I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t been bothered in the street, one of the key examples of casual sexism. How many times have you been walking along, minding your own business, before being shouted at by a man in a passing car or bothered by some builders on the side of the road? It can be anything from a horn being tooted at you, to shouting things that are distinctly more unsavory.
Regardless of what we wear or how we behave, society gives men the green light to voice their appraisal, comments, and criticism of our bodies in public — all at the expense of our safety and comfort. Street harassment serves as a stark reminder that our bodies are not truly considered our own. When we speak against street harassment, we’re told to “enjoy it” or “take it as a compliment.”
Whistling, blowing kisses, grabbing, touching, cat-calling, these are a few of the things that most people don’t realize that it is the same as sexual harassment or sexual assault. Women from all over the world experience some of these forms of assaults. Catcalling is not a compliment; it’s a statement of power. It’s a power that is used to intimidate and dehumanize women, a form of sexism that most experience for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17. It’s an entitlement to our bodies that can turn to abuse and violence when we reject their advances. How dare we say no to them, they think, when society has allowed them to believe that commenting on our bodies is their inherent right?
As I look at all the possible ways that women have been assaulted, it is apparent that society doesn’t do much about the safety of women. It is always easy to just tell a young girl or a woman to be careful when she leaves the house or walking to her car because a man might assault her. You hardly ever hear anyone tell a young boy or a man to not assault or rape women or young girls. Growing up, I always noticed this coming from the opposite sex, and it is something that always gave me anxiety going to public places where men are gathered, and standing together. Even though those men may not have an agenda to harass me, unfortunately, it is something that gives me anxiety because it occurs so many times. Being afraid that when I walk past them they will grab me, speak to me with disrespect, or just keep staring at me as if they were going to do something to me – Is not something I want to put on my list of things to do during my day. It doesn’t only happen when women are alone, it happens when there are groups of girls/women as well.
Most women who get assaulted in settings such as school, work, or in public hardly ever speak up about such matters. There is this shame, or disgust feeling that’s left with her because social norms have taught her to believe that she is disgusting, or she asked for it because of where she was at, or how she was dressed. If she were to get assaulted by her male boss, she may not speak up about it due to the possibility she may be terminated, or not given the opportunities to excel in her career. Therefore if she keeps quiet then she won’t lose her job, and she can get promoted rather than demoted.
It is not always the case of what you wear that leaves men to think “she asked for it”. Women who are covered up from head to toe, or are dressed very decently get raped each day. It isn’t how she portrayed herself; it is how a man thinks it is his “nature” to take the opportunity to assault her. I am pretty sure there are men out there who do not have the “rapist” qualities, and that they respect women. This is great! But those are not the ones that we worry about. Rape occurs in many different ways, it happens when you are married, engaged, dating, not dating someone, strangers, friends, relatives, etc. People who often state “well they are men, they are supposed to act this way”, do not see the mockery in that statement. It leaves women in a place where she has to often secure herself, because of the possibility that she will be assaulted. I’ve seen and heard stories about women who get followed into public places such as school, work, shopping malls, banks, etc. There are many issues that shadow the subject of rape. We need to answer the questions: What steps should we take when we hear someone has been raped? What views do we have of her after she has been harassed, or taken advantage of? What kind of society do we live in that allows such statements as “she asked for it”? These are the questions that we must find answers to, because if we continue to leave these questions unanswered, then we will always live in a society that constructs these gender roles of what makes a man a man, and what makes a woman a woman. A man shouldn’t have to feel masculine because of how tough he is, how many women he can sleep with, and how his nature is sexually aggressive because he is a man. Women should not be viewed as weak, frustrated, irrational, victims of sexual abuse, because “she deserved it”. No one deserves to be raped, abused, or assaulted, neither men neither women. We need to remove phrases such as “Legitimate Rape”, and not create reasons that validate her rape experience as something “she wanted”. Let’s teach our young boys to not whistle at a girl as she walks, not to touch her if she doesn’t want to be touched, not to shout at her to come by him, and not to treat her as always a victim. I often believe that even if we do not change these ways 100 percent right away, we can make progress each second, day, week, month, and year by changing the statistics of rape victims.
Prepared by: Arnesa Tahiri