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Femme de la Rue
August 4, 2012 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Sofie Peeters, a student in Belgium has sparked controversy with her film about being intimidated simply for walking down the street. [edited to add: English subtitles version]

In interviews with other women she found she was not alone, with other women admitting they will not walk on their local streets while wearing a skirt or take public transport the situation was so bad.

Peeters has been accused of racism because most of the men shown to be making comments are of North African origin.

The film has struck a chord throughout Belgium and also France, which has been dealing with problems of harassment, both on the street and in their own parliament (previously on MeFi).
One reaction has been to make a 'turning the tables' video of women harassing men on the street.
Actupol 3.0 blog post (in English) about the film and its reaction. Also an article from the Guardian. Here is an article from the New Statesman discussing the problem of street harassment and the lack of hard evidence.
posted by Megami (158 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Peeters has been accused of racism because most of the men shown to be making comments are of North African origin.

Unless she's editing out white catcallers this seems a matter of self-selection. It's not entirely surprising that communities made up of recent immigrants from cultures with little respect for women and really messed up attitudes to sex have a particularly large prevalence of harassing misogynists.
posted by jaduncan at 1:30 AM on August 4, 2012 [33 favorites]


Can we do this without generalisations about other cultures? The point is, in Belgium, France etc women would like to be able to walk the street without abuse. Pointing out the perceived failings of Eastern societies, or indeed the male gender, are not especially helpful to working out how to achieve that.
posted by iotic at 1:36 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Peeters talks to a crowd of local young men of north African origin about how to stop the insults. They suggest she says she is married. Peeters said: "I was told, 'Come out with a man, your boyfriend and we'll leave you alone.' But that's ridiculous. Women have the right to walk where they want."
This makes me ridiculously furious. It's like everything about entitlement in a sentence.
posted by jaduncan at 1:36 AM on August 4, 2012 [29 favorites]


Unless she's editing out white catcallers this seems a matter of self-selection. It's not entirely surprising that communities made up of recent immigrants from cultures with little respect for women and really messed up attitudes to sex have a particularly large prevalence of harassing misogynists.

Maybe you want to rephrase that in a way that doesn't make it sound, regardless of your true feelings, really fucking racist.
posted by mobunited at 1:36 AM on August 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


The point is, in Belgium, France etc women would like to be able to walk the street without abuse.

Agree completely, but could we change that to "Anywhere in the world, women should be able to walk the street without abuse"?
posted by greenhornet at 1:42 AM on August 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Maybe you want to rephrase that in a way that doesn't make it sound, regardless of your true feelings, really fucking racist.

Sure, I don't want it to be that way at all.

To some extent, people tend to bring attitudes from the cultures they grew up in. Belgian culture is a lot less accepting of harassment of women than the Maghreb. Add prejudice against those immigrants when they arrive and it's easy to get into a situation of resentment against women.

It's not at all about people being inherently better or worse.
posted by jaduncan at 1:42 AM on August 4, 2012 [29 favorites]


Agree completely, but could we change that to "Anywhere in the world, women should be able to walk the street without abuse"?

Yes, and anywhere in the world mothers should be greatly respected and women shouldn't be made into sexual objects constantly by commercial media.

It isn't only Islamic cultures that have issues with sexism. We should look primarily at our own, since that's where we have the power and right to change things. Also, it's the subject of the post (well, Belgium and France are)
posted by iotic at 1:50 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hate that this is impossible to talk about without dealing with an assumption of racism. I wondered very hard about if my own thoughts were racist. I think that they are not due to my belief that if you took many UK nationals and put them in (for instance) Ibiza and they saw many girls dressed in less than they were used to (such as bikinis) they would and do act in exactly the same way, including the comments about "not wearing stuff like that if you don't want to be looked at".

I don't think that's racism, I think that's a discussion of cultural attitudes. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, and if it's offended anyone I both apologise and am willing to examine myself in this matter.
posted by jaduncan at 1:57 AM on August 4, 2012 [22 favorites]


She is looking at her own culture: she is a Belgian talking about her experience in Belgium with some of her fellow Belgians. These other Belgians should change their sexist behavior.

If it makes you feel better, we can agree that other Belgians with paler skin colors are sexist too: they just don't happen to live where she lives. But she gets to comment on where she lives. And the Belgians there happen to have darker skin colors.

She still gets to comment on her own location and her own culture, the culture she shares with these other Belgians in the street outside her home. This shared culture should not permit these sexist acts. If some individuals need to change their behavior so that this is so, that's fine.
posted by alasdair at 1:58 AM on August 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


I get the impression that she's living in an area with lots of immigrants, so it's not particularly surprising that her documentary features a lot of them.

Or maybe she discovered a time slip and got to interact with a bunch of cave men?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:58 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate that this is impossible to talk about without dealing with an assumption of racism.

What's particularly nauseating is that Peeters would be accused of racism because the people that she filmed harassing her were North Africans. As though she somehow ignored the harrassment when it came from white Belgians.

How about this for a clue: if you don't want people to show film of you harrassing women, don't fucking do it?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:06 AM on August 4, 2012 [49 favorites]


Self-selection? Not quite. The neighborhood she films, in the centre of Brussels, is heavily North African. It also has extremely high unemployment rates. So, she could walk there for hours without meeting anybody but (young, bored) men of North African origin.
There's also a social aspect that isn't immediately obvious for those not well initiated in Brussels community politics. The centre of Brussels, which used to be completely derelict, has known a recent bout of gentrification with an afflux of young, hip and mostly Flemish professionals. Those "Danssaert-Flemings", as they are derisively known after the newly hip Danssaert street, are not particularly cherished by the locals who have seen themselves priced out of her own neighbourhood. She identifies herself as a recently arrived Fleming, and she certainly dresses as a "Danssaert-Fleming". The curious part about the film is thus that, in the eyes of many of those men, and certainly of those insulting her, she's more of an "immigrant" than they are.
This is not to say that the sexism isn't a problem. My own wife has experienced those catcalls. But tackling it is going to be difficult without a global approach to urban poverty and unemployment.
posted by Skeptic at 2:07 AM on August 4, 2012 [51 favorites]


[Let's please avoid attacking other posters; if you want further explanation about what someone means by a comment, go ahead and ask in a civil way. Thanks. ]
posted by taz at 2:15 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe you want to rephrase that in a way that doesn't make it sound, regardless of your true feelings, really fucking racist.
posted by mobunited at 9:36 AM on August 4


Huh. I didn't think it sounded that way at all. It seemed like a perfectly valid suggestion that one might expect to find greater incidence of sexist attitudes coming from members of cultures where sexist attitudes are more commonplace. The same could be said of any other kind of culturally-related social behaviour.

By the way, it is always unhelpful to conflate culture with race. To do so immediately undermines any point you may have about racism.
posted by Decani at 2:33 AM on August 4, 2012 [67 favorites]


Also, the language politics: most of the jobs advertised in (90% French-speaking) Brussels require French-Flemish bilingualism. One of the reasons those young men can't find a job is that they are not fluent in Flemish (the education system in the Brussels inner city is a shambles). On the other hand, several hundred thousand Flemings commute daily to work in Brussels. She replies to her harassers in heavily-accented French. It isn't obvious to outsiders how this influences the exchange.
posted by Skeptic at 2:34 AM on August 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


I watched the film, even though I speak none of the languages used (other than the short bit in English at the beginning). There's a section in there where she is filming posters and billboards with advertisements of scantily clad women -- is she making a connection between that and the harassment in some way?

If the catcalls are, as suggested by Skeptic, partly anti-gentrification, do male newcomers also get harassed in some way on the street in that area? I've walked through immigrant neighborhoods in other European cities and gotten a few hard stares and comments, but nothing really worth noting; conversely, my wife has been catcalled (and groped) plenty by white European men. It is clearly more of a pervasive issue than a simple "those people have imported their sexism to Europe."

I think it's good that people are talking about this; street harassment is a real problem and exposing it can only help.
posted by Forktine at 2:39 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


do male newcomers also get harassed in some way on the street in that area?

I can assure you that some do. Namely those who are perceived to be gay: the gay scene is also nearby, and there have been some bad incidents of homophobic violence. Again, cultural machismo is a problem.
posted by Skeptic at 2:53 AM on August 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Sexual harassment is about power, not sex, and those who harass are driven by resentment, not lust. Mix in class and race, and you have a nice cocktail for hate both ways. The educated white girl has an excuse for saying:“It was one of my biggest fears. How to tackle this subject without making the film racist? But this is the reality: when you're walking around Brussels, in 9 cases out of 10 these insults come from a foreigner. ”
And the jobless North African has an extra excuse for calling her a racist slut, as she triggers a new debate about immigrants and Islam, and maybe even new laws that can be used against African men.

When will we ever learn?

This is not a defense for the men - at all. Though there is maybe an answer to her question in it. I think all European women experience harassment or worse during their lives. It is a tyranny it is frustrating to live with, and you can never completely guess who will put out the hatred. But you can think about what signals you send out, and I'm not at all talking about not wearing sexy clothes or make-up - everyone should be able to wear what they want, but about demonstrating fear or suspicion of whole groups of humans, wether they be of a different class or color. I know this is a bad circle - the girls in the film have fair reasons for being and acting fearful. But I have walked in those same streets and never noticed anything at all.
posted by mumimor at 3:24 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I have walked in those same streets and never noticed anything at all.

Ah, the "I haven't experienced it and therefore doesn't exist" fallacy. All the sexism and harassment by white 'native' males of any European country does not wash away the indisputable fact that males from the Maghreb on average tend to misbehave significantly worse in this department. And it is worthy of discussion.

Or as I told an American friend of mine who was wondering about the successes of anti-muslim parties such as the PVV in the Netherlands (I'm Duch): we (North-Western Europeans) have transplanted illiterate, mostly oppressed (the Berber from the Maghreb are not treated nicely by their governments) people from pre-industrial, patriarchal and tribal societies into a post-modern, post-industrial society without telling them in any meaningful form or shape what will be expected from them, lest we be cultural imperialists, and then act surprised that the net result is not always a happy and pleasand cohabitation. Even moreso, concentrating this particular issue in economic and socially deprived neighbourhoods creates another surprise: those who already lived there and are expected to pay the price of this poorly thought out integration tend not to be willing to do so and may show that at the election booth.

Putting it down as being about 'demonstrating fear or suspicion of whole groups' is at best intellectually dishonest and will only prolong the agony.
posted by Telecommunist Cluster at 3:45 AM on August 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


Except, dear Cluster, that the worst misbehaviour doesn't appear to come from "males from the Maghreb", but from their sons or grandsons, and seems to be shaped less by their tribal culture than by modern hiphop culture.
posted by Skeptic at 3:57 AM on August 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I have seen this happen in Finland. I was walking with my friend (also a woman) who was in shorts in the summertime and men (not North African, but further south from the continent) hanging about in the corner made us both extremely uncomfortable making comments like "nice shorts" and what not. And no, we don't expect to be harassed and made uncomfortable in a country like Finland where clothing norms are entirely different.
posted by infini at 3:57 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know this is a bad circle - the girls in the film have fair reasons for being and acting fearful.
Ah, the "I haven't experienced it and therefore doesn't exist" fallacy.

You must've been reading a different comment than I was. Since the post itself is about controversy, it would behoove us all to take more time with it instead of acting on kneejerk reactions.
posted by scalefree at 4:02 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


It isn't only Islamic cultures that have issues with sexism. We should look primarily at our own, since that's where we have the power and right to change things.

So, if we don't have the "right" to challenge sexism in Islamic culture if we're not Islamic, what gives anyone the right to criticize (alleged) racism in Belgian culture if they're not Belgian, or even continental European?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:04 AM on August 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Racism, cultural imperialism, the integration or lack thereof of immigrants into Europe -- all these things are interesting and important. But speaking as a lady who's been harassed in the streets, trains and parks of Europe, I am a little disappointed that a post about street harassment has turned so totally into a discussion about immigration.
posted by feets at 4:07 AM on August 4, 2012 [32 favorites]


Unfortunately, the video is cutting out for me, but I can see the first five minutes.

