Street harassment resistance in Afghanistan

May 5, 2011

Via ProQuest K-12

In chapter 4 of my book, I look at how street harassment can vary by country and region depending on factors like, laws, culture, and peace vs wartime.

I briefly mention Afghanistan and how street harassment is exacerbated by the fact that across most of the country, women are not supposed to be in public unaccompanied by men and or unveiled. I also cite a few instances of men throwing acid at girls going to school; a horrific and unique form of street harassment that occurs in a few countries.

There is a lot more going on in Afghanistan when it comes to street harassment, though, and an article at Global Room for Women elaborates on the topic.

I’m on a quest to find information about how women resist and respond to street harassment, so I was particularly interested in this excerpt from the article:

“While studying this social issue, one has to gather information on how women struggle against street-harassment because women are not merely victims. Despite the fact that no formal, strategized and orderly action is taken by the government, namely the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the media or women’s organizations to recognize the phenomena as a social issue that needs to be addressed seriously, individual women have developed their own methods to fight street-harassment.

To deny the satisfaction of accomplishment to the violators, many women have a silent attitude towards the harassment they face. The silent treatment is a common way chosen by women to protect themselves and discourage the person who verbally abuses them.

Another way of dealing with this problem has been initiation of the harassment by the women when they say something condescending to men just to prevent their harassment and to prove that they are not afraid of their presence. Some women have word fights, or mini-fist fights that usually end at the interference of an outsider.

The different methods that women find to deal with the issue must be addressed and the advantages and disadvantages of each must be weighed to reach a conclusion on which is most successful in ensuring the safety and continuous participation of women in their societies.”

[If you want to read an inspiring book about Afghan women’s resistance generally, I recommend Veiled Courage by Cheryl Benard]

The opening words echo true for most of us — our governments, media, and NGOs don’t do enough (and sometimes don’t do anything) to make public places safe and welcoming for us, so we are left to our own devices for figuring out how to be safe and empowered.

Many women have discovered assertive responses that work, and a growing number of people are taking collective grassroots action to end street harassment.

There are plenty of tactics we can test to figure out what makes us feel empowered, safe, and full of resistance!

My primary resistance tactic is writing about street harassment.

What is yours?

“He tried to kiss me, and drag me off [my bike]”

April 7, 2011

I was riding my bike to the chip shop early last Saturday night. I rode by a pub on the way (one that I would ordinarily avoid but that it would add a mile to the journey to avoid) when a group of skinny (very drunk) white boys started walking fast beside me. I went to speed up, but one stepped in front of my bike, pulling me off and grabbing my arm. He tried to kiss me, and drag me off. I struck back at him, making a fist and connecting with his shoulder, surprising him into letting me go. I would like to think I hurt him. I sped off while his friends attempted to catch me.

My husband called the police, they came and took my statement, promising to lock him up to ‘put the fear of God in him’ if they caught him. I was not dressed provocatively; wearing a t-shirt and long running shorts. I should not be afraid to ride my bike outside. I am harassed several times a week, but this was the most violent occasion. The male police officer who came round to interview me said that more girls should fight back, like I did. I find it interesting however, that when I give a lecture at a university, or deliver a reading, I am called a woman. When people see me, I am referred to a ‘a girl’. This is tansgental and part of me is flattered, but interesting to note.

– Anonymous

Location: Swindon, Wiltshire, United Kingdom

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.

Guyland and the culture of street harassment

April 6, 2011

Michael Kimmel’s 2008 book Guyland is a great manual for male allies. It explores what he refers to as “Guyland,” an aggressive and toxic environment that young men of my generation are growing up in. It’s an environment influenced by fraternities that have misogynistic practices, sports, and conservative talk radio that broadcast constantly this message: the women’s movement, immigrants, and rich liberals are undermining long held white male privilege. It simply follows by logic that in such an atmosphere women are perceived as obstacles to be “won over” and, in turn, degraded. Kimmel offers a powerful study that sheds light on the possible attitudes that create the problems of street harassment. Stop Street Harassment offers numerous resources for men to counteract these cultural forces and bring an end to degradation in our lifetime.

Kimmel explains that in a society where the women’s movement has made significant inroads, the traditional ways of “proving” masculinity have been discredited. They are devolving into infantile acts such as encouraging their friends to “score” and employing politically incorrect speech. Stop Street Harassment offers a powerful charge to male allies to fight against such displays of masculinity and how we can work to counterbalance this disturbing cultural trend.

The cultural norms under which “Guyland” operates are becoming so ubiquitous that they can be difficult to fight. Kimmel explains that many men are afraid to question the actions of fellow guys because it may lead to their exclusion. This fear of social isolation among men is one of the reasons street harassment and other acts of violence go unchallenged. Stop Street Harassment provides techniques for men to intervene in these situations and to not be afraid due to peer pressure.

Another important issue that Kimmel addresses is the gray area that men feel in their relationships with women. What men consider to be a friendly gesture may be interpreted as predatory and the line is often vague. The Stop Street Harassment website offers men guidelines on how to interact with women to make them feel safe and unthreatened.

Kimmel’s book also hits home for me in a more personal way. As I participated in the Anti-Street Harassment Day on March 20, I kept thinking about these issues as I realized there was something wrong. Of all the members of my group I was the only male. The lack of male participation in challenging those attitudes that create street harassment is something that our generation is going to have to address. We have the opportunity to be the first generation with widespread male involvement in these issues. Kimmel’s book should be our warning shot.

– Sean Crosbie
Male Ally

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.

“It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life”

April 6, 2011

I have loads of experiences like this, unfortunately. Once I was waiting for my bus at 6 p.m. when an older man approached me. He started making disgusting remarks about me and I tried to ignore him. He then grabbed my behind and started to feel me up. I was 13 years old back then, and it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I shouted at him but no one helped me.

More recently I was followed when I was walking home. The guy was shouting demeaning things and I was very scared. This is not cool, it should end now!

– Anonymous

Location: United Kingdom

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.

Blog post leads to arrest of subway groper

April 5, 2011

Sharing our stories helps us feel better, makes us feel less alone, raises awareness about street harassment, and sometimes can lead to concrete action.

The Washington Post recently reported that police arrested a man who was inappropriately touching women on trains after one woman posted an account on the blog Unstuck DC Metro. She said the man stood behind her, rubbing against her twice.

Via The WaPo:

“The man took the yellow line from L-Enfant to Pentagon and rode the last car… An undercover Metro police officer who read the account decided to pursue the tip.

The woman’s detailed description of the man including his glasses and watch helped officers catch him engaging in the same behavior. The man was arrested Wednesday and charged with assault and battery.

Transit police are asking any other victims to call them at 301-955-5000.”

A lot of the harassment that happens in public places is legal, but actions like groping, rubbing against someone sexually, flashing, and public masturbation are illegal. If you have the time and energy, consider reporting such acts, especially since these people tend to be repeat offenders, just as the man in this incident was.