Street harassment has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and even the most unexpected outlets including Fox News and Playboy have chimed in.
It was only five weeks ago that Hollaback! was invited to do a segment on Fox News’ Real Story with Gretchen Carlson to talk about our work in addressing the problem of street harassment around the world. Fast forward three weeks and the NY Post publishes an article by Doreen Lewak, celebrating the comments, leers, stares and gestures she receives from construction workers, as she walks down the street, to which we responded here. Even Playboy (yes, Playboy!) has taken up the issue of street harassment through an infographic that answers the question, "when is it appropriate to catcall a woman?" with a resounding "never," unless a) it’s directed at an actual cat or b) it is consensual and is the norm for you and your partner/friend/whoever to shouting sexually explicit comments to each other in public.
And a couple of days ago, Fox News hosted a panel to discuss, “Are catcalls flattering or offensive?” featuring four female panelists and one douche. I mean dude. The general commentary surrounding the segment suggested that the panelists all welcomed the ‘catcalls’ with a chorus of "yes, bring it on!" with comments from panelists, including "Let men be men. God bless ‘em. I love ‘em’ and ‘to be honest, I think I would be flattered."
Everyone was giddy. However, underneath all the giggling, something insidious was going on. Something that happens all too often when we talk about consent--the "yes, but" moment. What's the "yes, but" moment? The "yes, but" moment is about fitting in--it's about not being a "downer" with your facts about sexual assault, the reality of violence or even your own experiences. The "yes, but" moment is when women are encouraged to be uncomfortable and silent rather than disrupt the status quo where street harassment is still seen as permissible.
It’s painful to see the lengths to which these women excuse and okay street harassment while, at the very same time, explicitly expressing their own moments of discomfort or their boundaries of when they feel it is "okay" and when it isn't.
Kimberly Guilfoyle who said "let men be men," also said, "But then if you can’t get into a cab and you’re stuck there, then it gets like really out of control or if I have my little boy there, then you’re like 'uh.'"
Kirsten Powers says, “When I was younger, I didn’t like it. I used to think, ‘this is so sexist, blah blah blah.’ Now I think ‘If it doesn’t happen, excuse me?’ Yeah, so now it’s good."
Stacy Dash says, "Just as long as you don’t come within arms length, it’s good."
And Sandra Smith’s face throughout, well, yeah, not so sure.
And we wouldn’t be doing justice to the panel if we didn’t share this:
.....where Arthur Aidala very generously displays his trademark harassing move where he slow claps as women walk by. According to his field research, he says, "I would say the success rate is 90 percent [where] you get a smile." Apparently this guy reads minds since we all know what it means when we smile when harassed. If not, ask comedian Nikki Glaser.
So, all fingers point to the fact that we’re not all squared away on this issue because what these women are expressing here are reservations, limits and boundaries. But the danger is that when it comes to street harassment and sexual violence more generally, it isn’t a mutual or reciprocal exchange where those who harass or commit violence are waiting to hear whether or not it is wanted or unwanted.
In the situation, harassers don’t know and in many cases don’t care if you’re with your son or if you want them to stay a certain distance from you or if you’re a 15 year old girl who thinks it’s sexist. There is no bargaining going on on the streets, which means that if we have a platform to talk about our true feelings about harassment, it’s important to make that statement boldly and unapologetically.
As grown women, it’s okay to admit that you don’t like being harassed and it’s especially unhelpful to actively endorse it. As someone who works with young people on addressing the issue of street harassment, I believe there are many 15-year-olds out there who would appreciate it and maybe follow suit.