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Stand against street harassment

I was walking in front of Morrill in broad daylight, wearing a red dress and just minding my own business when a group of three guys walked by. One of them turned to me as he passed, looked me up and down, and sneered, “Hello, Little Red! Are you still afraid of the big bad wolf?”

Mitchell Scuzzarella/ Collegian File Photo

I was too shocked to respond then but, now, I have an answer.

I have never seen a wolf before and, no, the idea of one doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is the fact that, as a woman, I apparently cannot walk down a public street without receiving unwelcomed harassment.

I still remember the first time I experienced this type of situation. I was twelve years old and had decided to go running, a first for me. Jogging down the street, I was shocked when a car slowed down just long enough for its driver to yell “Slut!” at me.

I was really still just a child when this happened. I still played with Polly Pockets. I was certainly not a “slut.”

The actions are categorized as street harassment, which the organization Stop Street Harassment defines as “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcomed, threatening, and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.”

My story is certainly not the only one that has occurred here in Amherst. In an informal survey I conducted of 70 people, 86 percent reported that they have been the victims of street harassment, with 60 percent reporting having experienced it on multiple occasions. My survey also included 11 men, since street harassment is not always exclusively experienced by women.

Participants reported incidents that ranged from being beeped at, to catcalled, to being physically groped, to even having their butts slapped. All of these experiences were in public places such as the bus, the T and even just on the street. One participant wrote that it “makes you feel uncomfortable when you are walking around campus.”

A positive movement against street harassment is called Hollaback, which encourages victims from all over the world to share their stories and to react. Hollaback affirms everyone’s right to be “a person who never has to take it or just keep walking, but one who has a … response when they are messed with [and] someone who knows they have the right to define themselves instead of being defined by some creep’s point of view.”

The problem with street harassment is that it is not often reported because it can happen within seconds, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. On top of trying to teach victims how to react, Hollaback points out the need for a reassessment of the societal attitudes that allow this behavior to occur.

Street harassment is part of a larger societal issue known as rape culture. The University of Minnesota defines rape culture as “a culture in which rape is prevalent and pervasive and is sanctioned and maintained through fundamental attitudes and beliefs about gender, sexuality and violence.”

The respondents of my survey described harassment that was threatening and sexually violent in nature. Street harassment often sexually objectifies women. The men that take part in these actions may be “just joking,” but their attitudes reflect disrespectful attitudes towards women that are inherent to rape culture.

Such attitudes have dangerous consequences. According to statistics from the website One in Four, 25 percent of college women report having survived a rape or attempted rape. 42 percent of these survivors have told no one that it happened. With statistics so high, fighting street harassment is just the beginning of a much larger battle that must be fought.

It is important for everyone, men and women, to stand against such harassment and to react when we see it occurring, even if it is not happening to us. If more people react, then the people that do the harassing will start feeling the pressure to stop. By raising awareness of these issues, perhaps we can change society’s perception of street harassment and rape culture as a whole.

All people have the right to walk down the streets without being catcalled or yelled at. We need to reject the excuses that people are “just kidding” or “didn’t mean it.” Women are not sluts, hoes, whores or any other derogatory name, and we will not accept being referred to as such. It is time to take a stand against street harassment and demand the respect that we, as human beings, deserve.

Molly Gately is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at megately@umass.edu.

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