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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

There Is Nothing Flattering About Harassment

Back in August Doree Lewak wrote in the New York Post that she found catcalls flattering. She went on for paragraphs about how being shouted at by men, specifically construction workers, made her feel sexy. She even said she willingly and excitedly enjoyed being their “objectified sex thing.”

I feel sorry for Doree Lewak, not because of her issues of self-worth but because she is oblivious to danger. Catcalls are not just unwanted compliments. Even the relatively tame “hey sexy” isn’t an innocent thing. They are part of a larger issue that women, especially young women, face every day and that issue is street harassment. The shouted comments are almost always sexual in nature and often paired with inappropriate gestures. What is complimentary about a grown man yelling “hey baby I’m hungry, come satisfy my appetite” at a teenage girl? What is flattering about a man mock-masturbating as a pretty girl walks by? It’s the sort of behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated if a woman did it towards a boy or a man and it certainly wouldn’t fly if it was done from a man to a man.

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Image Credit: Stop Street Harassment

It’s more than just “not okay,” though. It’s physically dangerous.  I work at a busy shopping mall as my part-time job. I see lots of young women coming to shop, to hang out, to do whatever young women do at malls when they aren’t working. I also see these young women get a lot of unwanted and uninvited attention. There’s the common “hey sexy” and sometimes the obscene gesture and a lot of girls play it off and keep going. But more and more I see things escalate. Last fall I watched as a guy in a car blocked a teenager girl’s path to the sidewalk, his window down yelling at her for not smiling at him when he told her she had a nice backside. She “owed him” at least that. Last week I saw a guy get in a girl’s face for telling him to leave her alone after he shouted at her about her breasts. I’ve even experienced physical menacing because I ignored the attention, a guy grabbing my arm with an angry “hey I was talking to you, bitch.”

I’m a big girl. I can handle myself, and security was close buy for the other two girls who had unwelcome physical contact with harassing men, but what about on the street? In less busy places? What happens when the man doing the catcalling is someone like the guy who took his frustration out on the streets near the University of California Santa Barbara? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t end with warm fuzzies.

Street harassment is such a problem that there are organizations, such as Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment, devoted to bringing awareness and ending it. The United Nations is taking up street harassment as a serious issue with the Safe Cities global initiative. Even some cities, like Kansas City, are looking at street harassment ordinances that would add to existing harassment, stalking and assault laws making catcalling and related acts illegal with potential for fines and even jail time for offenders.

Lewak does attempt to make some distinction between good harassment and bad harassment, but she seems to miss the point: harassment is harassment. A compliment is telling someone “you look nice today,” not screaming “hey sexy” on a busy street. Reducing someone to their sexual value isn’t being nice. It’s demeaning and it’s dangerous, maybe not to her but for the other women out there who just want to walk down the street or through the mall or to work or school without fear or disruption. There’s nothing nice about it at all and no one should have to deal with it.

For more information on anti-street harassment measures check out Hollaback, Stop Street Harassment, and UN Women’s Safe Cities.

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