Why Street Harassment Terrifies Women
When a Pittsburgh man shot and killed 29-year-old mother of three Janese Talton-Jackson earlier this month for rejecting his advances, his violence was far from isolated.
In 2014, a Detroit man murdered another mother in her 20s named Mary Spears for not giving him her phone number. A man from Queens, N.Y., slashed an unnamed woman‘s throat for refusing to go on a date with him. In 2013, a man in Eustis, Fla., choked and ran over a 14-year-old girl after she said no to having sex with him for money. A man in Othello, Wash., ran over a runner in California after she declined a ride from him. Three Georgia men tackled and sexually assaulted a woman who had ignored them when walking alone at night.
Street harassment, when taken to the extreme, is terrifying. And with two-thirds of American women reporting getting sexually harassed in public spaces, it’s a horror that some, generally men, force upon most of that population. The problems only compound for those who are poor, LGBT and/or of color.
And it’s not just feeling annoyance at catcalls when walking by construction sites—nearly half of U.S. women say they’ve been physically threatened by tactics like getting flashed, followed and touched sexually.
“While people may think it is a stretch to connect catcalls with assault and attempted murder, sometimes catcalls escalate into something worse and women never know when that might happen,” explains Holly Kearl, founder of nonprofit Stop Street Harassment.
She continues to say on Ms. Magazine’s blog that both catcalls and assault are types of entitlement:
“The (primarily) male street harassers believe they have the right to access girls’ and women’s bodies. They feel they can say and do whatever they want, and if women don’t comply, well, then they’re a bitch or ugly, and the men may feel justified in grabbing them, throwing trash at them, assaulting them or running them over.”
Prompted by the 2014 mass shooting at Santa Barbara, where a man murdered six people to punish women who rejected him, activist Deanna Zandt started a Tumblr page called “When Women Refuse.” Scrolling through the site only solidifies the seriousness of the problem.
Some may argue that only a few men perpetrate the atrocious violence described, and that they shouldn’t characterize the rest of the male population. Others may call attention to the smaller number—25 percent—of men who are harassed, or tell women they need to relax at the “compliments” strangers offer.
Yet, as feminist writer and satirist Soraya Chemaly adds:
Why focus on extreme cases? Because they are end-result manifestations of everyday misogyny. Because the danger of street harassment isn’t in a lunatic lashing out violently but the risk of a “regular guy” lashing out violently. This is not an indictment of all men, the vast majority of whom don’t engage in these behaviors. However, most aren’t considering others’ tolerance and behavior enables the men who do and way too many are too comfortable dismissing this reality.
In short, women don’t know if men’s advances will stop at an unsolicited, “Hey, baby.” They don’t know if that guy in the bar will leave them alone after they tell him, “No, thanks.” Critics claiming #NotAllMen need to cut women more slack for taking harassment seriously.
Kearl gives some useful tips to confront street harassment on Ms. Magazine’s blog.
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