Street Harassment: A Growing Problem In Raleigh
Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that consists of unwanted comments, wolf-whistlings, “catcalling”, stalking and other actions by strangers in public areas.
I like to think we live in safety here in the City of Oaks. In most places around Raleigh, there are no reasons to fear for your well-being. We’re all, for the most part, pretty cool and respectful people. A couple months ago I was reminded how little it takes to shred that thought to pieces.
A close friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
There’s two possible reactions to this. Either you know that fear and are silently nodding, or you don’t understand it and make excuses for the men’s’ behavior.
“They’re just men being men.”
“They didn’t mean any harm.”
“She must have been wearing something that got their attention.”
“She should have said something to them.”
“She probably liked the attention anyway and just doesn’t want to admit it.”
That range of excuses is dangerous. It’s placing blame on the victim, and not holding the men involved accountable for their actions . Furthermore, it reinforces the terrible idea that if you are being victimized, it’s your responsibility to change the circumstances. It’s taking the stance that a man (or a group of men) can only be wrong in their actions unless a woman objects to it. And even then, a firm “no” is unlikely to be the end of it. If you don’t believe that, here’s an AskReddit thread filled with a sobering number of women who have had to do some ridiculous things to get men to leave them alone. Put on a pot of coffee and read it top to bottom. If you don’t have the time to sift through the sadness, then here’s a tl;dr: many, many women have to rely on polite creativity to rid themselves men who could physically hurt them if their ego was bruised in any way.
In America, 65% of women say they’ve been verbally harassed on the street, 20% have said they’ve been followed, and 9% report that they had been forced to do something sexual. For someone who upholds every woman’s rights to safety, security, and choice, these are terrifying statistics.
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Furthermore, even those men who think of themselves as respectful might be a cause for fear, simply because their ignorance can put the women around them in a vulnerable position. How is this possible, you might ask? For women, that question means how do they not know what they’re doing? I’m not going to say it’s simple, but it boils down to awareness, and what we do with it if we have it. Men who are unaware their behavior is threatening or creepy can at least be informed to make better decisions on how to treat women, and all that takes is time and good guidance. Men who are aware but don’t care are the biggest problem.
See, I’ve been talking a lot about choices and behavior, but there’s a big, angry elephant in the room that I should get out of the way. Women may fear groups of men following them, but the reverse is substantially less true. The average man is physically larger than the average woman, and a person’s physical size and strength absolutely does factor into how they will be treated. Those factors may not always be overt, but they are there, and groups of predatory men with average builds do not randomize their victims.
The effect all of this has on women is simultaneously saddening and entirely logical. Women are forced to be hyper-vigilant even in friendly surroundings.
They need to be careful who they trust, even in the slightest, because who’s to say a man they trust won’t change his mind and try something awful? 75% of rape victims report that they knew the person who raped them, and 1 out of every 6 women in America (or 17.7 million people) have said they’ve been the victim of a completed or attempted rape. That also means that there must be a similar percentage of men, likely more than the 17.7 million women who have suffered at their hands, who are capable of committing rape. Even more men are probably complicit with the idea.
That scares the hell out of me. And it should scare the hell out of you too, if you’re not already.
So what can be done? From both men and women, I often hear the words “stand up for yourself” and “fight back” being dropped into the conversation like there’s a war going on, like the victims just need better weapons to defend themselves with.
Suggesting an increase in self-defense misses the point. That’s still blaming the victim, just in a different way. That’s telling women they still have to keep their guard up, only more so; it sends the message that they must outmuscle, outpace, or outwit men in order to have any sliver of peace. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awful lot of work just to be on equal terms. Most men are privileged enough to feel safe if they were surrounded by women, so why can’t the reverse be true? Why must the conversation be structured so the only solution is to further divide the gap between the sexes by accepting that sexist attitudes and behaviors can’t be changed?
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Becoming educated on different perspectives is really, really hard, I know. It involves listening to new information and constructing an idea that may conflict with what you already think is true. It may defy what you’ve always been told by friends and family members. It might prove your own observations and opinions wrong. But that’s okay.
No, really. It is. There’s no shame or embarrassment for not knowing, or asking questions. The only embarrassment comes from pretending things are great as they are.