“In San Francisco last year, a man stabbed a woman in the face and arm after she didn’t respond positively to his sexually harassing her on the street. In Bradenton, Fla., a man shot a high school senior to death after she and her friends refused to perform oral sex at his request. In Chicago, a scared 15-year-old was hit by a car and died after she tried escaping from harassers on a bus.”
In her article“Street Harassment: Is a Man Running Over a 14-Year Old For Refusing Sex Serious Enough?” feminist blogger Soraya Chemaly details the street harassment against young women. The stories not only disturbed me, but I am outraged. Why can’t young women make it home safely without some man harassing/stalking them?
The article reminded of my own experiences (and stories my friends have told me), walking down the street as teenagers. A good friend from high school told me about the time when she was 14-years old waiting for a bus. A man in his 30’s/40’s circled the stop in his car. Eventually, he got out of his car and invaded her personal space. He leered at her “Does your boyfriend like to play with your big boobs?” My friend said she was so scared, she didn’t know what to say. Luckily, other folks walked up to the bus stop. The man hopped back in his car and drove away. I remember when I was 16-years old and waiting for a bus. At the time, I was wearing braids. Two grown men passed me. One of the men tugged my braids. Of course, I gave him a dirty look, as he touched my body without permission. He just laughed. He then started saying vulgar things to me. I ignored him. Because I wasn’t responding like he wanted, the guy got angry and started cussing me out. He walked up to me like he was going to hit me. His friend stopped him and pulled him away. “Come on man, she’s just a kid” He said. I shudder to think what would have happened if this guy had been alone. I was scared as hell.
Young women are vulnerable to street harassment. They often walk home alone from school or rely on public transportation. They have also been conditioned to submit to male privilege/authority. We don’t empower our young women to know that they have a right to their bodies/personal space. We live in a society that tells all women, but especially younger women, to smile/be nice/be helpful/be polite/be non-threatening. As Chemaly discussed in her article, when you add-on race, class, and disability, it makes this issue even more alarming. Young women of color are more likely to be harassed as they have been stereotyped as “fast” and overly sexualized in the media. Young women of color in poorer neighborhoods, the rate of street harassment/violence skyrocket. Women/younger women with disabilities are also more likely to be assaulted. Chemaly noted, “Consider the experiences of people with disabilities. For example, women in wheelchairs have to be on the lookout for men who push their groins into their faces. An “architecture of aggression” renders people with disabilities far more vulnerable to harassment and potential violence. Add to the suggestion that disabled people, especially disabled women, should consider themselves especially “lucky” to get any attention.”
Our society has failed at making the streets safe for young women. It is not a joke that young women are being stalked down streets. I know some folks don’t think catcalls/whistles are a big deal, but usually this behavior escalates. Male privilege allows men to think they can walk up to a woman and invade her space/act any way they want. Or even sitting down. I encourage folks to check out the tumblr “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on The Train.”
In order to stop violence against younger women/women, folks need to support organizations that are committed to this work. Grassroots/DIY groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Hollaback! are working towards ending oppression/misogyny against women. They relay on donations and word of mouth support. Men also need to hold other men accountable. Do not just sit by and watch as a man terrifies a young woman. Speak up for the young women/women in your community.