Too many times in my life, I have had to suffer through street harassment alone. I’ll be walking by myself, minding my own beeswax, more often than not holding in a burp and wearing yesterday’s laundry, and some jabroni on the sidewalk thinks I will feel so much safer in my neighborhood if he makes it blatantly obvious that he’s staring at my sweater meat. Or better yet, hiss into my ear, “Hello, mamacita, looking good, why don’t you come sit with us? Why are you ignoring me, you bitch? I’m paying you a compliment.” It’s usually one or the other—the kind that is silent but deadly, or the kind that slides into my mind-DMs so only I can hear it.
The deeply worrying thing about street harassment is that they’re not trying to date me.
They’re trying to humiliate me and reinforce their dominance over me, on the off chance that I’ve forgotten, I’m emancipated, or I’m a *gasp* lesbian. It’s an exercise in male power. It’s a way of communicating, “I can say whatever I want to you, no matter how inappropriate, or how uncomfortable it makes you feel, and you can’t do shit about it.” As the great Lindy West once wrote, “The sexualization of women is only appealing if it’s nonconsensual. Otherwise, it’s ‘sluttiness.'”
On top of the dehumanizing nature of street harassment, the experience is also extremely isolating. Not because it isn’t happening to other women—because it’s happening to all of us—but because the chances of someone coming to my defense, aid, or joining forces with me in taking a stand are slim to none.
Good men, the proverbial “nice guys,” this is where you come in.
I know there are a lot of men out there who are listening when we tell them about all the things that have happened to us on the streets, and it’s making you angry. You wish you could do something, but you don’t know what. Here are the do’s and don’ts of being an ally to women.
Don’t Ignore It
I was once walking in a clubbing district with a man I was dating, and a car full of men drove up alongside me and said some sexually obscene things. My date just continued walking, ignored them, and basically left me to deal with it. Pretending street harassment isn’t happening or pretending like you can’t hear it is extremely damaging. Not just because it is happening, and we can’t pretend we live in another dimension or a vacuum, but also because ignoring it doesn’t stop it. They will just yell louder, follow me for longer, and threaten me even stronger.
My date told me later that he was afraid to react for fear of getting his ass kicked. He said if he had said something, they wouldn’t come kick my ass. There are so many things wrong with that statement. The least of which being the idea that a man wouldn’t dare kick a woman’s ass. I would love to live in a world where men didn’t assault women on the street, and if he lives in that world, I want to join. But in this world, men beat women in public, in broad daylight, and all the livelong day. I have to deal with the threat of assault 24/7, so you guys better sack up and get a modicum of the bravery that women have to have every day if you want to be an ally.
Don’t Tell Us to Take It as a Compliment
What am I, Criss Angel Mindfreak? I can’t magically transmute sexual obscenities into some kind of positive personal attribute. It’s not flattering; it’s a threat to my safety. And all you guys who think we should just “relax already” about unwanted advances are the same guys who got all butt hurt when that U2 album appeared on your iPhone without your consent. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again—it’s amazing to me how often “you should learn to take a compliment” is said by fully grown men who still haven’t learned how to take rejection.
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