The Reality of Street Harassment

As a woman there are certain things you deal with. You don’t ask for them; they’re just a fact of life. It has nothing to do with beauty or body type. The only real requirement is that you be feminine, which by definition, if you are a woman, you are.

Street harassment is one of those things. You walk outside and you don’t have in ear buds, random men will try to engage you in personal conversations. They’ll comment on your looks, tell you what to do, make suggestions on your behavior, present, past and future, and tender their opinion about your clothes or walk or hair or skin or lips.

Unless you’re a woman, you won’t understand how invasive and annoying it can be, this unasked for, completely random inquisition and abuse. Hollaback, an organization dedicated to eliminating street harassment, captured the experience horribly well. Along with creative director Rob Bliss, the organization created a PSA about catcalling featuring Shoshana B. Roberts, a New York-based actress who walked silently around Manhattan for 10 hours to capture the experience.

The trailer looked familiar. Less than two minutes in length, it was perfect: an accurate, sad, faintly disgusting snippet of one woman’s objectification by strangers.

Catcalling isn’t restricted to women, though the number of men who experience it is smaller. I ran across one stat that suggested 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men in the U.S. report experiencing at least one type of street harassment in their lifetime, and a majority said it has happened more than once. All of which is a data-driven way to say the problem is pervasive.

I hope the PSA helps. This kind of harassment has negative emotional and psychological effects for the afflicted. A woman whose safety has been threatened on the way to work, for instance, may not be as productive on the job because she’s reliving the incident over and over in her head. 

And, according to a StopStreetHarassment.org report I read, street harassment prevents equality. “No country has achieved gender equality, nor have they reached equality for members of the LGBTIQA community. Street harassment is a symptom of that inequality, and it keeps harassed persons from fully participating and thriving in the world.”

Critics of women who call out this kind of abuse, or who suggest it’s not that big a deal, chew on that.

"Street in Venice" by John Singer Sargent courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.