“God Bless you darling”
“Have a good day dimples.”
Those are the two I’ve heard addressed towards me this week and I thanked them both politely and went about my day. I imagine that these comments might be unwanted by a different woman walking down the street and I can appreciate and respect that. But I would hope that she could also open her mouth and say, “No thank you.” or “I don’t appreciate that, will you please stop?”
Ever since the video of Roberts’ recorded experience of being addressed by strange men in the street was released, my nerves have been somewhat on edge whenever an online conversation flares up which generalizes or defines what occurred flatly as “Street Harassment” that should be criminalized. What is “Street Harassment” please? Who does it and what does the face of a possible campaign against it look like? Who would it serve?
“Hey Ma, my man over there thinks you’re cute and wants your number.” That’s one I used to hear endlessly in High School.
If you think the guy is cute, is it still “street harassment” because thousands of hook ups and even marriages begin this way.
When single women go to bars to meet men, those men are strangers. This game the sexes have always played has required men to be the initiators and for women to be the ones who decide whether they will respond affirmatively or with displeasure for what ever reasons.
For me, harassment whether in the street or in the office or in a bar, club, or wherever is what occurs after you have expressed the desire to no longer be pursued. Men will pursue. That’s what they do. That is what we have required them to do. And I don’t care how anti-feminist or offensive this sounds but it’s what many women like them to do.
I was hanging out with a male friend of mine yesterday and I asked him he felt about this issue. Interestingly he is the second Black male who told me he didn’t really care about it but started paying attention when he noticed that most all the men in the video were of color.
As to the question of how men would respond if it was the other way around and woman were always cat calling, whistling and making kissy noises at them, please! Does anyone need to take a poll or do a hidden camera segment to know what the overwhelming response to that would be?
That would save men like 80% of their time!
I’m not saying I haven’t had men say things to me in the street that I haven’t found infuriating. But I always chalk it up to that one particular guy or incident, not all men and certainly not all Black men. I can’t even imagine how I could! I guess I’ve just never found it to be an issue for me.
Now I get how patriarchy plays into our internalized normalization of this occurrence but as women with intelligence, voices, and power, we also have to be aware of the ways in which we contribute to the appropriation of gendered social cues. Because to me, there are situations in which the same women who hate to be called out in the street, require this same amount of assertion in a setting where they crave attention and flattery. Again, if the attention is unwanted and this has been made clear but still continues, you are now dealing with a harassment case.
Do I think a man is wrong or bad mannered or a rapist just because he says something to me I don’t want to hear in the street? No. But if he pursues me after I have made it clear I have zero interest, then he has a problem. And at that point, I have to do what I can to protect myself and my rights.
And finally, compliments from men I don’t know in the street have yielded feelings of positive reinforcement for me on several occasions. I’m not saying I know who is harmless or who is potentially dangerous. I’ve also gotten compliments from women in the street and love those as well! What I’m saying is, I wish there was more carefulness around the definition of “street harassment” and not this dangerous lumping in of “How are you today”s and “God Bless you”s and “You’re beautiful”s with a general sense of being made to feel unsafe.
Roberts also makes a general statement about places where people don’t experience harassment.
“People don’t put up with harassment at work, at school, at home. And we shouldn’t have to put up with it in the streets. I have a right to feel safe.”
Women get harassed everywhere and have been for ages! They’re being harassed this second. If she only gets harassed in the streets and not at school or in the office than good for her but that sounds kind of like a generalization to me. Who are these people who don’t get harassed at work or in school or at home? What strange new world does she live in and can I visit? I just feel like this issue has become about about one women’s experience and I don’t seek to undervalue her experience or her feelings but I worry that her testimony speaks for the experience of other women in ways that are not accurate and I hate it when one person speaks for others in even the smallest ways without checking in on them. There has to be an attempt at balanced and fair reporting that includes opposing viewpoints in order to have a truly constructive conversation about this issue.