An Appropriate Response to Street Harassment

From Infoshop News

Saturday, July 17 2010 @ 07:11 PM UTC

You got a real sexy walk, mama. Can I be your boyfriend? Look at THAT! Are you a fag or a dyke? Hey, you with the legs! Can I ride? Don’t get mad, baby, lemme hit that! What—I was just trying to say hi.

by Dykonoclast
Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement #33

You got a real sexy walk, mama. Can I be your boyfriend? Look at THAT! Are you a fag or a dyke? Hey, you with the legs! Can I ride? Don’t get mad, baby, lemme hit that! What—I was just trying to say hi.

Random sampling of some remarks to which I am subject pretty much every time I leave the house. And no, it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or how long it’s been since I’ve showered. I am invariably regarded by much of the male population as a walking (or bicycling) fuckhole. And no, it’s not just from poor men or men with dark skin. And no, I am not fucking flattered by it —a glance in the mirror or the words of my l—overs are far more convincing than ‘Hey, Mrs. Jugs!’ from some douche with no self control. And no, these men are not ‘just being friendly’ and no, they are not ‘just trying to get to know me.’ Most things that are said to emboobened folks on the street are not conducive to starting conversations, let alone starting a healthy socio-sexual relationship.

I hate that this is such a personalized narrative that I’m writing here because I’m writing about an extremely widespread phenomenon that affects most, if not all, people marginalized for their sex or gender presentation. Street harassment is a highly effective way men have of defining and controlling public spaces as masculine male spaces. The rest of us are interlopers and we are reminded of this every time we have the gall to appear in public. It’s effective because it keeps so many of us in fear.

To have one’s delusions of being a sovereign human being worthy of respect dashed repeatedly every time one leaves one’s house is utterly soul is utterly soul crushing. Many have been the times I have elected to stay in rather than face a leering male public and I strongly suspect that street harassment plays a role in why agoraphobia afflicts twice as many women as men (agoraphobia = fear of being in public spaces).

To counteract the thoroughly isolating and disempowering effects of street harassment, projects have arisen around the world from Hollaback websites (started in NYC, now represented in most major cities, including http://hollabackboston.blogspot. com to Blank Noise Project in New Delhi, India. Hollaback sites encourage folks to send cell phone pictures and stories of harassers to be posted online, Blank Noise arranges street occupations and media projects. There is also which is a fantastic resource for global information, stories, resources, resistance campaigns, and it also exists to promote a forthcoming book of the same name, the first of its kind.

As exciting and inspiring as it feels when learning about activism around street harassment, that all tends to evaporate when the next sleazy fucker verbally ejaculates on you. Again. And again. Every available option is exhausting and draining; either continue in silence or yell back. Neither guarantees your safety. Many anti-street harassment activists advocate for legislation recognizing street harassment as a crime for which punitive measures are to be enforced. But can we really expect police to react appropriately to these situations if we call them? These are the folks who arrest you for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace if you call them after your asshole partner hit you. Cops are the ones who call you a lying slut if you call them after someone raped you and they’re the ones who let your rape kit sit untested in a lab for years, decades, or for all eternity. I know I’m not the only one who has been sleazed at by cops on the street. It’s clear whose side the police are on. Even if we could expect police to take our plight seriously, do we really need more people locked up? With 1 in 31 folks in the US already under punitive state supervision, it should be abundantly clear that the state and their punishments are not the solution.

Some reality: not all of the New Jersey 7 are out of prison for defending themselves as Black lesbians against a man who promised to ‘fuck them straight’ in 2006 before physically attacking them. With more convictions to come, Shakida Bowers and Nichelle Carter are two teenaged girls imprisoned in Virginia for the next few decades because, at the age of 15, they fought back against an adult man who groped one of them, and are now being held responsible for his death in a ‘gang-related mob attack.’ In 2008, Mildred Beaubrun was shot dead at age 18 by some harassers she declined to fuck. March 6th 2010, 15-year-old Shayla Raymond was killed fleeing her harassers. A few days later, a man in NYC was so incensed at getting rejected by a woman that he followed her into the shitter at a bar and beat her unconscious. Broken eyesocket. Shattered jaw and ‘other injuries’ including the possibility that he sexually assaulted her.

I complain about street harassment a lot. It happens to me a lot. It actually happens to women and queers and genderqueers and trans people all over the world. A lot. And a lot of people, particularly the men I talk to about it, never really know how to react. Asshole randos on the street aren’t really part of a community we can hold accountable. Lucy Parsons once wrote, ‘Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society.’ So if you are blessed with the kind of male privilege that keeps you from comprehending the reality I’m describing here, maybe you should use it in defense of the rest of us.

Brainstorm some ways of challenging these repulsive behaviors, whether in yourself, your friends, or asshole randos on the street.

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