The Women Who Agreed

Yesterday I pitched an idea on my Facebook wall for how men and boys who care about street harassment could help.

Guys who care about sexual harassment – you can help. When you see sexual harassment, call it out. If you see a guy wolf whistling at a woman trying to go about her day, yell loudly at him “Show some respect, asshole.” Let women and most importantly MEN know that you won’t stand for it, that women deserve better.

You are part of culture. You can change culture. You can make this world safer for women than it is.

Now I didn’t think this was too controversial a request to make, but this simple status update yielded a comment thread that went on for more than 1,000 comments, over more than twelve hours.

The men who commented on the post were divided. Some quickly agreed or told me calling out such behaviors was already in their repertoire. We celebrated this news together. Other men seemed to think street harassment isn’t a real problem; that cat calls and wolf whistles are just as much a problem for men being objectified by all those uppity lady-pants types; or that strange women really do appreciate their “compliments” and beauty appraisals.

Another man spent quite a long time making sure we knew he was a coward. He boasted of his own physical superior strength, but said he would not tell a guy off for harassing a woman, because he didn’t want to risk a physical response from the man toward himself. Apparently the much smaller female victim can fend for herself if only she’d be “empowered” enough to show the man her middle finger. That evidently stops street harassment in its tracks 100% of the time! Women who deal with street harassment face no danger, unlike men who speak up to object. How silly of us women to think this was some sort of wide-sweeping problem nearly all women faced.

And we women really did think it was a problem. Unlike the men, the women who commented had a unified response. Street harassment is a serious problem I or women I know deal with on a routine basis, and I would love to see men who witness it call it out. I would love that quite a lot. There weren’t any women saying that asking men not to condone such behavior through silence was enforcing rigid gender roles of “protecting the fair ladies” on men. We just thought it would be nice if other men stopped giving the harassers their tacit nods of approval that treating us as less than human is okay, really.

I should explain here that my male and female Facebook “friends” come from different groups. Most of the men who I interact with on Facebook are familiar with my writings or my old videos. We probably don’t know each other personally and don’t talk about personal matters together. This is true for most, but not all of them. The overwhelming majority of the men I know on Facebook and of the men who commented on my thread yesterday, both in support of women’s freedom from sexual harassment and in support of sexual harassment, were atheist men.

The women, on the other hand, I know from a wide variety of spaces. I met them in autism mom groups, or women struggling with depression groups, or homesteader recipe groups, or pro-choice activism communities. I meet women by being involved in hobbies and interests and causes beyond atheism. I don’t meet many men in these places. The women I meet I meet also, for whatever reason, are more likely to tell me something personal about them – like a rape they survived or an abortion decision or a time they struggled with homelessness with their child. We are more likely to be friends, because we relate on more personal human levels.

Women who are pro-choice, pro-life, fat, thin, muscular, busty, flat-chested, asexual, sex workers, childfree, mothers, lesbians, bisexuals, heterosexuals, Christian, Jewish, Wiccan, Pagan and atheist ALL agreed: Street harassment is a serious problem. These women live in Australia, England, Canada, Norway, Ireland, Greece and the U.S.

There is no other single topic I have found where we diverse women all agree. The fact that we all agree on this, so completely, with our different bodies and lives and lifestyles and beliefs and politics and nationalities, this should speak to it probably being true.

So, my social justice tip for all of us who belong to majority populations of some sort – and most of us belong to at least one – when you see every single member of a minority or disenfranchised group agree on an issue LISTEN. If every single person of color is complaining about lack of inclusion in your group, I can just about guarantee you lack of inclusion is a serious problem in your group. If every single LGBT member of your church feels like there is anti-gay bigotry in your church, odds are overwhelmingly high that there is anti-gay bigotry in your church. If every single woman says that street harassment is a problem, don’t tell us that we are wrong and it isn’t. Not even one of us is prepared, at this frustrated breaking point, to believe your lie.

* I realize this post follows a strict gender binary. I did not notice comments on the thread from any of my known trans* friends and so did not include them in this discussion. My friendships with trans men and trans women are more likely to be like my friendships with cis women on Facebook, again for whatever reason. Cis men are welcome to tell me things in confidence, as well. 

One thought on “The Women Who Agreed

  1. Yes! Hi, I just found your blog. I’ve been thinking about street harassment a lot recently, and it continually flabbergasts me that people deny that it’s a big problem. Or how often people turn a blind eye. I’m not requiring people to put themselves in physical danger, but it would be really great if people said ‘Don’t do that, it’s disrespectful to your fellow human beings’, especially to friends who engage in these behaviors.

    I also recently found the Everyday Sexism Project, which basically provides an anecdotal catalog of harassment, on the street and elsewhere. It makes for infuriating reading, and I think anyone who is still clueless about the level of harassment many women face should be directed to read it.

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