This should be simple, right? A stranger walks past you on the sidewalk or is standing in front of you in line at the coffee shop or running for the bus or even groggily walking their dog early in the morning. What do you do? How 'bout nothing? Possibly — if you make eye contact in that way that humans sometimes do — you smile and nod as the two of you go on your way.
For more than 80% of women all over the world, this is not the typical experience. According to Stop Street Harassment — a nonprofit dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide, behavior ranging from demanding a person smile to flashing to screaming to stalking are a real, daily part of life.
There is a compounding threat of gendered harassment for people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. A 2013 study of nearly 100,000 LGBTQ people in the European Union found that half avoided public spaces because of a high level of fear in restaurants, parking lots, parks, etc.
In the U.S., one quarter of women experience street harassment before their 12th birthday and 90% report dealing with it regularly by age 19. It’s simply unacceptable that more than half our population has to take evasive measures to feel safe in their daily lives. As we’ve heard on today’s show, even if you’re a guy who has totally benign motivations, after hearing and seeing what women go through, you might understand why your “Hey there, where are you headed?” would be met with caution and even fear.
At StopStreetHarassment.org you can find a comprehensive definition of street harassment as well as tools to raise awareness and work toward culture change around the world. The board of directors explains why they devote time and resources to this issue:
"We believe that street harassment impedes gender equality and must be taken seriously. Because street harassment is often an invisible problem (especially to people in power) and it is dismissed as being a 'minor annoyance,' a ‘joke,' or the fault of the harassed person, our primarily focus right now is simply to document the problem and demonstrate why it’s a human rights violation that must be addressed.”
That power dynamic is the core component: a man yelling at a woman on the street is putting himself into her space without her permission and declaring that he can do so if and when he wants. The good news about this dynamic is that every man listening can do something super simple to help. Visit StopStreetHarassment.org to check your own behavior and take stock of the other men in your networks. It’s safer for you to call out a buddy than it is for the harassed person to try and do so.
Also, this is seriously advanced warning about Anti-Street Harassment Week happening April 12th-18th, so mark your calendars as you’ll have no excuse to miss it. Between now and then, you can share your story with Stop Street Harassment, volunteer your graphic design skills and report ads, TV shows and other media that depicts harassment as a joke, compliment or no big deal. Most of the asks at Stop Street Harassment's “Join Us” tab take less than 15 minutes; certainly the basic humanity and safety of more than half the world’s population is worth at least that.
Get involved with Stop Street Harassment
Mark your calendar for Meet Us On The Street, an international anti-street harassment campaign April 12-18, 2015.
Follow the #EndStreetHarassment thread and share your own experiences.
"Street harassment of women: It's a bigger problem than you think” by Holly Kearl at Christian Science Monitor
Hear the segment in context:
Written by BOTL social media/activism director Katie Klabusich