Today I wanted to talk about something that hasn’t been so fun in France – street harassment.
Street harassment is common in many places, in most cases, it is men yelling after women any number of phrases, from the seemingly benign “Can we just talk?” to the totally inappropriate “Nice ass,” to even more horrible and violent cursing (which almost always follows when you respond negatively or don’t respond at all).
Women learn early on that there is not much you can do to stop being harassed in the street. Telling a heckler no is sometimes dangerous; most women I know tend to pretend not to hear, and walk away, hoping the heckler does not follow them. We oftentimes find ourselves changing our behavior in order to avoid the least amount of harassment. And then we find there is a point where there is not much more we can do; I have noticed that just the fact that I am existing in a public space has been enough to be harassed before.
What is possibly the scariest part about being harassed by strangers on the street are the three thoughts that are in the back of your head as you try to decide on a reaction. 1. “If I scream, will anyone help me?,” 2. “Am I strong enough to fight this person?,” and 3. “Could I successfully outrun them?” We sometimes try to tell ourselves that it is just shy guys who don’t know how to talk to a woman, or young guys with nothing else to do, or even that they may be vulgar but we should take them as a compliment, but I don’t accept any of that. I am always wishing there was a way to say loudly, publicly, that harassing people on the street is not okay.
A woman studying in Brussels decided to make a movie on the street harassment she experienced while living and studying there. Sophie Peeters’ film includes secretly recorded footage from a hidden camera along with interviews of both the French speaking and Flemish speaking population. The film received so much attention that a new law was formed to fine anyone for insulting others in public spaces. Not a perfect solution, but a step towards one.
Another organization, Hollaback, is attempting to stop street harassment by putting the focus on the actual harassers. Hollaback collects videos and photos of harassers and of women fighting back against harassers, telling them what they did was not okay, and even sometimes calling the police. I think this is a great step towards awareness and ending street harassment if you’re in a safe situation, but sadly, that is not often the case. However, their work is getting things done; with applications, Facebook, maps, and more, they have teamed up in some cities with the police force to get responders to high harassment areas.
Stop Street Harassment is another organization that is working with schools and governments to teach what street harassment is, and why it is so harmful. They plan an awareness week every year, and provide a place for people to share their stories.
How do you deal with street harassment?