i was groomed to love street harassment

March 20, 2013 | 49 Comments

Sad eyes

I grew up being catcalled. I was groomed to believe it was a compliment I should enjoy. I looked for this form of validation on days I felt especially bad about myself. Embarrassing and true.

I’ve since learned about male privilege and body autonomy.

These days I refer to catcalling as street harassment.

A friend of mine lost it on a guy in a park she often cuts through. Lillie is regularly harassed in the form of catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks and leering. Most of the time she responds with a glare or a curt “No thanks!” This particular day she’d had it. Lillie called out the harasser on his behaviour with some well-placed fuck yous before walking away.

Someone I shared Lillie’s story with said they understand Lillie’s reaction to Park Dude, but they don’t think anger is a solution. “Anger doesn’t open up channels of discussion and change. Anger breeds defensiveness and more anger. Anger will not move us forward.”

Those things are true. But you know what? When a dude is in my fucking space, evaluating my body, opening up channels of discussion and change aren’t my main concern. Creating safe spaces to allow for enlightenment don’t come to mind when a dude is exercising his male privilege to steal my power.

If someone pinched my ass in a bar, no one would bat an eyelash if I got angry. Why is uninvited attention in the form of catcalling any different?

Lillie and I were talking via text and she said, “I think one of the main pieces to this is it feels like there is no recourse aside from an anger response. Any other response I’ve ever made seems to make no difference. It’s laughed at, ignored, judged, made fun of. Anger comes from powerlessness; it’s certainly not a preferred response or a response I would be making an argument for.”

Okay. So anger shows vulnerability, feeds the behaviour and doesn’t solve anything. But I wan’t my power back, man.

Powerlessness is key here. Especially when our culture generally continues to see street harassment as a non-issue. Women should be able to enjoy public spaces without being harassed. We should be able to walk down the street naked and not be harassed. Yes, I’m serious! That’s the kind of city I want to live in.

Some of you are thinking, “Oh please! A dude whistles at you… roll with it; it’s a compliment. Someone thinks you’re hot!” Uh… fuck that! A dude yelling at me in the street isn’t trying to make me feel good. He’s trying to make himself feel good by putting me in my place. It’s not about an inability to take a compliment, you guys. It’s about safety and respect. It’s about stopping rape culture from continuing to subtly entwine itself through my streets. So don’t poo-poo my discomfort with catcalling.

We live in a culture where street harassment is normalized. Norms change. There’s hope for this one!

“We used to have different water fountains for people of colour and now we have a culture with our first black president. Who’s saying we can’t change the culture that has made street harassment okay?” Emily May.

After talking about this with Lillie one night, I came home to search for a blog post that talked about street harassment so perfectly. This post was honestly the first time I’d heard someone frame catcalling as street harassment. At the end of the piece, the author challenged women to address catcallers with a “No thank you!” or something similar. She predicted that this assertion would be met with misongynistic vitriol.

Which is precisely what I aim to avoid. I’ve spent my life trying to make men like me—even if they make me uncomfortable. Calling out male strangers was unthinkable. And then I read this post. The reframe was a major paradigm shift.

Even after googling the shit out of “street harassment” and downloading my Twitter archives, because I’m sure I tweeted it, I couldn’t find this piece. But I did find communities like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! I spent time on both sites and discovered there’s no Vancouver chapter for Hollaback.

I rallied a group of some of my favourite badass lady friends and we’ve been approved for the Vancouver chapter. Training is in June and I’m itching to get started. I’m thrilled about the idea of empowering myself and others to stand up for themselves. To make change in the streets of Vancouver.

Hollaback, yo!

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