It’s that time of year again!
The weather’s getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and most of us can’t wait to get a little sunshine on our skin.
People are breaking out the shorts, skirts, sundresses, tank tops, sandals, and bathing suits. We’re hitting the parks, beaches, running paths, streets, back yards – anywhere we can get a little bit of that Vitamin D.
And with this time of year comes an increase in street harassment.
It’s not as if there is not street harassment in the dead of winter. As my friend Heather recently said to me, “I can go out in a full-length down coat, hat, gloves, and boots, and I will have some f*ck think it’s okay to yell about my ass.”
But it tends to get more pronounced when it’s a bit warmer, and there’s a bit more skin showing on your average street. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not the fact that skin is showing that’s the problem. It’s the fact that most men can’t seem to help ourselves once the skin comes out, and we just HAVE to comment and stare.
So let me say it plainly to my male-identified people out there: Street harassment and leering are never okay. Never.
Nope. Not ever.
In case anyone’s unclear, let’s look to the phenomenal folks at StopStreetHarassment.org to define precisely what we’re talking about:
Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.
Yup. That’s right.
We’re talking about the “Hey baby!” Or the “Smile! I bet you have a pretty smile!” Or the “Damn, you’ve got a fine ass!” Or the licking your lips and staring as she walks by.
It’s all harassment. It’s all misogyny. And it all needs to stop.
And since men are the primary perpetrators of street harassment, men bear the responsibility for ending it. So with that in mind, here are a few things men can do to stop street harassment.
1. Don’t Leer or Harass!
It seems obvious, but it bears saying.
One of the single most important things men can do to stop street harassment is to refuse to participate.
That means that you should never be commenting on a woman’s (or any person’s) body or appearance unless you have a relationship with that woman and have an explicit understanding that this is welcome (which means that you’ve talked about it and she’s consented to it).
But it doesn’t stop there.
Though I don’t recall ever hollering to a woman on the street, there are plenty of times in my life when I have used my eyes and body language to treat a woman as little more than an object.
And in the end, how is leering any different than cat calling? Both send the message that women’s bodies are public property.
Sometimes the most radical action we can take is refusal to participate in oppressive norms.
2. Listen in Solidarity
Don’t say it.
There is not a single woman that wants to hear, “If I had women constantly yelling at me on the street, I’d love it!”
When you say that, you’re not talking about the same thing as the street harassment that women experience.
You’re not describing a constant barrage of objectification that comes from the media, advertising, and nearly every person in your life.
You’re not describing harassment in the context of a wider system of oppression and degradation of your gender.
You’re not describing harassment in the context of rape culture.
So the next time that a woman in your life trusts you enough to describe her frustration with leering and cat calling, the single best thing you can do is listen.
Though you’ll never fully understand, try. Offer your support and your listening ear.
And then do something to end street harassment so that she doesn’t have to experience it any more.
3. Hold Men Accountable When They Harass Women on the Street
It’s not enough to refuse to participate in street harassment. We have to hold other men accountable for their words and their actions.
So how do we do that? Well, there are about 1 million ways. But to make it simple, we can call men out, and we can call men in.
Calling men out is simply expressing through a short, pointed statement that their behavior is unacceptable.
It accomplishes a few things: it interrupts the harassment while it’s happening, giving the target reprieve, and it calls the man to think a little more critically about his behavior and its effect on his target.
Calling men out has the intended effect of removing the social approval that allows men to act in this way.
Calling men in is a bit more difficult, but it has the potential to be far more transformative.
Calling men in requires inviting a conversation (often a difficult one) about why street harassment is oppressive and hurtful and why it must be stopped.
Open-ended questions like, “Why do you do that when ze clearly doesn’t like it?” or “Do you realize that women hate being hollered at in that way?” are more likely to invite a critical conversation about street harassment, and such conversations are more likely to ensure reflection and transformation.
Still not sure what it looks like to call men out or in? Check out this fantastic resource.
4. Talk to Boys and Young Men about Respecting All People’s Bodily Autonomy
Aside from interrupting street harassment, if we want to put an end to this behavior once and for all, we have to break the cycle.
And that means that we must teach our young boys and men differently than we’ve been taught.
From the earliest of ages, we have to teach children (but especially boys) to understand and respect other people’s bodily autonomy. That means that when kids don’t want to be touched, we respect that, and we teach them to respect that with other people.
As boys grow older, it is important that we talk to them about the images they see in the media. They must understand that despite nearly every message they get on TV and in magazines and movies, women’s bodies are not public property.
We must teach them to talk with respect about girls and women and to highlight and value the female-identified folks in their lives for reasons aside from physical appearance.
And most importantly, any time young people are exposed to street harassment, we need to talk to them about it. With young boys and men, that means that we have conversations about what they saw and why it’s wrong.
If we can teach young people from an early age just how wrong this type of behavior is and if we model positive alternatives, we can transform our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and wider communities.
In short: Breaking the cycle means ending street harassment.
Want more ideas of how men can stop street harassment? Check out this awesome resource list from StopStreetHarassment.org.
Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Jamie is a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog. He blogs weekly at Change from Within. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie. Read his articles here and book him for speaking engagements here.