I’m Male, and I’m Terrified of Street Harassment

Few men have a real idea about how terrifying it is to be harassed in the street by strangers
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Few men have a real idea about how terrifying it is to be harassed in the street by strangers

Hi! So when I pitched the idea to write about street harassment to Phoebe and Rebecca, I was worried that I wouldn’t be, like, qualified enough to write about it.

Because, you know, I’m male. And being male does tend to keep the street-harassers away (most of the time), so my experience is perhaps rather limited. Regardless, I’m just going to throw my unqualified perspective at you. Sorry.

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This is the kind of dimly lit road I shit myself on if I pass a stranger. 

Anyway, when I got thinking about it, I realised I have experienced street harassment – albeit at a very mild and diluted level. My makeup/clothes/hair have led numerous people to mistake me for a girl in the past – I have had everything from ‘This is a man’s toilet!’ to ‘Get in the car darling’.

I have also been harassed on other occasions, just for dressing differently. If certain people can find a reason to comment on you in public, and find a way to exert some kind of dominance over you, they will. And that’s disgusting. The way I dress/my sexuality/gender does not give you the right to touch me or even comment on me in any way. 

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Even if you do think I look a bit ‘weird’, doesn’t mean you get to talk to me. At all.

But really, I actually feel lucky that I have that experience, because few men have a real idea about how terrifying it is to be harassed in the street by strangers, simply because it just doesn’t happen to most men on the same kind of level. But on whatever level, it happens everywhere.

Harassment on public transport can sometimes be even more distressing than on the street, because it’s in an enclosed environment that can feel hideously claustrophobic when someone is giving you unwanted attention. Instead of ‘Please don’t eat smelly food or listen to loud music’ signs everywhere, there should be more public awareness about public harassment and sexism.

I’m sure the high majority of people would much rather choke on someone’s odious Cornish pasty fumes on the tube than be groped by a slimy hand, and have ‘no smelly food’ notices replaced with something that might possibly deter those slimy hands.

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Seriously though, whose idea was it to put these places in train stations? EwwWww

But then, signs wouldn’t be enough. Signs won’t stop a man with dark intentions on a dimly lit street when he spots a girl, alone.

There are things we can do. My friend Sam made me tearful the other week, because he rescued someone from blatant street harassment. We saw this girl at a busy bus stop in broad daylight by a man who was flicking his tongue up and down at her. It was like some nausea-inducing attempt at a cunnilingus charade. She was recoiling. Everyone at the bus stop simply avoided eye contact and stood still, silent.

As soon as Sam saw what was going on, he immediately went over to the victim of the tongue-man. ‘Oh hiyaa, how are you?’ beamed Sam, pretending he knew the girl. Tongue-man, deterred, wandered off. The girl was a bit bewildered of course, but she was grateful all the same.

This incident inspired me and upset me in equal measure. Because I know that in that situation, I would have probably been one of those mute people at the busy bus stop. Not because I don’t care, but because I am too worried about what would happen to me if I intervened. And that makes me SICK.

Because it means that the harassers are winning because of my selfishness. Essentially, street harassment appears to me as a morally wrong exertion of power intended to dominate, suppress and objectify women. And the fact that anyone feels the need to exert that power is a miserable idiosyncrasy of patriarchy.

For a real difference to be made, both sexes need to understand how much of a significant problem that street harassment is, and that needs to be taught from a young age.

In your eyes, is street harassment ever okay? What do you think men and bystanders can do to help stop it?

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