Stand Up to Street Harassment: Meet Us on the Street

Meet Us on the StreetIf you’ve never experienced catcalls, groping, or similar abuse in a public place, chances are you’re straight and male. Most women and lots of LGBQT folks are all too familiar with the experience.

You don’t have to be young and beautiful to run into problems. Street harassment isn’t just unwanted sexual advances (verbal or physical); it also includes ugly insults and similar abuse.

Make no mistake: Telling a complete stranger how hot she is is no more of a compliment than telling a stranger she’s ugly and fat. Both are just another way of keeping women in their “place.”

The organizers behind “Meet Us on the Street,” a group called Stop Street Harassment, are encouraging everyone to take a stand against street harassment this week, with an emphasis on demonstrations on Friday and Saturday April 12 and 13.

This week was selected because April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. The organizers Speak Up Against Catcallshave suggestions for actions you can do — either on your own or as part of a group — including chalking sidewalks and doing street theater.

What I like best about this project is that it encourages those being harassed to speak up. For all too long, the conventional advice has been to ignore these attacks. The trouble with ignoring them is that the harassers get the message that what they’re doing is perfectly all right.

The best way to stop all kinds of abuse is to make it very clear that it’s not acceptable. This means everybody needs to take a stand against it, not just the people who are subject to the catcalls and groping. The majority of men don’t act like this. They need to speak up and ostracize those who do.

If you’ve never been subjected to this kind of abuse, you may not be aware of how pervasive it is and how much it can affect those subjected to it. But as I wrote this post, I started to recall all the times I’ve been harassed. It was a little startling to realize that I have a clear memory of incidents that happened when I was a teenager or in my early 20s as well as the ones that happened more recently.

Stop street harassmentI recall the stranger who spit in my face when I rejected his very inappropriate advance. I can think of specific times when I was walking down the street and people yelled at me from a car. Even worse, I can remember the times they slowed down and paced me. Then there was the guy who called me over to his car to give him directions who turned out to be masturbating when I got there. That’s not to mention the men who touched me on the butt or tried to cop a feel. I remember those very clearly, even the time from college.

Maybe some of them stay with me because I didn’t do anything about them. Though I also remember very clearly the time some kid on a bicycle patted me on the butt while I was out jogging. I don’t think I’ve ever run as fast as I did when I was trying to catch that punk. I don’t know what I’d have done if I had caught him, but I know I was thinking physical violence.

I’ve studied martial arts for over 30 years. If any of the people who’ve harassed me over the years tried to actually attack me, I could stop them. But I still feel the affect of their abuse, still tense up in situations where something might happen.

We stop this abuse and other violence by speaking out against it, by taking a stand, by not tolerating it. It’s good to see people organizing to do just that.



Stand Up to Street Harassment: Meet Us on the Street — 6 Comments

    • Yes, it’s really great that these organizations are approaching this from the international angle. Lots of grassroots response going on around the world.