What the women talk about experiencing is disgusting and unacceptable.

I don't care how much unemployment is there or how much gentrification, that is no excuse to systematically harass women. I grew up in a multi-cultural, multi-racial neighbourhood with high unemployment and high poverty - and still none of that crap. Learning to accept other cultures means accepting things like people playing dominoes outside (weird for British-Canadians, normal for Jamaican Canadians), not harassment. It means respecting women in hijab (admiration of fabrics is optional, though likely), not harassing women who are not in hijab.

As it was said up thread, if you don't want to be shown harassing people, don't harass people.
posted by jb at 4:08 AM on August 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


But you can think about what signals you send out

No, I don't think you should. That would be wrong. You should be free to walk the streets without fear, whatever your sex or colour or age or sexual orientation.
posted by alasdair at 4:10 AM on August 4, 2012 [22 favorites]


The people talking about machismo have it. The worsts street harassment I've experienced has been in Peru, in a town mostly comprised of stores catering to illegal miners (and the drunk illegal miners who go there to be catered to). I dreaded walking from my hostel to the mercado and back because of how blatant the commentary about my body was. The worst street harassment I've experienced in the United States is from groups of drunk male college students in greek letter shirts walking between bars while I'm walking home from campus or waiting for the bus. It's less frequent, because that's a pretty contained time and place where outright machismo rules, but it's not less virulent, threatening, frustrating, or culturally situated.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:14 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Racism, cultural imperialism, the integration or lack thereof of immigrants into Europe -- all these things are interesting and important. But speaking as a lady who's been harassed in the streets, trains and parks of Europe, I am a little disappointed that a post about street harassment has turned so totally into a discussion about immigration.

feets, the reason the discussion turns to immigration is that the film-maker herself makes it a discussion of immigrants. Which is maybe correct for her particular area, but not at all for Belgium or Europe as a whole - as the example with the French parliamentarian shows.

Sexual harassment is a European form of terror against women, a pest, and you can meet it anywhere and everywhere. In parliaments, universities, in urban streets and in the countryside. It needs to stop. But in order to stop it, it may be more useful to discuss the motivation and background than to single out one particular group of perpetrators among the many.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, sexual street harassment is an equal opportunity experience re location, mumimor. Not confined to Europe, one has the chance of an encounter in North America, South America, Africa, Asia.. it is not geographist - whew!
posted by likeso at 4:29 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know, likeso, but both one of the linked articles and my personal experience tells me Europe is the worst region in the world. I haven't been everywhere, though
posted by mumimor at 4:36 AM on August 4, 2012


What's the answer? I feel bad for saying this, but a lot must depend on women letting harassers know, there and then, that this isn't acceptable. I'm sometimes happy to make a scene, but not always, so I know it can be hard. Maybe something like an organized "slut walk" or Reclaim the Streets would work well. A monthly parade of women through the worst affected areas would give these men a clear indication that how they behave is wrong and won't be tolerated.
posted by Jehan at 4:50 AM on August 4, 2012


For the enjoyment of street harassment by white guys, I can recommend most US college towns. As an American, I can say without hesitation that the worst street harassment that I have received has come from frat boys in a climate where they recognize that they have all the power and I have none.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:51 AM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sorry, that should be Reclaim the Night or Take Back the Night, not Reclaim the Streets.
posted by Jehan at 4:52 AM on August 4, 2012


My most frightening experiences were in (sub-Saharan) Africa. The most annoying in North America. The most insulting in Europe. Asia was just stares. I haven't been to South America, though ChuraChura spoke to that here. And I haven't been to Australia, but divabat and others have spoken about that in other threads. Ah, well. Woman is the n-word of the world?
posted by likeso at 4:52 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


On preview, when I feel safe enough, I do speak out. But if I'm isolated, alone, outnumbered by more than 2, or a complete tourist, I don't.
posted by likeso at 4:55 AM on August 4, 2012


Woman is the n-word of the world?

Yes, let's complain about sexism by being racist.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:00 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dude, chill. I was quoting Lennon.
posted by likeso at 5:10 AM on August 4, 2012 [28 favorites]


With regard to the "nobody should have to think about their presentation on the street" idea -- well yeah, in theory, nobody should have to think about it, but the fact is that women do have to think about it. I was taught in a women's self-defense class that stranger rapists, interviewed in jail, said they often seek out women who appear unsure, who are wearing difficult shoes, and who look like they aren't likely to put up a fight. When I go out alone, especially at night, I think about this stuff, because I feel like my safety levels are affected by how I dress and hold myself.

Unrelatedly, I have a working hypothesis, based on observation, that street harassers strongly prefer "outgroup" women. So Sofie Peeters gets the intensely harassed in a North African neighborhood, and a North African woman would get intensely harassed in Naples. I'm guessing that harassers feel "safer" to go after a woman who isn't in-group, because she won't turn out to be an acquaintance of his sister or go to his church or school -- plus everyone knows women from Outgroup X have loose morals anyway, RIGHT?
posted by feets at 5:16 AM on August 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, let's complain about sexism by being racist.

I thought likeso (and Lennon) was equating racism and sexism, as in "you can't oppose the one and be cool with the other," but I could be wrong.

What we have here is one of those perfect Metafilter situations -- there is sexism, racism, classism, immigration issues, and it's taking place in a country that isn't the US, where the situation is similar enough to be recognized but different enough to lead American posters in not-necessarily productive directions. I suspect that, if we didn't assume bad faith on each others' parts. we would get further.

Which does not mean that it's not totally possible to get bogged down in "who's more oppressed" or to use racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever as a blind to protect our own classism, sexism, homophobia, racism, or whatever. Sure. But if we don't try to honestly feel out a middle ground on these really tricky subjects, we'll never get anywhere.

And, to add my own hobbyhorse of classism to the mix, who wins then? If we are so busy fighting over the scraps that the Patriarchs drop while chewing that we never really challenge the Patriarchs, well, then, we get the Patriarchy. Yay, us.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:16 AM on August 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


The shots of the advertising are in response to a comment made by one of the interviewees; his explanation for why the North African community has a problem with harrassment is that sexuality is a taboo subject within the community (he notes that 'we can't even see a woman's hair') yet they are embedded within a wider society that objectifies and sexualises women. The filmmaker comments that once she started looking, it was impossible to get away from images of naked women.
posted by Jakob at 5:16 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've always had a problem with "take back the night"-type marches - not theor purpose, of course, but the end-optics. They end up being one-off, infrequent things, with lots of people and lights, and I don't think they actually do much to help women feel safer and be safer walking outside at night (two different but equally important things). I keep thinking that it has to be a more sustained campaign - not a one-off, special event, but a systematic daily effort to make streets safer and non-harassing. Not that I know exactly how.

But back to the street-harassment. For some women, having a camera and photographing harassers works. Also, the rest of us (aka any people nearby who are not actively being harassed) must take action: if you see/hear street harassment (even something innocent like a man telling a woman that she should "smile"!), speak out if you can: go over and tell him that he's being rude and has no right to bother someone else on the street. This may be more easily done if you are more grandmother-shaped, or if harassers seem less likely to be violent - but usually there are more non-harassers on most streets - and banding together we outnumber the harassers.
posted by jb at 5:17 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought likeso (and Lennon) was equating racism and sexism, as in "you can't oppose the one and be cool with the other," but I could be wrong.

Got it in one. /derail
posted by likeso at 5:21 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unrelatedly, I have a working hypothesis, based on observation, that street harassers strongly prefer "outgroup" women. So Sofie Peeters gets the intensely harassed in a North African neighborhood, and a North African woman would get intensely harassed in Naples. I'm guessing that harassers feel "safer" to go after a woman who isn't in-group, because she won't turn out to be an acquaintance of his sister or go to his church or school -- plus everyone knows women from Outgroup X have loose morals anyway, RIGHT?

This.

In reverse, I've had this experience with young white males in Helsinki, one night, though when I spoke up, one apologized profusely for the drunkenness of the other *smile* and they both embarressedly backed off. The difference is that the same context in more patriarchal cultures would only goad them into doing something to you. And that fear of macho retaliation is what keeps you silent and "oppressed". See acid attacks.
posted by infini at 5:23 AM on August 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seriously, though, the 'who's more oppressed' thing has been a huge clusterfuck of infighting since the civil rights movement, and presumably waaaay before that. Women, immigrants, the poor, etc. should be able to go about their business without other people literally going out of their way to oppress them. Doesn't matter if you're first generation or tenth. There are laws that cover this, so the discussion should be moot.
posted by biochemicle at 5:27 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a male, it is very interesting, and sad, to see this film about the female experience. Goddamit guys, just cut that shit the fuck out.
posted by caddis at 5:27 AM on August 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've always had a problem with "take back the night"-type marches - not theor purpose, of course, but the end-optics. They end up being one-off, infrequent things, with lots of people and lights, and I don't think they actually do much to help women feel safer and be safer walking outside at night (two different but equally important things). I keep thinking that it has to be a more sustained campaign - not a one-off, special event, but a systematic daily effort to make streets safer and non-harassing. Not that I know exactly how.
I agree, but I don't know what the daily campaign could be either. If it was me, I would just rile myself up to shout at every body who harassed me, but I know other women can't or won't--and that's not their fault. I just feel as though there is no formal education or criminalizing which is practical or proportionate. We can't force folk to learn how to behave, nor is arresting and charging a really good idea--even if such a thing were possible or right--for what is mostly a fairly low social group (poor, immigrants). I'm thinking that marches, at the very least, makes the position of Belgian society clear, and anybody out of step with that (regardless of their background) needs to rethink.
posted by Jehan at 5:33 AM on August 4, 2012


My wife and I stopped cycling along a specific canal in Birmingham, UK because she got harassed by a large group of male South Asian boys for having the gall to wear shorts and a tank top. She was regularly glared at by some older South Asian men in a very threatening way when we would jog on the local paths. The Pakistani community in Birmingham seemed to have a huge problem with women. You can put that down to cultural differences and having lived among one of the larger Pakistani communities I won't hesitate to say that many aspects of Pakistani culture are just backward.

However, non-immigrant English men were pretty routinely awful as well and their leering and cat calling was probably the most rude and aggressive I have ever seen (and that was what they were willing to do in front of me). Of course they were just 'having a laugh' and the general consensus amongst the people we knew, who, as university academic staff, should know better was that it was no big deal.

The best part about our cross cultural excursion is that we both now appreciate how far Canada and the US have come in treating woman better. There is still a long way to go but it is far better for women here than in England.
posted by srboisvert at 5:44 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought likeso (and Lennon) was equating racism and sexism, as in "you can't oppose the one and be cool with the other," but I could be wrong.

Perfectly good point to make, terrible and lazy way to make it, in a thread that's touching on racist issues. It's like commenting on sexism issue by saying "Jesus, what they bitching about?" and choosing to be completely ignorant about the history of word "bitch" and sexism.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:48 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nope, wrote that you were being racist, big difference.

I'm struggling to see exactly what it was that was racist about that comment.

It was a reference to a song by John Lennon that compares the position of women globally, to the position of black people.

The song uses a term that, though commonly used at the time, is no longer regarded as polite due to the historical use of the term. Consequently, likeso substituted a popular euphemism for that word in order to avoid giving offence.

So which bit exactly is racist? Is it racist to ever allude to Lennon's song? Or is it racist to make the point that the position of women is structurally similar, in some ways, to that of black people? Or is it racist to do the n-word substitution?

