Street harassment is NOT a rite of passage

November 3, 2010 at 4:23 PM | Posted in Do something whydoncha, Education | 3 Comments

New York City lawmakers held a hearing on street harassment last Thursday. The Committee on Women’s Issues, chaired by Council member Julissa Ferreras conducted the oversight on street harassment of girls and women in New York City. They heard testimony from women who said men regularly follow them, yell at them and make them feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

Hollaback.org was one of the groups that testified saying too often people think street harassment is the price women pay for living in New York but we’re not buying it, taxes are the price we have to pay for living in New York. There were harrowing testimonies from different panels on harassment, ranging from being followed, yelled at, lewd comments, leers, groped, grabbed, and masturbated on in a crowded train during rush hour.

My heart sank hearing these tales of degradation, humilition and dehumanizition because I know these stories were among the more “tame”. All women have experienced this as a survey conducted illustrates. In a 2008 study of 600 girls aged 12-18 from California and Georgia, 90% of the girls surveyed had experienced sexual harassment at least once. Hollaback polled 150 young women at Barnard and the LIttle Red School House and 100% of them had experienced street harassment.

The women who testified were diverse in age, race and ethinicity. They refuted noncholant attitudes that condone that this “type of thing just happens,” women should have a thick skin or they should be glad for the attention and insisted it’s not about women “not being able to take a compliment.” It crosses the line of an appropriate “that’s a nice shirt,” into sexual harassment, sexual assault and an issue of “continued gender based violence.” “It demonstrates attitudes of a belief system at the cost of women and girls.” And very young girls at that.

One panelist spoke about a group of 13 year olds she works with and their experiences with street harrassment. The young girls said even when they tell the men “I’m 13” they are met with “After 12, it’s lunch,” or “14 and under, bend ’em over.” The panelist went on to say it reinforces the warped idea that a female is “only as good as you look,” a consequence of socialization to view women as property and present only to satisfy carnal desires and male egos.

One male panelist insisted men “must take responsibility for and play a pivotal role in stopping gender based violence” because they commit 90% of these crimes. Another panelist observed that putting a stop to street harrassment takes a cultural shift and “cultural shifts are messy and take a long time,” but it is a service of social change.

It is time to say enough is enough. Councilwoman Ferreras recounted her experience speed-walking past a bodega to avoid male loiterers as a young girl. She said a conversation with the NYPD and how these complaints are handled could help. Councilman Charles Barron agreed saying “there has to be some consequence” to this behavior. Establishing signage and “no-harrasment zones” sends a loud and clear message to the community that sexual and street harassment is not tolerated nor acceptable.

Councilman Jumaane Williams was taken aback and surprised at the testimonies and apologized for his past behavior and all men’s behavior that may have resembled street harrassment. He wanted to “lend his maleness” to the cause. Hollaback has a comprehensive list of ways to combat street harassment and they are developing an Android and Iphone app to help the cause.

Emily May founder ended her testimony with, “New York City’s women and girls deserve the freedom to walk down the streets of New York safely and confidently, without being the object of some creep’s fantasy. And you have the power to change that.” I agree. Both women and men live on this earth. We are equal and different but our differences should not be the reason that one gender should be relentlessly terrorized just for setting foot outside of their house.

I believe men truly do not understand the extent and urgency of this issue as they do not have to face it day in and day out. Their safety and freedom aren’t compromised in the way a woman’s is, just for being born that way. Sometimes it takes a mother, sister, girlfriend or daughter to go through the harassment for them to open their eyes and allow some understanding to permeate male minds. As the councilman said, if this was a problem affecting primarily males, steps to resolution would come a hell of a lot faster. Patriarchy. Male privilege. Female objectification. The same way these ideas were allowed to manifest is the same way they can be defeated…through cooperative education and collective action among women, men, boys and girls.

Related: Man exposes himself to woman in public…happens everyday
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Related: What part of “Not Interested” do you not understand?

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3 Comments »

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  1. […] Dash of Reality, “Street harassment is NOT a rite of passage“ […]

  2. […] found ‘em y’all! Yup! I found the culprits! The women who let some men think it’s acceptable to “pssssttt” at me on the street. The ones who oblige the demands for a number after the “psssssst.” The ones who […]

  3. […] only of felonies but also misdemeanor sex crimes like groping, lewdness and harassment. Last year, New York City lawmakers held a hearing on street harassment. The Committee on Women’s Issues, chaired by Council member Julissa Ferreras conducted the […]


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