stop street harassment!
June 4, 2014 2:05 PM   Subscribe

A study (pdf) released by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment shows that 65% of American women have experienced some form of street harassment – 41% of women were subject to physically aggressive harassment in public like being flashed or fondled. Men also report being harassed (and men who identified as LGBT were much more likely to be harassed than heterosexual men). No matter who was being harassed, men were most likely to be the harassers.
posted by and they trembled before her fury (153 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
65 percent of women and 25 percent of men in the United States have experienced street harassment. Fifty-seven percent of women and 18 percent of men surveyed reported experiencing verbal harassment. Forty-one percent of the women and 16 percent of the men reported experiencing physical forms of street harassment, like flashing or groping.

I don't know what it says about my experiences/worldview that my first thought when reading these stats is that they have got to be skewed low.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:10 PM on June 4, 2014 [33 favorites]


Yeah, I'm actually a little surprised that 35% of American women have never experienced street harassment. But then I remembered that I've spent my whole life in places where I walk and take public transit a lot. Women who don't experience street harassment may just not be on the street very much.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2014 [19 favorites]


That was my thought, too, and I assumed something similar to this paragraph:
One of the other issues was getting study participants to accurately identify harassment. Public, sexual harassment is so normal that harassees do not always mentally flag their experiences as something serious, unless physically aggressive harassment is involved.
It took me a while to realize that the guy talking to me on the street when I was walking alone and didn't want to have a conversation was harassing me; how could it be "harassment" if I didn't say no or tell him to go away? Of course, I don't say no or tell him to go away because, by talking to me when I'm walking down the street alone, he's already demonstrated a willingness to violate my personal boundaries and I don't know if he'll escalate if I try to end the encounter, but I would simultaneously blame myself for not taking action and be afraid to take action and completely discount the idea that yeah, this was a serious problem that could be classified as "harassment".

I think part of the way to end this is to get people to recognize that what's happening isn't okay and it's not your fault for being uncomfortable and you can tell people about it and be upset and that is totally valid because it ISN'T OKAY and IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:17 PM on June 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


Yeah, count me as another who looked at these stats in disbelief --- only 65% harassed on the street? And only 41% physically harassed? I'd have thought those numbers would be more like 90% and at least 75%.
posted by easily confused at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


An even bigger part of the way to end this is to get bystanders to direct the "this isn't okay" messages at the guy doing the harrassing.

When I was younger and more hot-tempered about this, I stopped to confront some guys who had catcalled me on the street; about two or three young guys, with a young woman sitting off to one side. I was telling them off, and the guys were arguing back while she sat there sullenly; then she finally must have gotten fed up because when one of the guys asked me "why do you have a problem with us saying this," she jumped up and yelled at him, "BECAUSE IT ISN'T NICE!!!!"

The guys shut up instantly, and as I turned to her and thanked her, she waved me on, saying "don't worry, I'll take care of them."

The guys who do this haven't had anyone tell them that "dude, that's totally not cool." Yes, it's important for women to recognize that this isn't their fault - but it's also much more important that, if your buddy pulls that shit around you, to tell him "dude....just, no."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:25 PM on June 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


There's a huge difference in the amount of street harassment that I experienced living in suburban versus urban areas; in the suburbs you just don't spend that much time walking down the street! I wonder if that accounts for any of the difference.

But, yeah, there's also the tendency to minimize things -- I started this comment thinking "Oh, but I've never experienced physical harassment," and then two minutes later realized, "Except for that time a complete stranger hugged me on the subway."
posted by Jeanne at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


For those wondering about the figures, they say in the PDF that the numbers are probably lower than reality:
A study in the summer 2014 issue of Gender & Society found that most young women assume that being harassed, assaulted, and abused is simply something that everyone experiences and is normal. So they may not even identify what happened as wrong.

A common discussion point and question in the focus groups was the difference between harassment and flirting or a compliment.

For these reasons, we think the prevalence statistic might be lower than the reality.

Additionally, the listing of types of street harassment people could select could have been longer . For example, men honking at women from their cars is a very common form of harassment, but we excluded it from the survey questions for fear respondents would skew the results by talking about traffic - related honking, rather than sexual - harassment - related honking.
There are some weird text errors in the PDF. Anyway, you can email them (there's an address in the PDF) if you want the detailed methodology including the questions.
posted by cashman at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


An even bigger part of the way to end this is to get bystanders to direct the "this isn't okay" messages at the guy doing the harrassing.

