Holla Back: End Street Harassment and the Perpetuation of Rape Culture

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By Marie Frankson
Campus News

I have been a staff writer for this newspaper for two years and in those two years, I have written a wide range of articles—fashion and make-up tips, about the gaming/geek communities, relationship advice, various feminist pieces, author interviews, etc. This month, instead of making a holiday wish list for college students like I had planned on writing, I’m going to be writing about something important not only to myself but to women, and men, and it’s something that a lot of people don’t even realize is a real issue: street harassment.

What is street harassment? According to the website www.stopstreetharassment.org, 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 or sexual orientation.” Street harassment comes in different forms, such as leers, whistles and cat-calls, rude or vulgar comments, vulgar gestures, flashing, public masturbation, stalking, unwanted sexual touching, assault, rape, and murder.

Ready for some numbers? In 2008, Stop Street Harassment conducted a survey using 811 women between the ages of 12 to 80. From the study, they concluded that one in four women will experience some form of street harassment by age 12 and nearly 90% by age 19; and no one is safe—women in their 80s had also shared stories of street harassment.

I’ve experienced various types of street harassment over the years, from rude comments to unwanted touching to even stalking, and what’s scary is that if you speak up, you don’t always know how the perpetrator is going to react. If you brush it off, the action may continue until you or the perpetrator leaves the area; if you speak up, the perpetrator may threaten you with violence or may become violent.

I’ve shared my stories with men and women alike. Luckily for me, most of the men I associate with are decent men who are sympathetic toward what a large population of women, and members of the LGBT community, face on a daily basis. Others sometimes feel as though it’s necessary to tell me to “Lighten up, it was just a comment,” or “Why can’t you just learn to take a compliment? Jeez,” or “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have worn (insert clothing item here), if you didn’t want to get attention.” Well, they’re not the ones who got grabbed at work on multiple occasions or have to deal with the rude comments ALL THE TIME.

What these street harassers, and those who condone their behavior, are doing (besides making others uncomfortable to be out in public) is perpetuating rape culture (and possibly victim-blaming as per the comment about wearing certain clothing items).

What is rape culture? According to www.wikipedia.org, rape culture is “a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalizes, excuses, tolerates, or even condones rape.” These are the same situations that mask the seriousness of rape and make it into a joke.

America is guilty of perpetuating rape culture. How many times have you heard someone blame the victim for what happened? How many times have you heard stories of rapes being covered up by the towns they occurred in? How many times have you heard young girls and women being given the “don’t do something that will get you raped” speech instead of hearing boys and men getting the “don’t rape” speech?

In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, there isn’t enough attention being given to rape culture. The fact that there is a link between street harassment and rape culture is not surprising to many, and many also feel as though the victim is at fault because of their choices (wearing a particular clothing item, not dressing modestly, drinking too much alcohol, going out late at night alone, etc.). According to an article on www.policymic.com by Sunhay You, titled “Street Harassment Isn’t That Different From Rape,” she says that “The prevalence of rape and street harassment against women has nothing to do with women and their choices but rather a culture that supports and makes mundane acts of violence against women.”

Rape culture demands that women need to be sexually subservient to men, that we must behave in a certain way to any and all attention we get on the street from strangers, that we should be flattered by all attention we get whether it be wanted or not, that if we speak up, we are told that “the street doesn’t belong to you” and “there are women who WISH men would talk to them like that” and “I know a lot of strong women who would react differently in that situation than how you did,” but if we don’t speak up about what happened, then we were “asking for it.” I don’t know any woman who wants to be objectified—who wants to be told, “Hey baby, you got a fat ass,” or “I love the way your tits bounce when you run.” Also, for the record, everyone reacts differently to certain situations.

This article is me being a strong woman and using my voice to tell others that street harassment is wrong and that we can put an end to it together by calling it out when it happens. I “holla back” when I see harassment, whether I experience it myself or am a bystander and witness someone else being harassed, and you can too.

One way that we can potentially put an end to street harassment is to document where and when it happens and to share our stories with others. I believe that everyone has the right to feel safe when walking down the street and to not have their personal space violated. I believe that we can all work collectively to eradicate this behavior that makes millions of people uncomfortable to walk down the street and make the streets and other public spaces safe for everyone.

All it takes is one person to make a difference, but let’s all work together to put an end to street harassment and the perpetuation of rape culture in our society.

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