Parellels of street harassment & police harassment

May 5, 2011

Stopping street harassment is going to take women and men. The problem is that it’s often viewed as a woman’s issue alone, which clearly neglects that the majority of those who harass are men. As a Black man, I seldom worry about going somewhere having a person make unwanted advances, touching my person, or live in the constant fear that any moment I could be accosted.

Or do I?

In hearing the testimonies of women enduring street harassment, I couldn’t help but hear the testimonies of young men of color regarding police harassment. While street harassment and police harassment have key difference, in many important ways they’re similar.* Here are three important parallels:

It’s everywhere– I live in New York City, the mecca of diversity. However, when you look at the stop-and-frisk numbers for the city you find that Black and Latino (predominantly male) residents are singled out. In 2009, of 576,394 stops and frisks were performed and 84 percent of them were on Blacks and Latinos. This is astronomically high, given that Black and Latino compose roughly 26 and 27 percent of the population respectively. The harassment that men of color often undergo via the police is a constant pressure. When walking through Harlem, I routinely see Black boys approached by undercover officers and forced to submit to “random searches.”

These searches are anything but random and serve to make young boys and men feel unsafe in their own communities. In the same way that young men of color are subject to an “invisible force” that disrupts their life without consent, young women of color feel the same. Somehow we live in communities where both men and women of color feel unsafe, displaced and harmed by harassment. Neither forms of harassment lead to safer communities or healthy relationships.

It’s illegal- When we look at the stop-and-frisk data from NYC we see the number on reason someone is stopped and frisked is “furtive movement.” Do you know what that is? Me neither. In fact, you’re not supposed to! The goal is to find any reason possible to stop and deter you from going where you’re going or living your life peacefully. Sound familiar?

Of course disproportionately stopping and frisking people is illegal, just as street harassment should be, but too many of us turn a blind eye to both. It’s going to take those that are the most and the least affected by street harassment and police harassment to come together to fight them. One sided action is not enough.

Knowledge is Powerful!

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Hollaback! have begun to carefully documenting the incidents of harassment. But we all must realize documentation is not enough! As organizers and members of communities, we need to create models that reduce levels of harassment, increase feelings of safety, and heal wounds within communities where gender violence, police violence, and all forms of violence have cracked the foundation.

Here in New York, I work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement which has developed as Know Your Rights campaign for communities of African descent. The People’s Self-Defense campaign is ultimately designed to give community members the tools to develop healthy communities that are safe spaces for all people, not a select few. Simply pointing at the problem will not cause it to change; instead strategic coalition building and intersectional approaches will be the proving ground for our collective to stop street harassment. The moment is ripe for collaboration and growth, but only if we can see the common harms and develop diverse responses to them.  

*One of the first things I ever learned in organizing and doing work was “don’t do analogs.” While this is good advice, in some cases analogs are essential to creating buy-in from those who may not always see the “relevance” of a social problem. Admittedly there are differences between the two, but as an organizer I’m more interested in getting people to see the common ground so we can develop diverse solutions to these problems.

Dr. L’Heureux Dumi Lewis, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York

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.

“If I was a woman, would the harassment have been worse?”

May 5, 2011

It’s usually nothing serious, but I ride my bicycle a lot, and sometimes drivers pass me and yell things at me. I can never understand what they’re saying. I’m guessing they’re drivers who think they own the road and cyclists don’t belong there.

It normally happens on campus during the day, so it doesn’t bother me then. But last week, this happened when I was coming back to my dorm at 1:00 AM from a bar that was 3 miles away. I immediately thought, “If I was a woman, would the harassment have been worse? Would they have followed me while repeatedly shouting sexually explicit comments, then gotten angry when I asked them to stop?” Since the cold weather was gone (it was the end of April) and I was riding a bike, it was too warm to cover up. That in combination with the fact that I was coming from a bar means that I probably would have been dressed in a way that harassers would refer to as “asking for it”.

Although I’m a man, male superiority (or any superiority) still bothers me. A woman has just as much of a right to ride her bike at 1:00 in the morning as a man does, and she has the right to feel safe when doing so.

– Concealed Weapon

Location: University of Connecticut

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

Do some parents promote street harassment attitudes?

April 27, 2011

This is not actually a personal story about street harassment. It’s a theory of where people learn the attitudes.

Some things I’ve noticed about street harassment are that the men don’t care that the women want to be left alone, and that the men get angry and believe that a woman who rejects his advances is a stuck-up bitch.

This brings to mind some things my parents told me. They were overly optimistic and assumed that I was a perfect goody-goody nice guy. Whenever I asked where the best place to meet women is, they just said “anywhere”. Whenever I told them that a woman didn’t like me, they automatically assumed that she was stuck up, and that there’s nothing I could have possibly done wrong.

I’m sure I’m not the only man who heard that from his parents. I bet even rapists have heard that. Men are taught to believe that if a woman doesn’t respond to his advances, she is a stuck-up bitch, and they learn this from their parents!

My parents were also very anti-sex. My mom once told me that I shouldn’t do anything with a woman that I can’t do with my sister (yes, she actually said that, nearly word-for-word). So whenever I wanted to know how to flirt, I had to trust my peers and the media. I didn’t learn about women’s rights until almost half way through college. Once I learned about women’s rights, I stopped hanging out with the jerks who promoted sexism.

I also remember my parents constantly telling me to smile, even if I didn’t want to. I purposely frowned to rebel against them. Perhaps this attitude is learned from parents too.

I wonder if parents are the biggest promoters of street harassment attitudes.