Yes, this would be great, but a lot of the time there also aren't bystanders which makes it even scarier.

A few months ago I was walking home from the Metro and there was only one other person on the street next to ours and he started talking to me. Eventually I managed to say "I'm married" and he said "I am too" and started talking about his kids instead of, you know, the previous conversation. I did not want to talk about either of these.

When I got home, I was anxious and frustrated and I was talking to my roommate (who is male and/but very sensitive and thoughtful about these things and an all-around good guy) and I said "I thought being married was a clear way to show I wasn't interested! Why did he keep talking to me?" and my roommate said "If he'd left at that point it would have proved he was just hitting on you so he couldn't leave" which I think is absolutely right so I asked my roommate "fine, so what do you DO? Seriously, what was the answer there?" and he said "I think the problem is that the only win condition is not being female" and he was absolutely right and I was still like "okay, so what do you DO?"

I agree that getting bystanders to support people being harassed would be fantastic, but sometimes there ARE no bystanders and I just don't know what to DO.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:38 PM on June 4, 2014 [19 favorites]


There's a huge difference in the amount of street harassment that I experienced living in suburban versus urban areas; in the suburbs you just don't spend that much time walking down the street!

This is totally true, but on the flip side, because I was one of the rare people who did walk a lot of places in my fancy suburb (at ages 11-18), harassment was CONSTANT, because there was no one else around for people to pick on. Like, every single time I went outside (vs maybe one in ten times I went out in the city), and sometimes much scarier stuff, like the guy who followed me in his car down a deserted road at dusk asking me what my name was and where I lived and could he give me a ride home and when I finally said "Excuse me but could you please leave me alone" in a scared little voice he flipped a bitch, yelled "I'M NOT SOME KIND OF WEIRDO!!!" and drove off in the OPPOSITE direction to where he had been heading (so clearly not going anywhere in particular, just cruising American River Canyon looking for teenage girls to pick up).

But, yeah, there's also the tendency to minimize things -- I started this comment thinking "Oh, but I've never experienced physical harassment," and then two minutes later realized, "Except for that time a complete stranger hugged me on the subway."

Ugh, I just did the exact same mental exercise. Never! Except for when a signature collector harangued me to sign petitions while I was waiting for the bus, lied about the content of what he was having me sign (or maybe didn't even know what it was himself?), then hugged me to "thank" me. I was 20 and definitely displaying strong "get the fuck away from me" body language.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:41 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


and he said "I think the problem is that the only win condition is not being female"

Right??! So infuriating.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on June 4, 2014


I would be curious to see how much of that 35% who report never experiencing this correlates to the number of women who live/have lived in rural areas for most of their lives. Having grown up in a rural area where you just don't walk along the street very much - where, to walk along the street involves a trip to a "town" or town is just a few blocks long - or spend a lot of time in public spaces, I could see how some women might feel they truly haven't experienced this, without thinking of the times they might have been working in their yard and had someone yell at them from a truck, or standing in a parking lot and had a comment, etc., and just don't relate that to getting harassed while walking down a street or, in general, being in a public space.

FWIW the most blatant harassment I've ever experienced in the rural public is a tie between a man in his 70s who just walked up to me in a Wal-mart and grabbed my breasts and a guy determined to press his hard-on into my rear while standing in a line at the grocery store, but if asked, I might classify them as isolated, specific incidents rather than harassment. I mentioned this study to my mother, who's spent her whole life in a rural area, and who I've witnessed being harassed - and her first response was that kind of thing didn't happen in a town like my hometown. It was clear she either didn't understand what harassment meant, was in denial about it, or was so used to it that it was hard to think of something specific. Not understanding what constitutes harassment could be an artifact of education. Interestingly, the study's data showed that people with income under 50K were (statistically insignificant) 3% less likely to be harassed than above it (as rural areas tend to be less educated and thus more poor - not a sweeping generalization, and of course there's plenty of poverty in urban areas and plenty of well educated, low income people). I'm still reading through the links and report, but understanding what harassment is seems to constitute the first step for both men and women.

On another, and perhaps income related note, I was startled to discover that the study involved more male participants than women - not by much, but still, 1,058 males versus 982 females.
posted by barchan at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, count me as another who looked at these stats in disbelief --- only 65% harassed on the street?

I'm baffled. I would have expected 100%. I, a straight white cis-male, have been street harassed a couple of times. "Hey fag!" I can't imagine I'd get less of that if I had a boyfriend whose hand I'd like to hold.

