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Takin’ it to the Streets: How to do Gender Justice in Public

You know, I was gonna start off with a standard intro, but that was mucking up my flow, so I had to switch it up in order to get unstuck. If you've spent some time around these parts, you may remember my original Bitch blogging series, a two-parter called On the Map, where I provided a slight peek at feminisms that exist around the globe. It's been a year since that gig ended, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to return for a new series – this time about an issue I've been struggling with for two decades that has picked up steam in the mainstream: street harassment. I use the word "struggle" intentionally because of its multiple meanings, and if you continue to read Takin' it to the Streets (which I dearly hope you do!), then you'll soon find out what I mean.

For me, starting a short series on street harassment this month is timely for two reasons. First, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and as a method of "rape testing" that falls on the behavioral continuum of violence against women, street harassment needs some serious examination. Second, this week marks the release of a book that has shaped me as much as I've shaped it, Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets. Co-written with my friends and colleagues, Joanne N. Smith and Meghan Huppuch, Hey, Shorty! provides a narrative account of how young women of color at the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Girls for Gender Equity have organized in their communities since 2001 to end gender-based violence against girls, women, and LGBTQ folks. The part I've played in this difficult work has given me as much joy as frustration, and I consider it my good fortune to continue to be granted the privilege of being an advocate for these inspiring young women (and others just like them) through this series with Bitch Media.

Considering the stake I have in this issue, I'm both excited and concerned with the attention street harassment has been getting lately—nationally and internationally. From Cairo to Dhaka to New York City, street harassment is the new media darling representing contemporary feminist activism, and while the emergence of this complex issue is a step in the right direction, the simplistic way it is being publicly framed in the U.S. is quite problematic. My hope is to use this series to draw out and explore these problems and generate a broader understanding of how street harassment overlaps with gender expression and identity, race, class, sexuality (actual and perceived), age, colonialism, geography, state inflicted violence, mental health, (dis)ability, and a whole host of other issues. It's a lot, right?

I don't plan to craft this series alone. Given that my perspective is necessarily shaped by my own social location, I want Takin' it to the Streets to be a dialogue with folks who are both like and unlike me. Because de-centering myself and my stake in combating street harassment is one way I believe I can keep the work as the focus. So, add your two cents… hell, add three or four. What do you see missing from the public conversation about street harassment? What is being overlooked by popular anti-street harassment activists? Where have you seen street harassment in pop culture and the media?

Here's a platform. Use your voice. Because all our voices are important.

NYC Folks: The book launch for Hey, Shorty! is on April 13th at 7PM at Bluestockings. I hope you can attend!

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Comments

13 comments have been made. Post a comment.

One thing that I hear all the

One thing that I hear all the time when I'm on the street (amongst other more suggestive language) is the phrase "Can you smile for me?" I hate it. I'm just trying to get from point A to point B as quick as possible and being more appealing to a man's gaze is not on my agenda. I make a mean face when men tell me to smile.

Yes to serious examination!

Looking forward to this! Especially given that *this* is how the UK mainstream media covers street harassment:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12969922 Yeah...

Can't wait!

I'm excited for this series, Mandy (to say nothing of my eagerness to read Hey, Shorty!) My experiences with sexual harassment are what got me into feminism in the first place. Years ago, I wrote about how catcalling is sexism in action, and immediately, a young man responded saying that I was wrong because "There's a difference between getting paid a different amount and just being honked at." Apparently, he found the two phenomena being sexist mutually exclusive, and I wish I could say that that's the only time I've witnessed street harassment being dismissed as a non-issue. It's something I think about every day; each time I leave my home, I feel afraid that men will try to assert ownership over my body, verbally or physically, due to my femaleness. The silence around this issue needs to be broken on a regular basis. Can't wait to read more!

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Yay

This series looks awesome. I'll definitely be reading.

Prevention

Great topic! I'm hoping for a discussion that includes these questions: Why do men hassle, annoy, and harass some women and leave others alone? Is it posture and attitude? Stereotypical appearances? How are the victims chosen?

I ask for this reason: Men harass my sister, everywhere, while leaving me alone. On a roadtrip, whenever I walked away, it seemed a man would walk up to her. Her stereotype would be the tall slender brunette, while I'm the busty blonde. How do we repel these cretins? (We already know to kick low afterwards.)

Yes!