– Concealed Weapon

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

“Head high, chin up, walk as if you own the damn street”

April 27, 2011

I have been a spectator to street sexual harassment for as long as I can remember. In my teens I was urged by male friends to ‘check out’ every girl, call it peer pressure but somewhere something felt very wrong.

The girls being gawked at from top to bottom obviously didn’t enjoy the unwanted attention. I could sense that, being a timidly shy person. I always said a “no” and walked straight ahead only to be told I was only being ‘stylish’ and that it was my unique way of wooing them, which I found most absurd.

As I read news of éve teasing’ my anger grew stronger. I guess I’ve always hated bullies who try to intimidate people.

An incident that comes to mind was in college. My girlfriend was groped at 5.30 in the morning while on her way to a temple. Rather than empathising I forbid her from travelling alone. I guess my mind was trained to believe I was protecting her but deep down I was only boosting a typical insecure Indian male chauvinist.

Well that was 10 years ago, but still I witness groups of men staring and chuckling at the sight of any girl they deem fit to be part of their sick world. Honking, singing distasteful songs, sexual innuendos, gestures, calling names, and rating. Eve teasing, as we like to call it in this part of the world, is a crime most rampant, yet most ignored by the witnesses and the victim. From pan spitting autowallahs trying to get a sneak peak from their rear view mirror to 50 year olds gawking shamlessly at school girls, it’s out there.

I think sexist movies/vulgar items have only added to the confusion, repeatedly portraying women as a lesser being only there to please and entertain while our ‘hero’ fights to protect human civilization. Some of our Bollywood airheads take pride in being labelled as the #1 item girl (item means commodity) The portrayal of white women wearing the skimpiest of clothing whilst they push n pull the ‘hero’ who is too cool and takes liberties to feel em up is what you see in every film and a sure shot way of pulling in the audiences. How dense are we?

Daughters accompanied by parents, mothers carrying young infants, young girls walking in the company of males, no one is spared.  The most annoying sight for me personally is young men holding hands (never can tell if they’re lovers or frightened) checking out every woman as if it were ET doing squats.

It’s not just the uneducated laborers at construction sites, but it’s men from affluent backgrounds indulging in the same; maybe in a what they believe sophisticated manner but its still harassment. A friend nudges me once to check out a girl in a skirt. And he goes, “You see her? I bet she’d sleep with anyone!”

As a man nothing pisses me off more than the sight of men shamelessly staring at my partner/friends. Such behavior is at its peak during festivals when heavy vehicles laden with erotically charged puberty stricken boys from slums go to great lengths to jeopardize their lives and that of others. Indian festivals like Janmashtami, Holi or Ganesh Visarjan have drawbacks especially if you’re a woman. Every corner one finds skinny uncouth frustrated ‘govindas’ waiting to pounce on you. Lude gestures, sexual innuendos all in broad daylight and no action is ever taken against these desperate for attention morons. Cops go soft on them in the spirit of revelry.

Tips for Boys

(1) Insecure boys bully and intimidate with the belief they’re superior to women. Its simply a way to assert fake masculinity. Any dignified man with even a little self respect will treat ALL women with respect irrespective of what she wears, personal choices, where she’s from or how she looks.

(2) You look like complete douche bags when you stare, comment, rate etc

(3) Irrespective to what your ‘friends’ think always question your own double standards and attitudes. Avoid laughing at sexist jokes simply to humor them reminding yourself you might offend someone. Do not repeat what your fathers did. Believe me there is no place in the Men’s community for perverts.Your attitude towards strangers reflects your upbringing at home. Besides you wouldn’t want your mother or your sister to go through the exact same thing.

(4) Speak up when you witness/experience bullying. Neutrality helps the oppressor not the victim.

(5) Do away with cliches such as ‘boys will be boys’ You have no bloody right to interrupt another’s personal space just coz you can’t keep it in your pants.

(6) Being stared at by scary strange men can be quite an experience. No woman likes being ‘appreciated’ by random morons.

A little about my group Shoot At Sight

It’s simple. Click pictures of perpetrators of street sexual harassment and upload it on the group. Ive been doing this and the feeling is awesome.

Imagine as a woman, life constantly being interrupted by stares, chuckling and sexual innuendos? You’re constantly being made to feel sorry for stepping outside your door, to feel sorry you’re a woman, made to feel its happening coz your always asking for it.

The bullying MUST stop! By clicking pics I personally believe your taking the power away from the gaze and bringing shame to the whole act. I see so many of them hiding their faces when i whip my phone out, standing motionless in front of them as if to say “lets see how much of a man are you now?”

The more pics we have the more the group grows. The more it grows, the more people would want to join and discuss street sexual harassment as a crime rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

Head high, chin up, walk as if you own the damn street.

– Mohnish Moorjani

Creator of the group Shoot At Sight

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.

Why can’t guys wear skirts?

April 20, 2011

Not sure if you’ll be interested in my story, but I’ll tell you anyway in the hope that someone out there might understand and change their attitudes. It’s not of a specific occurrence, more a general description.

I am male – a male with what might be described as a ‘girly’ taste in clothes. I like to wear skirts, more often than not with knee length boots. I’m not a ‘goth’ and don’t identify with any ‘fashion group’ within society – neither am I gay – neither do I dress to appear to be a girl.

So why is it that whenever I go out wearing what I want to wear, I get abuse of the ‘trannie’, ‘gayboy’ and ‘queer’ variety – usually from males ? Do those same males abuse girls wearing jeans/trousers as being ‘lesbians’ ? If not, why not – their logic to me is exactly the same!

– Anonymous

Location: In the city streets

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.