I have a friend who's repeatedly been on the receiving end of a drive-by "hey fag" while holding hands with his girlfriend. Street harassers ain't discerning folk.

Ah - here's the original study.

"You can request the survey questions and detailed methodology by emailing hkearl@stopstreetharassment.org."

Crap. If they're not going to openly disclose their survey methods I've got nothing more to say about their inexplicable results. A rate of 65% is so implausibly low that I have to assume there's something wrong with their survey. Non-disclosure of methodology is very unusual compared to the sort of psych studies I usually read and it would make me extremely suspicious even if the results weren't suspicious in themselves.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:05 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, the do explain the low rate, as cashman quoted. It's less than ideal that their methodology isn't available without hopping through a hoop or two, but this explanation does ring true. And the PDF of the study is linked in the OP.
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on June 4, 2014


I've spent my whole life in the 'burbs walking around. I have certainly been sexually harassed, but it just doesn't happen ALL THAT OFTEN to me in 'burbs. The folks who have done it were either drive-bys or ah...shall, we say, mentally ill older men with nowhere else to go on the street and with nothing else to do but harass any girl walking by. And I don't spend too much time around all-male areas like construction sites either, which probably helps.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:10 PM on June 4, 2014


I too am surprised to hear the stats are so low. I've been hassled on the street by strange men thousands of times. I think before I moved to Toronto from an Ontario town of 5,000 people I might have said I had never been hassled - but that's not true. I had been, it just didn't happen often enough that I considered it a problem as opposed to a few isolated incidents. Hell, even now it doesn't register. One learns to screen it out because it would just be too hard to take otherwise. It only gets through to me these days if it's something out of the ordinary — someone swears at me, or grabs my arm, or follows me, or tries to convince me to get into his car.

And I'm nothing special in the looks department. I've had very attractive female friends who were so fed up with the incessant harassment they had to deal with that they would sometimes completely lose it when they got hassled one more time, at which point the men who were doing it would get their poor widdle feelings hurt and snarl that she was "a bitch". Guess what asshole, if you had men hassling you a hundred times a week, you'd start flipping out too. And it doesn't only happen to women these street harassers consider attractive. If they think a woman's unattractive, they think it their divine right to comment on that as well. Men who are street harassers will treat a male-escorted woman because she is that man's property — but they don't respect a woman for her own sake.

My male friends and the men I date are always stunned when I tell them how bad it is. They aren't aware of the problem because they don't do it themselves and if they're out walking along with a woman, it doesn't happen.
posted by orange swan at 3:17 PM on June 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


"I think the problem is that the only win condition is not being female" and he was absolutely right and I was still like "okay, so what do you DO?"

For the most part, this is true, but sometimes even not being female isn't enough for some men to disengage.

As a relatively petite man with long blond hair, I semi-regularly get catcalled. For me, it's usually amusing when it happens, because I can simply turn around, and the sight of my beard shuts them up pretty fast. Sometimes they apologize, like they are sorry they didn't know I was a person. On occasion, I'll get called "faggot" when they realize I'm male. I don't know if this is some kind of panicked projection of their fears, or condemning me for having an improperly gendered rear view, or what? In any case, sometimes they decide that they now have to make me an object of scorn or ridicule.

I remember one particularly egregious instance when I could hear two men talking softly to each other behind me while I was walking next to a woman. They suddenly both came up to us, one putting his arm around my shoulder, and the other putting his fedora on my companion's head (yes, they were both wearing fedoras). I think they were trying some PUA nonsense, because the one who put his arm around me asked why I was dressed like a man and the other asked my companion why she had a boy's haircut. We ended up joking with these assholes for like 5 minutes before walking away. I think we had both internalized that defusing the situation with humor was the best response when two drunk, gigantic gym rats grab you on the street, even though we were on a busy street surrounded by other people.

