Men Can Stop Rape…Men Can Stop Street Harassment

March 30, 2011

Joe Vess speaks at the Stop Street Harassment book event at GWU in 2010

In a way, I owe street harassment a lot. It’s never done anything personally for me, and I’d eliminate it in a second if I could, but I really should acknowledge my debt to it, in full disclosure. Here’s the story.

Seven years ago I was living in Chicago, as oblivious to harassment and other forms of violence against women as I always had been. Sure, I knew it happened, and it was bad, so I didn’t harass anyone or rape anyone. So that made me a pretty good guy.

Around that time I was dating someone, and as things got more serious and we shared more and more about our lives with each other. She started telling me about how when she would go out running in the morning, or the afternoon, or on the weekends, she would get shouted at or whistled at or guys would say something to her. And she didn’t like it; in fact it made her really angry.

I was a little puzzled when I started hearing these stories, and my confusion stemmed from a few things. One, I’d never been harassed so I didn’t have a frame of reference. I’d never experienced it and never worried about it happening to me, so it ranked somewhere around lion attacks (not a huge problem in Chicago) on my worry list. Two, it seemed isolated to me. I didn’t connect it to other forms of violence against women, so even though it happened to her regularly I didn’t think about the threat of it as yet ANOTHER thing she had to deal with on a daily basis, along with the threat of physical violence, harassment, discrimination and more.

What my 2004 self could have used was a primer on understanding harassment and why it’s a problem; I didn’t have one, but I hope these points below will help us as men understand the issue a bit more, help us better challenge harassment when they see it, and better support women in our lives who are harassed.

It’s not about you, #1: One of the most common things I hear from men when we talk about harassment is that “it wouldn’t bother me.” That’s not the point, because it’s not directed at you, it’s directed at women. Whether or not it bothers you, or even bothers all women (because the other thing I hear is “some women like it”), is irrelevant. It definitely bothers many, many women and, if it bothers a woman you care about and who matters to you, isn’t that enough? Because we don’t get to choose who it happens to; the next person could be our friend or mother, sister or girlfriend, daughter or niece.

It’s part of a bigger problem: Even if you don’t think sexual harassment is a big issue, maybe you think rape is a big issue, or stalking, or domestic violence. It’s important to remember that they’re all related. Men who degrade women and treat them like objects in one context, such as walking down the street, often degrade women and treat them like objects in other settings.

The other part of it is that for women, harassment is merely one of the most visible parts of an iceberg of violence and the threat of violence they have to deal with daily, so don’t minimize it. Sexual harassment seemed weird and isolated to me, but because I always thought about it in isolation. I didn’t think, “what if that happened to me a couple of times a day, every day, my whole life,” which is the proper context for it.

It’s not about you, #2: Another thing I hear from men is this plea: “what if we just want to talk with a woman, to ask her out, to strike up a conversation with her?” My response is to ask, “Why do we as men assume that we have the right to just go around complimenting random women or talking with them?” Maybe she doesn’t want to talk with us for any number of a million reasons, all of which are perfectly valid and none of our business.

If you want to compliment random women, sign up for speed dating. Harassment is never about complimenting women, and it never has been. You may respond, “But I’m not trying to bother her, just be complimentary.” In that case, see above; it doesn’t matter what your intent is, it matters how what you do is received by her. This can be hard for us as men to hear, but intent doesn’t matter in this case.

There are things you can and should do: Since sexual harassment is often visible and public, it’s really easy for men to challenge it and take action to end it. Some basic things you can do are:

  • Don’t do it. Simple and easy. Most guys already don’t though, so luckily there’s more we CAN do if you’ve already got this one down.
  • Don’t laugh or go along with harassment when your friends or others do it. Harassment is often just as much a demonstration for other men. If someone harasses a woman and looks to you for validation, don’t laugh or smile in support. Instead…
  • Call out and challenge others who do harass women. If it’s your friends, tell them that you’re not ok with harassing women and that it bothers you. Tell them they can’t do it if you’re around. If it’s a stranger, tell him it’s not ok and he should stop. Or call the police or report it to the proper authorities; harassment is a crime.
  • Talk with the women in your life. Ask them about their experiences with harassment and how it affects them. And ask how you can be supportive as they deal with it. Don’t joke, minimize, or tell them to ignore or get over it, but be empathetic. It can make all the difference.

