By Charing Ball
This past Sunday I stood with a handful of ladies (and a couple of men) at the corner of a busy West Philadelphia transit stop in hopes of doing a little community engagement for the First Annual Anti-Street Harassment Day in Philadelphia. The event coincided with the International Anti-Street Harassment Day, which sought to make public places safe and welcoming for women.
The small group of us waved “Enough is Enough” signs and wrote messages of “These are our Streets 2” on the sidewalk in chalk. During our outing we spoke to several black men and women about what we were doing—most of them understood while a small minority thought it was pointless.
For some, the idea of having to dedicate a day of recognition about anti-street harassment seems a little trivial in the grand scheme of issues we now face on a global level. However, street harassment is something many – if not all – women have to deal with. Often times, women have to bear the burden of defending against these unwanted or solicited attention by themselves as it is generally not considered as big deal by most. Mainly, on some societal level, we have been condition to believe that cat-calling, groping and belittling by strangers are all a part of the inconveniences of womanhood.
And it goes beyond a little playful flirtation from the opposite (and sometimes the same) sex. What we’re talking about is the ego-bruised guy who berates you loudly and publicly with vulgarities after you refused to give him your number, or the overly-aggressive stranger who slaps you on your behind as you walk by, or the straight-up weirdo who freaks himself off within your presence.
Sorry to have to break this down to some folks, but it’s not cute, inviting or acceptable. In fact, it is this kind of aggravation that helps to create a culture that makes other forms of violence against women tolerable.
We see what happens when the harassment turns violent like what happened in the New York Puerto Rican parade, where more than 50 women were doused, stripped, and molested by hordes of out-of-control men. Or the sexual assault caught on camera, which occurred in plan sight during the Mardi Gras festivities. Or on a New York train when a woman stood up to the pervert who flashed his genitalia at her.
But often times, similar incidences like these rarely make national headlines as women often feel, or are made to feel, as if they share some sort of the blame in their victimization. As a result, women beat themselves over the head thinking, if only they had dressed differently, or had not been out alone at a specific time of the day or night.
It’s that same degree of victim-blaming that has made the defense of 18-plus men and boys who videotaped themselves sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, even more plausible. In the minds of local community members, who are repulsively coming to the defense of these sick offenders, the make-up plastered on the young girl’s face and her provocative clothing meant that this child was not a victim, but rather a temptress who ultimately “had it coming.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, the streets of America can be a very dangerous place for a woman or a young girl. What I learned from standing with those courageous women was that the less people, regardless of gender, who speak out and confront this cowardly act of sexual harassment, the more we contribute to the continuing devaluation of female status in society.