Only Smile if You Want To: Taking Strides to End Street Harassment
April 14, 2016
You are probably familiar with it, or at least have heard of it—street harassment: the unwanted catcalls, sexually explicit and sexist comments, and homophobic slurs; the leering, staring, and stalking; even flashing, groping, and assault. Street harassment is an everyday occurrence for many; it is invasive, disempowering, dehumanizing, and often embarrassing. Street harassment is scary, and needs to be stopped. During Anti-Street Harassment Week the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) recognizes the need to create safe streets for everyone.
Street harassment is not a compliment; it is a symptom of rape culture that affects women every day. Street harassment can make everyday tasks – like walking to the drugstore or commuting to work – exhausting. It encroaches on women when they are in public, particularly when they are alone. Street harassment objectifies women’s bodies and asserts the harasser’s presumed power in an attempt to control or prescribe the harassed person’s behavior. This control takes many forms, like telling women to “smile,” provide their phone number, go home with the harasser, or any number of other “suggestions.”
The message is clear: women must change their behavior in order to stop the harasser’s behavior because “boys will be boys.”
Women are encouraged to (1) ignore the harassment, (2) “accept it” and move on because men are simply trying to pay them a compliment, (3) stand up to the harasser, (4) document and report the harassment – and anything and everything in between. The message is clear: women must change their behavior in order to stop the harasser’s behavior because “boys will be boys.” Women are left in an impossible position: ignore the harassment and face further harassment, violence, or even death, or stand up to the harassment and face further harassment, violence, or even death. There is even a Tumblr dedicated to documenting what happens when women refuse.
Enough is enough. It is time to change this narrative. We must stop urging women to change their behavior and start holding harassers, abusers, and intimidators accountable. Bystanders, colleagues, family members, and friends need to stand up and call harassers out on their abusive, harassing behavior.