Or was the racism somewhere else that went completely over my head?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:51 AM on August 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


Is this video working for everybody? I can only watch the first few seconds of it, it then freezes and buffers and never continues. I think that this strange as I am watching this from Brussels...
posted by JiffyQ at 5:51 AM on August 4, 2012


OK. On failure to preview, Brandon, I see your point. I think it was a clumsy comment, for sure.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:54 AM on August 4, 2012


[Some comments were deleted. I'm noting this for the last time here: ixnay on the personal attacks. Discussions about sexism and racism are difficult enough without people flying off the handle and going nuclear, so talk it out like adults. Seriously.]
posted by taz at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2012


Decani: "By the way, it is always unhelpful to conflate culture with race. "

I mostly agree with this, but it's worth noting that racism is a cultural perception, and so it comes into play if you're speaking of the broader issue contextually. It seems that's part of the reason these problems are so intractable and difficult to sort out; different cultures and subcultures (down to neighborhood or even family groups) interacting in so many different ways create all kinds of scenarios. Ultimately, people harassing others are doing it out of ignorance, cultural pressures, psychological issues or combinations of those and other factors I don't understand. How do you get past all that shit? Big PR campaigns?
posted by Red Loop at 6:05 AM on August 4, 2012


I serve a majority South East Asian- and African-born population and this shit does not happen in my diverse part of Canada. Yes, some of the New Canadians/first generation are sexist but harrassment and catcalling is unknown both to me and all the girls and women I know. There are employment and integration struggles, but no where near as bad as Europe seems to have. So I posit that it is a little more complex than just an imported sexist culture meeting Western Culture; I suspect that classism and respect has a lot more to do with it.
posted by saucysault at 6:12 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


So I posit that it is a little more complex than just an imported sexist culture meeting Western Culture; I suspect that classism and respect has a lot more to do with it.

Focusing on the immigrant aspect (or as noted above, the sons and grandsons of immigrants) lets people avoid talking about how general a problem this is. My wife gets hooted at plenty here in the US, but it's in Europe that she gets grabbed, especially on buses but also on the street. Europe is ahead of the US in many ways, but a lot of men there continue to feel strikingly entitled to comment on and grab at strange women's bodies.

I think it's also interesting that this is coming out of Belgium, which has been edging towards fracturing and has significant internal linguistic and cultural tensions separate from the whole discussion of immigrant integration.

Perfectly good point to make, terrible and lazy way to make it, in a thread that's touching on racist issues.

I kind of agree. The Lennon quote expresses that women around the world are treated as badly as blacks had been in the US, but it carries a lot of clumsy baggage in terms of being spoken by an incredibly privileged white guy, and in using phrasing that's wince-inducing these days.
posted by Forktine at 6:30 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Foreigners’ sex crime statistics spark debate (Finnish News)

Senior Expert Lena Bremer from the Finnish Association for Mental Health points that the convict statistic is partially explained by people’s greater willingness to report crimes committed by people they do not know.

“If the perpetrator is a man they know, then they do not report it as readily as they would a stranger. Immigrants, who have few acquaintances, are more often the reported strangers,” Bremer says.

posted by infini at 6:32 AM on August 4, 2012


I kind of agree. The Lennon quote expresses that women around the world are treated as badly as blacks had been in the US, but it carries a lot of clumsy baggage in terms of being spoken by an incredibly privileged white guy, and in using phrasing that's wince-inducing these days.

Isn't that part of the point of it? I'd always taken it that the shock caused by the offensiveness of the word and racism should also be applied to the inequality of women.
posted by jaduncan at 6:35 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some people cannot be believed. If anyone came to me and said the solution for people harassing my wife or daughter was for me to pay more taxes for services for the harassers, I'd have to be restrained. When do we recover the basic wisdom: millions for defense, not a penny for tribute.
posted by MattD at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I grew up in a city in southern Ontario, Canada, where street harassment was part of my life from the time I was about 11. I moved to a different, smaller, city in southern Ontario as an adult and did not experience much street harassment. I moved to a third city in southern Ontario, intermediate in size between the first two, and experience street harassment on a recurring, though no longer daily, basis.

The harassment I've experienced is predominantly verbal, largely committed by identifiably male persons of varying ethnicities with their apparent ages skewing towards 15-30, and much more common when I am alone or with visibly female companions than when I am in the company of one or more visibly male persons. What I'm wearing and where I'm walking don't correlate noticeably with the level of harassment, though there is an uptick when the weather's warm enough for car windows to be open.
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:43 AM on August 4, 2012


I was going to say I get tired of women expecting women's issues to take a back seat to issues of race. But then I thought I'm so tired of racism. People talking about and accusing others of racism from the comfort of their armchairs. It's so easy.

Yes, men from certain places in the world are more sexist than others. Fact. It's not a woman's problem if a man is North African or otherwise, he should treat people with respect, and we should quite firmly expect him to.

I didn't watch the video though.
posted by inkypinky at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2012


Or as I told an American friend of mine who was wondering about the successes of anti-muslim parties such as the PVV in the Netherlands (I'm Duch): we (North-Western Europeans) have transplanted illiterate, mostly oppressed (the Berber from the Maghreb are not treated nicely by their governments) people from pre-industrial, patriarchal and tribal societies into a post-modern, post-industrial society without telling them in any meaningful form or shape what will be expected from them, lest we be cultural imperialists, and then act surprised that the net result is not always a happy and pleasand cohabitation.

Which is actually not true, or at least not the whole truth. Moroccan and Turkish emigration to the Netherlands has been gone on for well on four decade and the young men like the ones featured in this documentary here would be third or fourth generation living here. These are not people who just stepped off a boat and are clueless about Dutch culture.

The guy who was interviewed about halfway through the documentary put it best I think. If you're being raised in a patriarchal, sexually uptight culture and then every day step out of it into a wider culture where sexist imagery of women is used to sell everything, then you get this harassement. You see it with guys from the Dutch bible belt as well, when they get away from home for the first time -- coke use is the most prevelant in strict protestant communities like Urk, or Volendam, or Staphorst.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:54 AM on August 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Maybe you want to rephrase that in a way that doesn't make it sound, regardless of your true feelings, really fucking racist.

Who cares if it sounded racist? All that matters is if the statement was accurate.

Also, the comment was about cultures, not races, but I guess "culturalist" doesn't shout down debate in quite the same way as "racist".
posted by Tanizaki at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


When do we recover the basic wisdom: millions for defense, not a penny for tribute.

And how exactly does that work, then? Besides the fact that you're the first here to mention "taxes" (where the hell did that come from?) can you explain what, exactly, is your plan? What is this "defense" you speak of? The problem does not lie with the woman. The problem lies with those harassing her. And unless you advocate criminal punishment for people saying things to another person on the street, what solution could there possibly be beyond focusing efforts on changing the attitudes of the harassers?
posted by Jimbob at 6:59 AM on August 4, 2012


Maybe something like an organized "slut walk" or Reclaim the Streets would work well. A monthly parade of women through the worst affected areas would give these men a clear indication that how they behave is wrong and won't be tolerated.

I'm pretty sure this would just be HIGHLY entertaining. I appreciate your sentiment, but I think the context in this case is different enough from any context in which this kind of event has "made a difference" that you're going to want a different strategy.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:39 AM on August 4, 2012


Perfectly good point to make, terrible and lazy way to make it, in a thread that's touching on racist issues. It's like commenting on sexism issue by saying "Jesus, what they bitching about?" and choosing to be completely ignorant about the history of word "bitch" and sexism.

I dunno. I got the reference and the point. Was the original quote clumsy in its dealing with race? Maybe? It's not like Yoko Ono wasn't familiar with racism as well as sexism, although using an epithet more in line with her experience would have been less pointed, I imagine.

To get back to the point of the thread, I think some of what is going on is that catcalling is (in general) a lower-class thing to do, because poor men don't have reputations to worry about (or at least not reputations that will be harmed by this) and wealthy men have other, safer ways to enforce privilege. Hell, having safe ways to enforce privilege is pretty much a central purpose of wealth. Anyway, since racial and ethnic minorities and especially immigrants (and the children of immigrants) tend to be poor, often for fairly obvious reasons of prejudice, it's unsurprising that a) immigrant/immigrant community men are more likely to harass and b) more likely to be noticed harassing.

When you add to that men with a sense of disempowerment from their extremely limited economic options in significant part due to prejudice (exacerbated by cultural norms out of step with the culture in which they find themselves embedded) trying to establish some feeling of power by attacking someone who is vulnerable on another access of privilege (say, gender) and that person fighting back with the tools available to her axes of privilege, well, it's a mess.

So, what can be done? Economic opportunity is obviously a factor -- bored young men without options are a problem in every society, and men who are working have a) less time to hang out harassing women and b) more to lose if they do (that reputation thing). Reworking conservative culture might be another, but that leads to a whole unpleasant racist and anti-immigrant area. Policing nuisance crimes more harshly? Keeping young men from assembling? Well, that might work, but at a significant cost in public funds and human rights (encouraging the police to take a hard line against racial/ethnic groups doesn't really work out well). It's easy to say "don't harass," but when the harassers in question have nothing to lose, something (if intangible and ultimately self-defeating) to gain, and little reason to pay attention, how is that going to work?

On the other hand, I hate feeling defeated by all this.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


On the other hand, I hate feeling defeated by all this.

I should say, "On the other hand, I hate feeling defeated by all this, and I don't even have to deal with it on a regular basis." It's frustrating, but obviously, I can only imagine how women feel about it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is actually not true, or at least not the whole truth. Moroccan and Turkish emigration to the Netherlands has been gone on for well on four decade and the young men like the ones featured in this documentary here would be third or fourth generation living here. These are not people who just stepped off a boat and are clueless about Dutch culture.

The guy who was interviewed about halfway through the documentary put it best I think. If you're being raised in a patriarchal, sexually uptight culture and then every day step out of it into a wider culture where sexist imagery of women is used to sell everything, then you get this harassement. You see it with guys from the Dutch bible belt as well, when they get away from home for the first time -- coke use is the most prevelant in strict protestant communities like Urk, or Volendam, or Staphorst.


Mostly third generation, and raised in relative isolation from mainstream culture by parents. And supposed to get married to a relative from Morocco again. And conflating Turkish and Moroccan migrants is not helpful, Turkis migrants have a vastly different set of issues.

Regarding bible belt youth: they are not renowned for cat calling or worse, either within or outside their group. The cocaine usage is mostly within their communities and even then in a very specific subset, those who leave that particular insular subculture tend not to partake in it. I know, because that is my own background and I left it about twenty years ago.
posted by Telecommunist Cluster at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think whatever we do, we want to avoid putting blame on anyone. Labeling anyone - especially the men in that video - as responsible for their actions makes it easier to find the root of the problem and to solve it. Instead, we should beat around the bush for 400 to 500 years.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I lived more 4 years in Amsterdam (and can understand Dutch) and the street harassment in parts of that city got so bad I avoided leaving the house in the end. "Talk back" some suggest, ah, but when you do you'll be called a bitch or, if you are walking with a girlfriend you will both be labelled lesbians. The shouting and harassment and comments on your body and dress will continue regardless. Mace them? Illegal. Carry a can of spray paint and spray them with a bright red color so that people can see who the street harassers are? An idea I had and wanted a womens group to do one day, but again, not legal as that would be assault. The only thing that's legal is to cat-call women day in and day out until they pack up and move to another country.
posted by dabitch at 8:47 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I lived more 4 years in Amsterdam (and can understand Dutch) and the street harassment in parts of that city got so bad I avoided leaving the house in the end. "Talk back" some suggest, ah, but when you do you'll be called a bitch or, if you are walking with a girlfriend you will both be labelled lesbians. The shouting and harassment and comments on your body and dress will continue regardless. Mace them? Illegal. Carry a can of spray paint and spray them with a bright red color so that people can see who the street harassers are? An idea I had and wanted a womens group to do one day, but again, not legal as that would be assault. The only thing that's legal is to cat-call women day in and day out until they pack up and move to another country.

Make harrassment complaints, use non-permanent paint and spray it on clothing rather than people.
posted by jaduncan at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2012


Uh, isn't there a series of famous photos taken on the streets of post-war Italy showing good ol' Italian men sucking their teeth and harassing women going by?

European machismo is still there. It's just sometimes expressed differently these days. Likewise American machismo.

This has less to do with where these men are /from/ but that fact that they are identified and self-identify as The Other.