Think about it this way; you’ve been handed a great opportunity to not only improve the lives of women you care about (and others you don’t even know), but you’ve also got a chance to help some other men unlearn bad habits. Take advantage of it, and see what a difference it makes.

[En español, escrito por MariaLujan Tubio]

By Joe Vess
Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Men Can Stop Rape

Men Can Stop Rape is an international organization that mobilizes men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women. Since its inception in 1997, MCSR has led the call to redefine masculinity and male strength as part of preventing men’s violence against women. For more information, please see www.mencanstoprape.org

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.


“This was the first time I felt in a position where I could do something”

March 28, 2011

I’m a man, I have never been harassed so I don’t know how degrading it feels but I do know it is awful to watch. I have been brought up by a very feminist Mother and a Father who treated me to stand up for others. I saw a young girl in a club who was being chatted up by a guy who was obviously drunk and much older by at least ten years but it progresses to being rather sexually aggressive as she turned him down. He started to grope and pinch as she walked away pulling her back and so on. It was embarrassing to watch and made me feel sick with anger, this was the first time I felt in a position where I could do something, I walked over and said, ‘Thats enough.’

He seemed startled but instantly his attention switched away from the girl, which was fortunate. Unfortunately his attention turned to me. I am not big or strong and I received a good beating. But I have never felt better about myself and would do it again if I saw it.

– C W-M

Location: Southend Night Club.

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 We Know How to Handle Sexual Harassment?

March 23, 2011

Photo Credit: Amr Nabil/AP/File

This male ally post is cross-posted from Rebel with a Cause Bog.

News came out yesterday about a draft law that has been proposed by the government issuing harsher punishments for those who commit sexual harassment and rape crimes, up to the point of death sentence.

The new law tackles various points: adding telephone and the internet to different media through which harassment can occur; and giving more conditions when rape convicts get harsher punishments such as reconsidering victim’s age and cases where the victim has been raped by more than one convicts.

This is a reminder of a similar law which just passed a few days ago for combating thuggery. The news of that law was alarming to me as well as many other human rights activists. The move towards stricter law for thuggery was met with a lot of criticism. Just before this particular law was passed, the military forces cracked down on Tahrir protesters, many were detained and tortured. These protesters were claimed to be thugs which puts us at a dilemma of how to determine who’s a thug and who’s a protester, especially because we are at a time where military courts (where people do not enjoy their full rights of fair trial) have been handling these cases.

Back to sexual harassment, it is quite obvious there’s a problem with the way we’re dealing with this issue. The phenomenon which began surfacing rather recently in Egypt is rampant. But is issuing stricter punishments the solution for this multifaceted problem? Here’s why I don’t think so:

I find the process highly questionable. The ministerial council pushes for more punishments for sexual harassment and the supreme military council is happy to enforce these, because this is the language the military best understands. In normal circumstances the ministerial council can propose draft laws and submit them to the parliament to discuss them further. Either way there need to be more public debate about it.

Drafting laws without counseling civil society bodies or human rights experts is pretty concerning. These laws have to be compatible with human rights law, and there need to be clear definition and good consensus on what sexual assault entails.

I am more concerned with how to enforce this law, rather than the punishments themselves. There are big question marks on how to get these cases reported? We have a culture of silence about these crimes. It’s hard for people to report them because a huge stigma can be placed upon them. Most women who face sexual harassment or even rape never report it to the police or even to their families because their lives can be devastated.

We have this culture of intimidating criminals by increasing punishments. I don’t really believe it works. To be able to overcome a societal problem, we need to handle its underlying causes. All those handling those crimes need to be sensitized about it and fully aware of its implications. By engaging different people in the process of ending the phenomenon of sexual harassment, real achievement can happen on that front.

