Dealing with Street Harassment

  • Print

PSP members talk about how to handle street harassment (like cat calling, sexual remarks, lewd comments, leering).  

 

“Harassment is about power and control and it is often a manifestation of societal discrimination like sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, classism, ableism and racism. No form of harassment is ever okay; everyone should be treated with respect, dignity, and empathy.” - Michelle Bachelet, Director of UN Women

 

Street harassment is an issue relevant to girls women everywhere - Park Slope is no exception. As one PSP member writes:

 

“Tough topic to bring up but here goes...

Over the last few months or year I have been harassed more than ever before in the Slope. I have lived here for more than 15 years and what I've been experiencing is more akin to what I used to experience in Manhattan in the 90s. In addition to the usual catcalling etc in the past couple of weeks men slowing down their cars and honking for attention has become more common. I'm a tough city kid who had only lived in major cities her whole life and think of myself as pretty street smart but this is stressing me out. It has happened all over the slope from Flatbush to 9th street and on all the major avenues. And usually in broad daylight - 9 or 10 in the am. While I don't think a woman ever ever "asks for it" it does happen more to me when I'm in workout clothes.

Is it just me? Are other women feeling threatened? Has something changed in the neighborhood, in policing etc that is driving this?

And most importantly what can be done?”

 

Replies:

 

Resources for activism:

“I don't think what people need is more advice on how not to be a victim. Really, we've heard it all. And it's terrible advice that doesn't work.

I read about a protest where people write in chalk on the sidewalk. Either where the harassment happened, or messages in a high-traffic public area to gain awareness. Things like "I was sexually harassed here and no one stopped it;" or "Obscene catcalls started when I was 11." Some people write down exactly what obscenity was shouted at them.   

There are also materials you can get that are aimed at schools and workplaces, to educate people about the problem.  

Will this change people's behavior? I don't know. I hope it makes a harasser think twice, and it makes a bystander more likely to shout them down. And maybe it makes a kid who was going to grow up to be a harasser realize that, in spite of what he's heard, this isn't "being friendly," and it's not a good way to interact with people. (Shoutout G.I. Joe! Knowing is half the battle!)

But it's certainly a better use of our energy than suggesting it's man-hating to complain about being threatened on the streets. Or to excuse this behavior by suggesting it is somehow a normal social expression of irresistible primal urges.

Maybe we should pick a day in Spring/Summer to do some chalking in the neighborhood?”

 

Additional resources:

“Thank you, I've been appreciating the very thoughtful contributions to this thread. n case it's helpful, I offer two resources for consideration:

1. Hollaback!

This is a startup nonprofit organization whose mission is to end harassment (of the catcalling kind) by exposing it. I have no affiliation with it, but I met the founder a few years ago through work, she has won multiple honors in the field of social innovation, and I think she may be from - or currently based in - NYC.

2. Master of None, episode 7 ("Ladies and Gentlemen")

I admire how articulately some of you have gotten your point across... when I needed Aziz Ansari to try to do it for me. I thought this episode was so good at showing how different a male and female's experiences are just because of our sex, and how if you haven't experienced it yourself, it's hard to notice it when it happens right in front of you. Available on Netflix.”

“I can't say I have noticed an increase, I think it has always been very consistent. Workout gear definitely tends to increase these. In my 30 something years I have yet to figure out a solution outside of just ignoring it. You brought up a good point, I have a 10 year old daughter and it often happens when we are together. I think it is time to have a conversation with her about this. What is the right thing to say? Would love to hear opinions of others.”

 

What to tell our children 

“I don’t know what we tell our girls. I have two blond daughters, 14 and 11.  I was reading a book called Girl Land (interesting book) and girls talked about when they first knew they were not little girls anymore. Some said it was when they started getting cat called on the street.  Sad, eh?   Not only do we have to teach our girls how to react, but also educate our boys why it’s not a compliment.

Interesting…
I read this a few months ago and was angered and disturbed but it didn’t seem right to post without context. Now it has context.  There is a part in this article that addresses what you’re talking about. It’s from the perspective of a young teenager (and beyond):

From the article:

‘Men start to say things to me on the street, sometimes loudly enough that everyone around us can hear, but not always. Sometimes they mutter quietly, so that I’m the only one who knows. So that if I react, I’ll seem like I’m blowing things out of proportion or flat-out making them up. These whispers make me feel complicit in something, although I don’t quite know what.

