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It’s not feminism, it’s humanism

October 10th, 2013

I was talking with a professor this past week about my time abroad. We got to chatting about feelings of safety in foreign lands and he made an interesting point. “It’s so much easier to be a man. Of course, there are still dangers, but it’s not the same as a woman, when you have to be much more worried about having your personal space grossly violated.”

The problem is, it isn’t even just personal space that we have to worry about anymore. Last Thursday, I was walking home from class and I got hollered at by some guys as I was crossing Warrensville. Granted, getting hooted at by a bunch of mysogynistic jagweeds in a car is different than getting sexually assaulted. However, men still shouldn’t think it’s okay to yell at a woman out of a car window just because they think she is attractive and know that, generally, there are going to be no consequences for their actions.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, here we go. Another man-hating feminist ranting about how men are terrible just because she’s single and bitter.” Please, give me a little more credit than that. To me, this isn’t an issue of feminism. To me, it’s an issue of being decent human beings and treating others with respect and dignity.

When I am walking across the street, or out riding my bike, or running (oh, who am I kidding, we all know I don’t run), I’m not putting myself out on display for the male population. I am simply going about my own business and I don’t need validation for how good I may or may not look. I don’t find it flattering. Frankly, I find it a tad bit insulting when a man looks at me and makes a judgement to yell at me based solely on my physical appearance.

The official title for these kinds of actions is “street harassment” and it happens a lot in big cities and the sad thing is, people generally don’t know that it happens. Even a good amount of the male population doesn’t know that it occurs. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, as many young women can tell you, and that certainly doesn’t mean that it is okay.

Most women don’t find it flattering; in fact, it makes a lot of women very uncomfortable. I know that it makes my pulse quicken (and not in the “oh, I just brushed hands with my crush” kind of way, in the “who is that figure standing in the dark behind the trees” kind of way) and my fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. In general, it makes one feel unsafe. And if comments are made that insult a woman’s appearance, then they are just downright rude.

Street harassment is something that has probably happened to the greater majority of women at some point in their lives, and none of us do anything about it, because what can we do about it? Usually the comments are made in passing, so it’s often difficult to respond to them. And if you did whip around and throw a remark at the commenter, what are the odds that person is going to care? Or that your actions might just escalate the situation? Usually people who are jerks don’t like getting called out for being jerks. So, we accept this kind of treatment as a part of life when we shouldn’t. When a girl is walking down the street, she shouldn’t feel like she is a piece of meat on display for whatever creep is rolling around the neighborhood that day.

There is a reason why, when I walk down the street, I try not to make eye contact with strangers and I have a fairly angry look on my face. In my mind, the easiest way to avoid comments on my appearance from strange men is to make myself (as far as my facial expressions go) look as uninviting as possible. But when you think about it, that shouldn’t even be a thing that I have to do. I should be able to have a pleasant look on my face without having to be ultra-conscious of the kinds of comments I might be opening myself up to because of it.

A Brooklyn-based artist recently began a campaign against street harassment, using street art to raise awareness about the issue. Portraits of women who have been frequent victims of such actions are paired with short quotes such as “Critiques on my body are not welcome” and “Women are not outside for your entertainment.” Her work has started a lot of discussion about the issue and, in some cases, brought it to light for people who didn’t know about it.

Any person is more than their outward appearance. So when you look at someone walking down the street, be they male or female, view them first and foremost as a fellow human being, not as an object outside for your entertainment. Don’t be the person who gives me another reason to scowl at the average passer-by.