We are in the Washington Post this morning covering the planned testimony to DC City Council’s Performance Oversight of WMATA this Wednesday. It’s exciting because it’s the first time we are testifying in front of the Council and perhaps the first time the Council is hearing from at least five different individuals about their experiences with Metro sexual harassment.
Overall, Dana did a good job of getting my quotes. There is one glaring issue: her lede
A man walks up to a woman on a Metro train and tells her she looks good in that skirt.
Is that an insult, sexual harassment or a compliment?
A grass-roots group says it’s a form of “street harassment” that has become all too common throughout the transit network.
First, I was never given that example and asked if it was a compliment, insult, or sexual harassment? So, there is that. Second, if I was given that example, I would have said, it depends. Not to be all lawyerly, but the reality is that it does depend. Much of what we are dealing with in defining public sexual harassment is creating a community definition. We said that from the start of our online presence. We–the staff, Board, volunteers–are not the Merriam Webster of what is street harassment. Rather, YOU are. You, the individual that felt harassment. You, the reader of the website. You, the commenter. That is what makes this space unique. Things that occur now and deemed appropriate would be considered offensive in Downton Abbey. Culture shifts, definitions move, and human beings interact differently.
What I would have said if Dana asked me the question, is if that person who gave the compliment got angry/insulted and started saying curse words and invading her space, that would be considered public sexual harassment. If that person who gave the compliment got angry/insulted and then decided to follow the target of his compliment (period) and/or attempted to touch her or take pictures of her underneath her skirt without her consent, that would be public sexual harassment (and attempted battery/assault). But, if that person who gave the compliment and the target of his compliment didn’t respond, and he continued on his merry way, it would be considered whatever the person who received that compliment considers it to be. Most people who receive that compliment would not consider that harassment. And, we at Collective Action for Safe Spaces don’t necessarily consider that public sexual harassment. But, let’s be real here.
MOST OF THE EXPERIENCES PEOPLE SUBMIT ON THIS SITE ARE OFTEN OF THE FORMER, NOT OF THE LATTER.
Phew. Okay. There.
We know people minimize public sexual harassment and assault and boil it down to a woman being a target of a compliment and not being happy with it. Or not finding the person who stated the compliment attractive enough. Again, even if that does happen, our concern is to get WMATA to address incidents like this one, or this one, or even this one.
Public sexual harassment and assault is a big deal.