I mean, any woman who lives in Toronto will know that if you walk through certain area in Little Italy and Little Portugal, you will get this exact same behaviour from groups of men. Self-identified immigrant European men.

Yes, Europe has a racial discrimination problem, and each nation has its own set of nuanced problems depending on the sort of immigration profile they have.

So, this area has problems with North African men. Somewhere else it's someone else. Pointing this out does not have to be automatically racist. As suggested elsewhere, show us where the film-maker made this behaviour out to be intrinsically about where these men are from, and not just an accident of immigration.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:00 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can unwanted comments reach a level that would justify a response with mace or spray paint?
posted by cheburashka at 9:14 AM on August 4, 2012


jaduncan, the police in Amsterdam have better things to do than take harrassment complaints from me. They also explained to me that non-permanent paint would still be assault. I found the most effective thing to do was to move.
posted by dabitch at 9:23 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


cheburashka - yes.
posted by dabitch at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this would just be HIGHLY entertaining. I appreciate your sentiment, but I think the context in this case is different enough from any context in which this kind of event has "made a difference" that you're going to want a different strategy.
Care to explain? I mean, it seems obvious to you why such a strategy would be "HIGHLY entertaining", but it isn't to me. If men harass women in the street for how they look, then women should, in mass, harass the men for their sexism. It is about showing who owns the streets.
posted by Jehan at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2012


Some time ago, a friend moved here, from Brussels, actually. She moved into a ground floor apartment in a block that is notorious literally across the country for harassment of women, within my neighborhood which is fiscally poor and rich in immigrants and other people without resources, jobs, educations. I showed her around one of the first days, and told her which people to avoid entirely (drugs drive people crazy). Then while we walked, she (who is a colorful person in her own right) got into an argument with someone over nothing. I told her to stop doing that at once. Of course everyone has the right to express themselves, but being arrogant and othering semi-criminal youth when you live in a ground-floor apartment is plain stupid.
Since then, she has taken the complete opposite approach: she says hello to everyone. She shops in the local stores and is polite. She comments in a friendly way on the girls' clothes and the boys' soccer skills. She participates in the general gossip in the yard. And it works. At this point, she can get into a little argument about noise or littering and be respected. She will also receive friendly guidance when trying to find her way home after a night drinking in her cocktail dresses and heels. You see, she is just doing exactly what she would have done in her former upscale neighborhood in Brussels. Except at first, she thought her new neighborhood was exotic and a little risqué, and she thought she had to maintain a distance for her own security.
I'm not at all saying this is the solution against all sexual harassment. I know it isn't. I'm not saying the situation here is the same as in Brussels (it's probably worse). I'm certainly not blaming the victims in the film or anyone else who has experienced harassment - all women have and it is a crime. I hope this and other discussions will spread awareness of the situation. But I do think there are other issues than sexism at play in the film and in the discussion of it.
posted by mumimor at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know. Clearly these are sensitive topics. But talking about them becomes all the more difficult when people get stuck enforcing a norm of bias-free appearance. In a forum, in a discussion, what people say are first drafts. And that doesn't mean whatever plops out is in some sense a truer, less-veiled account of their secret racist, misogynist, ethnocentric beliefs. It means you can fuck up the nuance of what you're trying to say, and maybe if you're reading a forum with this kind of sensitive discussion, you don't worry so much about policing the bias-free style guide and you kind of take people at their best intentions.
posted by adoarns at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I at saddens a how routinely people confuse racism and prejudice--I say "saddens" because it is a fundamental error that routinely and severely impedes needed conversations about difference. The former (racism) is an ideological position regarding the inherent superiority of one group over another, and must be vigorously fought at a sociopolitical level. The latter (prejudice) is almost inescapable and something everyone struggles with. It must be addressed at a more personal and interpersonal level. At it's most benign, prejudice is a necessary and highly functional heuristic used for threat assessment in social situations, as in the one being discussed here.

Saying that traditional Mid-Eastern or South Asian males are likely to give women a hard time is not intrinsically racist. It might be unpleasant or boorish. It might be based on unfounded prejudices. It may come from a place of racism. But it can also be merely a statement of fact, something based on unbiased observation.

As a Sicilian American, I can tell you without danger of being called "racist" that my olive-complected southern European bretheren used to be every bit as bad. The terrifying mob harassment scene in Antonioni's L'Avventura comes to mind, or the famous Ruth Orkin photo. In recent years, things have improved somewhat. I've experienced the difference from my youth--when I (a male) couldn't even walk with my female cousin in Sicily because "it looked bad" or when my grandfather would say that my American girlfriend looked "come un' putana" because she had a bikini top on when we went bike-riding--to today's Sicily that has more familiar social standards (though, to be sure, it's still quite backward, particularly in the smaller towns and villages).
posted by mondo dentro at 10:06 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought Lennon was racist. Actually, the reason that I stopped listening to the Beatles is that I found this old casette of Beatles recordings. I guess some of them were live? Anyways, as a preface to "Get Back", they were screaming horrible things about immigrants stealing all of the jobs- it turns out that song is about how unwelcome a specific racial group of immigrants was.

Either way, quoting that particular song that was quoted seems pretty insensitive to me, regardless of the intent. I think any argument about that is just sophistry.

Harassment! I had no idea it was this bad there. I wish I knew what the answer was. I definitely wouldn't encourage a woman to confront her harasser in most circumstances, because I wouldn't want to put her in danger- and I think it's rare for lone males to harass; because it is a macho thing, they need an audience of supporters to have the behaviour rewarded. Plus, ANY response from the harassed woman is going to reinforce the behaviour, since it's attention-seeking. Maybe positive male role models? Public service announcements? I don't know.
posted by windykites at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2012


I do think part of the problem is that we don't all agree, all the time, on what harassment is. If someone tells me to "smile", for example, I don't feel that's harassment. If someone compliments my clothes, I only sometimes feel that's harassment; I like it. Usually. Unless they're creepy. What defines "creepy" varies depending on things like setting, time of day, tone, age, cleanliness of speaker, sobriety of speaker, and- yes- attractiveness of speaker. And some days I get dolled up because I am feeling shitty about myself and I want a construction worker to say something to me- not something crude or explicitly sexual, but "nice skirt" or "hey, gorgeous". So the idea of trying to create an education campaign around exactly what is harassment, or of onlookers "banding together" to confront harassers, is pretty difficult to implement, because it's still about the harasser's actions and discounts the harasee's feelings- just like the harassment itself does.
posted by windykites at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


.Seems to me to be a lack of socialization or education to me. I can't but feel that the hip hop culture of misogyny has been monetised into the gestalt of modern culture and contributes to the problem. This transcends race and culture, there is no excuse for this behavior nor should it be tolerated. Human beings should treat each other with respect. Comments about appearance should be reserved for friends and family and not made to strangers. There are a few basic rules and common courtesies that we can internalize that will make our paths through life that much easier. If you witness boorish behavior call it out. Discuss it with your friends and family. Make sure your children understand how you expect them to relate and communicate with others. Kids know what kindness is they can understand what being mean is reinforce these ideas every chance you get. Why we can't be nice to and respect each other will forever remain a mystery to me. If I wasn't an atheist I might imagine evil does exist as something inside us as a species.
posted by pdxpogo at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2012


I can't but feel that the hip hop culture of misogyny has been monetised into the gestalt of modern culture and contributes to the problem.

Hip-hop isn't causing this, it's reflecting it. And misogyny gets a whole lot of help from the sexism endemic to most styles of popular music.
posted by desuetude at 10:55 AM on August 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


My wife has been harassed and spat on by women in Brussels, for having a short haircut (a sure sign of a lesbian). Most harassment has been by men, for sure.

There's a whole subculture there of immigrants and their x-th generation children that finds justification in their religion and home-culture for some pretty backward ideas on women.
posted by LucVdB at 11:00 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, isn't there a series of famous photos taken on the streets of post-war Italy showing good ol' Italian men sucking their teeth and harassing women going by?

You are perhaps referring to American Girl in Italy?
posted by BWA at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The former (racism) is an ideological position regarding the inherent superiority of one group over another

This is not quite right, and importantly so. Racism is societal. If people with brown skin can't get jobs so easily, or don't own businesses, that has to do with the historical legacy of an imposed worldview, colonialism, slavery etc. this is really the most important way in which racism affects people's lives.

Personally, I don't think of people as being racist (though sometimes, they are). The question more often is whether people through their words and actions are supporting, or working against, the societal racism prevalent in our society. Note this is also why a lot of people would question the concept of "reverse racism". It might make sense in the way you're using it, a belief or opinion, but in the structural societal way, not so much.
posted by iotic at 11:16 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was a reference to a song by John Lennon that compares the position of women globally, to the position of black people.

Despite Lennon's good intentions, that was a shitty song for several reasons. First of all, it disappeared black women, as though they didn't experience both racism and sexism. Second, a multimillionaire white Englishman was not the right person to use a racial slur in a song, even though his intent was to make a point about equality.

The idea that white Belgians don't participate in street harassment is garbage. Ms. Peeters presumably filmed in her neighborhood, where the harassers reflected the neighborhood demographic, but if she had filmed in a majority-white neighborhood the harassers would have reflected that neighborhood's demographic.

Human beings should not sexually harass other human beings in the street. Why is this such an impossible concept for some people to grasp?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


the hip hop culture of misogyny

As opposed to, say, the country music culture of misogyny?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 AM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is there a copy of the video available with English subtitles?
posted by odinsdream at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2012


I should say, "On the other hand, I hate feeling defeated by all this, and I don't even have to deal with it on a regular basis." It's frustrating, but obviously, I can only imagine how women feel about it.

This is the insurmountable problem of multiculturalism itself, in effect protecting group rights to misbehave. This is two mistakes. Group rights don't need to exist, and where they are afforded such luxury, they should not be based on accident of ancient culture, because that ignores the individual oppression that might be occurring within the group itself.

It should be noted that multicultural state sponsorship in Western democracies superseded expectations of assimilation, which are now said to be immoral, which is pretty much a traditionalist and racist point of view in the guise of relativism. That's not to say it started out racist, but it may have ended up, as some studies suggest, as mainly public distrust within a democratic host culture, which frames the rise of nationalism as a reaction.

Regarding this problem, some have pointed out three obvious things when it comes to culture. 1. That cultures are not equal, and if they were, such a claim should not go unmeasured. 2. That humans produce their own cultures, not the other way around as either divine or natural (therefore education has nothing to do with hosts accepting or rejecting them, but simply says more about who is least threatened by their mobility). 3. Most cultures exist to promote men over women, their own religious beliefs over others, and the few over the many in regard to rights.
posted by Brian B. at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2012


Europe is ahead of the US in many ways, but a lot of men there continue to feel strikingly entitled to comment on and grab at strange women's bodies.

What part of Europe? Because Europe is quite diverse. I lived in Sweden for quite some time and was never bothered there on the street, ever. I wore whatever I wanted any time I wanted. I even lived close to an "immigrant ghetto" and no one there bothered me either.

And it's a reflection of something that for awhile I wondered if it was because I was not pretty enough, but even my tall blond friends spoke of being immune to catcalls.

When I moved back to the US, I sold a bunch of clothes I had bought in Sweden at the local thrift store because I knew I couldn't wear them here without being bothered.
posted by melissam at 11:52 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Some here... have pointed out obvious things when it comes to culture....

CULTURES ARE NOT EQUAL."

This is so depressing.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2012


I don't toss catcalls at women who display nice legs or lovely midriffs, so I hope they don't sneer at my appreciative smile.

Anyhow, I'm probably not thinking what they think I'm thinking. It's not the same as enjoying a nice sunrise, sure, but then it's not like watching porno either. Okay, well, I have to admit that some folks are hard to look at without rapidly blinking and quickly moving my eyes elsewhere. Anywhere.

I hope to avoid further generalizations.
posted by mule98J at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2012


The idea that white Belgians don't participate in street harassment is garbage. Ms. Peeters presumably filmed in her neighborhood, where the harassers reflected the neighborhood demographic, but if she had filmed in a majority-white neighborhood the harassers would have reflected that neighborhood's demographic.

