, then there’s no problem. But personally, asking for my number when I’m leaving for work or have to go to class…No! Just, no. It’s neither the time nor the place. Do you really think that I’ll hand out my number to a stranger crossing the street?