I understand why it is that men tend to be the ones harassing and women the ones subjected to the “flattery” of catcalls. But I do not understand why it is so difficult for most men (and some women) to understand the problem.
Awhile ago my husband stayed at a leasing office and got started signing paperwork while I walked back to our new apartment to make sure the building manager had given us the correct keys.
As I walked, locals unpleasantly acknowledged my presence.
I ignored the calls of “hey, sexy” and “blah blah blah just ain’t right” but I was still upset. I remembered all the times when my first response had been to question what I was wearing. Was I doing something to invite the harassment? I am now quite confident that it has nothing to do with what I do or wear* and that there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it.
Oddly enough, I am not bothered by my powerlessness as much as I am the fact that I cannot make the good men to whom I am closest understand. My sisters know from experience the feeling of righteous anger that wells up and causes one to want to destroy the harasser. We do not play out violent scenarios, but we do sometimes tell each other exactly what we wanted to say in response to a certain comment.
But I just cannot make it clear to my husband or my brothers and male friends. They see street harassment as something that stupid guys to for attention, but nothing more than a minor annoyance. I try to explain how it 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.[source]” And they can grasp that in theory.
They cannot, however, understand the feeling of being told that one is not able to walk down the street as a human worthy of respect. They cannot understand what it is like to have a stranger assert the fact that he is able to undress you and that you are entirely vulnerable to his plans for you. After all, isn’t there a world of difference between threatening rape and simply telling someone about how you would enjoy sleeping with her?
I simply cannot make them understand how a few “harmless” comments can make the difference between me feeling fine with a neighborhood or completely unsafe. After all, the crime stats did not change.
I cannot make them understand why I take a slightly longer path to the leasing office in order to avoid further remarks from a man who probably is not even there at the time.
I cannot make them understand how there is absolutely nothing enjoyable, flattering, or ego-enhancing about being informed about how sexually attractive random men find me.
I just cannot make them understand.
I can accept that there is no good response to street harassment. But I cannot accept that it is impossible for men to understand it. There are cards to hand out to the jerks, but what do you say to the good guys in your life who just don’t get it?