Ahmed Awadalla, Cairo, Egypt

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.


Ignoring Canaries in the Mine

March 16, 2011

Image via GetReligion.org

In days past, a canary in a coal mine was critical for safety. Miners would keep a caged canary in a mine and as long as they heard the canary singing they knew they were safe from the noxious gases that they were exposed to. If the canary stopped singing and/or dropped dead, miners also knew the mine was no longer safe to work in. Our neighborhoods are our mines and street harassment is a noxious gas that threatens our community safety and stability but goes unacknowledged. The time has come to notice the canary is no longer singing, our communities are getting less and less safe and if we don’t take notice, no one will.

As a member of and activist within the Black community I’ve often thought of street harassment as an unfortunate yet excusable inconvenience. I didn’t grow up in an area where there was a great amount of street harassment but I do recall learning after school or on weekends that calling out to women about their bodies wasn’t a problem, it was a rite of passage. When with male friends, one would dare another to speak to a passing woman and the next would egg on the next friend to up the anti, “I bet you won’t tell her she has a nice ass.” Like the adolescents we were the bet was attempted and others were waged in escalation. Like many young males, this socialization set in motion a pattern of engaging women, not as people but as passing object of male sexual desire and power.

Many argue that street harassment is simply an ill-conceived attempt at getting a date or a woman’s attention, but I’m not convinced of this perspective. Not too long ago, I was speaking with a number of young Black men about “hollering.” They told me that they’d shout at women on the street, make sounds like “psssstttt” to get their attention, and when they really wanted her attention they’d break awa from their boys and yell from the stoop or trailing behind women like, “hey ma! Let me talk to you. Why you walking so quick? Slow down.” The young men were all confident that what they offered up as their way of engaging young women was doing them a service of getting them closer to these women. When I asked, “How many of you can name someone’s wife or significant other they got in a conversation that started with, ‘Ay, daammmmmnnnn your ass is fat. Where you going? Let me holler at you?” They laughed and rebuffed my questions but then began to unpack their assumptions about gender relations, sexual pursuit, and power.

More than anything else, street harassment is about power for boys and men. For Black men who have been locked out of many of the proposed social opportunities of American society, be it work, education, healthy living conditions, etc. power feels a bit foreign. This lack of power exists along with media that inundates us images of “success” that are far from our grasps. In response, many young Black men look for local spaces to have power over something. This power over usually crystallizes in our relationship to women in our community. As boys and men harass women who pass by and feen interest in women responding favorably to grotesque advances and comments about their bodies, it’s all too common to hear these encounters end with, “Fuck you then, bitch!” This last ditch statement reflects males attempt to salvage the “power” in the interaction. The catch is that the final statement not only fails to provide the harasser with power, it also further disempowers the harassed.

Street harassment is so harmful for our community because it serves to dually disempower the Black community. Street harassment is constant in the places I travel daily but seldom do men engage the work of dismantling this “power play.” Both women and men are disempowered, though I must note that women bear the brunt of this disempowerment by have having their sense of safety, their body image, and notions of worth constantly tried in public places. Street harassment is tied to larger gender issues that pervade our community that often result in unstable homes, intimate partner violence, and increased police surveillance. All of which weaken our community. While most men I encounter on a daily basis, to my knowledge, do not harass on the street, most that harass are men. As men, our silence is deafening and we continue to ignore the canary in the mine which says our community needs to deal with issues of gender and power. Until we see street harassment as the problem that it is, we’ll continue to live in our neighborhoods like the miner who labors in a mine with a dead canary, until it’s too late to get to safety.

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.


Musings from a 21-year-old male ally

March 9, 2011

I am 21, male, and very grateful to have many strong female influences in my life. They have taught me so much about what it is to be a woman and go through the day-to-day experiences of verbal assault, unwelcome advances, and other explicit perverse behavior. My heart goes out to all of you that have had to suffer the immature, uncivilized conduct of what I hope is a minority of men. That said, I am still a man, and understand first hand the biological and societal conventions of men.