I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I am asking for it. I feel dirty and ashamed.

I want to stand up for myself and tell these men off, but I am afraid. I am angry that I’m such a baby about it. I feel like if I were braver, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. Eventually I screw up enough courage and tell a man to leave me alone; I deliberately keep my voice steady and unemotional, trying to make it sound more like a command than a request. He grabs my wrist and calls me a fucking bitch.

After that I don’t talk back anymore. Instead I just smile weakly; sometimes I duck my head and whisper thank you. I quicken my steps and hurry away until one time a man yells don’t you fucking run away and starts to follow me.

After that I always try to keep my pace even, my breath slow. Like how they tell you that if you ever see a bear you shouldn’t run, you should just slowly back away until he can’t see you.

I think that these men, like dogs, can smell my fear.’ ”

 

And  what not to tell the kids:

“For those of you with BOYS, it’s important that they are also taught to respect and not harass women.  I remember a scene in the movie Parenthood (https://youtu.be/RgrbuRNc-AQ)  where Steve Martin says to his young son, “what do we say when we see a cute 8 year old walk by?” and the kid responds, “hubba hubba.”  While it seems cute and funny enough in the movie (and I do love Steve Martin) we need to NOT teach these things to our boys.”

 

This was in response to [the poster] asking how to talk to her daughters about the issue:

I think being a tween/teen is the hardest age to try and deal with a harasser. You are probably dressing precisely the way you want to, and maybe it is provocatively - which in a sense is okay and 100% understandable. You're testing limits with yourself and how others precieve you. It make sense you want a little attention, but you might not realize how much attention you're receiving.  

When I was that age it was the era of Grudge - lucky me. Oversized tees, khakis, and flannels were popular/common and I never wore anything reveling unless it was for a school dance. On the other hand, I can think of numerous instances where I did push the envelope with my dress code purposely to get attention. Honestly, I did like the power of how I looked. I once had a man buy me a dress that I wanted to wear to prom. Totally random. He said I looked so good in it I should have it. At the time, I thought awesome! Looking back on it, completely creepy. I should have said no.

I guess keeping communication open between you and your kids about the creepy situations is the most important thing. If something does happen, hope your daughter can come to you and talk it out. Most likely she'll be too shy to say anything in the moment, but if she can discuss it with you, and think about what she could do next time, this might be the best and most empowering thing to do. Being able to talk about any issue moves the power from the abuser to the abused.

I've had my share of instances where I've stood up for myself and it's totally worked out. And other times where I was very close to being seriously hurt. That's the hardest thing to determine. What your reaction will be and what the consequences might come of it.

In a nutshell, I think keeping communication open with your daughters and sons about what's appropriate to say/to, how to respond, and letting kids be able to gush about the experience and figure out what to do next time is the best bet. The teenage years are the absolute hardest.”

 

A local dad offers a male perspective on the issue:

“I read some of the entries in the article/blog [mentioned above].  I find it quite sad and disturbing.  From these entries I find it hard to distinguish what is called Feminism and what is Fear of Men/Disparaging all men.  Really.  I don't think if I was a women I'd be able to have a relationship with any man based on these entries.   Everyone's personal experience is there own business and no one should judge that.    

Growing up in a certain environment in NYC I didn't wear/show any jewelry/chains/rings or wear fancy leather or other jackets for fear that I would be robbed, mugged what have you.  And this was not only me but the way things were back then...and there was an understanding most crimes are crimes of opportunity, you leave your door open don't be surprised if your house is robbed, etc, etc.  I don't wish this to be the case, but it is.  I would rather live in a world where everyone can do as they please without getting hurt or otherwise molested/bothered, but this is not that world.

I often think of the metaphor of the Defensive Driving Course.  I remind my nephew about driving safely and he rolls his eyes and says, "I know, I know, but I'm a good driver though."  It's not about him being a good driver, it's about others on the road being bad drivers.  Unfortunately, in this world we have to deal with bad drivers and bad people.  The recognition of this is why there is no Offensive Driving Courses.  I also used to tell my niece when she was younger, "You can wear whatever you want to, but just be careful What you are advertising as some may look to buy."  Do I want her to feel restricted in her life? No.  But the reality, not what is PC or utopian, but the reality is that we are still animals.  And we give signals, verbal and non-verbal to other animals.  Signals for mating or for for danger, etc.  Some of us have evolved a bit more than others but we are still animals, try going without sleep or food for a day and lets see how quickly we express these animalistic  traits.  My Niece has no power to control who looks at her.  She wants the boy she likes to look at her and her outfit that shows a lot of skin.  Yet, she doesn't want other boys she doesn't like to look at her the same way.  It's a conflict which I'm not certain the solution to. Yet, I know adult women who are shocked that this occurs.  I'm shocked they're not aware of the contradiction.  

