Street harassment syndrome: why men need to step up before it’s too late

Street harassment is thought by some people to be nothing more than harmless banter between the sexes.  Others see street harassment as the front lines in a battle between the genders.  I view street harassment as a more far reaching issue.  I believe street harassment can be described as a cultural disease that attacks the basic civility of society.

On the surface, street harassment shows itself in the form of inappropriate and threatening behavior by men towards women on the street or in other public areas. This learned behavior is infectious with certain urban areas such as New York City and Washington DC experiencing street harassment in epidemic proportions.

Beneath the surface, this disease, which I call Street Harassment Syndrome (SHS), is ripping the civil fabric of society. While SHS may have the most immediate effect on the young girls and women who are harassed, its damage doesn’t stop there.  SHS causes a degenerative cycle in the manner in which people treat each other.  Both men and women become accustomed and conditioned to treat each other with rudeness and indifference as opposed to politeness and compassion.

The less obvious, but wide spread symptoms of SHS can be seen in large cities where street harassment is the norm.  Some of these symptoms are (in no particular order):

  • The majority of women are afraid of men they encounter on the street.
  • Some men exhibit highly aggressive behavior towards women on the street.
  • The majority of women purposely ignore men they see on the street.
  • The majority of men become accustomed to being ignored by women on the street.
  • Some men view the majority of women as “bitches”.
  • Some women view the majority of men as “assholes”.
  • Some women change their routines and style of dress to avoid the attention of men on the street.
  • Both men and women become accustomed to “not getting involved”.
  • Some women develop angry reactionary responses to males.
  • Some men develop angry reactionary responses to females.
  • Men and women engage in a destructive cycle of finger pointing and blame.
  • Some women develop generally lower feelings of well-being.
  • Some men become passive and intimidated of more verbally aggressive men.
  • The majority of women learn to be silent and passive to verbal abuse.
  • The majority of men see “calling out” to women to be acceptable behavior.
  • Some men learn that outwardly aggressive behavior is an effective method to dominate both women and men.

The above examples are just some of the negative side effects of SHS.  The majority of these symptoms can be summarized as lowered feelings of safety, well-being, and civil behavior in the general population.

An incident of harassment is the wound that allows the entry of SHS into the culture.  Just like a contagious infection, the more incidents that occur, the faster the disease is able to spread throughout the culture.  What stops the inflection is a strong response from all members of society that both refutes and repels the behavior as it occurs.  Outspoken social disapproval from both men and women is needed in order to contain the spread of Street Harassment Syndrome and to ultimately remove it from society.

– Erik Kondo

Erik is the founder of the self defense nonprofit Not-Me!

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.

2 Responses to Street harassment syndrome: why men need to step up before it’s too late

  1. Beckie says:

    Amen!

  2. alan says:

    Erik, I couldn’t agree more. Living in New York City, brings a daily dose of anger and frustration that is vented by one person on another. Although this isn’t obviously one gender against another, a lot of it is. This is a BIG topic and I find I have to keep saying to myself, “let me work on this with next person I come in contact with no matter who it is or what the circumstance.” I may not be able to make a difference in Washington DC, but I can choose how to respond to the person next to me.

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