*Originally written May 29th, 2014
Men, in general, seem to have a really hard time understanding the nuances of a woman’s existence outside of absolutes. For example, in the context of rape (no I’m not equivocating catcalling to rape, just bear with me here), outside of the blatantly obvious and vile “hold you down and force you while your kicking and screaming rape” or “drug you and carry out the bar unconscious rape” there seems to be a consistent question over this mythical grey area that doesn’t really exist (not in the way some people say it does,at least). To me, what it really comes down to is as men, you will never truly understand what it is like to be viewed as a sexual object from the time you turn 10 (and sometimes even younger) until the rest of time. This is all very generally speaking, of course. A lot of black male discomfort is directly tied to being viewed as a threat, as opposed to being vigilant of constant threats around you.
To tie this to street harassment, I don’t think men fully grasp the concept of, as a woman, being uncomfortable almost EVERY time you step outside of your door in an urban environment. There are varying degrees to this, of course, but being objectified is the common connector. I am not a toy to be grabbed at will, or an object or pet to be hissed at, or yelled at, or clapped at, or commanded. It always kills me a bit inside when I see a group of teens-to -young adults lurking on a corner and I choose to go out of my way to cross the street to avoid drama. I’d just rather live with the guilt of prejudging than deal with any potential confrontation.
All that said, I understand to an extent the level of balls it takes to make a proper cold approach, which is why I try to to be as kind and as polite as possible to the approacher, even if I end up declining. But it gets disheartening when you try to be kind and the said party all of a sudden acts like a card carrying member of the player haters ball.
I can only speak for myself here, but I have rarely spoken to a man about things like street harassment and sexual assault and just gotten an “I hear you and I understand” unless they have already been thoroughly dressed down on the issue by someone else. Nine times out of ten its “yeah I hear that, but what about…”? And its almost always followed by a qualification about how it affects them and THEIR agency – which, while largely unintentional I will admit, is really just another way of entrenching patriarchy. This is NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s one of the most tiring parts of attempting advocacy.
With street harassment that answer has already been said and its fairly simple.1) Understand and accept that a women is not entitled to give you a response no matter how good your intentions may be, and 2) If you see a woman’s space being clearly threatened in a physical manner, maybe say something?(seriously – the amount of times I’ve been violated in a public space or witnessed others while people were just standing around….). People are acting like there haven’t been attempts at public discussion out there, but there have. Its just hard to hear when your main concern in your response is “how does this affect my chances of getting laid?”
There is nothing more infuriating than trying to explain something and then being immediately hit with qualifications. It is almost unbearably insulting, and it makes it really hard for the party who is opening up to ever be comfortable exploring the topic ever again. More than likely, if you just let the point be made the first time around, you are infinitely less likely to get beat over the head with it time and time again. The insufferable onslaught comes from a distinct feeling of never being truly heard. At some point you feel like you have to start yelling – which is how we get here, to your Twitter Timelines being inundated with #YesAllWomen.
The recent tragic incident is truly heartbreaking – but if anything can possibly come out of it, its that people start to truly come to understand that when women discuss the dangerous spectrum of sexualization, abuse, and harassment, it’s because our fears and concerns are real, valid, and potentially life threatening – and not just because they don’t like how you look.