Of course, there are levels of intrusion: looks vs. stares, apparent compliments vs. crude requests for sexual acts, and attempts to hold a hand vs. being dragged into a bedroom and beaten bloody in front of your children, as happens in domestic violence cases.  These must be separated as not every man who compliments you or holds the door open is a misogynist.  

Sorry for the long email.  I did feel though I had to "represent" a sane male perspective that the blog seems to miss.  No one male or female wants to be molested with verbal violence.  Having grown up in a household with 3 older sisters and worked with survivors of domestic violence for 7 years has added to my perspective.  But we can't give in to seeing male "enemies everywhere" and should work to create allies and understanding if we are to survive our animal nature in hopes of evolving into human beings.”

 

Never feel ashamed to walk down the street:

“I read that before too and it also made me angry because that is exactly how I felt through most of my early teen years. Trying to hide away from the attention, thinking it was I at fault for doing something that bring it on myself.
(mom to 2 beautiful girls who should never feel ashamed walking down the street)”

 

Take control of your feelings:

“I lived in NYC in the 80's when this was much more common than it is now. Really, it happened 10 times a day. The lesson I learned very quickly, and which has served me incredibly well over the years is that you often have have a choice about whether you let people wield power over you. And this is especially true of random people on the street.

When you ignore them you disempower them. When you answer back you disempower them. When you laugh at them you disempower them. When you take control of your feelings and your situation you win.

Not every man who cat calls is a jerk. Some are trying to intimidate you. Some are being playful. (And some would be fun to play with) And some are just... unique.

For instance, as an art student I once faced down a Hells Angel in the east village and yelled at him to (*cringe*) "stop invading my space!". Then I menaced him with a nude self portrait. We glared at each other and then we both started laughing. After that we regularly harassed one another when I passed with my cart of art crap. Would I have trusted him as far as I could throw him? Hell no. But we developed a sort of mutual respect.

Learning to know the difference is a skill and a very useful one. There have been times when I knew I had to get the hell out of a situation and didn't hesitate but I'm not sure I would have had the wherewithal to do that if I hadn't learned how to have that degree of self assurance that comes with taking control of my own reactions.

I guess what I'm saying is that the reality is we will always encounter jerks. (Actually the worst ones I've encountered were senior "creatives" — but that's another story). Would it be nice if everyone we met was respectful? Sure. But it wouldn't be New York City. It would be Geneva, Switzerland and no one would be playing the piano on Sundays.

Am I apologizing for for bad behavior? Hell no but I am saying is that learning to be shrewd instead of flustered (even though it doesn't happen overnight) is incredibly worthwhile in my experience.”

 

One parents shares tips about dealing with harassers from stopstreetharasment.org:

“Interesting—I’m not sure how comfortable I feel telling my daughters to hand an anti-harassment flier to someone who harasses them see Below on Dealing with Harassers).”

 

Do what you can:

“My quick suggestion is DO WHAT YOU CAN. If it scares you, run. If it humiliates you, answer with another insult. If it's funny (sometimes it can be, I was cat-called once by an old man who could barely walk, and I was relieved I was able to answer "So glad you won't be catching me any time soon")

But in this beautiful country where there are laws that protect women, report it. Take out your phone, snap a picture or a video and just add it to the NYPD files. It's your right. And it's beautiful to have a right.

Statistics will help in improving the laws. One hopes.

When I was little, I was taught by my older sister NEVER to tell our parents if we were harassed or followed, because they would not be able to do anything about it and they would give us even less freedom than we had. So in order not to be jailed at home, we would tolerate bad and sometimes also dangerous situations. THAT is victim mentality.

Scream, complain and let everyone know what you like and what you don't like.

If some men don't mind being called animals, it's their choice and you have the right to chose too. When you don't, you can fight back. Your peers, your family and your society will back you up. I feel this is the best message of empowerment you can give a young girl, or any woman.”