Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Take it to the Streets

Jennifer Kesler, who writes for the Hathor Legacy and Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, has written posts directed at both men and women regarding catcalling, and why street harassment should not be considered a form of flattery.

In her post to women she writes:

Strange men do not hoot at, yell at, or leer at you because they think you’re hot. They do those things because they think you’re vulnerable and needy. If you think they want you sexually, you need some serious education on power psychology. They want to feel like they’re on top of you, but not in the way you imagine.

When you see someone attractive, it’s natural to look. But not to stare - there are rules against staring throughout the animal kingdom. And you don’t talk unless the person you’re looking at says something to you first, because when you get caught looking, it would be aggressive to follow that up with verbalization. This is something your cat understands, for pete’s sake. Stop reading Cosmopolitan and get in touch with your animal instincts. Discrete looks are flattering because they reflect only a natural aesthetic reaction. Leering - staring overtly at someone who’s watching you stare - signals aggression. Uninvited verbalizations are also aggressive - that’s why when the salesman at the kiosk leaps out to ask you if you ever get split ends, you feel pressured and cornered (until you realize you’re entitled to tell them to back off and leave you alone because they started the hostility and you’re only responding in kind).
To men, she says:

If you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s not really about how attractive she is. It’s about one of two things:

* The men. Most often, catcalling at a woman is a way men socialize with each other. You’re trying to impress each other with who can say the most outrageous things, or who can get a smile or glance from the most passing women. The woman is just part of the scenery, so it’s no surprise you’re oblivious to her feelings. Her responses don’t represent a person with sensitivities to you; they represent a finish line, and tell you whether or not your verbal volleys are scoring.

* Intimidating women. For every bunch of guys who thinks catcalling is harmless because they know their own motives aren’t hateful, there’s one guy who really hates women and revels in feeling that a woman is afraid of him. He thinks his buddies feel the same way, and when they engage in the same behavior, they are (perhaps unwittingly) encouraging him.

Whether you’re merely insensitive to what strange women feel or actually hate them doesn’t really matter. The behavior was invented by men who hate women, and by participating in it - in fact, by not calling on other men to stop doing it - you’re encouraging misogynistic attitudes whether you mean to or not, whether you share them or not.
Kesler's posts come in response to a May CNN article entitled Catcalling: creepy or a compliment?, in which some women report feeling threatened by men yelling at them on the street while other women express insecurity with their appearance if they are not catcalled.

But Kimberly Fairchild, 29, an assistant professor of psychology at Manhattan College in New York, says catcalling can take a larger emotional toll than many women realize.

"There seems to be some evidence that it increases self-objectification," said Fairchild, who surveyed 550 women both online and at Rutgers University in 2006 and 2007. The women -- who ranged in age from 15 to 64 in the international online component and from 18 to 24 in the Rutgers survey of women from central New Jersey -- were asked about their experiences with street harassment.

Catcalling "encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings" and can cause women to fear for their safety, Fairchild says.

"When a man catcalls you, you don't know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault," she added.
The CNN article also discusses HollaBackNYC, a site which encourages New Yorkers to snap pictures of street harassers and then post them to the blog as a way of fighting back.

Emily May, 27, and six of her friends were inspired to create the site in 2005 after a young New York woman used her camera phone to take a photo of a man who was looking at her while touching himself on the subway. The picture led to his arrest. (Such behavior is, according to New York state law, a misdemeanor offense). The blog has spawned similar sites in other major cities such as Chicago and San Francisco.

The site is a way to encourage dialogue, May says. "I think sites like ours can help women see that they're not alone, that it happens to women in all walks of life by men in all walks of life, and that it's not okay."
We encourage you to visit the links included in this post, especially those to Kesler’s posts and HollaBackNYA, to learn more.

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