My story is short, and rantings long. I have devoted much time to educating myself about the differences of men and women in an effort to understand and improve my own social capabilities.

Riding with my aunt and female cousin in a cab in NYC one afternoon, we came to a stop light somewhere in SOHO. A group of men in their early twenties were waiting to cross. They were clearly staring at my female companions and my mind painted an image of a group of apes puffing out and beating their chests, making loud screeches, and throwing grass around (a la Tarzan) in a sort of primal routine meant to attract a mate. I positioned myself to block their view of my family and gave them a look that said, eloquently enough, “fuck off.”

Unfortunately this seems to be as far as a lot of “civilized” people have psychologically evolved. Our long evolved biological inclinations for mate selection and reproduction are so influential that our recently developed social structuring cannot compete. Some of the problems I have witnessed or experienced include:

Men are inevitably rejected at some point when first exploring intimate interactions, and without proper coping mechanisms, cognitive dissonance leads to justifications such as “she doesn’t like me, so she must just be a bitch” and other thoughts that can build up and lead to self loathing and increasingly more damaging interactions (abuse, rape etc.)

Women have a much greater investment in child bearing than the man, they carry the child, breast feed, etc. They have to be much more selective, and may have to reject so many advances that their rejections become reflexive and callous. It may appear rude to a shy nice guy that gets up the courage to talk to her but has no social intuition.*

Many men are so starved for physical intimacy that they try force a romantic relationship with a woman they are attracted to without bothering to look for things that really matter in a relationship, like compatibility, shared interests, good conversation, or what is often vaguely described as “chemistry.”

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of aspects, techniques, and rules of social interactions that need to become mainstream knowledge so that women can feel safe, men can experience more positive relationships, and society as a whole can function better.

– Nick W.

*[Editor’s Note: Or the women have faced so much harassment that it’s hard to distinguish “nice guys” from harassers. Too many seemingly nice guys turn into harassers, stalkers, or even abusers later.]

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.


“More rights for women, Egypt for all Egyptians”

March 9, 2011

Yesterday in Egypt, activists called for a Million Woman March in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding “fair and equal opportunity for all Egyptian citizens — beyond gender, religion or class.”

I wrote about the planned March with optimism, just as the organizers and participants felt optimism. This morning, reading about what happened makes me feel tired. Tired knowing how much longer Egyptian women (and women all over the world) will have to keep working toward equal rights, including the rights to public spaces free from harassment or assault, in the face of such hateful opposition.

Via NPR:

“Hundreds of women — some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans — who marched to the square to celebrate the anniversary, demand equality and an end to sexual harassment were soon outnumbered by men who chased them out.

“They said that our role was to stay home and raise presidents, not to run for president,” said Farida Helmy, a 24-year-old journalist.”

Via CNN.com:

“The turnout appeared to be no more than than 1,000, and the event quickly degenerated into shouting matches between the two sides.

“Men are men and women are women and that will never change and go home, that’s where you belong,” some of the anti-feminist demonstrators chanted.

There were men on both sides of the protest.

Organizers calling for the demonstration said on Facebook they were “not after minority rights. We are not after symbolic political representation.”

On Aljazeera, Fatma Naib shared her experiences and pictures from being on the square:

“I arrived in Tahrir around 2pm local time [12GMT] on Tuesday March 8, but was surprised to see the sheer volume of men who outnumbered the women, as if it was International Men’s Day!…

Many Egyptian and non-Egyptian men came in big numbers in support of the rally.

And a group of French and Italian expats also turned up in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

“We came here to show solidarity and support women’s rights in the world wherever they are. In Tahrir even more because women played a huge role in the revolution like the men,” Rafaela from Italy said….

Women of all ilk, young, old, veiled, unveiled, all decked up at the Tahrir Square. As they stood there peacefully with their signs that read: “more rights for women”, “Egypt for all Egyptians”, a small crowd of men started to gather in front of the women’s rally.