I am so excited about this series. Since moving to NJ, I've experienced more catcalling than I'd ever experienced in my 22 years of living in the South. I did not understand why all of these men felt comfortable invading my personal space and commenting on my body, as if it was theirs to begin with. I was shocked to find that most of my male friends did not understand why I felt so humiliated and violated, and why I felt there was a connection between street harassment and rape culture. It's so hard to explain to people that, while being complimented by people you know and such can be awesome, being "complimented" by being honked at, yelled at, or physically touched (like with eve teasing) is actually not a compliment. Who knew?

Exactly

Exactly: people get annoyed and say things like "Oh, men aren't allowed to compliment women any more? But we can still hold doors for them or cover puddles with our cloaks for them to walk over?" (admittedly this last part is an exaggeration.) As if objecting to harrassment poses some kind of huge unfair double-standard, or is overly sensitive. It kind of always comes back to everyone needing 'to lighten up'. So patronising.

Yelling in the street is rarely intended to 'be nice' or make the reciever feel good about themselves (you can hear that in the way these 'compliments' are yelled across a road or laughed at by the yeller's friends); it's not always even about how the person looks -it's very much a power thing, a lot of the time. Also, however a comment about you is intended, if it makes you feel bad then you should be allowed to say so!

I'm also really looking

I'm also really looking forward to this series.

I don't get catcalled very often, but when I do it angers me to no end. Just yesterday as I was walking home from an exam a man yelled at me from his car, and suddenly my lovely post-exam bliss was replaced with unpleasant mixed up thoughts: was my dress really that short? why would he yell at me? why does he think its ok? why am I letting his comment affect me? I couldn't figure out who was to blame for my feelings - him for making the remark in the first place, or me for not ignoring it. Needless to say my lovely walk home (and it was such a nice spring day!) was ruined, and I hate that.

Why the attention can be so harmful

I have struggled my whole life trying to balance a humble, I'm-not-any-better -than- you attitude with my I-want-to -shine- like-the-sun personality! I felt embarrased if I looked "too pretty" as if I were trying to gain attention from strangers. At the same time, I wanted very much to be prettty. I just didn't want others to notice. So, I opted for the easy way out, adopted grunge and wore the baggiest pants I could find, all resulting in a very low self-esteem. I never really had much guidance on these matters from my parents. How was I supposed to ask for help? I didn't even know how to phrase the questions or voice my problems. I am 31 now and as an adult, I'm much more comfortable feeling beautiful, inside and out, and showing it! It feels great to be proud and I believe this is a healthy way for people to enjoy me and how I feel about myself! I have been in a relationship for nine years now and I think my off-the-market status may have helped me feel less vulnerable to critique and judgment. I just don't care anymore. I do believe that those self-esteem issues have manifested in different ways throughout my life, causing me to bow out when I definitely should have stood up. I know that I missed out on too many opportunities when I was younger and am still having to work hard to overcome them. If men only understood what their "compliments" were doing to girls, young women who are not equiped to understand that men are "misguided" (the term some will try to defend themselve with). The idea that we worked so hard to look pretty "so why is a compliment wrong" undermines the fact that we want to feel pretty for ourselves and it puts girls in a position where they feel the need to define thier purpose! "Why did I dress up today? I guess it's because I'm vain and wanted that jerk to notice me". No! They may not realize what they're doing with their words but I believe that the random attention from strangers IS VERY harmful! Funny thing, I didn't know I felt this way. So Mandy, there is my dollar! Love you and thanks for being amazing and beautiful! You have always been on my side!

Thanks & Thrilled!

Many thanks to everyone for your encouraging words and feedback on what you'd like to see from this series. Keep it coming folks. As the series moves forward, I'll be continually checking back here for more input. Now on to penning the next post!

already reading this comments

already reading this comments I have got an better understanding of the issue. Here in Sweden I never noticed debate and education on this issue. At least not aimed at us that grown up male which saddens me as popular culture seems to be full of ideal men acting in this way and as to much of the other problematic ideas of what a 'man' is there certanly needs to be an answering education.

Race & Street Harassment

We are super excited about your series, Mandy! Keep the analysis coming!! One of the questions we constantly get out here in the DC Metro area is around race and socioeconomic status of the perpetrator(s)/target(s). We would love for an analysis around that. Also, it's made us think about our race and socioeconomic status as organizers around this issue in DC. We wonder how race and socioeconomic status affects other organizers in the anti-street harassment movement. Does it? How about gender identity?

You're making us think, which is all an author really wants, right? :)

Takin’ it to the Streets: How to do Gender Justice in Public |

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