That's simply not true. I'd be very surprised if she'd get harassed at all.
posted by LucVdB at 12:11 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to double post, but the point of the video was for this woman to capture her experience of feeling objectified walking down the street.

I highly doubt any of the subsequent comments about "well that's how it is in foreign cultures" are actually based in EXPERIENCE or firsthand knowledge about those cultures.

Feeling unsafe and marginalized is an subjective experience.

We should encourage others to talk about those experiences. Indeed, many immigrants in European cultures feel "othered" and marginalized for walking down the street.

But NOT by throwing the blame on people we don't know, or analyzing complex dynamics about groups of people based on stereotypes.

These discussions of whether racisism or sexism is worse never go anywhere; as others have pointed out above, this is pure old DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:15 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If people with brown skin can't get jobs so easily, or don't own businesses, that has to do with the historical legacy of an imposed worldview, colonialism, slavery etc. this is really the most important way in which racism affects people's lives.

I don't disagree with that, but this is a more fine-grained semantic distinction than I'm trying to make. Of course, ideologies only matter when they are socially encoded. That's how they get traction on people's lives. What I'm addressing, though, is the facile way "racism" is used for merely ignorant or prejudicial statements and behaviors. It's destructive to dialogue.

A case in point is the idea that "John Lennon was racist". Really? Because he uttered something hateful that someone heard once? If so, what possible value can that term have? As far as I know, he most certainly did not support the idea that one group was inherently superior to another. Sure, he might have said something stupid, and it's fine to criticize that--but he was human, to the best of my knowledge. I mean, if being on occasion insensitive, stupid, or narrow-minded can make one "racist", then that term covers virtually every human I have ever met. Myself--and, I'm quite confident, all here--included.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the insurmountable problem of multiculturalism itself, in effect protecting group rights to misbehave.

Where are you getting this? I think of multiculturalism as being in the interest of the nation as a whole, not just individual minority groups. If the native citizens of a country are willing to give serious consideration to the new and maybe uncomfortable ideas that immigrants bring (and don't just classify them as "misbehavior") there's the chance for everybody to benefit. Obviously you have to draw a line somewhere in defense of individual rights, but think of, for example, the way Italian and Eastern European immigrants in the US, with a long tradition of leftist politics in their homeland, bolstered the labor movement -- that part of their "culture" was pretty unpopular at the time, and they were demonized for it, but in the end it benefited everyone. Multiculturalism isn't just a favor that the powerful extend to the less powerful.
posted by ostro at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


kettleoffish: "But NOT by throwing the blame on people we don't know, or analyzing complex dynamics about groups of people based on stereotypes.

These discussions of whether racisism or sexism is worse never go anywhere; as others have pointed out above, this is pure old DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
"

Why is this being turned into some kind of either/or thing? Sexism and harassment are shitty things that happen for a varying number of complicated reasons. So is racism, and sometimes those complicated reasons interconnect in parts. Who is saying one is worse than the other? Can't we all agree that they both suck?

mondo dentro: " The former (racism) is an ideological position regarding the inherent superiority of one group over another, and must be vigorously fought at a sociopolitical level. The latter (prejudice) is almost inescapable and something everyone struggles with."

Racism is a product of prejudice. Prejudice is a product of ignorance. How could it be otherwise?
posted by Red Loop at 12:55 PM on August 4, 2012


Obviously you have to draw a line somewhere in defense of individual rights, but think of, for example, the way Italian and Eastern European immigrants in the US, with a long tradition of leftist politics in their homeland, bolstered the labor movement -- that part of their "culture" was pretty unpopular at the time, and they were demonized for it, but in the end it benefited everyone.

You're suggesting that individual labor rights/struggles are somehow group/ethnic centered or even a product of non-assimilation or multicultural policies. Describing labor movements as foreign was probably considered an desperate or unfair ploy at the time, not anything related to the truth, accidental to the ethnicity of the laborers themselves. Consider the cases of child marriage or female genital mutilation as examples of what I'm referring to, as cultural demands that most of us have few problems in discriminating against.
posted by Brian B. at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure if a young white American woman chronicled her daily harassment experienced at the hands of, say, unemployed white Irish-American youth in South Boston, there'd be a whole lot less handwringing going on about whether or not the filmmaker had unfairly portrayed the white working class with a broad brush, and a whole lot more "that shit is disgusting and no woman should have to put up with it."

You can be anti-sexism, anti-racism, liberal, and still criticize backwards practices that remain more prevalent in certain cultures than others. It's not like you need to pick "a side" here, people.
posted by modernnomad at 1:43 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is not about culture, it is about class. North African people in Europe who are educated and and earn money are less likely to harass women than Protestant white people with a similar status.
posted by mumimor at 1:48 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


CULTURES ARE NOT EQUAL."

This is so depressing.


It is depressing -- that such an obvious fact has to be pointed out and argued for. That's not to say that every culture doesn't have distinctly worthwhile elements, but let's be serious: the savage medieval Anglo-Saxon culture of 700 years ago is not equal to Anglo-Saxon culture today. The former is worse on so many fronts: culture, freedom, human rights. And the same comparisons that can be applied there can and should absolutely be applied to cultures in the here-and-now.

Of course, making this judgment should not preclude understanding the reasons for the evolution of that culture. Nor, however, should understanding preclude judging moral wrongs as moral wrongs.

It is not about culture, it is about class. North African people in Europe who are educated and and earn money are less likely to harass women than Protestant white people with a similar status.

Plenty of rich people in misogynist cultures are highly misogynist.
posted by shivohum at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't but feel that the hip hop culture of misogyny has been monetised into the gestalt of modern culture and contributes to the problem

If hip-hop is to blame for this, then I get to blame music for the racism I experience. In fact, I get to blame two genres: country and western. ;-)

When it comes to whether this kind of harassment is about power or sex, I think that men often use power over women to get sex. Seems to me that if you create an environment where women need a male to keep them safe, you also create an environment where men feel like they should get sex in exchange for the protection.

Looking at the examples of harassment given in this thread, and thinking back on my own experiences, it seems like the common element in this kind of harassment that is for all practical purposes assualt is idle, unmarried young males of low socioeconomic status...but I feel like I've placed my feet on a road that doesn't lead anywhere good when I have that thought, because it seems that from that point, the Puritan "put them all to work and those that don't work don't eat" belief that drives American conservatives toward cutting social safety net programs is right around the corner.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:56 PM on August 4, 2012


White male Duke students (i.e., by definition pretty socioeconomically powerful) regularly harassed me from their shiny imported SUVs for 6 years. I don't think it works to blame class for street harassment. I blame the patriarchy.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:01 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Uh, isn't there a series of famous photos taken on the streets of post-war Italy showing good ol' Italian men sucking their teeth and harassing women going by?

That's kind of different. Being cat called and whistled at and hit on is not pleasant but when a group of young men are acting predatory and you genuinely feel you are in danger of being dragged into a house or alley and gang raped right there? Not the same thing at all. And the second one is the feeling you get from these packs of young men. They are not looking for consensual sex or attention or a date, they are letting you know that they will hurt you given a moments chance. It's a cultural thing- not racist at all, you can experience the same thing anywhere young men are raised the way these young men are no matter their race, color or parentage.
posted by fshgrl at 2:21 PM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's an interesting point. I have always felt that the function of catcalling -- unintentional, perhaps, but effective -- was to remind women of their place in society, and remind them that they have entered a male sphere, and, in that sphere, they are seen primarily as sexual objects. That's why the "I was just complimenting her!" defense doesn't work for me -- unless you make it a habit to compliment men on their sexual attractiveness as well, you are singling women out for that attention, and that's not a compliment, it is a reminder of status.

There is a cultural component to rape as well. And I know the discussion in the past -- and in this vide0 -- has tended to be along the lines of, well, if women dressed differently, or if they were with their boyfriend, or if they hadn't acted in that way ... But I think it is more interesting to ask what causes men to rape. And there have been some factors that have been pinned to as increasing the likelihood of sexual violence from men. Among these are: hard drug use, having an exaggerated sense of masculinity, being unclear on the effect rape has on women, having a low opinion of women, belonging to a criminal gang, having sexually aggressive friends, having been raised in a strong patriarchal family.

When men are sexually aggressive to the point that they seem violent, it is worth noting that if they come from an environment where a lot of these things are true, there is a greater chance of sexual violence. And the world produces different experience, depending on culture, history, and poverty. There are places in the world where rape is used as a tool of war. And, for many men, rape is a learned and social experience.

Many African immigrants to Belgium are from former Belgian colonies, including the Congo and Rwanda, both places where sexual violence has been used as a tool of political and social control. These are factors that are worth considering -- but they must be coupled with real data. Are African immigrants to Belgium actually more likely to catcall than non-Africans? Is there really a threat of sexual violence to their catcalling? If so, they it is worth exploring if there is some historic reason for this -- and one need not look too far back in history to discover sources.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:52 PM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


[Joeclark, you know how the site works and where MetaTalk is. Also the contact form, if you want to talk to one of us individually. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:01 PM on August 4, 2012


I highly doubt any of the subsequent comments about "well that's how it is in foreign cultures" are actually based in EXPERIENCE or firsthand knowledge about those cultures.

Wow. That is quite an assumption. My personal knowledge of these matters includes considerable travel across North Africa, especially in Morocco. In Morocco I tend not to be willing to go out alone, and have been sexually assaulted (and we're not talking slaps on the ass) enough times that it's no longer even something that surprises me.
posted by Space_Lady at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there really a threat of sexual violence to their catcalling? I

Yes of course there is, have you ever been harassed by a group of men like this? If the lights went out they'd be on you in a second. It's an overt threat and its very plain. Its like Rush Limbaugh saying he wants to force women to make sex tapes, except he's right there with 9 of his best friends and you're alone and he has a camera. Or being a female guard in a male prison. It's very clear what they'd do to you if they could and you really start to think how tenuous your protections are.

Totally different from the kind of street harassment I'm used to in, say, Athens or Jamaica or the US where its more like guys telling you you have a nice butt and would you like to go smoke a joint at the beach? Those guys aren't benign but they're not terrifying. Groups of men who clearly see you as inhuman are.
posted by fshgrl at 3:51 PM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is depressing -- that such an obvious fact has to be pointed out and argued for. That's not to say that every culture doesn't have distinctly worthwhile elements, but let's be serious: the savage medieval Anglo-Saxon culture of 700 years ago is not equal to Anglo-Saxon culture today.

This is not sufficient evidence for the point you are trying to make that cultures on a whole can be ranked according from good to bad.

Promoting ethnocentric values is a modern Anglo-Saxon affectation that harms a lot of people. Personally I hope that in a few hundred years saying one culture is better than another will be seen as the barbarism it is.
posted by kettleoffish at 4:31 PM on August 4, 2012


This is not sufficient evidence for the point you are trying to make that cultures on a whole can be ranked according from good to bad.

Cultures where honor killings are encouraged, or where slavery is practiced, or which stone adulterers or burn heretics or torture homosexuals... yup, those are worse than cultures which don't do those things.
posted by shivohum at 4:51 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


What about Chris Brown and Rihanna and an American culture that collectively looked the other way?

Using the actions of some people within a culture to label that whole culture is the fundamental attribution error. The ideas and attitudes of people within a culture can be completely different. It's not fair to hold everyone within an out-group responsible for the actions of some.

It's so much easier to see the differences within a culture when you're part of it. Other cultures are always "pro-honor killing." Well, it isn't that simple.

Sexual assault is very much a common experience in America. Fear of catcalling is something I can understand-- I can understand, even the impulse to put down a boundary, say, we will not tolerate this even if THEY do. But sexism is not not culture-bound. I feel bringing East versus West into this discussion is a tremendous red herring.
posted by kettleoffish at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're suggesting that individual labor rights/struggles are somehow group/ethnic centered or even a product of non-assimilation or multicultural policies. Describing labor movements as foreign was probably considered an desperate or unfair ploy at the time, not anything related to the truth, accidental to the ethnicity of the laborers themselves. Consider the cases of child marriage or female genital mutilation as examples of what I'm referring to, as cultural demands that most of us have few problems in discriminating against.