It shocks me to think of how easily I can come up with anecdotes about harassment just from being confused for a woman from behind. I can't begin to imagine how hostile public spaces can be for women.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:25 PM on June 4, 2014 [15 favorites]


I would've like a bigger breakdown of the statistics. For example, I'm not really surprised that men formed the majority of the harassers but I'm also interested in the statistic that 35% of harassers reported by men were female (excluding mixed groups). I'd like to know what trends of harassment did that statistic follow? As in was it sexual harassment? Was it insults being yelled? Homophobic insults? It would be nice to see more breakdowns of data like that.
posted by I-baLL at 3:30 PM on June 4, 2014


Does anyone have any pointers to research on the street harassers themselves? Like, what motivates them, how do they choose whom to target, what fraction of the population are street harassers, etc... It seems like we can all have theories on exactly what is going on with them, but I'd like to know if someone is doing any rigorous work dissecting this phenomenon from the offenders' standpoint -- partly out of curiosity, but mainly to know what kind of anti-harassment strategies are going to be most effective.
posted by mhum at 3:30 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


41% of women were subject to physically aggressive harassment in public like being flashed or fondled.

I have never considered myself to be subject to "physically aggressive harassment" by women, but by using their definition I have.

So maybe the bizarre stats they have are kinda not written based on standard definitions of the words they are using.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:43 PM on June 4, 2014


mhum, Here. Click through to check out the bibliography. I have one or two others somewhere and will see if I can find them later.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:49 PM on June 4, 2014


Does anyone have any pointers to research on the street harassers themselves? Like, what motivates them, how do they choose whom to target, what fraction of the population are street harassers, etc... It seems like we can all have theories on exactly what is going on with them, but I'd like to know if someone is doing any rigorous work dissecting this phenomenon from the offenders' standpoint -- partly out of curiosity, but mainly to know what kind of anti-harassment strategies are going to be most effective.

No, but you've reminded me of one tactic I saw recommended in some article years back about "what to do if you're a victim of street harrassment" - one suggestion would be to turn back, start digging out a notepad and say that hi, you're doing a study on this kind of behavior for your sociology research and would they mind answering a few questions about what motivated that behavior? And then just ask away - not accusingly, just like doing-a-study neutral tone - until they get freaked out.

Of course, if this doesn't feel safe don't do it, etc.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


the thing is that most of them wouldn't call what they do "street harassment." From the definition on the non profit site, harassment includes: leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, gender-policing, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments

So it includes things like "excuse me miss, you are looking really beautiful today," which I consider harassment but the harasser probably would not.
posted by sweetkid at 3:57 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Mind totally blown that more than 1 in 3 women have not reported experiencing this.

I think that these national numbers are skewed low because there are vast swathes of the country (90% of suburban and nearly all of rural America) where people don't walk around on the street that much. I bet the numbers for urban areas would be much higher.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2014


Yeah, these numbers sound low. There's another thing that messes with my own labelling of experiences as harassment- of the times I've been street harassed, the ones which were really egregious and the few that were physical were all people who were obviously incapacitated in some way (fall-down drunk, or likely mentally unstable). I don't label those experiences as straight up harassment though, because it's more complicated; when someone of low mental capacity doesn't understand boundaries, it's a symptom of society in general not understanding them, but I can't blame the person who is failing to understand.

What I *do* think of as street harassment is catcalling or honking or whatnot, which has happened to me, but much much less frequently, and occasionally not recognizably; once when I was 12 or 13 some guys drove by and honked; I was the only one around, but instead of feeling harassed I was just *confused*. Was my backpack open? Did my shoe fall off my foot a block ago and I didn't notice? Of course looking back as an adult I think I know what was happening, but if you'd asked me at 18, I might have said I hadn't been harassed either (I had yet to ride much public transit and so hadn't run into the more scary interactions I mentioned before).
posted by nat at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2014


I'm a woman who's never been harassed in the street. I can count on one hand the number of times I've witnessed street harassment (of my companions or other strangers on the street). Any time I've ever mentioned it, some guy would take my personal experience and imply other women are lying or exaggerating (I remember it happening here on Metafilter even), so I just opt not to talk about it. The statistics might not be quite as off as you think.

(I've lived in big cities most of my life. I could list the things I think have contributed to no harassment, but I'm always wary of that turning into a bit of blame the victim, kind of like "how to avoid being raped" is so problematic).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


My mom said it was rampant back in the late 50s, early 60s. Some guy actually jerked off ONTO her on the L train, she saw many penises she did not want to see, and there was even a story about guys in her office building watching when the women would use the restroom and catcalling at them, even about body functions. In an office building in Chicago.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:25 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


cybercoitus interruptus: "mhum, Here. Click through to check out the bibliography. I have one or two others somewhere and will see if I can find them later."

