The current furor over street harassment is hard to miss. Everything from Internet message boards to Facebook pages are littered with gender driven discussions on an issue that has become a hot-button topic the world over. There are countless voices in the mix, but sadly, many of the loudest male opinions serve to dismiss any serious consideration of street harassment’s impact on female autonomy. The result is that many women and girls continue to feel threatened when walking or participating in public places.
This discomfort is often internalized and so passively condoned, empowering the aggressors in not only continuing their harassment but justifying their behavior. Some of these rationalizations are more common than others and are often called upon to derail any conversations highlighting the issue. For that reason, I have created a comprehensive list for ladies with responses to these typical arguments posed by men who believe street harassment is a “crazy” feminist idea that really does not need to be addressed.
MANSPLANATION #1: “Women are getting all riled up about men saying ‘hi’ or calling them ‘beautiful’ in public — in other words, nothing.“
Men have a warped view of what street harassment is or simply feign ignorance to avoid confronting a problem that implicates males in behavior that society is now attempting to define as wrong. Street harassment is not simply paying a “compliment” to a woman while in public. It is an invasion of a woman’s physical and emotional space, with demands that she give attention to an individual who is sexually objectifying her. It is, for example, openly staring at a woman’s body as she passes while saying things like “damn baby,” “god bless,” “you sexy,” “when you gonna let me hit that?,” “you got a man?,” coupled with statements like “Fuck you!”, “bitch,” “you’re ugly anyways” and “don’t be stuck up” when a woman does not respond because she is not interested.
MANSPLANATION #2: “Women want men to pursue them.”
Though it is now 2014 and both men and women pursue one another (I openly and shamelessly pursued my boyfriend, as have many of the women I know), it cannot be denied that society still perpetuates the expectation that men should initiate interactions with women. However, that same society has basic social rules that have established when it is or is not appropriate to attempt to engage a stranger. For example, one of the most telling signs of mutual interest, in any social interaction, is eye contact. Anyone desperately avoiding your eye contact — like most of the women who endure street harassment — is obviously not interested in or open to your attention.
And guess what fellas: All women do not actually want to be pursued by men! There are women who simply don’t like men. There are women in relationships with the dude of their dreams. There are women who simply are not interested in conversation. And get this, there are women who simply are not interested in you — the dude chillin’ on a street corner sexually objectifying every woman who passes.
MANSPLANATION #3: “Women wear certain sexy clothes, so of course men can’t help but stare.”
I, like many women, have been street harassed while walking my dog in a muu-muu at 6 a.m.. I have also been harassed in business-casual work attire, over-sized shirts and basketball shorts, jeans with a T-shirt, mini skirts and short dresses with high-heel shoes. Regardless of a woman’s dress code, she is never safe from being sexualized and objectified by men in the streets.
And though all human beings are attracted to things and people that are visually pleasing or stimulating, we also taught from an early age not to stare. A sideways glance or appreciative look is not what is in question here. Blatant and even disrespectful ogling — which happens to never be socially acceptable under any circumstance — is.
MANSPLANATION #4: “If women didn’t get all of that attention, they wouldn’t have so much confidence.”
Believe it or not, many women are bold, hard-working, intelligent, multifaceted human beings with different talents and interests, who have loving families, teachers, employers and mentors to validate their sense of self-worth. Self-confidence is built by those individuals who are a part of our everyday lives, helping us to understand all of our positive attributes, while working on and minimizing our flaws — not by random people in the street objectifying your person.
MANSPLANATION #5: “I wish I got a bunch of women checking me out everyday.”
What about men checking you out? Men who make this argument have already lumped all women together as heterosexual in order to justify approaching and catcalling women indiscriminately, regardless of what their sexual orientation might be. So these men should be open to both warranted and unwarranted sexual advances — including those not only from straight women but also from gay men. Fellas, would you enjoy both men and women making public statements about your body or the things they would like to do with it?