Sorry to nitpick, but plenty of the history of labor in the US has been ethnically centered and a product of non-assimilation, definitely not accidental to the ethnicity of the laborers. Factory organizing in NYC, for example, was hugely revitalized by the arrival of large numbers of Eastern European Bundists who brought with them a specifically Jewish brand of socialism -- in a way, labor organization was part of their culture. The press of the time wasn't wrong in attributing garment workers' unionization at least partly to their identity -- they were just wrong in thinking that was a problem.

Also, you're picking examples that most people think should be illegal precisely because they're forced on unwilling individuals and cause serious harm. What about, say, chicken sacrifice? Or insisting that Native American children be preferentially adopted by Native American families? These practices have consequences that some people may disapprove of -- killing of a chicken in a non-code (though humane) way, or taking any factor beside the best interest of the child into account when conducting an adoption -- but how bad are those consequences, really? Are they strong enough to override considerable benefit to the group as a whole? Group rights aren't always group rights to "misbehave," as you put it, and to say that seeking changes or exceptions to existing guidelines is "misbehavior" seems to imply that dominant European culture has got everything right already.

Getting back to the post, street harassment is disgusting, and while seeing it as a way of trying to get back at people whom the harasser sees as thinking they're better than him may explain it a bit, it doesn't excuse it. "This person has huge advantages over me and feels possibly racialized disgust for me, so I'll make her feel shitty in the only area where she's unluckier than me -- vulnerability to sexual violence!" Fantastic. But it's probably human nature to lash out at the most vulnerable members of the group you feel is oppressing you, so any solution to this has to hinge on trying to reduce that weight of oppression.
posted by ostro at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Promoting ethnocentric values is a modern Anglo-Saxon affectation that harms a lot of people. Personally I hope that in a few hundred years saying one culture is better than another will be seen as the barbarism it is.
I'm pretty sure that ethnocentrism wasn't invented or promoted only by "Anglo-Saxons", whatever the hell they are.
posted by Jehan at 5:19 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I (a big guy) used to be a guest researcher at an organization whose office was in this neighborhood, across the street from the Lemonnier tram station, which is one stop south from Anneessens on the 3/4 line.
(See map: PDF).

There was another guest researcher at the same institute, a petite Spanish woman with a darker complexion, who lived close to me. We would theoretically both get off at the Lemonnier tram station to get to the office. However, she had been grabbed a few times by the young men who basically hung around the station all day (many European countries do not have the same anti-loitering laws as the USA). Someone suggested she get some pepper spray (which is illegal in Belgium unless you are a police officer), but of course one small women against a bunch of young men would probably turn out poorly. She instead got off one station earlier, at the Brussels South train station (Gare du Midi), itself probably not the safest part of Brussels, but at least there were more people around then just a bunch of young dudes.

I would walk up Boulevard Lemonnier to Anneessens tram stop sometimes after leaving the office (there are several good used bookstores in the area), and I was always struck by all of the cafés/tea places which were full of men of different ages but almost no women.
posted by dhens at 5:20 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


odinsdream (and others): Femme de la Rue with English subtitles.
posted by dhens at 5:30 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


shaped less by their tribal culture than by modern hiphop culture.

Interesting that you see these as separate.
posted by telstar at 5:42 PM on August 4, 2012


many immigrants in European cultures feel "othered" and marginalized for walking down the street.

How many people railing against the film showing North African immigrants engaging in street harassment also approve of those top 10 ways to stop rape posters?

You know how you can stop street harassment? By not fucking harassing people on the street. Bringing up who does and doesn't feel othered and alienated because of structural racism is completely besides the point. Don't fucking harass people. It's simply not fair nor warranted to try to "change the subject" about tough economic and societal conditions faced by a marginalized group when the topic is street harassment.
posted by deanc at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


odinsdream (and others): Femme de la Rue with English subtitles.

Did the english subtitles stop halfway through for anyone else? I've been having odd computer issues so it might just be me. It was about when she started interviewing (?) groups of guys on the street.
posted by odinsdream at 6:16 PM on August 4, 2012


> That's kind of different. Being cat called and whistled at and hit on is not pleasant but when a group of young men are acting predatory and you genuinely feel you are in danger of being dragged into a house or alley and gang raped right there? Not the same thing at all. And the second one is the feeling you get from these packs of young men. They are not looking for consensual sex or attention or a date, they are letting you know that they will hurt you given a moments chance. It's a cultural thing- not racist at all, you can experience the same thing anywhere young men are raised the way these young men are no matter their race, color or parentage.

I understand that some street harassment feels like a more aggressively predatory, dangerous situation than other incidents of street harassment that are sexist and irritating, but don't seem to carry a willingness for assault.

But I don't understand the distinction you're making about "these young men" or what "way" of raising young men you're talking about.
posted by desuetude at 6:18 PM on August 4, 2012


I guess I should respond, because the quote above is someone that I wrote.

I don't condone street harrasment or rape (I am a woman). So I think there is a misunderstanding on that front.

However, I don't see why the answer is saying, "Well immigrants naturally do this sort of thing; it's their culture."

Maybe this is just my blinkers on-- I'm a woman and come from the same part of the world as those "horrible immigrant men."

But I would hope that even in calling for an end to street harrassment we not resort to the view: "This is harms me, therefore it is wrong; that harm others, so it's less wrong."

I think the film is quite right in calling attention to the problem. But this thread has become very diffuse explaining why men catcall women in this part of the world.

This has been the extent of my comments on ethnocentrism.

End street harrassment. But let's not make racial and cultural judgment calls.
posted by kettleoffish at 6:26 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


But this thread has become very diffuse explaining why men catcall women in this part of the world. ... But let's not make racial and cultural judgment calls.

The problem from some quarters seems to be that the mere act of drawing attention to this kind of street harassment is, itself making "racial and cultural judgment calls." The argument seems to be something along the lines of, "by showcasing a group of harassers that is disproportionately immigrant, we are contributing to alienating and othering them in an environment where they are already othered and marginalized." And while that may be true in the abstract, it is completely besides the point.

My only objection, however, is the use of the passive voice here:
Peeters has been accused of racism because most of the men shown to be making comments are of North African origin.
Could we find out who, exactly, accused her of this?
posted by deanc at 6:33 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did the english subtitles stop halfway through for anyone else? I've been having odd computer issues so it might just be me. It was about when she started interviewing (?) groups of guys on the street.

It worked fine for me.
posted by Forktine at 7:04 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, you're picking examples that most people think should be illegal precisely because they're forced on unwilling individuals and cause serious harm. What about, say, chicken sacrifice? Or insisting that Native American children be preferentially adopted by Native American families?

I picked examples that are currently being debated in legislatures, because thousands of parents insist on leaving the US each year in order to mutilate their children abroad, on vacations, only to return home and get away with it. Perhaps better examples for you would be refusing to be photographed for a drivers license because of a veil. Chicken killing is legal whether it has imbued meaning or not, but would certainly apply if we generally worshiped chickens, or if the chickens were starved to death perhaps. Native adoption laws are preferential only, same for family members in the same circumstances, well short of outlawing other adopters.

Laws must apply to all, or none at all. Special laws granting group rights derives from the same twisted logic of taking individual rights away because of a group affiliation. The way to protect minority rights is to grant the widest possible individual right. That way when there is a conflict, we are on the side of the individual, never taking the side of a culture they are "assigned" to.

I propose that those who defend all other culture practices, especially the controversial ones, must at some point end up hating their own culture because of the internal contradictions involved, or the false idealism of appeasing all cultures at once.
posted by Brian B. at 7:23 PM on August 4, 2012


I propose that those who defend all other culture practices, especially the controversial ones, must at some point end up hating their own culture because of the internal contradictions involved, or the false idealism of appeasing all cultures at once.

Actually, we generally assume that religious practices are allowed unless there is some compelling state interest to stop them. And we extend this general mindset to all sorts of cultural practices in the name of being a free society. It just so happens that a free society is the one most accommodating to "multiculturalism"-- which is to say the ability of groups to set the terms of how they will assimilate into the societies they live in. The burden always falls on the state to explain why they need to use the force of law to supervise/contravene religious and cultural practices, not the other way around.
posted by deanc at 7:31 PM on August 4, 2012


Cultures where honor killings are encouraged

Can be discouraged.
posted by homunculus at 7:32 PM on August 4, 2012


It just so happens that a free society is the one most accommodating to "multiculturalism"

As you implied, we tend to think we're operating under some multicultural theory because it looks that way, especially when religion is blended with culture (though we typically alter this viewpoint for ourselves, to describe religion as an individual experience). But groups are required to promote their cultures as religious before anyone makes exceptions for them, which then raises a point of conflict with all other cultural interests:

Federal lawyers filed a status report in the lawsuit on Tuesday saying that the Eastern Shoshone Tribe had opposed the killing of eagles on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which the two tribes share in central Wyoming. The report states that the federal permit will allow the Northern Arapaho to kill up to two bald eagles off the reservation.

Anyone familiar with these discussions will note the moving target of culture within religion. When it suits some, they claim the only the culture is to blame for anything bad, never the religion. This insularity is wise, if it were only consistent.
posted by Brian B. at 10:25 PM on August 4, 2012


But I don't understand the distinction you're making about "these young men" or what "way" of raising young men you're talking about.

Men who are raised to think that women owe them sex and that they can intimidate or force women into sex or that women who are not clearly under the protection of another man are fair game for anything. Men who see some women as "fair game" because they're poor, or another race, or not of their religion or any kind of other that they can come up with. In my experience this is mostly men who grew up in families that promoted this kind of thinking, so yeah it's a cultural issue. I know you're trying to say that equates racism (why not just say it straight out?) and I'm a big racist but I never said that, there are plenty of men of all races who are just as bad in their attitudes but at least where I currently live they know it's not acceptable and try to hide it so I'm not constantly beaten down by it. If guys were yelling whore at women in the city I live in I would call the police and they would respond, it would not be the norm at all. I would feel safer, I would be less likely to curtail my life.

Men harassing a woman like that is not OK and calling the accusers racist because they name names is bullshit. This woman is frightened and in heightened danger of assault every day and her society is not protecting her. That's what the focus should be on.
posted by fshgrl at 10:43 PM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


According to the subtitles, the person stated that "in nine out of ten cases, such remarks are made by men of foreign origin." This presentation, by its own anecdotal nature, would seem to be "racist" within the framework of how that term is commonly used here. The best case scenario would seem to be that it is representative of the problem generally and "men of foreign origin" are disproportionately likely to engage in such behavior, in which case their societal status would appear to be quite relevant to the issue. If the presentation is not representative of the problem generally and happens to disproportionately focus on marginalized visible minorities, well, wouldn't that make it obviously racist? Particularly when you are considering what the response should be, like making it legal to use mace on people who behave like the men in the video, surely it is not "unfair" or "bullshit" to consider whether having a marginalized group as the springboard might prove unwise?
posted by cheburashka at 11:35 PM on August 4, 2012


Men who are raised to think that women owe them sex and that they can intimidate or force women into sex or that women who are not clearly under the protection of another man are fair game for anything. Men who see some women as "fair game" because they're poor, or another race, or not of their religion or any kind of other that they can come up with. In my experience this is mostly men who grew up in families that promoted this kind of thinking, so yeah it's a cultural issue.

Are the types of men that you find intimidating actually responsible for a disproportionate number of sexual assaults? How are men who are "just as bad in their attitudes" and try to hide it more trustworthy?

You're describing an incredibly widespread, commonplace type of sexism across most cultures. You don' t even need to come from a home that actively promotes it, it's reinforced by popular entertainment, advertising, music, religion.

I know you're trying to say that equates racism (why not just say it straight out?) and I'm a big racist but I never said that,

No, I was asking an earnest question and giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I'd like to suggest that you consider that you don't know what everyone is thinking.
posted by desuetude at 12:19 AM on August 5, 2012


Skeptic: Also, the language politics: most of the jobs advertised in (90% French-speaking) Brussels require French-Flemish bilingualism. One of the reasons those young men can't find a job is that they are not fluent in Flemish (the education system in the Brussels inner city is a shambles).

