Monday, June 2, 2008
Not So Nice Outside: Street Harassment Is The Rage This Season.
I’ve been wondering why the subject of cat-calling/street harassment has been on the uptick on several feminist/progressive blogs, and then i saw Jessica Hagy’s on point, simultaneously cute and groan-worthy graph. June is here! And though that brings a lot of us warm feelings (i’m a summer baby myself), it seems that there is also a downside to summertime that my male privilege does not expose me to.
It seems clear to me and most of my progressive fam that street harassment is a form of male entitlement to be in the space of a woman (or girl! i have read so many blogs about women getting really nasty catcalls from grown men at age 13), and that it is an expression of patriarchy, making public spaces a place where men can dominate and be abusive towards women, especially if they are rebuffed. Not trying to be alarmist, but unfortunately my research has turned up a really, really, effed up story where an 18 year old young woman in Florida was recently shot after a car chase... because she didn’t respond “positively” to a catcall. She is in intensive care right now. WTF?!? Luckily, this isn’t the norm, but i think this points towards the intensity of non-safety that women can experience when men choose to catcall.
But WHY?? What is the real motivation for men who do this? And I mean, how "effective" is it? Is it just an endless public theater of woman-hating half-assedly masquerading as woman-loving? Or does this behavior yield wheelbarrows of phone numbers...? The sad irony is that so many men conflate this behavior with “loving women”, and i often wonder if they are able to really have loving relationships at all, or if it is always around dominance. There seems to be an obliviousness that they have started an act of aggression, and then end up feeling like they were “attacked first” after “just paying a compliment” when they get negative reactions.
Almost decade ago, a friend of mine and i were walking down the street in NYC, and as some women walked by, my friend went into a catcall. I gave him a thump on the shoulder and asked him not to do that and associate me with that behavior. The women laughed and kept walking. Whew. My friend has NEVER forgiven me for that! I almost became the subject of “the rage of the rebuffed”, he felt humiliated in front of the women, angry that i had raised my hand to him, etc. A decade later, we have still not seen eye to eye on that incident. Which confuses me. I think its safe to say that most men who catcall and think its just fun and “complimenting” a woman would get HEATED if they saw some man say the very same thing to their mother, sister, girlfriend, etc. So there is a consciousness that it IS disrespectful, but that consciousness can somehow be conveniently bypassed.
And its also not so cut and dry, because sometimes... a stranger can comment and it IS perceived as a compliment. In a post on Angry Black Woman’s blog, The Ins And Outs Of Catcalling, that very subject is talked about, and seems to get pretty far in fine tuning the parameters of what constitutes harassment and what constitutes a compliment. But of course, the experience remains subjective, and what feels like a catcall to one woman may feel like a compliment to another. And of course, culture and class influences so much of this as well. Hetero men from oppressed groups may be acting out a way to reclaim power, but what’s the deal with privileged white frat boys then? Just relaxed into their entitlement and all that privilege i guess. It would also be interesting hear some same-sex experiences around catcalling too.
I wanna leave with my new fave catcall rebuff story. I had lunch with a good friend last week, and i was sharing some of my research with her. Later she rode off on her bike. I was later informed that as she was riding, some guy said “hey lil mama whats yer number” complete with a flick of the tongue (ewww.) My friends response as she rode away? Raising the finger and saying “One”.
I am sad to add to this post that Mildred Beaubrun, the 18 year old young woman who was shot for rebuffing a catcall, died in the hospital a few days later. This was reported in the Orlando Sentinel. It is tragic & infuriating that this young woman lost her life because some man felt THAT entitled to a particular response from her. I hope that this gains national attention, and that this starts a larger conversation around street harassment, masculinity and patriarchy that leads to greater action around these issues. Blessings and light going out to Mildred, and her family.