Street Harassment: NOT a Compliment
Emilee RussellFeminist Wednesday University Ambassador
When I first learned of this month’s topic, I was excited that some light would be shed on this subject, but I was kind of at a loss as to what to write about. I could, as almost every woman could, recall every inappropriate advance or embarrassing encounter. I could have recounted the first time I was jeered at in a gas station or hollered at by a passing car. I could have thought back to high school and described my frustration when, after my teammates and I were harassed by male classmates while we ran stair laps, I was told by my mother that “that’s what boys do.”
I could have elaborated on any of these experiences, but I gave myself some time to think. I wasn’t sure how I’d go about writing this piece until tonight when, as I left the restaurant where I work, I heard a long, high-pitched whistle. I knew better than to turn my head, but I did anyway and saw two men slowly pass by in a truck. As soon as I raised my eyes to them, they gestured at me, yelled at me, and tore off down the street. Immediately the all-too-familiar angry, pathetic feeling rushed back to me. Every woman has felt this way in her life — livid but helpless. Just as quickly, I began questioning myself. I knew I shouldn’t have turned around, but should I have shouted back? Or would that be just giving them what they wanted? Still, ignoring them felt like too passive a reaction. Self-doubt subsided and I was still mad. At least they hadn’t followed me or worse, I thought, counting myself lucky for a split second. But still, what gave them the right to do that? To interrupt me, to provoke me, and to embarrass me?
Obviously there are many not-so-subtle messages that street harassment conveys. It communicates that the harasser can not only manipulate you and have access to you without your consent, but that they feel entitled to that. Your privacy, your voice, your consent, and the respect that you deserve is secondary to the harasser.
Street harassment is often excused under the guise of being complementary, and that is simply ludicrous. When compliments are genuine, they come from the heart and are meant to build someone up and make them feel good, unlike street harassment. Inappropriate comments on the street are unwanted — that’s why it’s called harassment. Compliments convey respect, appreciation, and kindness. Women are told that they should appreciate these unsolicited remarks, to be grateful for the attention. We brush it off when young girls complain about boys teasing them, telling them that “boys will be boys” and that they do that “because they like you.” This thinking teaches girls that harassment is flattering and something that they should put up with. Women have every right to stand up for themselves when they encounter harassment whether it is on the street, in the workplace, or anywhere else.