Street harassment affects women, regardless of their looks or socioeconomic status. It doesn’t matter how accomplished I am, or how I’m dressed, or how determined I look when I walk down the street.
This post was originally written as a Facebook note.
My friend asked me, as a woman, to convey the experience of discrimination to a man who might not experience it. [My response] is quick, informal and rough, and it’s not going to be at all illuminating to the many of you who have more familiarity with feminist theory than I do, or who live or work in places where the casual misogyny I describe is nothing in comparison to systematic subjugation and unfreedom. I was at first reluctant to post it on my own [Facebook] page because it’s quite personal. But to quote [my male friend], “I am reposting here in the hope that some of you will find it persuasive, or useful in persuading others”:
Let me put it this way: I have degrees from excellent universities; I have worked for a variety of large and venerable institutions; and men talk over me in conference calls at their own peril. I can be very assertive and very self-assured. But last Saturday night, waiting for the bus in Dupont Circle, the only thing that kept me from yelling at the drunk frat boys who kept screaming “hey, baby, come here,” at me was the knowledge that I might actually get hurt if I acknowledged them at all.
This is not an uncommon experience for many, many women, and there’s no necessary victimhood attached to it: it makes you pretty resilient and adaptable. But dial back to my resume in the last paragraph, and you’ll note that it’s unlikely many men with my particular profile would experience that kind of public humiliation; be unsurprised by it; or think about the fact that if they were female, it might happen to them all the goddamned time.
This is not a compliment. It is not flattering. It objectifies me, it reduces me to something that might come if it’s called, and it happens all the time.
This is in part why I’m a feminist. Because it doesn’t matter how accomplished I am, or how I’m dressed, or how determined I look when I walk down the street. It doesn’t matter how much respect I can command in a classroom, or how assertive I am when I have something to say. None of these things should uniquely insulate me from being heckled: it shouldn’t happen at all.
This is why I’m a feminist: because it’s still socially acceptable for some well-dressed man to yell out, “hey, baby, come here,” if it’s dark out and I’m making my way down the sidewalk full of bars on a weekend evening, just because I am a woman. This is not a compliment. It is not flattering. It doesn’t need to be threatening to be demeaning. It objectifies me, it reduces me to something that might come if it’s called, and it happens all the time. If that same man had tried to summon me by any other identity I have, no one would laugh, and no one would think it was cute or that I should be pleased to get the attention.
It’s not safe for me to turn around and pick a fight with that man, so all I can do is say: this is, in part, why feminism is still important. This is why I explicitly and necessarily self-identify as a feminist, and why it’s important for me to talk about this with men who might never have the experience of standing at a bus stop or on a train platform and being jeered at while other people look on more or less indulgently. It’s not just that the experience can be frightening or infuriating. It’s that the alternative is to condone this kind of treatment as acceptable.
AKD is a doctoral candidate. She has previously worked for UN Action to Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflict, which coordinates the United Nations’ work on rape as a tactic of war.
In April 2012 with help from CASS, WMATA introduced its first-ever public awareness campaign to combat sexual harassment on Metro trains and buses.
ABOUT “MY STREETS, TOO”
“My Streets, Too” is CASS’s ongoing series on personal writings on street harassment by members of the DC community. Email Renee to submit writings using your full name, initials, or anonymously (just let us know). Please be sure to use the subject line “My Streets, Too.”