It’s Not a Compliment, It’s Harassment
“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression” –Nelson Mandela
“AYE GIRL! SLOW DOWN!” “WHY YOU WALKIN’ SO FAST?!” “NICE ASS!”
I was saddened the other day as I followed behind a woman on my way into a restaurant for lunch who had just been taunted by a young man from across the street. In considering a part of my own identity, honestly my heart sank even further when I thought of the realization that both the perpetrator and the victim in this case were African-American. Because of the obstacles faced by African-Americans already, it stings that much more when I witness or experience oppression or prejudice among group members.
In my opinion, the display and approach the young man offered represented an acting out of the Black male as the Brute: a stereotype that was bought and disseminated hundreds of years ago that continues to persist.
“For Black men who have been locked out of many of the proposed social opportunities of American society, be it work, education, healthy living conditions, etc. power feels a bit foreign. This lack of power exists along with media that inundates us images of “success” that are far from our grasps. In response, many young Black men look for local spaces to have power over something. This power over usually crystallizes in our relationship to women in our community. As boys and men harass women who pass by and feen interest in women responding favorably to grotesque advances and comments about their bodies, it’s all too common to hear these encounters end with, “Fuck you then, bitch!” This last ditch statement reflects males attempt to salvage the “power” in the interaction. The catch is that the final statement not only fails to provide the harasser with power, it also further disempowers the harassed.”
In speaking specifically in the context of the African American community, I think Dr. Lewis did a great job of highlighting the issue. However, in agreeing with him, I would also say that street harassment is an ill perpetrated by men which crosses racial lines and devalues women in the human family all over the world.
So what is Street Harassment?
Street harassment is something that many women are all too familiar with, and can encounter on a daily basis. While SH is one term to define it, I am sure that many men have seen (or maybe even participated in) these actions before.
Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment.org, an organization that works to “raise awareness about the global problem of gender-based street harassment and illustrate how it is a human rights issue that impedes gender equality” speaks of street harassment as being:
“Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation and assault. 80 to 100 percent of women worldwide face sexual harassment in public. In many countries, including the United States, this is called “street harassment,” and in other countries it’s called “eve teasing” or “public sexual harassment.” Street harassment is bullying behavior but instead of being treated as such, it is often normalized as “the way things are,” treated as a minor annoyance, a compliment, or women’s fault. In reality, it is a global human rights issue and it must end.”
This Video directed by Nuala Cabral, entitled: “Walking Home” highlights some of the experiences women can face on a daily basis being harassed in the street. (Contains Some explicit language)
We know it. We’ve seen it. Women continue to experience it. No matter how we slice it, street harassment demeans women. Women of the world should be able to go to public places without being physically or psychologically poked and prodded like a piece of meat.
In thinking of the woman I saw, I am sure that this was not the first time she had been harassed, and would probably not be the last. Although the incident happened very quickly, I believe that it had a lasting effect. Yes, she might have escaped with her physical being in-tact, but I can only imagine the mental scars left on her psyche as a result of this and other random encounters she may have received in the past, just for being who she was.
In my previous post, I talked a little about how in thinking specifically about my social identity as a male (excluding race), I am generally not concerned about my safety when walking at night. However many women must be concerned about traveling in groups, with a trusted friend, etc out of fear of being assaulted by men (generally speaking). By devaluing women verbally, street harassment can contribute to situations that make it ok (in the perpetrator’s mind) to escalate into a physical confrontation, specifically if the advances are rejected.
Allies are needed to fight against every type of oppression. We must use our privileges to level the playing field. Just as people of color should not be solely responsible for ending racism, just as people in the LGBTQ community should not be solely responsible for ending homophobia, women should not be solely responsible for ending sexism in its many forms.
As a whole, I believe men need to do better. We shouldn’t have to imagine them in the place of our mothers, partners, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, and all of the other special women in our lives in order to recognize this as an issue. They should not have to have some attachment to us as men in order to be treated with respect. Rather, we should recognize the inherent respect they deserve as human beings regardless of if we know them or not. We must work to counter the societal notions that reduce them to mere body parts, or simple objects to be used purely for male pleasure.
Although I have not yet become a father, I understand the importance of teaching young men, and even more specifically in terms of my passions and salient sphere of influence, young African-American men to respect women from an early age.
Those of us who are adults should be mindful of the ways we present ourselves as well in terms of how we communicate with women. The young men are watching. As I ask myself “what will they see in me?” I hope my male readers are asking themselves similar questions.
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins