Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On Street Harassment

Hellooooo beautiful people!

I'm going to leave aside the fact that I realize my blog is in serious need of redesign.  Content before form, and the content has been sorely lacking.  I apologize for this, and would like to blame it on the amount of writing I do for class as a full-time graduate student, but that's not an excuse.  I should always find time for this.  I promise, I'll give you all an update on grad student life in the near future.

In a weird way, I'd like to thank the talk I was at this evening by the incredibly inspiring Ta-Nehisi Coates for reminding me about why I need to write -- and not just critical response papers for graduate courses, but down and dirty writing about things that matter both to me and in the larger context.

If you've read anything I've had to say on this blog any time in the last (nearly) five years, you know that there's no way I could make it through the recent street harassment/catcalling dialogue in the aftermath of the "Ten Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" video.

I appreciate the criticisms that the fact that the woman in the video was a paid actress and that the editing of the video disproportionately displays men of color doing the catcalling.  These are valid and understandable criticisms.

But they do not change the discussion.

I repeat: valid criticisms of the methodology of the video do not change the discussion which ought surround it.

Because while the actress might have been planted, the comments and interactions which occurred throughout the video were not scripted.  And the experience of this particular woman, on camera, is not one with which women are unfamiliar.

To hear responses from men about how you should just "ignore it," when ignoring it only prompts further comment and, in multiple cases in the video, being repeatedly followed and harassed, or "stand up for yourself" when women are killed for confronting their harassers seems to show that people don't really understand what's going on.

The issue is the idea that women in public have surrendered themselves to attention, wanted or not, simply by being in public spaces.  If you want proof that catcalling isn't the same as "just giving someone a compliment" or "just saying hello," I highly encourage you to check out some of the tweets from #DudesGreetingDudes to see what it looks like when guys say to other guys what men on the street say to women, and how predatory or absurd it begins to sound.

That said: if you are in a position where you feel comfortable and safe confronting your harasser, I encourage you to do so.  Their behavior in a public space is unacceptable and should be repeatedly called out.

From a more personal experience, typically if someone actually is just saying hi, or legitimately complimenting me, I am generally unbothered by it, even though I find it annoying to be confronted in a public space.  But, for the record, "Hey baby, nice legs (or ass, or tits, etc)" or "You should smile!" or "Damn" are not compliments.  They're creepy and unsolicited.  And just because I am personally okay with being greeted by strangers, it does not mean that I am always okay with it, or that it is safe to assume that everyone is.  Many people are not.

It is also never.

I repeat, never.

Acceptable to touch a stranger (or an acquaintance or anyone) without permission.  Not their hair or their butt or anything.

Privately yours,
Rachel Leigh

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