It's Time For A Nuanced and Thorough Conversation About "Street Harassment"

I’ve been wanting to discuss the work of activists and organizations that are tackling street harassment. I won’t name any particular individuals, but have followed a few campaigns making inroads for a few years. While I admire the efforts at bringing awareness to such an important issue, it has always bothered me that the focus misses some key elements because those initiatives are based on the experiences of a small subset of women.

Obviously every woman has her own unique experiences, but as with the greater concerns about “feminism” as a whole ignoring class and race privilege the same case can be made in how even this attempt at addressing negative situations is automatically tailored to fit a more narrow definition of circumstances and appropriate responses. So I was pleased to see the article WHY JUST TELLING MEN “NO” DOESN’T NECESSARILY WORK FOR EVERYBODY — AND CAN EVEN BE DANGEROUS published at xoJane – even as I know this is a publication geared toward particular women in a particular space of the blogosphere.

I’m not lodging a complaint because these issues are multi-layered. It’s not just about race and class divisions where certain women are intentionally excluding other women from different backgrounds. This is about bringing the full spectrum of circumstances particular women must operate and making sure that message is shared. It’s also about certain women in traditionally and extensively in more vulnerable positions and a) their lack of acknowledgement of that situation b) their not moving fast enough to address it c) the ones not yet in a position to address it and not necessarily being aware that it’s an abnormal circumstance to be in. For those of you who are regular forum readers I can make this clear and you’ll already understand: the unsafe conditions for black women in particular lies in predominantly black residential areas or where there are larger concentrations of violent black males aka BLACKISTAN.

For those who find it challenging to account beyond the scope of their familiar experiences  may not realize their existing privilege lies in growing up being more protected. Their street harassment experiences are relatively new and based on their choice to live in urban areas that have been more recently gentrified (though not completely sanitized). The privilege of such continued protection still covers them even if they are harassed because it may be less likely to escalate beyond that moment of inconvenience. While highly offensive and annoying, the lives of your average white woman in an urban setting is not going to be in jeopardy the way it is increasingly for black women of similar education and outlook.  This is what the writer of that piece is discussing and that’s not to say the full thrust of this conversation would be appropriate for that audience, but it would have been useful to be more thorough for the record. Which is why I’m responding to it at AOFB.

I’m not some cute, spunky little white girl in a romantic comedy; telling a dude “no” can have life-threatening consequences. Like being punched in the face and shot in the abdomen. Or getting shot in the backseat of a friend’s car. Hell, traveling with a male companion isn’t even a foolproof plan anymore.

I actually think the author was critical enough of non-black writers for their failure to cover the particularly harrowing ordeals black women face in dealing with racio-misogyny and violence that I can be critical in responding that it’s up to writers like her to tell it like it is across all online platforms. The common denominator in these situations is that the majority of street harassment is coming from a particular group of males. Some other discussions online would use the “black and brown/people of color angle” here which is fine because that misogyny happens with Latino males, too. I don’t think the sites black women tend to flock to are going to be serious about covering this lest they be accused on picking on the menz, when it’s women’s lives on the line.

The BWE forums and advocacy sites like What About Our Daughters have extensively covered the acts of violence committed against black women and girls, which is why the BWE blogs have taken it further and stated it plainly that you need to RUN for your lives out and away from Blackistan (physically, emotionally and mentally). It gets more crucial even if you ARE out of Blackistan to be mindful of security and safety issues as a woman in this country and around the world period. This is where being connected to better networks helps. Given the high percentage of sex crimes and the growth of  violence couched as “cultural” expression (like FGM and child-brides being made legal in countries like Nigeria) the majority of women are not being protected. So the ones who emerge relatively unscathed are truly blessed and this is where patriarchy has to play its role.

Regardless of what is being covered or what needs to be considered, this can’t just be about women talking to other women. The solutions lie with men stepping in and policing the behavior of other males.  Will this make the world 100% safe at all times for all women and girls? No, but some women need to recognize they don’t have all the answers and policies don’t move hearts or build relationships. Which is why despite gender struggles between the sexes we need to remember that functioning, caring males are still our best allies.

2 comments to It’s Time For A Nuanced and Thorough Conversation About “Street Harassment”

  • itsmeak

    When BW finally loudly and comfortably hold everybody accountable for their actions and stop buying into the 'don't wanna see anutha brutha go tah jail' business and pick up the phone to call the cops and press charges and stop taking up for everybody automatically when things don't directly concern them and they don't know the full story from all sides, that's when things will shift regarding sexual harassment of BW in certain areas.

    But until them they have to leave Blackistan today and network with sane, responsible and caring men as you've said.