Women’s Editor, Anne Blanken, shares her disdain at a practise that continues to rare its ugly head each time a woman walks down the street…
Head up, stand tall. Focus on a point in the distance. Don’t make eye contact. Adjust clothing to cover any bare skin – discretely. Don’t be obvious. Appear confident, they smell fear.
There it is.
When asking a male friend what he would do if he could spend one week as a woman, he replied that he would seek to gain a deeper understanding of the social implications of being a woman, specifically the supposed harassment that many – if not all – women have experienced. To which I suggested: take a walk in any random neighbourhood, at any given time.
The stoic quality laced throughout this advice confounded me. I was complacent to the phenomenon of street harassment, an occurrence that I had somehow conceptually normalized since the age of 14-15. Perhaps this is because it is literally so normal an occurrence; 64% of women in a survey commissioned by YouGov experienced unwanted sexual harassment in public places. This number increases significantly to 85% when considering just women aged 18-24.
The fact that this study was completed for the first time ever as late as 2016 reflects more generally the silence surrounding this issue. Elizabeth Kissling, in her article Street harassment: the language of sexual terrorism, contemplates the lack of published work on street harassment, noting that it is considered “a topic too trivial for serious women to be concerned about” (Kissling, 1991: 456). Consequently, mockery becomes a “tool of silencing… to support the system of sexual terrorism” (ibid.). Fear and intimidation are thus legitimated by silence, and it becomes evident that street harassment reflects more fundamentally the rejection of a safe and equal space for women.
Recently, the House of Representatives of the Netherlands has indicated its intent to criminalize verbal and physical street harassment. While such a law may be difficult to operate in practice, it still possesses symbolic value in that it recognizes, openly discusses, and plainly rejects the practice of such harassment.
Street harassment inspires fear and limits the mobility of people in public spaces. It is a human rights violation that needs to be recognized and stopped.
BREAK THE SILENCE: Comment below to tell us your street harassment story.
For more information see: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org