I recently commented on a blog by Good Women Project regarding street harassment. If you don’t know what that is, or even if you do, I strongly encourage men and women to check it out! I wanted to share my comment as a blog post because I think it is important to speak out on this issue and my experiences. If there are times where you have experienced the same or seen or heard it experienced by other women, please share your stories in the comments!
The first time I can remember being approached was when I was 12… A military man saw me at the mall in all of my pre-teen glory; with my boy-ish haircut, overalls, and skater shoes. He asked if I would go with him to the barracks (dorm-style military residence). My response was simply, “I’m 12!”, to which he repeated, “Whatever, do you want to go to the barracks with me?” I did not, and I was disgusted and utterly terrified. I halted smiling at boys and men for awhile after that day, afraid they would offer the same. Now I am 28 years old, and just moved back to the tourist city where I reside after traveling around the world researching what anti sex trafficking efforts look like in various communities.
My first week returning to this city ended with me sobbing in my friend’s car after no less than 10 inappropriate come ons, gestures, or invitations from men. I could feel their gestures all over me even though they’d never touched me. I feel that it is an important factor to add that I have never been abused, and these feelings cannot be written off in any way as over-reaction. This is what it is like to be a woman who is being objectified. Just today, I was in a christian thrift store and a man slowly took in my body with his eyes…I glared back at him to let him know I knew, unsure of the appropriate response.
I currently live in a beautiful tourist city… While there is beauty and light here, there is also an underlying culture I (and many other women) have experienced which tends to find it acceptable for the men to be extremely sexually forward with women. While, this has been a traumatizing issue all of my life growing up in a military town, it is not centralized there, and it seems to pervade our general culture as a whole which is presented to us through everything from media to even twisted theology.
The worst part is… This is not just an issue with men who are doing the obvious, blatant harassing. This is a heart issue that isn’t just about men calling from the street, but a heart issue that devalues the emotions that come with objectification. The response to stories of men cat calling should be shock and anger, however, the most recent responses that I’ve personally received from male friends when telling the stories of being approached on the street involve, “Well, you’re an attractive woman, it should be flattering”, “Are you sure they meant anything by it”, and “How do you know it was a proposition of some sort”… This is purely dismissive and yet are all responses from men who’s opinions I would typically trust. Not only is this the typical response, at times it is even these trusted men that may let something slip. Tell me, how lost and hurt should we feel when someone we genuinely trust and care for allows others to objectify us?
So, what is a woman to do when culture not only allows this behavior but accepts it as normal or in some dark twist, “flattering”?
There is a strong (and wrong) message out there that this is acceptable… That we are only worth what our bodies can do or give. It’s present in various walks of life and peoples; it is only more obvious when it’s a cat call on the street. Men of honor, who will not treat you this way, will not dismiss your wounds, and will fight for you, DO EXIST! Now, I can say that I am blessed enough to know true men of strong character who will stand against this sort of thing, but for awhile it was looking pretty bleak to be a woman in this culture.
It seems so petty to hear someone whistle or cat call… Abuse is such a strong word, I hesitate to use it, however, the objectification of our bodies as products for someone else’s control or use is harassment and abuse. The repercussions on women’s lives and the ever-apparent gender inequality still prevailing today, act as proof. We’re so often being told that it is meaningless to be called out on the street or approached and gazed over as if we were on the market. If not verbally and in person then choose your medium. But the fact is, it affects ME when these men do this, and if it makes me uncomfortable and unprotected, then it is worth doing something about. This really all boils down to worth and identity. I am worth taking the time to stand up against injustice against myself, and worth others doing the same for me and vice versa! I am not typically one to sit back and take any kind of abuse, so it kills me that at times I feel frightened to respond in protection of my dignity (at the least) to these men. The most common response I give is to glare at them. Although I admit I have also flipped the bird and stated loudly in a man’s face, “I AM NOT INTERESTED!” I have considered other ways to approach the men or perhaps simply ignore. However, there are the occasional men who are physically close when they approach, or move toward you to whisper something lewd. To be honest, it makes me want to fly off the handle. I have not welcomed this by any stretch, yet I see movement and hear whispering and realize someone has invaded my space uninvited. And the stories of the women I know who are actually trapped in this type of life as a constant hell repeat in my mind.
What are we to do when those men get too close?
Honestly, the most overwhelming thing to me is… There are so many women who don’t know their worth enough to know that this is NOT OK and who actually hear it and accept the gestures of men or accept the words because they think they deserve it. Or perhaps worst, they feel that it feeds their worth. That is what keeps me up at night. The fact that everything I want to respond to the men is in response of stories of now friends who have suffered under the understanding that this is appropriate and deserved. The women who sit in a dressing room after they’ve been with a client and say, “I wish someone would kiss me on the forehead and mean it but I don’t think it exists.”
Just for clarity’s sake: men and women… This mistreatment of beauty and the feminine is NOT okay. Men, if you’re still living under the guise that you are ‘just a man’, a sexual being, and you can’t help yourself, please seek freedom and health from your unhealthy views of sexuality and boundaries. Please begin to learn to honor women and take a stand against this behavior! Women, if you still think that it is acceptable to ‘just take it’ because it’s how men are or that you are somehow deserve it, please note clearly that this is abusive and toxic behavior you are witnessing. It is not something you have to put up with! Also, the rebuttal should not involve demeaning or objectifying men, either.
Thank you, Jesus, for the men you’ve pursued to the depths to free them and lead other boys into men who honor! Thank you, Jesus, for the women you’ve pursued to the depths to free them into knowing their worth and not accepting less!