Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Making Street Harassment Illegal?

New York is considering a bill that, essentially, would make it illegal for construction workers (among others) to whistle at women walking down the street. I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with the idea. But I'm a dude, and I don't really ever have to deal with this:

in its less extreme, and probably more common forms, street harassment takes a seemingly innocuous tone -- "smile, beautiful," or "hello, gorgeous," comments I'm willing to bet nearly every city-dwelling woman has heard. That tone, which in a normal situation could be taken as complimentary, might lead some to misunderstand the point, as they do in the video above. Some of those interviewed wondered whether some women enjoy being talked to on the street, and regard it as a pick-me-up on a bad day. But it's less about whether anyone enjoys it, and why; it's that men who shout at women, regardless of what they say, are claiming public territory in a way that asserts control. I've lived in many different neighborhoods in New York and now live in D.C., where I regularly run along city streets, and I've heard the full range of talk from men. The fact of it -- and the fact that being shouted at by men is not a possibility but a certainty -- is inherently hostile and all seems designed, unconsciously or not, to make me feel not as though these men want to talk to me but that they have a right to.

I used the construction worker example, incidentally, because I'd seen the stereotype depicted for years on TV and in movies. It wasn't until I moved to Philadelphia, though, that I actually witnessed construction workers calling out to attractive women passing by on the streets. I confess: I don't get it. Do these guys think that's actually a way to get laid? (I have the same question about Brett Favre sending pictures of his penis to an attractive woman?) Two possibilities exist: They do think it'll help them get laid, in which case they're just stupid. Or they don't think so, and they really are just harassing women in a public space. If that's the case, what's to be done? I'm not inclined to criminalize every uncomfortable interaction in the public sphere, but this is ridiculous.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are they kidding? Let's just criminalize everything and make laws saying what IS legal. It would take less time and be a shorter list.