Yesterday, March 20th was the first annual Anti- Street Harassment Day.
Street Harassment is at least a daily ocurrence for many women and young girls. It seems that a female cannot walk half a mile in any city without receiving some type of cat call, honk, whistle, or unwelcome approach from a stranger. In fact, 80-99% of women report receiving aggressive, unwanted male attention from a stranger. Of these women, 75% report being followed and 57% had been sexually touched by male strangers. Despite these alarming statistics, street harassment and gender based aggression have not received the same type of outrage from society (or the legal system) as race/ethnicity-based, religion-based, or even sexuality based agression. Hopefully yesterday marked a change in that perspective.
Women have learned to deal with these innapropriate gestures, but why should they have to? What is it about our society that makes it acceptable for men to be so invasive? General obsession with physical appearance is one answer, but not a comprehensive one.
Street Harassment is not about sex, physical attraction, or a desire to get to know a stranger. Street harassment is about power. It is a man’s way of gaining the upper hand in what could have been a casual, unnoticed interaction. It is a daily reminder that as a woman, you are far more likely to be subject to any range of violent acts such as rape or molestation. Women and girls are frequently molested in public settings, primarily in metros/ mass transit arenas. Women are left feeling scared, shaken, infuriated, disempowered, and helpless.
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These women are strong, courgeous, and deserve protection from any type of violent act. There is no fully appropriate response that can empower a woman after this kind of interaction. Silence leaves her wanting to voice her discontent and yelling back in rage only further empowers the perpetrator. The solution lies in stopping the the act from happening in the first place.
The first annual anti-harassment day did not receive the level of media coverage it warranted, but it is a helpful beginning to the end of these types of unacceptable behaviors that endanger women.