Do I really need to raise my hand?

Via a Feminist Bookmark Alert at Hoyden About Town, this post on street harassment at The F-Word … well, it should be thought-provoking. The fact that almost every woman on the planet has at some time faced harassment, threats, or abuse from random strangers on the street – and the fact that this is almost invariably sexualised, so please spare me the “But TEH MENZ get hassled too, honest!” – should be shocking and unbelievable.

But it isn’t, to me.

Last week I was walking to a dance class at the Ungodly Hour of 7.00 pm. It’s been an absolute fright of a winter in these parts, so I was in black stockings, knee-length skirt, big fluffy scarf and bulky hoodie. My shoes were flat and plain. I had a backpack on.

And as a small red car full of young white men sped past, one wound down his window and shouted, “HEY BABY, HOW MUCH?” at me.

I’m amazed how quickly I managed to regain control of my thoughts and flip the wankers off. And then I felt shaky, and nervous, and kept looking around expecting the car to come back, and thought about the front cover of my copy of Against Our Will, with the words writ large: “a conscious process by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” And after my class I asked my teacher to give me a lift home – because at 8.30, on a weeknight, in a well-lit area of a pretty bloody safe city, I did not want to be a woman walking home alone.

All this because of one pathetic little man thinking he’d look really Cool and Funny by asking a woman how much it would cost to fuck her. Because one pathetic little man just crystallized in four words what I am allowed to be in society: a vagina. A receptacle for a man’s good time. A commodity. Not even worthy of seeing the guy abusing me, not even worth pulling over to yell at.

If you think I’m analysing this a bit too much, pray tell: why are so many women on that thread able to relate to being harassed on the street? Why are the catcalls and wolf whistles and jibes so often about sex, or sexuality (woman brushes off abuse = OBVS A LESBO, LOLOLOL), or a man demanding a woman’s attention and time and phone number? Is it really just coincidental that all these men, from all corners of the globe, have figured out that HEY IF I CALL HER A WHORE SHE’LL FEEL ASHAMED?

Um, no.


  1. Steve Withers

    The discussion that follows is similar to one I often have with my significant other.

    Your reaction to the idiot in the car is interesting. He’s the twit who opened his window and made an arse of himself. You were dong absolutely nothing wrong. It really should stop right there and go no further. Nothing receded it and nothing came after it.

    But it hasn’t. You have internalised his words and speculated as to context right up to global level, mindful of history and culture and gender politics, and back down again.

    Almost certainly, you gave the idiot far more time and thought than he deserves.

    That said, your reaction seems to be a common one. She (my SO) can run into trouble at times by forgetting who she is and allowing someone who knows nothing whatever about her to define her in some way.

    I didn’t think I did this. She laughed at me. When she does that, she’s most often right to do so. We discussed it and it emerged, as one would expect, that it isn’t just a female thing. But it does manifest itself according to a male perspective.

    Men can be ‘degraded’ in this way, too. Here is my own example.

    I recently moved to a new city. As I walk around my neighbourhood each morning I usually say good morning to whomever crosses my path. It’s a gentle way of becoming visible and known in my new setting. Of trying to fit in and letting people know I’m not aloof and unapproachable. Some people ignore me. Maybe they didn’t hear. I don’t bellow. or maybe they were distracted. You get to know who they are and leave them alone.

    But I find that over time I have come to NOT say good morning to young women as they very often cut me dead and do not acknowledge me in any way. No other group does this as consistently.

    That makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward. I feel like I have done something wrong. Don’t they know that I’m the man in the street who might risk his life to defend them from an attacker? I have done so in the past. No. They don’t know me. Why should they? I’m just a middle-aged man they don’t know from a hole in the ground who is intruding on their bubble by wishing them (and anyone else) a good day.

    Perhaps this is an analog from a male perspective…and we have both been made victims of the idiots who roll down their windows and say stupid, hurtful things.

    Maybe my saying “good morning” to people I don’t know puts me on the edge of being seen as one of those idiots. Is that really the world we ow live in? I hope not.

    Each of us, in our own way, may be victims of the consequences of fear engendered by idiots, like the guy in the car, who don’t deserve consideration beyond being ignored.

    [QoT: there’s a number of problems going on here, Steve. In the first place, I find it a little condescending to be told I’ve “given the idiot far more time and thought than he deserves.” Is this meant to be a new idea to me? The very source of a lot of women’s frustration about street harassment is entirely that – that we are left feeling anxious and confused and vulnerable by the actions of “one idiot”. That we know he isn’t worth it. That we know we’re strong and independent and tough women. But it happens. Ergo, we get pissed off.
    Secondly, men’s “degradation” is frankly not equivalent, and I mean this in the friendliest way possible: you’re not going to get very far in any kind of gender-issues discussion if your response to the struggles of women is “but men struggle too!” We know, dude. We hear it every time we try to express our frustration and pain.
    The idiot in the car? He is the reason young women “cut you dead” in the street. Because women in our society just expect, from our daily experience, that a random man approaching us in the street has a 50-50 chance of propositioning, harassing, groping, or insulting us.
    This is the point: not that one guy on one occasion harassed me. It’s that almost every woman has been harassed in this way. That almost every woman has known the anxiety and fear of just walking through her hometown, of committing no other crime than Being In Public While Female.
    And frankly, your hope of getting “victim” status because a large number of thuggish morons has caused women to expect harassment from strange men they’ve never seen before who approach them out of the blue, blithely thinking “But I’m a Nice Guy! I have Past Gallant Deed cred! Surely she can psychically sense this!”? I’m not buying it.]

  2. thehairyarmpit

    Men need to change their disgusting behaviour!

    I’m so glad I’m old and fat and I don’t have to put up with this crap anymore.

    Still, old and fat as I am, I always have to fight off some slobbering drunken old man every time I go out for a drink.

  3. Steve Withers

    G’day. Thanks for the response. I won’t take issue with anything you’ve said other than to generally comment my response to your post was intended to be a walk along a train of thought I’ve experienced. I’m sharing. I’m sorry you didn’t see it that way. I wasn’t looking for your judgement of my experience.

    [QoT: Just as my post wasn’t inviting your psychoanalysis of my reaction to my experience, Steve.]