Street harassment of women: It's a bigger problem than you think
From Yemen to California, more than 90 percent of women have faced public harassment. It's not a compliment, a minor annoyance, or a woman’s fault. It’s bullying behavior. And we can't just ignore it. Here's how to respond.
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As a first step, everyone must acknowledge that street harassment is not a compliment, a minor annoyance, or a woman’s fault. It’s bullying behavior. The harassment is often directed at teenage girls and young women because it’s assumed they are too young to know what to do or how to respond, especially when the harasser is an older, larger man. And often the harassers are correct.Skip to next paragraph
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So, second, we need to give girls and women real help. We need to teach them empowering, assertive responses, self-defense, and how to report harassers. Ignoring and avoiding harassers changes nothing. It is disempowering and limiting.
Third – and perhaps most important – we must focus on potential and current harassers. We have to stop looking the other way or saying “boys will be boys” when we see harassment. Fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends need to stop trying to bond with other men through objectifying, harassing, and raping women. And just because men have the ability to access girls’ and women’s bodies through pornography, strip clubs, mail order brides, and brothels, doesn’t mean that they should.
Organizations like Men Can Stop Rape, the Coaching Boys into Men program at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, and the global Man Up Campaign all focus on healthy definitions of masculinity and teach boys and men how to respect themselves – and women. These initiatives are fantastic and need our support, and we need more organizations like them so we can reach every young man.
Finally, we need to change the society that lets street harassment occur. We must challenge comments, forms of media, and policies that disrespect and discriminate against women. We must challenge all gender-based violence and harassment; it’s all interrelated.
The problem may be massive, but each of us has the power to chip away at it right now. Learn more about street harassment, share a story, talk to someone about it, and find and share strategies for dealing with it and ideas for ending it.
If you care about the current and next generation of girls, if you support equality, if you believe in human decency, then don’t sit by. Do something.
Holly Kearl is a national street harassment expert, writer, and nonprofit professional. The author of “Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women,” she runs the website Stop Street Harassment and works full-time for AAUW, one of the largest and oldest women’s organizations in the nation.