“Street harassment is no more about compliments than rape is about sex. Both are about violence, power and control.” – Laura Bates, The Guardian.
Just last week Snickers released a new ad. The company have a reputation for funny ads, and I have to admit, I did quite enjoy the new one. I found myself watching along thinking, ‘wow, if only tradies yelled empowering non-misogynistic things like this all the time!’ Then the ad finished and I saw the catch phrase appear: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’
At first I didn’t really think too deeply about it, but then I had a thought – am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit insulting to men to assume that they only show respect to women when they aren’t ‘themselves?’Apparently though, I wasn’t. Hundreds of people – men and women – came out afterward to voice their disappointment in the ad, and I could understand where they were coming from. Yes, it may only be a light hearted advertisment, but I also believe it has brought about a much needed discussion: the topic of street harassment.
So rather than focusing on the ad, I’ve decided to write about the underlying issue of street harassment. Cat calling, wolf whistling, ‘compliments’, hate speech…whichever you call it, there is one thing that must be understood – most women will experience this hundreds of times during their lives.
I want to clarify firstly, that there is a definite difference between receiving a genuine compliment from a stranger, versus having a person project their sexual fantasies/thoughts/power games over you.
For example, I have had male strangers pass me by in the street and comment on my clothing in a way that was respectful and didn’t leave me feeling disgusted. A simple comment such as ‘awesome dress!’ or ‘your leggings are amazing,’ or even an enthusiastic ‘Damn girl!’ are all comments I can deal with. What I cannot deal with, are creepy body language gestures, or remarks about what guys want to DO to my body, or how they feel when looking at me.
There is a difference.
I myself have experienced street harassment since I was around 17 years old – and it has left me with a concrete sense of anxiety and uncertainty whenever I step outside. I’ve had council workers outright stare, constantly watching me walking down the street, to the point where I have chosen alternative routes home just to avoid them. I’ve had an Indian man watch me from behind trees and objects in the park, all while his wife was by his side, because he didn’t like that my arms and legs were exposed.
I could be crossing the street, taking my dog for a walk, going for a run, walking to an appointment, or meeting friends in town when it happens. I could be dressed in modest or ‘revealing’ clothing when it happens. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, harassment does not discriminate.
I’ve seen countless men suggest that if we women ‘just dressed more modestly’ this wouldn’t happen.
Recently I was subject to a disgusting online scam, where some creep thought he could steal my profile photo and add it to his page – which was filled with pornographic images. You want to know what I was wearing? A beautiful long-sleeved designer dress that came up to my neck. What’s more, the profile picture was taken from my waist up – there was no ”skin” to be seen except for my face!
Harassment does not discriminate.
For those who say that it’s my fault for having a picture of myself online, I would like to point out that this creep found the ONE photo on my entire profile that I had missed setting to ‘private’, and had decided he had a right to exploit me for his own sexual gratification. It was a choice to steal this picture, it was his choice to target young women on Facebook for his porn appreciation page, when there are millions of free pornographic images on the internet he could have sourced.
This was about a sense of entitlement.
Last year Henry Rollins wrote an awesome blog about the Steubenville rape case, and outlined perfectly the connection between abuse and power.
“It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. I guess that is what I am getting at. Sex was probably not the hardest thing for the two to get, so that wasn’t the objective.
“I know what some of you are saying. “Then why do they wear clothes like that unless they want those photos taken?” I don’t know what to tell ya. Perhaps just don’t take the fuckin picture? Evolve?”
It always comes down to choice, and men need to start making a conscious choice not to treat women like they are an object for critique or appraisal.
Perhaps many males are quick to dismiss street harassment as a compliment, because they do not experience it daily.
To have a stranger critique your body, to comment like they own it, is not flattering. It is misogynistic, disrespectful and causes women to feel uncomfortable. For me personally, it leaves me with a deep sense of anxiety every time I walk in public; moving along with my eyes downcast, averting my gaze every time I pass a man. Often I find myself holding my breath, waiting for the comment, waiting for the leering gaze…
It is a feeling shared by many women, a burden that we carry. Recently a blog was published on ‘The Guardian’, in which a young woman named Laura Bates shared about her experiences with street harassment.
“…I braced myself for the moment of passing, muscles tensed, cold fists involuntarily clenched,” she writes. “I understand that this must sound like an overreaction. But it isn’t. Because the way we think and behave is shaped by our previous experiences. Too many times, in my own experience, this situation has turned from leering to aggressive sexual advances, from polite rebuttal to angry shouts of ‘slag’, ‘slut’, ‘whore’. Once, I was chased down the street. Once, I was trapped against a wall. Once, my crotch was grabbed suddenly, shockingly, in vitriolic entitlement.”
Please, stop calling street harassment a compliment.