Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's International Anti-Street Harassment Week!

NEWS: If you haven't checked out Sacred Grounds Travel Magazine, I am guest blogging there!  Visit, and show some love!  Also, Wizpert mentioned me in their recent blog post!

Back to the blog...

I just saw this little gem from Feministing, one of my favorite feminist site on the web.  Apparently, it is International Anti-Street Harassment Week this week, and you can bet your britches that this is the sort of initiative I love!  Feminism is absolutely necessary to understand if we are going to talk about travel in a meaningful way, because it directly relates to people's freedoms.

Without true freedom, women cannot move around the planet independently, and frankly I have yet to find anywhere in the world where women's issues did not cause challenges for them within or between cultures.  This is a travel blog, but unlike a lot of travel blogs, which focus on personal diary-style entries, I want to make sure travelers don't miss some of the big issues that face us as we move around the planet.  

And big issues are often political issues.   It's a dirty word, political, but political is exactly what street harassment is.  It is not a compliment to a woman when she is cat-called by a man, and it is even less so when she is followed, has animal noises made at her, finds herself being photographed on a public bus with no one standing up for her, or she has to defend a twelve-year-old from men who yell from their cars, "I just wanted to enjoy the view." (Too bad all I can see from here is a jackass.)

All of that has happened to me (you can read about some of it here, here, and here).

Women are people.  It is a radical concept, but we are.  We are not different people, we are not a minority group, we are not livestock (!!!), we are not pets or political chesspieces.  And there is a very real threat implied when men impose themselves on a woman's space in public, even if it is her mental space.

Now, most conversations about street harassment happen in a very binary-friendly way: men are men, women are women, all are easily discerned and categorized.  But the fact of the matter is that in the US, non-white women face a disproportionate level of street harassment, as well a domestic violence.  And LGBT people (that T is for transgender, a reminder that not everyone's sex or gender [they're different] is immediately apparent) also face a disproportionate incidence of violence, which street harassment is a doorway into.

Face it: if a person is comfortable calling out another on the street, even if it seems mild or forgettable to them, what it demonstrates is that that individual doesn't feel a boundary between them and another (perhaps smaller, or perceived weaker) person.  And that is what makes street harassment an act of aggression.  Once a culture allows those smaller acts of aggression in daily life, there is opportunity for larger acts of aggression to go unchecked, and it is a documented fact that both small and large acts of aggression tend to be against power minorities -- women, minority races (see Trayvon Martin for a reason Florida should be ashamed), and LGBT persons.

This is true no matter what country you are in, whether you are a local or a visitor.  And we owe it to the better world we travelers are trying to build to take these issues seriously.  So let's make a few commitments, shall we?

-Don't catcall anyone else.  Even as a joke.  It can be intimidating if not triggering for the object of the catcall.

-If you are catcalled, make a stink.  Maybe that means yelling back (but only if you do not feel physically threatened), maybe that means going to iHollaback and writing about it.  Maybe that means going to the police - it is not overreacting, but a practical step to take to ensure that communities take bad behaviour seriously.

-Stand up other people when they are being harassed.  It is a terrible feeling to be left alone without any help, when you feel threatened.

-Spread the word.  Of course, I would love if you would reblog this post, tweet it, or stick it up of Facebook for all the world to see.  But you should also check out the links within this post, and spend some time looking for other folks who are writing about this issue.  When you find something that touches you and you feel is important, share it!

Best of all, none of these steps is sex-specific!  We need each other to be allies or women are yelling a brick wall.  In my life, I have also met otherwise kind men who have admitted to street harassment because they just didn't think it was a big deal.

But guess what?  It f*&^ing well is.

UPDATE: #sheparty and #streetharassment have some great conversations happening on Twitter.  Come check 'em out!

(image via)

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