Last week, I was contacted on Twitter by a man who recently stumbled across an article I’d once written about street harassment, the bane of existence for every black woman walking, well, the street. My piece mused on the best way to engage the sorts of men who yell at women to “smile,” tell them how “sexy” they are (all while eye-humping them), or yell out of cars to tell women just how much they would enjoy a romp. Classy, right?
The man in question wanted me to know this: “you should be thankful (ESP. black women) that n****s is [sic] giving you the time of day. Stop taking street harassment for granted.”
Usually, I would ignore a comment like this, but the man’s inarticulate perspective is one I’ve heard before — actually anytime I’ve read the male comments on a post on street harassment. Many men, I’m afraid, just don’t get how awful, demeaning, violating (and common) this practice is no matter how often and long women complain about it. Some say that women are blowing it out of proportion, that men hollering in the street isn’t harassing, but flattering.
Street harassment: It’s not flattering
“How can women complain that they are single and there are no men, when they ignore the men that show interest?” they ask. “Isn’t that like shooting yourself in the foot?”
There’s a disconnect. So instead of getting frustrated or angry, let me attempt to build a bridge so that there’s more understanding.
The average, socially-adjusted woman is not offended by a man who says “Excuse me, miss,” or approaches her to say “Good morning,” “You look nice today,” or some such. That’s not harassment, that’s a compliment. And if it’s been a light day for street harassment, most straight women will welcome a kind word from a stranger.
However, if it’s been a heavy street harassment day, she’s probably not trying to hear it. By “heavy,” I mean any sunny day, especially if it’s a warm one and she’s not covered in a burka (and I’m sure a Muslim woman on U.S. soil has a story about being harassed in a burka). And by the time you — because of course you are a nice man, because in the history of reading and writing about street harassment, I’ve never seen a male commenter confess to it despite the overwhelming presence of men who actually do it — encounter her, she’s been through hell.
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