The Street Harassment Movement

Exposing the Sexual Objectification Power Struggle
For many years, street harassment has been simply a part of life for women across the globe. The hollers, the beeps, the lewd comments. But it’s all in good fun; it’s just a compliment, right? Wrong. Street harassment is a human rights issue, a form of sexual harassment, and part of an ongoing misogynistic power struggle. Thanks to the recent emergence of a slew of  international campaigns to end street harassment, the issue is finally making headlines. But can it really be stopped?

But…It’s Not a Big Deal

Part of the momentum that carries street harassment forward is the “it’s no big deal” attitude through which so many people (victims included) view the issue. In fact, that’s how I looked at it when I first saw the “Stop Street Harassment” poster in my local bagel shop. I paused, I read the poster, and I moved on. Like so many other women, I thought that it didn’t matter. We’re so used to street harassment, so used to it being a part of life that we ignore the impact that it has on us. Do you feel comfortable walking to the bar to meet your friends in your favorite sexy outfit? Do you feel comfortable walking to your favorite store in a light tank top and skirt? If you do, then it’s sad to say that you’re in the minority. It’s subconscious, really, the impact that street harassment has on us. It gives us the feeling that wherever we go we’re being watched, we’re being judged, we’re being rated. And it has to stop.

What Exactly Is Street Harassment?

Street harassment comes in many forms, the mildest of which is the traditional catcall. “Hey baby, looking good today.” “What’s up beautiful.” “Why don’t you come over here?.” As a viral  street harassment video recently demonstrated, one woman walking the streets of NYC in jeans and a t-shirt was harassed over 100 times in the space of ten hours. Unfortunately, this form of harassment has become so commonplace that we rarely even notice it, we take it as part and parcel of our daily commute. Street harassment comes in more vicious forms as well, channeled through demeaning terms such as “whore,” “slut,” “ugly,” “skank.” It comes in the form of men following women, stopping them in the street, masturbating as they walk by. It comes in the form of physical harassment, homophobic and racial persecution, and in some cases it even cumulates in sexual assault.

The Fallout of Street Harassment

Currently, 80% of women in the US are dissatisfied with their appearance. While this statistic is largely a result of  body image in the media, it is also compounded by the pressure that women feel in public spaces to consistently adhere to traditional beauty standards. If we don’t, we’re likely to hear about it on our walk to the corner store. Could your self esteem stand up to strangers on the street calling you “fat” “ugly” or “whore?” I know mine couldn’t, but it happens every day. Even when the attention we receive is positive, it’s ultimately designed to intimidate and demonstrate sexual dominance. It says, “hey, your body is mine to judge, and this is what I think of it.”

If we want to collectively break free of the street harassment cycle, then it’s time to make a stand.

Becoming a Part of the Movement

Street harassment is finally making headlines thanks to a handful of determined international campaigns. To take part in the stand against street harassment, check out the following groups:

Hollaback!: Responsible for producing the NYC street harassment video that went viral, Hollaback is a network of activists around the world campaigning to expose street harassment and end its cultural acceptability. When you join Hollaback!, you get the opportunity to share your street harassment story, donate to the movement, and bring Hollaback! to your local community.

Stop Street Harassment: Stop Street Harassment is a anti-street harassment platform that offers toolkits for anti-street harassment campaigners, as well providing research and resources on the subject of street harassment. Check out their list of upcoming events to find a Stop Street Harassment occasion near you.

UN Women:
The UN Women group is part of a larger movement to end violence against women on a global scale. Through its Safe Cities Global Initiative, the group aims to create safe public spaces for women around the world. With bases in Quito, Ecuador; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Kigali, Rwanda, the group aims to ultimately reduce incidences of sexual assault by tackling harassment at its source.

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Fiona is a British freelance writer based in New York who specializes in technical and professional writing, the tediousness of which causes her to frequently hone her drinking and vacationing skills. She posts frequently on every social media site known to man-kind and blogs with a fervor.