Thursday, May 3, 2018

Calling Out the Global Problem of Sexual Harassment on the Streets

by Nomad

Women as Objects on Display

Jen Corey was no stranger to being looked at and judged by men. The tall blonde was crowned Miss DC in 2009 and made it to the top 10 of the Miss America Pageant in 2010.
Ever since she was a teenager, Corey has encountered overzealous men. However, after an incident in a bar, she decided to use her beauty queen fame to speak out against street harassment.

Corey found that too often people she spoke with dismissed the subject as just part of life as a woman in the city. Cat-calls,  long looks, sexual comments were something women should expect, especially if they dress in a certain way, act in a certain way or walk through a certain neighborhood at a certain time. 

She observed:
“Street harassment is almost never about sex. It's about power. Which is the same way we view rape. So saying street harassment is not a big deal is opening up the doorway for men to view women as an object to be obtained.”
The news site Vocativ took on this subject in the video below.

Sexual harassment on the street is a gateway drug, says one of the young women. "It is so connected to the culture that allows women to be sexually assaulted."
According to research by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, 65% of US women have experienced some form of street harassment, 23% have been sexually harassed, and 37% don't feel safe walking home at night.

It's a Man's World

According to a CNN report from 2017, sexual harassment of this kind is a global problem that can be found- to a greater or lesser degree- in every culture. It can literally be found wherever men and women share the same public spaces.

Rachel Jewkes, director of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls global program, points out that in places like South Asia, for example, there is "massive male sexual entitlement." Backed by social norms, men essentially rule the public spaces. They perceive "an ownership of all public places."

In Mexico City, a staggering 96% of women surveyed by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography had experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces, and 58% had been groped.
In Bangladesh, 84% of women surveyed said they had experienced derogatory comments or sexual advances in public.
In Cambodia and Vietnam, more than three in four women experience harassment and sexual remarks, And, according to the report, more than 40% of women reported feeling unsafe in places where many young men gather. 

In the Middle East, the problem is so entrenched in society that the majority of men see nothing wrong with it- and many women see it as something that must be accepted.

It can be summed up with three words.
Decent women don't. 
They don't dress "immodestly." They don't wear too much make-up. They don't speak to men they do not know. They don't make eye contact with men. They don't sit next to men in public spaces. They certainly do not go to bars. They do not normally go out after 9 in the evening and never alone.
And if they do, then they will pay a price for disobedience of social norms.

Lina Abirafeh, director of the Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, says:
"Patriarchy is still very strong here. There's entitlement and a feeling of 'we've always done this' and that sexual harassment is not wrong."
Any attempt to change those social norms has long been dismissed as part of Western cultural interference.
This "cultural imperialism" defense has been used since the late 19th century. That argument says that the West has no right to dictate how women must be treated in other cultures. It is not misogyny. It is our way of life. It's none of your concern. Mind your own women.
As a consequence, women's rights in the mostly Arab countries of the region are among the worst in the world.

Social Media as a Public Space

If public spaces are run by the men, then this applies to some extent to the public space of online forums, including social media. Don't believe it?
Check out a few of comments by men to the video above.

This remark from somebody by the name of Steve Talon was the highest rated comment.
Yes, the girl who dresses like a hooker, and goes down for a stroll in what looks like the world most gang ridden slum, then gets mad she get's cat called? What, are you kidding me?
xxlCortez makes this comparison
"I know the way I dress is provocative, but it doesn't mean I should have to deal with it."
"I know it may offend Jews that I walking around them in a nazi uniform, but it doesn't mean I should have to deal with it." 
A person called Mangs writes:
If I cover myself in bling while holding a bag with a dollar sign on it and decide to stroll through a heavily criminalized urban area, I should expect to be robbed.
Anthony Lynch writes:
First, cat calling isn't sexual assault, second of all, your way of proving that street harassment is an important problem is by putting an attractive woman in very revealing clothing and sending her to walk through an extremely sketchy area..... right. God forbid people notice the unbelievable effort you put into looking like a hooker.
Davaughn Wistrom has this advice for women:
I do not condone any kind of harassment towards women in any way, shape, or form. But what does piss me off is when a woman is scantily-clad and then gets mad when men look at them. Let me tell you ladies, if you're gonna flaunt your body, guys are gonna look. If you don't want to get looked at as a whore, then don't dress like one!!
I wish I could say that these opinions are just another example of Youtube trolling but I am not sure. Yet, I have heard similar remarks among men in the past. And women might be surprised to know how commonplace this mentality actually is. (I have even heard some conservative women express this line, albeit in a more subtle form.)

The Definition of Provocation

As an American living abroad, it is interesting to see how other cultures respond. In the western side of Turkey, the views of women against the patriarchy are generally strong. Women are much less accepting and more vocal in their condemnation- both in general and when it actually occurs. They are not afraid to take to the streets when their rights are under threat.

I asked my Turkish friend what he thought on the issue. He answered
"How does one define the term "provocatively-dressed"? Of course, there might be such a thing but you also have to ask where does this label stop? What actually constitues a provocation?

"If you follow this way of thinking, women would not be able leave their homes without being accompanied by men. Without being totally covered up, simply because men cannot control themselves." 
What do you think? In your opinion, is this form of harassment a problem?  Has it been exaggerated by feminists? Have you encountered it personally? What is the best way to respond? What would you tell younger women about sexual harassment?