It is perhaps more accurate to say that the schools of the "French community" in Brussels are problematic. The official policy of the French Community-run schools is that the choice of a second language is free between Dutch or English. In schools run by the Flemish community, French is a mandatory second language, with English coming slightly later.

Many immigrants to Brussels send their children to schools ran by the French community (note that outside of Brussels, there is no choice as to which language regime one's children are educated -- the "language of the region" is the language of schooling) as French is the more "international" of the two languages. With Maghrebin immigrants there is an especially strong reason for this because Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia had all been French colonies and thus the immigrants may have had some exposure to French before coming to Brussels. However, this usually means that students more often than not will have not learned Flemish. More and more immigrants are sending their children to Flemish schools in Brussels, in part because they will be more likely to know both Dutch and French when they leave.


She identifies herself as a recently arrived Fleming, and she certainly dresses as a "Danssaert-Fleming".
---
She replies to her harassers in heavily-accented French. It isn't obvious to outsiders how this influences the exchange.


I know this wasn't your intent, but this really sounds like victim-blaming.
posted by dhens at 12:51 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dhens thanks for the link to an English subtitled version, I couldn't find one when I posted. Mods if you are reading this, could you edit the original OP to include this version? Thanks.
Deanc, the Guardian article I linked to states that Peeters has denied claims of racism, and I have asked Belgian friends if there have been claims that she was racist and they say yes but I don't have direct quotes. Any Belgian or French MeFites who have links, could you please share.

I am actually sorry I put that line in the OP, as I had kind of intended this to be about harrassment, not racism. But I thought if I didn't someone would surely pop up and mention it. I guess this is the thing with a post on here - you can't guarantee how people take it. But I do find it interesting people are choosing to focus much more on the race elements than the feminism/gender ones.
posted by Megami at 1:42 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Flemish is next to non-existent, but the media are commenting on whether it is racist or not:
Slate Afrique (in French)
De Standaard (Flemish)
For this article it is more in the comments that racism is discussed.
posted by Megami at 1:48 AM on August 5, 2012


[Okay, added the English subtitles version to the post. ]
posted by taz at 1:55 AM on August 5, 2012


What part of Europe? Because Europe is quite diverse.

Oh thank you for saying that, melissam, because I was reading all these statements that in Europe harassment is the worst and Europe has the worst harassment and I was thinking hey wait a minute "Europe"?! like, from Greece to Norway? are you kidding me? As a native Italian who is now living in Germany, wellllll, I would say "quite diverse" in this department is an understatement.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:23 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


windykites: My reading of "Get Back" (in all versions) was that it was about alienation. The titular "get back" is a quoted shout from the prejudiced. The fact that it's followed up with "back to where you once belonged" is where the power of the song lies. It says that the people referenced don't belong here, and they no longer belong where they came from.

I'm no Beatles fan, but I'd suggest you need to give the song another chance.
posted by zoo at 3:00 AM on August 5, 2012


And it's super difficult to admit that certain groups or cultures are more likely to be aggresive towards women than the majority view. I've seen the "South Asians are sexist" / "To say that is racist" argument flare up in middle class circles for as long as I've lived in areas with a large Bangladeshi or Pakistani community.

FWIW, I think the attitudes towards women (something which appears to manifest most obviously in second generation young male adults) is cultural in nature, lasts one, at least two generations and is a consequence of living in two cultures at the same time. It sucks that it happens, and it needs to be policed, but I think it will go away. With time.

tl;dr - blame culture shock, not culture or race. But it is a problem.
posted by zoo at 3:12 AM on August 5, 2012


And it's super difficult to admit that certain groups or cultures are more likely to be aggresive towards women than the majority view.

Well I don't find it difficult at all to admit that Italian culture in general is a lot more mysoginistic than German culture (or even more specifical differences like that say some areas in southern Italy tend to be more close-minded and mysoginistic than northern Italy particularly in smaller towns even though like mondo dentro said above, "in recent years, things have improved somewhat"). There's just different ways of making that point you know?

If someone in Germany says to me "ugh Italian men are horrible and slimy and awful towards women" generalising only from the worst cases, well as a female Italian who immigrated to Germany and appreciates not seeing things like seminaked dancers on every quiz show on tv, will still get more than a little pissed off by this kind of generalisation.

Not because ooh you're insulting my native culture I'm sooo uncritically attached to (I'm the first to be super critical and hmm hello I left my country and for all the things I miss I do like it better here!), but because like all swiping generalisations it's not true. I could cite lots of counterexamples to balance it. I will think of my brothers and male acquaintances, those still in Italy and those who also emigrated, and be more than a little annoyed to think they could be lumped in the same category with the worst macho idiot because of geography or ethnic origin alone. But it is true that the culture itself in general has still a lot of issues as evidenced also in recent political scandals. And in the specific some specific tendencies demonstrate this more than others.

Likewise, I don't have a problem with remarking the same about some immigrant or second/third generation immigrant communities in European cities, but there are a lot of differences even there. It depends on the 'host' culture too, on the city, on the lifestyle and atmosphere in the city, a lot of things. In Berlin for isntance there doesn't seem to be such a problem with harassment to this extent, and I do think it's because the history of the city as a tolerant forward-thinking gay-friendly place where everything goes, so you get gay clubs next to Islamic centres, and the biggest community of non-European immigrants or second/third generation are from Turkey and it's a more established immigration and a different background than Northern African countries anyway. And maybe because Germany has a stronger concept of personal space and distance and this does influence the immigrating communities too.

Cultural diferences and the ways culture interact are a very complex thing and there are so many factors at play. Keeping that in mind, I don't see why it should be so difficult to talk about some mentalities being more backwards than others for fear of 'racism', that's just nonsense and a twisted exaggeration of political correctness. There's a huge difference between speaking in reasonable terms of what cultural attitudes are more progressive and open vs backwards and close-minded, and actual racist deprecations of entire groups of people. Those who are a bit too quick to call racism just because we're talking about immigrants should keep this in mind.
posted by bitteschoen at 5:05 AM on August 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


I spent a year living in Sweden, part of the time in an area with a large percentage of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. My experience was that I (and other women) were treated with respect.

On the other hand, I remember going to meet a friend in Brussels a few years ago, and feeling objectified by the (white) men I walked past on the street. Once I was with my male friend, the catcalls and obvious stares stopped. From this limited personal experience, I think it's a little more complicated than strictly cultural differences between immigrants and native Belgians or French. As others have said, the host culture plays some role in the dynamics. I'm curious if what I perceived as harassment in Brussels (particularly the stares) would be considered normal by Peeters. While it happens to me at home in NYC, too, it seemed much more blatant there.

I'm truly surprised that Peeters' film is being called racist (and especially that people here would make that claim-- I'm also wondering how many only watched the non-subtitled version). To me, it seems like a pretty straightforward presentation of the facts of everyday life for her. The culture(s) of her harassers is one of those facts, not a matter of prejudice.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a huge difference between speaking in reasonable terms of what cultural attitudes are more progressive and open vs backwards and close-minded, and actual racist deprecations of entire groups of people. Those who are a bit too quick to call racism just because we're talking about immigrants should keep this in mind.

I agree with this. But there is a huge difference between pointing out sexist attitudes within a culture and saying as previous posters have that one culture is "better" than another.

Interestingly, people are indeed taking ethnicity as a very salient aspect of the video-- when its maker itself argues that wasn't the point.
posted by kettleoffish at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2012


Ah, as an afterthought/addendum -- I think one of the reasons even factual observations get accused of racism may be because well issues like these are the kind of things that the far-right will exploit and turn into something overtly racist - like "see?! see how THEY treat women? we shouldn't let these people in! close the borders!" (as if the far-right was sooo progressive and feminist and gay-friendly, yeah right).

This is something that tends to affect European debate on immigration - some combine an antiracist position with a sort of preventive blindness because they fear they may be giving extra points to the far right. This is stupid, and it creates an artificial obstacle to discussion of these things at public level. In turn, it DOES give points to the far right because the far right will go "see? you lefties are blind to these issues because of your stupid political correctness", and because it will mean leaving the discussion on these issues in their hands and their tone and purpose will be definitely racist.

It's not even really an excess of political correctness - which is a nice thing to have! in reasonable amounts, at least, it helps discussing things more smoothly - it's just this short-sighted preventive measure of "we don't want to even say anything that might be taken as some sort of conceding ground to the far right", which ironically achieves the opposite effect.

So, we shouldn't be afraid of touching hot button issues of mysoginy (and homophobia) in cultures that are objectively less progressive on those matters, only because we're against actual racism, on the contrary!

This tended to happen more in past years, I think, my impression at least - luckily the debate is not so horribly stuck at this level now, but the racist accusations to Peeters kind of smell of this attitude.
posted by bitteschoen at 9:47 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know this wasn't your intent, but this really sounds like victim-blaming.

A) No, it doesn't.
B) if you know that wasn't the intent, what was the point of this comment?
posted by spaltavian at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with this. But there is a huge difference between pointing out sexist attitudes within a culture and saying as previous posters have that one culture is "better" than another.

Yeah, well, I didn't read all the comments but I hope most people meant that in the sense of "this culture is better than this other in this particular respect", like it was implied, because this is the topic...
posted by bitteschoen at 10:08 AM on August 5, 2012


Bitteschoen-- Though I completely agree with what you wrote above (you said basically what I have been trying to say but could not articulate so well, so thank you) I disagree that even "cultures" can be contrasted.

The term culture is too monolithic. I am a feminist and I am not NOT of my culture insofar as I am a feminist. Middle Eastern and North African people can be feminists, anti-sexist, anti-homophobia, etc. These too, are part of our culture.
posted by kettleoffish at 10:27 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


spaltavian:
A) No, it doesn't.
Suggestions that women should avoid wearing certain clothing or going areas where they are not safe are unfortunately all-too-common responses to the problem of sexual harassment. Skeptic's comments can easily be read as such suggestions.

B) if you know that wasn't the intent, what was the point of this comment?
When I first read the bit about "heavily-accented French" my blood boiled, because it read to me like he was saying "those uppity Flemings should know better than to go where they aren't welcome." Upon reflection I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was giving a partial explanation, not providing a mitigating factor/excuse.
posted by dhens at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2012


kettleoffish - thanks, and oh I do understand what you mean and agree with you that "culture" is too monolithic as a term. But we do use it as a shorthand because it's convenient, and that can be confusing in itself, even with the best of intentions of talking about particular attitudes and mentalities, rather than making sweeping generalisations or jingoistic "my people are better than your people" statements...
posted by bitteschoen at 11:56 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Suggestions that women should avoid wearing certain clothing or going areas where they are not safe are unfortunately all-too-common responses to the problem of sexual harassment. Skeptic's comments can easily be read as such suggestions.

Skeptic made no such suggestion. What a dishonest reading.
posted by spaltavian at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2012


dhens: I know this wasn't your intent, but this really sounds like victim-blaming.

Definitely not. Those comments were aimed at explaining to people that aren't acquainted to those specific issues that there's a lot more going on in that video than just sexism (which is present, in spades): there's also i.a. reverse racism and class resentment. None of those feelings are particularly pretty, and one can't condone any of them. But the easy explanation of: "Oh, it's all North African guys because their culture is so sexist." falls a little short. While sexism and sexual harassment is undoubtedly a big, big problem throughout North Africa, these people have been living in Europe for several generations. When their forefathers came to Belgium, Southern Italy and Spain were about as sexist as North Africa. Europe should stop looking at this as an imported problem, and understand that it is home-grown.

As for the education system in Brussels, its split into "Dutch-speaking" and "French-speaking" schools is the main reason why I call it a shambles.
posted by Skeptic at 12:51 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Skeptic made no such suggestion. What a dishonest reading.

