Friday, October 19, 2012

The Argument Over Street Harassment

Courtesy of Cats Against Catcalling

After a male friend said, "Nice glasses" to a woman as we walked by he asked me if that was harassment. Recently, and repeatedly, I've called him out on his behavior in the street. He harasses women. He doesn't see it as such. The latest explanation from him to me was that woman like the attention and if they don't want it or don't want anyone to say anything to them they should stay home.

This is where I grind my teeth, clench my fists...

He continued: that those women should go home and play with themselves because if you (meaning men) don't say anything to them, they get an attitude that no one is paying attention to them. I countered that motherfuckers who harass women are the ones who need to go play with themselves because it's sexual harassment; it's a need to objectify and gain power or even a release over these women.

This is where he says I'm getting all feminist on him.

I'll be a feminist if it means I'll call you out for harassing women. I've witnessed him say "hello" or "good afternoon" to women. They don't respond, he gets upset and has less-than-nice things to say about them. He doesn't see the women who do respond to him as simply being polite -- the tight smiles, the quickened gait. I pick up on those cues because I've been there.

This is where I tell you about the "don't tell me to smile" argument we had.

Why can't a man tell a woman to smile because he wants to see her smile? Why not if he thinks she's beautiful and can make her day if he tells her and gets her to smile? That was his argument. Did he understand my stance on where does he (or any man) get the right to tell a woman how to "fix her face" because you want to see it a certain way? Of course not. Personally, I don't smile because of the attention from men. Because they constantly tell me to smile, I don't. I smile at my friends. I smile at people I want to smile at not some random man calling out to me on the street.

This is where I tell you what went down the evening I left the dentist after getting my teeth cleaned, September 13, with every reason to smile.

As I walked down Broadway in the Flatiron District, he was headed towards me and I knew he was gonna "try to talk to me". It's a skill I've developed living in this society. I really wish he had tried to talk me. Instead, as we passed each other he took my hand and caressed it with sexual familiarity. I pulled my hand away and I think I muttered something like "What the fuck?" or "Fuck is that?" I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to him. My instinct was to punch him in the face or stab him in the neck with my keys. The look on his face was so unbelievably smug -- he also looked like the type who would punch me back. I was seeing red, stalking down Broadway, with no fucking reason to smile. My space had been violated. Had some dude told me to smile, he would've caught the wrath.

This is a lifetime of frustration, rage and sometimes fear. As a woman, I think back to the times I didn't wear a certain outfit because I didn't want the attention. I didn't wear the clothes I spent my money on, that I looked great in because I didn't want a strange man to make me feel uncomfortable. I rarely wear skirts. When I do I rarely wear heels. They accentuate the positive and encourage negative behavior from those men. Ridiculous. I catch myself now on the street glaring at men and commenting back when I witness harassment. I feel for the younger woman who giggle nervously in response because they don't know what else to do when a man is totally inappropriate.

I want to spit back that wait until these men have daughters then they'll understand. But I'm not sure that's the case because they may not be able to unlearn and not-teach the gender roles and behavior that patriarchy has engrained in them. The patriarchy that feeds underlying self-centered tendencies. The system that makes it "OK" for hetero men to think that women will be sexually available to them whenever.

Some men don't get it. Ferrett Steinmetz? He gets it.

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