Male Allies

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Last Friday night I was out with a group of friends and street harassment came up (one of the many great side effects since we started this blog; gender based public sexual harassment is becoming a common topic of discussion among my friends). A couple of my male friends were debating about “the line.” You know, the line between hitting on/flattering a person and harassment. So I explained that personally I prefer it if guys did not just walk up to me and immediately say something about my looks. Yes, it can be flattering at times especially if the saying of compliment is done in a tactful way. However, a majority of the time it is not flattering nor tactful and I find the men who automatically say something about my appearance incredibly obnoxious. Other women may feel differently.

The thing is – it is not up to anyone to decide what one individual finds flattering. Perhaps one woman finds the comment “Ooo, baby you look fine” funny or just an annoyance, while another finds it much more aggravating or threatening. Sexual harassment happens on a spectrum and can range from comments like “Heyyy, baby!,” to leering, to groping, to public masturbation.  And it can lead to serious violent assaults, rape, and murder.  The men who harass believe they have a right to objectify women and say/do whatever they want. That’s the problem! Just because I have left my house does not give you free reign on my body or the right to say whatever comes to your mind. In the end, what it really comes down to is control and power.

After living in DC for two years, I have learned what streets to walk on, and which streets and parks to avoid when I am alone.  Sometimes I cross the street in order to avoid harassment. At times it is unavoidable and I have no choice but to walk through the gauntlet.  Whether I am on the street, on the metro, in the store, or in a bar, gender based public sexual harassment has become a daily part of my life.  When I leave my house in the morning, I know it is something I will have to deal with.

Daily, I am blown away by the things men will say or do. Just last Saturday night I was out at Local 16 on 16th and U for a friend’s birthday party. We are all dancing and having fun. I start to walk to the other side of the room to talk to a friend when I feel a pull on my belt loop. A guy I don’t know has pulled me up against his body and whispers in my ear, “Where you going? You have to dance with me.” (The line has definitely been crossed!!) I tell him, “Back off!” and give him a little push. He follows up with “What is your name?” I walk off only to be immediately asked by another strange man where I live and if he can have my number so we can catch up. Catch up? I don’t even know you! I decide at this point, I would much rather go home than deal with this.

There are a lot of really great men (like my guy friends that I mentioned in the beginning of the post) who don’t harass women. There are also men who are engaged in ending public sexual harassment in DC. But this is a community problem and we need everyone, especially DC men to be our (female) allies. When they see us being harassed, we need them to say, “Stop harassing women – no one likes it. Show some respect.”

Can you imagine the affect this would have if enough men stepped in and said this every time they saw sexual harassment occurring? We would see a positive change.

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11 Responses

  1. Heather

    That street sign is outstanding. How about a little money in the city budget to put those on every single street in town?

  2. Man

    Don’t go to settings where you are likely to get harassed. That will help ease your experiencing of this phenomenon everyday.

    • Daniel M. Laenker

      So, fellow Man, where exactly should women not go?

  3. Eric Broussard-Bueno

    Great blog! I fully concur. I’m very happy the author wrote this, and I’m happy to see she seems to have wonderful male friends in her life!

    I believe that gender based sexual harassment is systematically carried out by men a majority of the time- whether it be harassment towards women or pejorative language/actions towards others due to their sexual preference, etc. Therefore it is unfair to expect women alone to stand up for themselves in educating, counseling and nurturing each other and the men around them. Men…. we have to stand up besides our female friends, peers, counterparts, lovers- our mothers, sisters, and daughters. We are not standing up for them but rather with them. We need to go to battle with women as our partners against the indecency that rears its hideous head! This is a war in which progressive thought and enlightened minds shall prevail. It must.

  4. Carolyn

    I think a great litmus test for “the line” is, imagine if someone were to say this to me in the work place. There’s a difference between “you look nice today” (I would say this is suitable for work), and “oooooh baby you look fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine”.

    There are solid reasons why there are laws against harassment in the work place, why is it so different in public?

  5. Kim

    Man, that is ridiculous. I get harassed walking from the metro to work. (in the Foggy Bottom/Dupont Circle area) Do you suggest that I not go to work any more?

    Carolyn, that’s a great suggestion. While it may not apply to everyone, it’s certainly a good guideline to use as a jumping off point.

  6. archana

    great post by the author; less-than-great comment by Man. it strikes me as ironic that someone would leave such an unempowering comment on a post about MALE ALLIES of all places!

    i’m currently in India, and the levels of sexual harrassment here are exceedingly high. i too appreciate the role of the male ally, especially in an environment where leering and grabbing is so commonplace.

    i especially appreciate your post because most sexual harrassment efforts tend to focus on the role of the female, which can lead to comments like Man’s that place full responsibility on the female in question. props for bringing (decent) men into the solution as well!

  7. […] Back DC posted many compelling posts this week, but one of my favorites was about male allies: “Can you imagine the affect this would have if enough men stepped in and said this every time […]

  8. […] 23, 2009 · No Comments Last week we posted “Male Allies” and talked about why we need the men of DC Metro area to help us end sexual assault and harassment. […]

  9. […] 21, 2009 · Leave a Comment Two of our blog posts have been about engaging male allies (See Male Allies and Male Allies Part II).  However, the goal of Holla Back DC! is to engage all individuals in our […]

  10. Paul

    Just found this blog and am greatly encouraged by the content. I’m a 46yo gwm – not that it has anything to do with being respectful to people.

    I see this type of harassment ALL the time, everywhere. I’ve often wondered if it was just acceptable ‘city’ behaviour and if not why it is tolerated. Mind you I’m 6′ 230#, if someone offends me and I comment it’s not likely they will take it any further. Although I tend to be a very gentle person.

    There have been times that I have been moved to reprimand these people for there behaviour but wondered if I was crossing the line on behalf of the person to whom it was directed.

    In any case, as stated a compliment is: ‘Wow you look great!’, ‘Cool boots!’. If the person responds positively – great. If negatively, I remind myself of the amount of harrassment people suffer and accept that my intention was good. I won’t stop complimenting, thanking nor saying Hi if someone looks at me. It’s a great way to lift someone’s spirits and an effective defense by letting people know that you are aware of there presence and that you are not afraid to say something. Great Job, Folks!

    I’ll being saying Hi to you in Columbia Heights. 🙂