The anti-women’s day crowd grew as did their loud chants that said:”al shab yoreed esqat al madam“, “the people demand the removal of the lady/women”.

Some of them directed their aggression towards the men who were supporting the women; others just chanted ‘illegitimate’ while pointing at the pro-women crowd….

As the anti-women day crowd grew, the atmosphere went from celebratory to hostile. Most of the men and some of the women, that joined them later, had a problem with one of the demands that called for a woman to become a president….

It was a sad moment to see how a day that was meant to celebrate women all over the world end like this. It was particularly sad to see the faces of some of the women that were visibly shocked at the response and behaviour of the anti-women day protesters.

The event organiser was shocked at the incident.

She said, “I am shocked, I didn’t expect this to happen. But these guys are unaware of our plight and it will take time before the awareness is spread.”

For now the wheel of discussion and creating awareness about women issues and their democratic demands have started, but for now, the idea of a woman president seems unlikely… at least for now…”

Photo by Fatma Naib

“Rebel,” an Egyptian man who attended the rally to support the women, shared what happened on his blog, ending with:

“I was called a faggot defending whores. I was told I wasn’t Egyptian for doing this.

So now. Some accuse us of being too controversial. Some accuse us of using the wrong time and place to voice our grievances. Until when would we remain silent? And till when we will be too shy to call for women rights? I am not sorry I called for justice. I am just really appalled but what my friends had to go through. We managed to get our voices heard for once, and it won’t be the last time.

I hope what happened today will shed some light on the unacceptable attitudes towards women. More men need to speak out for women too. This will definitely help our cause.

The battle is hard. Mubarak’s regime and authoritarianism destroyed people’s sense of diversity. It may take years to actually change attitudes. I think we are up for it though.”

What happened is very disheartening ,but I know that those who support women’s rights won’t give up!

Do Something: This coming Saturday, HarassMap and The New Woman Foundation are hosting a discussion about women’s rights and ending sexual harassment in the streets. Saturday, March 12th, at 1:00 pm, at 14 abdel monem sanad st, off Ahmed Orabi, Mohandessin, Giza.

And on March 20, it’s International Anti-Street Harassment Day. Harassment in the streets is a global problem – people all over the world will speak out and question its social acceptability.


Nonconfrontational intervention to stop eve-teasing in Delhi

March 4, 2011

Nai Sadak Book Market

It was the start of 3rd semester when I, with one of my friends, went to Nai Sadak to buy some of our course books. For those who don’t know, Nai Sadak is a well known and famous place in Delhi, India. You can find all course books there. While returning back to Chandni Chowk Metro Station we took a short cut. The short cut was quite remote, which we realized later.

We took a right turn and 5-6 meters ahead of us was walking a girl, constantly being followed by 2 local boys who were passing lewd remarks on her. Unaware of us, time to time they were making comment steep on the chart of lewdness. She was holding a poly-bag in her right hand and a bag was on her shoulder, seems she too was there to shop for books.

While walking by something shot into my solitude. This is eve-teasing, right? I questioned myself. I’ve read about it but never faced any situation quite like this.

“How should I stop it?” was the next question.

I told it to my friend, he too was concern. We cannot fight them like this. We needed to figure out something diplomatic. And that was the time when an idea struck into my mind.

We hurriedly went to the girl, passing by the boys, and started walking by her sides. At first she didn’t notice, perhaps because she was busy in figuring out how to get out of the mess she was in. Soon she noticed the halt in lewd remarks and two fellows walking along her sides and joking on their school life. The boys following her were still following us. I think it was instincts more than understanding that the girl realized that we were there just to help.

I passed a smile to her and she returned it back. Within no time we reached Metro Station. Not saying much she thanked us for our help. We parted our ways. She went off to catch a bus while we took  the Metro.

This was the first time I ever took such a step and perhaps the first time I ever saw eve-teasing and dared to intervene before it could turn ugly.

India is a country of freedom but freedom is at times taken in a sense of “Free-To-Do-Anything”.

Prateek Bagri

Location: Delhi, India

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.