so be dear to your friends

Ok, I only have a few minutes, so- extremely quick hit:

I want to talk about something that I notice happening a lot when discussing street harassment with men.

Whenever I try to have these conversations, there is a tendency on the part of men to dismiss it as an incident reflective only of the personal idiocy or lack of couth of the specific harasser in question. In contrast, most of the women I talk to who have routine experience with street harassment seem to have an intrinsic understanding of the fact that it is a systematic problem.

So this is what I would like men to understand: it isn't just about individuals. I understand that this is an uncomfortable concept. Acknowledging that our culture is misogynistic and that cultural attitudes toward women allow for and encourage things like street harassment makes street harassment every man's problem. It isn't just about that one jerk who said that one mean or fucked up thing. At the root, it's about the power and privilege that, setting aside all other factors, all men have vis-à-vis all women. Things like street harassment are expressions of that power. And it takes consistent work to examine one's own actions and beliefs honestly and to work against the internalization of those damaging cultural messages. I would like for all people in positions of privilege to commit to that work, rather than scrambling to point out the ways that THOSE privileged people are the bad guys but I'M different!!! No. It's work we ALL have to do, and it requires us to check our defensiveness and be open to the possibility that we need to come correct.


  1. This is always an interesting subject to me. For a number of reasons. I agree re male responsibility.

    1) I think my intense reaction to this kind of thing and not being able to "blow it off" like some of my friends, who claim catcalls are more the catcaller's problem than *theirs*, is related to past abuse issues as it relates to power issues. So sometimes I run into women who don't even understand that it can be an issue that the recipient then has to process, if they can process it. And I don't think that's the fault of the unwilling recipient - but I would like to see more women get better at not dismissing any reactions that aren't similar to their own because they have the privilege of being unaffected by them. I can understand and respect that some of my friends do not get angry about this stuff and I expect the same in return.

    2) There is the issue that, as women, we often have to point this out to our male friends/relatives - that it's happening. Often if we're with men, it doesn't happen. It happens when we're alone. So I don't know how much men see it happen to women they care about personally. And I think, also, if they're out and they see men doing it it's easy for them to think "Assholes!" and just walk on by because there's no visible "direct hit". So, the other thing I find either empowering or resentful is that I feel responsible for letting the men in my life know, "Hey, it's not okay to walk so close behind women on the street like that, especially if they are ALONE. Cross the street so they can see where you are. They are not paranoid, they're reasonably watching out for their safety and you don't need to give them more red flags than they already encounter."

    3) And then there is just the futility of dealing with it real-time. And also the borderline situations ("Have a good night...sweetheart") where you have to make a split second decision based on how you're feeling that day - whether you want to ignore them, answer them re usage of "sweetheart" or accept that they have now presented as a male-figure to your female-figure in a way that doesn't indicate threat -- but that undermines ways in which you want men to perceive and address you. And you've really just passed him a half a second after I started even thinking about that string of thoughts.

    It's really this fucked up relative power dynamic that is exerted and we're forced to decide our complex reactions based on timing, safety, mood, etc in a split second.

  2. Re: other women- you are absolutely right! I don't mean to imply that all women 'get it'; I'm lucky enough that I am able to discuss stuff like this with other women who ID as feminists on a regular basis. But, absolutely, there are women who perceive it as a problem of individuals. For women, I think it tends to be more about self-protection, or creating the illusion of safety- like, if there are just rules we can follow (like: don't wear x, don't go into y neighborhood after z o'clock, etc) then we can avoid peril; likewise, if it's just one or two or ten ill-mannered individuals, that's a lot easier to process and deal with than the reality of life as a marginalized/oppressed person.

    "I can understand and respect that some of my friends do not get angry about this stuff and I expect the same in return."

    This is something I actually REALLY struggle with. And I think I have done a great job of alienating a lot of people because they can't or don't or won't get angry about the things that make me angry. It's hard for me to not feel defensive and upset. Something to work on.

    2) is one of the worst bummers of my life. I can't even tell you how many disappointing conversations I've had to this end. More than the threat of violence or other dangers, the possibility of having someone I care about just completely not get it, or not take it seriously, is the thing that most often keeps me silent.

    3) you bring up another really excellent point- just how TAXING dealing with this constantly really is. it takes so. much. energy. to deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle manifestations of that power dynamic. I basically feel like I never really get to relax- I am always poised for the next fucked-up thing to happen.