Monday, February 14, 2011

V-Day, the Non-Harassing Way

Valentine's Day is all about love and, for singles, finding your special someone. However, our culture is rife with books and movies that teach us more about how to become a stalker than they do about how to approach someone new with respect to their personal boundaries. Comment is Free has some great tips for how to approach women without being harassing.

Perhaps you think there is no way you could be considered as harassing. Maybe you're just giving someone a compliment or trying to be friendly. Well, consider this:

In one of the first street harassment studies ever conducted, Carol Brooks Gardner, associate professor of sociology and women’s studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis, interviewed 293 women in Indianapolis, Indiana, over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The women were from every race, age, class, and sexual orientation category of the general population in Indiana and the United States. She oversampled women of color to better represent their experiences. Gardner found that every single woman (100 percent) could cite several examples of being harassed by unknown men in public and all but nine of the women classified those experiences as “troublesome.”
In her Comment is Free article, Holly mentions that talking with young men about appropriate stranger interactions in public is especially important.
Society often suggests that in heterosexual relationships, it is men who should approach women. Men's peers, family members and the media may tell them that it is OK, and even flattering, to be aggressive or to sexually objectify women whom they encounter (no matter the men's or women's sexual orientation). I doubt most men want to be harassers, but if they take these messages to heart, they may become harassers.
The most important thing a cisgender man can do to be an ally to women and to the movement to end violence against them is to realize that intent doesn't always matter, and that the way you view a situation through a male lens is often not the same as a woman will view it. If a woman sends you clear signals that she feels harassed, or threatened, don't mock her for overreacting. You will never understand what it feels like to live under the constant threat of violence just because of your gender, so don't presume that you can tell her how she should feel. Instead, learn from her reactions to you and listen to her if she is willing to explain her feelings. After all, the quickest way to a woman's heart is to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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