Street harassment is an issue that women of all races, cultures, shapes, and sizes face on a regular basis. I’m sure we can all swap stories about uncomfortable experiences we’ve had with men in public. While many women shrug it off as typical male behavior. Or, dismiss it as the way men choose to compliment a woman they find attractive. I find it to be neither of these things. Indeed street harassment is a lewd act that has little to do with my “physical attractiveness”. Rather, it has everything to do with the misogynistic attitude these types of men have towards women.

Defining Street Harassment

There is no standard definition as it relates to street harassment. But, a general explanation is a gender-specific harassment consisting of unwanted catcalls, persistent sexual advances, lewd comments, groping and exposure of genitalia. This type of behavior occurs in public locations such as buses, trains, malls, etc. The goal of these interactions is always the same. To get a woman’s attention and force her to interact by any means necessary.

Why Street Harassment is Misogynistic

There are three core reasons why street harassment is misogynistic behavior. Firstly, it demeans and degrades a woman. Secondly, it sexualizes and objectifies a woman. Thirdly, it’s deeply rooted in rape culture.

street harassment occurs on trains, buses, and subways

Demeaning and Degrading

No, sir, I don’t take your unwanted sexual advances as a compliment. If I could get one clear message across to men (and the women that think their behavior is ok) it would be this. Making sick jokes, or obscene gestures about what you “want to do to a woman” is predatory behavior. And, it’s humiliating and disrespectful. Yet, many men resort to this tactic to bring a woman down a couple of pegs. Or, to “put her in her place”. This sick power struggle involves the man believing he has superiority over the woman and therefore she has to accept his behavior and acquiesce. I can think of nothing more demeaning.

Additionally, the passive-aggressive forms of street harassment are equally degrading. Oppressive comments covered with sugary tones and a honey smile. Being told to smile more because you’re so pretty is a classic. As if women are supposed to walk around looking like a Stepford Wife because that makes them less threatening and more accessible for men. Or having someone comment on your body in a seemingly non-threatening way. For example, having a strange man tell you that he appreciates women that are curvy. While simultaneously ogling your body. On the surface, it seems innocent but is just plain creepy. 

All of these behaviors serve to make women feel powerless. And, is a constant reminder that your personal space and body aren’t your own. You’re constantly on display and being judged. Furthermore, these aggressors refuse to take no for an answer. This in truth, makes their behavior more aggressive causing the situation to escalate further. A woman’s no incites the man’s anger because the woman is threatening his right to dominate her. This means she must be humiliated. She must be reminded of her purpose. Which is to submit and empower the man. Furthermore, she must serve as an example to any woman present of what happens when you don’t play by their rules. 

Sexual Objectification

Additionally, street harassers’ behavior objectifies women sexually. Women’s bodies are not their own. They are meant to be enjoyed, ogled, and talked about. This type of thinking serves to dehumanize women. We’re nothing but an object for which a man can fulfill his sexual desires and fantasies. Not a living, breathing human with rights and wants. None of this is taken into consideration. Therefore, the man feels he’s well within his right to yell sexual obscenities while grabbing his penis. Make lewd gestures and catcalls. Follow you and persist to go home with you. For you are not seen as a human but a thing to be possessed. A toy to be played with. It’s all about his desires and his ego. You’re nothing but a conquest. 

What’s even worse is when you fail to acknowledge his attention or say no the aggressor becomes angry. All of a sudden you’re being told how horrible you are. How you’re worthless, ugly, and stupid. That they didn’t want you any way they were doing you a favor. Again, the goal of this exchange is to put the woman in her place. Who does she think she is? Your rejection is a sign of their failure and inadequacy as a man. Because nothing is wrong with them. It’s all your fault. Hence, why many men began to blame you and say it’s your fault because of what you’re wearing. Your style of hair. Or, your makeup. There is zero accountability for their actions and their warped view of sexuality and women.

victim blaming is common with street harassment

Rape Culture

Street harassment is behavior that is deeply rooted in rape culture. It’s a physical manifestation of a man’s disrespect towards women. That women are powerless and he has all the control. If you think I’m taking a leap with this statement you probably don’t truly understand what rape culture is. Generally speaking, rape culture is defined as an environment in which sexual assault and sexual violence against women is normalized. Consequently, this is due to a warped perception regarding sexuality. It tends to lean towards a misogynistic view of women. And reinforces negative stereotypes such as:

  • Women are only good for sex.
  • Women always want to have sex.
  • Women don’t mean no when they say no.
  • Women don’t have any sexual boundaries.
  • Women should repay men with sex if a man pays for dinner or buys her a gift.
  • If a woman dresses a certain way she’s “asking for it”.

An example of this would be a woman being verbally assaulted on public transportation and everyone acting as though it’s normal and acceptable. This behavior gets ignored and labeled as” boys will be boys” even though it’s predatory behavior. As a matter of fact, these interactions can quickly elevate to sexual assault and violence.

Additionally, rape culture goes one step further by seeking to silence any woman that speaks out against such ideals. This is accomplished through victim-blaming and holding women accountable for men’s actions. If a woman is harassed by a man in public she’s often advised to be quiet and “deal with it.” Or, maybe she was wearing something too suggestive. The blame is never placed on the man and his questionable behavior. It’s always the woman’s responsibility to know her “role” and defer to it. Men are seen as weak frail humans that need to be protected sexually because everything is a temptation. While women are supposed to carry the responsibility of not only their sexuality but that of their male counterparts. Women are called to be pious and chaste. Whereas men get to sow wild oats and act out sexually. It’s these double standards that make street harassment ok.

street harassment involves unwanted sexual advances

It’s Time To Do Better

We’re living in a time where the world is evolving and women are tired of being degraded, objectified and fetishized. Myself included. To be clear street harassment is a form of sexual harassment. And, while it’s not illegal it’s definitely not normal behavior. If a man has to use sexually explicit comments in order to get a woman’s attention something’s wrong. Because regardless of what you think street harassment is predatory behavior.

These perpetrators are attacking a woman when she’s at her most vulnerable. Going to get groceries, on her way to work, heading to the salon or running errands. And they’re implanting themselves in her narrative. An intimate space that’s invitation only. Furthermore, women shouldn’t have to ignore, make excuses or endure this behavior. It’s time for men to grow up and own their ish. Men should be held to the same exact standards as women regarding sexuality. If women are to be pious and prudent so should men. Society can’t place men in this strong all-knowing role. Yet, when it comes to sex and sexuality they’re weak and frail. That’s crap. It’s time to do better. Misogyny and street harassment has no space in the future. 

About the Author

women's health and wellness blogger: picture of me Kat an african american woman with black mid length curly hair standing outside on a sunny day smiling wearing a black sweater, purple scarf, and flare leg jeans

Hi, my name is Kathleen but you can call me Kat. I’m a health and wellness professional turned freelance writer and content creator.  You can find me on  YouTube and Instagram. If you take the opportunity to visit me on my other platforms don’t hesitate to leave a message, I would love to hear from you!

 

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References

  1. Stop Street Harassment: What Is Street Harassment?