Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender.
I despise street harassment. From age 12 through earlier today, street harassment has been an almost unending burden in my life. I primarily encounter street harassment in “poorer” neighborhoods and primarily Black men engage in it. However, I have had this horribly negative experience with White and Hispanic men as well, and in “nicer” neighborhoods. And, while working in the corporate world for almost a decade in the past, my life was a blend of sexual harassment in the workplace by White men and street harassment when out and about in public by Black men. Street harassment is a difficult conversation topic since most men of any background are not willing to examine how male privilege makes them immune to this and allows them to participate in this without recourse.
Most of the Black women that I know deal with street harassment. Though a tiny few seem to misinterpret this sexual aggression and disrespect for “attraction” and genuine “interest,” most Black women despise street harassment. Street harassment is often about disenfranchised men engaging in aggressive behavior in the quest for an assertion of power that they don’t have in other parts of their lives due to the oppression they face. It’s often an issue of reacting with male privilege because of racial/economic oppression.
I tweeted about street harassment a long time ago, and a lot of people agreed with the sentiment I shared.
I told my younger brother how he feels badgered by cops is how women feel badgered by men on the street. He was speechless.— Trudy (@thetrudz) November 12, 2011
There does seem to be a disparity in perception and behavior. They don’t like being harassed, yet they harass.
Since most of the White women that I have known over the years never experienced harassment like I have (except for the cliche construction worker scene…most have experienced that), yet all of the Black women that I know have, I wondered how race and socioeconomics played into this. In the last few months, I’ve engaged in some observations regarding street harassment. (To be clear, NOTHING I do or do not do gives men the right to do anything, especially street harassment. There is no burden on me to do anything differently because men do not have a right to harass.)
What I observed:
When wearing a wedding ring (fake of course, I am not married nor desire marriage), I have fewer harassment experiences from Black or Hispanic men. However, I notice a major increase of harassment experiences from White men. When I don’t wear a wedding ring, the reverse occurs. (This is the general experience in any place, indoors/outdoors, although some factors altered this experience, as I mention below.)
In a busy city (and average income of that city is 60K, White population is over 50%), walking down a busy street, on a weekday, and wearing the wedding ring, I have an average 0-1 street harassment incidents.
In a busy city (and average income of that city is 30K, Black population is over 50%), walking down a busy street, on a weekday, and wearing the wedding ring, I have an average 8-10 street harassment incidents.
(I controlled for my clothing—long-sleeved tee, jeans, sneakers. Identical outfits in both types of circumstances.)
I’ve unfortunately learned that many Black men think street harassment is a non-issue and worse, rape, is a topic for jokes. I’ve mentioned to some of these same men that if I found police brutality and murder of Black men comical, they would think I was a monster. Whenever someone is in the less powerful position, no form of abuse is funny. The challenge is when the person is in the powerful position—what will they think? What will they do?
Things I Consider Street Harassment:
Loud extended car honks as a man drives by if I am taking a walk. If people do not enjoy being honked at while they are in cars themselves, who would enjoy that while talking a walk, especially if the car sneaks up then alarmingly and surprisingly honks?
Yelling obscenities out of a car at me.
Saying sexually explicit things to my face.
The notorious “aye girl” or “aye bitch” that I have heard since age 12.
Beginning any conversation about “my man” i.e. “aye you got a man, where yo man at?”
Attempts to yell over my headphones or interrupt my reading in public with inappropriate talk.
Public space invasion (i.e. sitting on a restaurant or Starbucks patio and someone sits down at my table without permission when other tables are available and starting inappropriate conversation.
Male sexual touching (i.e grabbing their own genitals) in response to me walking by.
Trying to touch me or threatening assault or rape. Men have actually used that word at me, “rape.”
My relationships with men have been interesting. While I never experienced abuse from my father or any boyfriends, I’ve had endless threats and various forms of harassment from strangers that I don’t know, men I vaguely know through social media and past co-workers. I don’t invite mistreatment into my life but how life works means that there are spaces where people you don’t want to be around or have no choice of being around will be around. I just take care to make sure that in the spaces where there are choices, I am making the right ones.
Ultimately the onus is on women not to excuse this behavior and most importantly on men to change this behavior. But the former is not responsible for the latter. Men always have a choice to treat a woman with respect. Women shouldn’t have to alter routes to work or wear a trench coat or something just to “hope” to avoid daily harassment. It is ridiculous and unacceptable. Women are NOT responsible for the behavioral CHOICES that men make.