Are you a bunch of crazed feminazis who hate men?

Actually, Collective Action for Safe Spaces is a collective comprised of men and women who believe in building communities where everyone feels comfortable, safe, and respected. Many people, particularly men, are unaware of the frequency and severity of disrespect and intimidation that numerous folks, especially women, experience in public spaces on a daily basis. Collective Action for Safe Spaces aims to expose and combat street harassment as well as provide an empowering forum in this struggle.

 

OK, but what exactly is street harassment?

Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.

We define public sexual harassment and assault is any sexual harassment or assault that occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (male or female) accost another individual — based on the victim’s gender — as they go about their daily life. This can include vulgar remarks, heckling, insults, innuendo, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure and other forms of public humiliation. Public sexual harassment occurs on a continuum starting with words, stalking and unwanted touching, which can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault and murder.

At Collective Action for Safe Spaces, we believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it. While there is always the classic, “Hey baby, nice tits,” there are so many other forms that go unnoticed.

 

I heard something about your position on anti-racism. What’s that about, and what does it have to do with street harassment?

Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper response. Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Collective Action for Safe Spaces asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary. If you feel that race is important to your story, please make sure its relevance is explained clearly and constructively in your post. Don’t understand? Click here.

 

But isn’t your idea of “street harassment” just belittling another person’s culture?

Street harassers occupy the full spectrum of class, race, and ethnicity. Sexual harassment, and street harassment specifically, is resisted around the world. To condense another’s culture into vague assumptions about who and what they are is to generalize dangerously about a wide range of experiences and perspectives.

 

Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?

While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly alone or in unpopulated spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to Collective Action for Safe Spaces, do keep issues of safety in mind. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions.

 

Isn’t street harassment the price you pay for living in a city?

No, local taxes are the price you pay for living in a city. We would love to see some portion of our local taxes go towards preventing street harassment, but alas, they don’t.  In fact, street harassment is not confined to urban areas. It occurs in shopping malls, cars, parking lots, public parks, airplanes, fast-food restaurants, gas stations, churches, and numerous other public spaces.

 

So let’s say a man sees a woman he thinks is attractive and tells her so. Are you saying that makes him a harasser?

Some do not find comments such as “Hello, beautiful” or “Hey, gorgeous” offensive. Many do. Others may find them intimidating, intrusive, or just an annoying pain in the ass. Keep in mind that many women experience unsolicited comments, as well as violent verbal assault, from men in public spaces on a regular basis. Rather than deliberating the “gray areas” of street harassment, treat everyone you encounter with respect.

 

If you show off your boobage, shouldn’t you expect some compliments?

Sure, expect them, but don’t accept them! Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s okay. A compliment is not a compliment if it makes the recipient feel bad.

 

Sure, but if “the harasser” were hot, wouldn’t you like it?

This has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.

 

You’re just a bunch of prudes, then?

Like we said, this has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.

 

Street harassment sucks, but it’s only a small part of the patriarchy. Doesn’t focusing on this specific issue detract from everything else we’re up against?

The violence and disrespect experienced daily by countless people in public spaces is a serious problem with real, material consequences. While Collective Action for Safe Spaces is an organization dedicated to this particular issue, it is committed to a collaborative approach and situates street harassment within a larger framework of social and economic questions. Thus, the collective collaborates with a diverse range of feminist, queer and anti-racist initiatives. To see what we’re up to, subscribe to our mailing list!

 

I heard something about your anti-racism policy. What’s that?

We believe that replacing sexism with racism is not a proper response to street harassment. Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Collective Action for Safe Spaces asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary.

 

If you feel that race is important to your story, please make sure its relevance is explained clearly and constructively in your post. Initiatives combating various forms of sexual harassment and assault have continually struggled against the perpetuation of racist stereotypes, in particular the construction of men of color as sexual predators. There exist widespread fictions regarding who perpetrators are: the myth of racial minorities, particularly Latino and Black men, as prototypical rapists as well as more prone to violence is quite common.  This stems in part from a tragic and violent history, where black men in the U.S. were commonly and unjustly accused of assaulting white women as well as lynched by mobs and “tried” in biased courts.

Because of the complexity of institutional and socially ingrained prejudices, CASS prioritizes resisting direct as well as unconscious and unintentional reinforcement of social hierarchies.  Simultaneously, CASS aims to highlight the interrelations between sexism, racism and other forms of bias and violence.

 

Further Reading

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh
“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”   This is a short, accessible piece on white privilege and male privilege. The article is a ‘classic’ by anti-racist educators

“A Black Feminist Critique of Same-Race Street Harassment,” Hawley Fogg-Davis
This article focuses on the experiences of black lesbians and the need for black women to hold black men accountable for upholding black patriarchy.

“Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Crenshaw considers the intersections of racism and patriarchy, and how the experiences of women of color remain unrepresented within the discourses of both feminism and anti-racism.

De-Centering Whiteness is Essential to Thinking About Street Harassment, Aura Bogago

Blinders & the Tyranny of Good Intentions: Street Harassment, Stop & Frisk, and Criminalization, Prison Culture

The Uncomfortable Privilege Of Being Catcalled, Chelsea Fagan

 

Disclaimer: Collective Action for Safe Spaces is not responsible for the accuracy of individual postings. All views and positions expressed in posted submissions are those of individual contributors only. Collective Action for Safe Spaces moderates comments to ensure that this public forum continues to be a safe space for community dialogue and engagement.