Street harassment is any kind of action or communication that is unwelcome, disrespectful and even threatening in a public space like the street. Street harassment is normally gender motivated and men are usually the perpetrators. It is unquestionably an issue of patriarchy as it displays the ability of men to make women uncomfortable and feel unsafe in public places, as it has a profound effect on women’s full participation in the public domain.
Behaviour that constitutes street harassment includes winks, vulgar gestures, catcalls, remarks that are normally sexual in nature and evaluate a woman’s physical appearance. One can safely say that 100% of women have experienced street harassment at some point in their lives, with some women even experiencing it every single day. A typical scenario is a woman walking down the street and a man that the woman is unacquainted with trying to force an uncomfortable or even embarrassing conversation with her and disrespecting her in the process.
Most men however in some peculiar way believe women actually want to be affirmed of their looks and be told that they are beautiful or sexy by complete strangers. They even justify their behaviour by saying that they help women that they deem not so attractive gain self-esteem by complementing them and trying to strike conversations that reassure these women that they are appealing and desirable to men. But is it really a complement when someone who knows nothing about you wants to give you validation about your looks?
If we however look at it from a difficult angle, how many women actually do feel violated when men harass them? A conversation I had with my female colleagues about street harassment revealed that it really did not bother them when men tried to strike conversations with them or catcalled them on the streets. They explained how the practice reflects the uninterrupted role that men take up in society as the species that initiates any form of engagement between people of the opposite sex. In my view this shows how society has embraced patriarchy and accepted that it is inherent of a man to assert his “right” to infringe on a woman’s attention by forcing her to interact with him.
In cognisance of this, I may not be speaking for all women when I say being whistled at, being called “baby girl” like I do not have a name, shouting that I am sexy is not only disrespectful but a defilement of my right to feel safe and exist freely in public. However,I for one most certainly do not feel the need to get validation from a complete stranger about my looks nor do I feel important if a strangerasks to walk me home. It does not in any way add worth to how I view myself, if anything the pestering makes me feelviolated.
In the past, I normally gave a fake telephone number to men who asked me for it -just to be polite. In an attempt to minimise the number of times I was harassed,I even became careful about how I dressed, I watched my conduct when I was in public and tried as much as possible to be inconspicuous. I have however realised that street harassment has got nothing to do with how women look or behave when they are in public. Street harassment has got everything to do with a society that endorses men to validate the appearance and conduct of women. I have therefore learnt to stand up for myself and tell men who harass me to stop it.