I am not saying that he made such a suggestion, rather that, at first, it read like one to me. And I'll thank you not to call my visceral reaction dishonest. Unjustified? Perhaps. But not a result of any kind of malice or ill-intent on my part.
posted by dhens at 1:00 PM on August 5, 2012


When I first read the bit about "heavily-accented French" my blood boiled, because it read to me like he was saying "those uppity Flemings should know better than to go where they aren't welcome."

It's hardly a secret that the North African community in Brussels is less than fond of the Flemish, partly because of the VB, partly because they are used to being refused jobs on the grounds that they are not fluent in Flemish (which is often a transparent excuse for discrimination, as monolingual French-speakers are pretty common in the workplace). But of course that blaming a random Flemish girl walking down the street for the racist garbage spewed by, say, Filip Dewinter, is just as hateful as thinking that a random North African-looking guy walking down the street is a sexual harasser and Sharia4Belgium supporter.
posted by Skeptic at 1:05 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The hair-trigger need of some folks to fashionably shout "Victim-blaming!" when the slightest whiff of pragmatism appears in these threads gets tiring. If I tell my son to avoid hanging out in dark alleys late at night, I'm making a pragmatic safety suggestion. Apparently, if I tell my daughter the same thing, I'm victim-blaming. That's the impression I've picked up over the last year or so, anyway.

Which leaves us here, at the bottom of a thread, gently verballing each other over semantics, no closer to understanding how to address the problem at hand.
posted by Jimbob at 1:15 PM on August 5, 2012


But of course that blaming a random Flemish girl walking down the street for the racist garbage spewed by, say, Filip Dewinter, is just as hateful as thinking that a random North African-looking guy walking down the street is a sexual harasser and Sharia4Belgium supporter.
And the thing is, the way her film is framed, by the media, but also in her own words, she does become a (moderate) Dewinter supporter.
It is really relevant and interesting how she documents sexism in Brussels,which is real and true. But she does it in a way that all too well serves another purpose, and in her own comments she enforces this purpose - the claim that most of all harassers in Belgium are North African. Having visited Belgium regularly for 3 decades because various family members lived there, my experience is that this is not true. Belgium is a very complicated nation, with a lot of incomprehensible issues of nationality and race, and there is no way you won't get caught up in them, but being a woman is always a bad thing. You will be harassed in Brussels and in the forests, by immigrants and by natives. Actually, my first ever experience of sexual harassment was in Mons. With not an immigrant in sight.
At the end of the day, there is a common European issue. I can totally relate to what the other Euros here are saying, and of course there are regional differences. But in my view, that is part of the problem. In Germany sexism is carried out in a different way than in Belgium or Greece. But it is still the same. And we use "culture" as an excuse for not changing things. Those who disregard the class aspect shown in the video here are also disregarding the common class issues of all European workers. I know I seem very marxist here, but the reality is that there is no way we can exclude maghreb workers from the whole of European workers, even if we'd like to.
posted by mumimor at 3:05 PM on August 5, 2012


And the thing is, the way her film is framed, by the media, but also in her own words, she does become a (moderate) Dewinter supporter.

I think that is grossly unfair. In my experience, it is true that those neighbourhoods, and their idle youths, are particularly unpleasant to women. Pointing it out does not equate to supporting a racist party, on the contrary (after all, the first victims of that misoginy are the women of North African origin who must live with it day in day out).

You will be harassed in Brussels and in the forests, by immigrants and by natives.

My wife, who is definitely not afraid of denouncing such behaviour, has had a very different experience, and she has lived 15 years in Belgium.

Actually, my first ever experience of sexual harassment was in Mons. With not an immigrant in sight.

That is unlikely, because Mons has quite a strong immigrant community. Indeed, its longtime mayor, nowadays Belgium's first openly gay PM, is of immigrant stock himself. But immigration to the Mons area is somewhat earlier than to Brussels or Flanders, and it came mostly from Italy, rather than North Africa, so it's less conspicuous.

More to the point, though, I don't know in which area of Mons you were harassed, or in what form, but what Mons does have in common with the inner city of Brussels are a depressed local economy and very high levels of unemployment. It is true that, as dhens says, unless we have very different ideas about what constitutes sexual harassment, a woman is very, very unlikely to be harassed in most of wealthy Flanders or even in the better-off parts of Wallonia (mostly, within Wallonia, the North-South corridor going from Waterloo to Luxembourg through Namur). And the experience in Brussels will be very different depending on the street (there's something tragicomical in the documentary when a woman starts talking about the detours she may take to go from one point to the other: Brussels' social geography is complicated indeed, with glitzy streets just a few steps away from absolute hellholes). But yes, things may get hairy if you are in a "bad" neighbourhood (for men too: my brother was once stabbed not far from where the documentary was filmed. Well, his jacket was stabbed, fortunately the knife blade didn't reach his skin). But things may get equally scary in very similar ways for men and women alike in bad neighbourhoods in the US. If anything, the difference is that, in the US, you have to drive to those neighbourhoods, so you may never visit them unless purposely. In Europe, and especially in Brussels, it often takes just a few steps to inadvertently find yourself in the "badlands".
posted by Skeptic at 1:17 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yikes - lost a long comment! So now I will put it in short form - Skeptic, I think we agree on most points here. I'm trying to make the additional point that "culture" is a bad excuse on both sides, and that those who use this excuse are feeding the huge troll who is the nationalist right.
posted by mumimor at 3:58 AM on August 6, 2012


Did the english subtitles stop halfway through for anyone else? I've been having odd computer issues so it might just be me. It was about when she started interviewing (?) groups of guys on the street.

the English subtitles disapeer whenever the Flemish ones appear - sadly, at one of the most interesting parts, when she is asking the men "why are you doing this?"

as for the race issue: she addresses it directly. She talks to North African and Muslim women about their experiences, and also to a North African/Middle eastern friend who himself used to be a street harasser, and both he and the other women say that there is a problem with harassment among some men - but not all, one woman stresses - in their community and that it's related to attitudes about women and sex.

but yeah, as said above: I don't give a shit about the class & race politics of Brussels - that doesn't excuse the harassment. Street harassers should just STOP.

the other week I did something that made me feel better, though: I went over and told off a guy who kept telling a woman to smile for him as she walked by. She looked so unhappy and uncomfortable, so I went over and scolded him in my best mom-impression about how rude he was being (no swearing even!). He tried to insult me back, but his two friends were so embarrassed at his behaviour, so I knew I'd made my point to them at least (earlier that had been more supportive). the first woman had moved on already, but a second thanked me as she passed by.
posted by jb at 6:26 PM on August 6, 2012


Darn, I totally missed this thread when it was posted – thanks to taz for pointing me here!

I just posted a double which has been deleted (rightly so), it has some more information, and link to a video with constant English subtitles.

----

Two years ago, Belgian film student Sofie Peeters moved from Leuven to Brussels for her film degree. She quickly realized [article in French] that every time she left her apartment, she faced wolf whistles, uninvited advances, and even insults on the streets. Sick of wondering whether it was her fault [article in English], she used a hidden camera to record street harassment, and made it into a documentary. An excerpt from it is available online with English subtitles: Femme de la rue ("Woman of the streets", an intentional nod to the assumption of prostitution).

While Peeters' documentary has faced accusations of racism, due to an apparent preponderance of Allochtoons ("non-natives"), as noted by the previously-linked RTBF article, European response to it [link in French, not circumscribed to Europe as it also mentions street harassment initiatives in Libya, Egypt, and the USA] has focused on the widespread phenomenon of street harassment targeting women. Among French speakers it has sparked a storm of tweets, mainly from women sharing their own experiences of harassment and how they deal with it.

Response techniques used by women include indifference, speaking up to harassers, sometimes even retorting with equivalent insults, or giving out the local police station number rather than their own. With the Internet, in addition to online discussions, there is also another means of expression: An anti-harassment movement called Hollaback! is encouraging women to make a noise about unwelcome whistles, jokes, jeers and obscenities. The campaign has swiftly captured the imaginations of women from London to Mumbai, Montreal to Paris, Texas to Buenos Aires, but it started, like so many wonderful things, in New York.

Frenchwoman Anna Gautheron, head of Hollaback France explains that women in France as well are "told not to be too loud, too pretty, too much out of the ordinary. We have learned to walk fast, not to make eye contact, and be invisible. People often think that women are harassed when they don't follow these rules and that it is somehow their fault. The truth is that there is only one reason why someone is harassed on the street: they encounter a harasser."

Dismissing sexual harassment – from unwanted comments on the street about appearance to groping – as "harmless fun" or complimentary [is] dangerous, says Holly Dustin, director of End Violence Against Women in the UK. "Sexual harassment has a real impact on women's lives, whether it is changing their behaviour or whether they feel safe on the streets. It feeds into a fear of rape and sexual violence and has a harmful effect on broader issues of equality." As mentioned in the same Guardian article: A YouGov survey of 1,047 Londoners commissioned by Evaw found that 43% of women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces in the last year.

In Brussels, a convention has been signed for fines to be levied against harassers, although officials also admit it will be difficult to prove verbal harassment. In the meantime, as women share their experiences, awareness is raised about the importance of emphasizing respect on the streets.
posted by fraula at 2:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


having lived among one of the larger Pakistani communities I won't hesitate to say that many aspects of Pakistani culture are just backward

Because of course Pakistani culture is one monolithic entity. Also, immigrant communities always reflect accurately the mainstream culture of their country of origin. And lastly, there are other, better cultures, for which one can accurately say that no aspects of them are backwards. /sarcasm
posted by bardophile at 3:05 AM on August 21, 2012


Also, immigrant communities always reflect accurately the mainstream culture of their country of origin. And lastly, there are other, better cultures, for which one can accurately say that no aspects of them are backwards. /sarcasm

That was what struck me about the "racism" allegations as well. Plus it's based on people watching the video and saying "they look/sound foreign". Which is, in itself, racist. Here in France I work with people of all colors and accents, very few of them are not native-born French. To make things even murkier, I, a white woman, speak French with an ostensibly native accent, though apparently with a southeastern twang to my vowels. I am almost always assumed to be native French. I am not. (Just have citizenship, but was born and raised in the US.) This could easily happen with others as well.

Women from around the world are responding to this, and making it quite clear that this is a problem with harassers. When men I don't know say "Bonjour!!" in my direction and I don't answer because I don't know them so why would I, and then they spew "pétasse! Putain quelle CONNE!" while marching up to me as I try to confidently skedaddle while feigning ignorance of their approaching threat, my one and only thought is "get away get away". Race figures into it precisely nowhere; I don't even make eye contact since it's caused me problems in the past. (As in "dudes following me for so long that I switched from walking home to walking towards the nearest police station" problems.)

Oh and, little tip that could come in very handy: when some dude comes on too strong with insults and spittle in your face and such, I play it blithely calm, wait for them to leave a moment of silence, and say in as naive a tone as possible: "I'm sorry, I don't speak English/French/Finnish/Italian/Dutch/[whatever]. Do you speak English/French/[language of choice]?" It's like watching a balloon deflate. (I pull this in the city I've lived for 12 years, so it does work if it's a big enough city that harassers don't actually know you.)
posted by fraula at 4:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


mumimor: "Sexual harassment is about power, not sex, and those who harass are driven by resentment, not lust."

Yeah, there is some truth to it but I seriously think that arguments like this discount the role that sex (specifically, the pursuit of reproduction) plays in sexual harassment and rape.

Yes, "sex" as we would like it to happen is consensual, it is peaceful, and it is pleasant for both parties. But the truth is that sex is deeply tied to reproduction, and biologically animals (which we, fundamentally, are) have been known to be physical violent in the pursuit of reproduction -- whether it means fighting off other potential mates, or exerting force on the female.

Now I am not saying that this behavior is okay or anything -- it is not -- but to discount sexuality or lust as motivating factors is in my opinion problematic.

Focusing on internal motivation is not always the best way to solve the problem. Whether the men are driven by resentment or lust is immaterial really; the point is that their behavior is unacceptable. So address the behavior.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:22 PM on August 21, 2012


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