Thanks! This is exactly what I was looking for. That article seems to indicate that changing situational (and I guess, more largely, societal) norms is going to be crucial. This reminds me of some anti-bullying study that found that one very effective approach was to get bystander students to let bullies know that what they're doing was not cool, essentially letting them know that bullying was violating a social norm. If I remember correctly, it had to come from other students, not the teachers (and certainly not the victims) because the bullies didn't really see grown-ups as establishing the social norm (and generally didn't value the victims' opinions at all). In some ways, I think street harassment is a grown-up version of bullying in that it capitalizes on a perceived imbalance of power.

I guess the good news with that hypothesis is that it should be at least theoretically possible to lower the incidence the street harassment if we are able to change the social norms around it.
posted by mhum at 4:30 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've been harassed off and on over the years, from catcalls to UM WHY IS YOUR MALE ORGAN ON DISPLAY. But the scariest thing happened in the rural village I've been living in for the past fifteen years: a guy made a rude comment on the street (which I didn't acknowledge, just kept walking), then found out who I was and sent me a detailed email (using my work address) about what a great date we could have at his apartment.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:33 PM on June 4, 2014


subject_verb_remainder, do you include things like "give me a smile" or "you have a nice smile" as harassment? What about "damn girl" or something like that, in a non-threatening manner?
posted by insectosaurus at 4:36 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I definitely don't want to say anyone's lying but I think people must have different ideas of what harassment is if they say they haven't gotten any ever at all.

Even when I was a kid living in the affluent suburbs with my parents I got it. I remember the first time, I had just barely hit puberty and was helping my mom with grocery shopping and this perfectly normal looking man was like, "Can I have some of your cookies?" I was like "Um...what? I don't have any cookies?" Like, I wasn't holding anything, much less cookies. He kept leering and grinning at me and I was like...oh.
posted by sweetkid at 4:40 PM on June 4, 2014


insectosaurus: yup, I would. And neither has ever happened to me. I've had plenty of short, fleeting comments with strangers on the street but never about my looks. The closest would be the few times a woman has complimented me on my shirt/hair/shoes, or encouragement from fellow runners. But those are specific, rare, and not at all as a method of asserting dominance or flirtation.

(I am not ignorant of what harassment is. I take other people's word for it when they say they've been harassed, and it'd be nice to get the same in kind, you know?)
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Public, sexual harassment is so normal that harassees do not always mentally flag their experiences as something serious, unless physically aggressive harassment is involved.

I imagine that many women are so inured to the "hey baby, how about a smile" thing that they don't register it as harassment. Because it happens every goddamn day. See decathecting's masterful comment on seeking attention from women.
posted by ambrosia at 4:54 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ha, yeah. My initial response to those numbers was, "What? You mean this week?"

But on further thought, I can see where it could be true. Lots of women live in areas where harassment is rarer, lots of women normalize the behaviors and at least immediately don't identify them as harassment. I have also noticed at least a few times women not even realizing that someone was harassing them, like they don't notice getting flashed or don't process what that bench full of guys just said. But also, I've found that a lot of women severely limit themselves in order to avoid it. They don't ride public transportation, they rarely go anywhere alone, they don't walk around or explore their cities or do new things. They don't go out at night unless it's to some specific, usually structured, well-lit, tightly secured activity, usually in a group or at least with a date.

If you don't live in a decent sized city, you can actually avoid going just about anywhere where you can't park a few feet from the door. And I know women who do just that.

And I dunno. Harassment is awful, not to minimize that at all. It messes with your head and it messes with your life, and it does give women's daily lives this kind of veneer of constant hostility. It's like women and men live in completely different worlds that way.

But for me and I suspect a lot of other women, avoiding it isn't worth the cost of avoiding everything else I want to do.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:59 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why do comments suggest the stats "must be" or "may be" off...and offer none of their own to show the claimed figures are are indeed wrong?
posted by Postroad at 5:05 PM on June 4, 2014


If it helps, 100% of women I know have been sexually harassed on the street. That is my factual statistic.
posted by elizardbits at 5:11 PM on June 4, 2014 [23 favorites]


and they trembled before her fury

Sadly epony-hysterical?


Getting older and not giving a rat's ass about being conventionally feminine wrt dress and makeup has made a difference, as does a very confident carriage, but there's always the occasional asshole that needs to declare me either butch or bitch. I've told my daughters that I'm glad they revel in their more girly-girl femininity, but they both agree it has its price. They also agree that having a mom who is a crazy horsewoman, who showed them they could control 1100 lb stallions and taught them how to say NO! in a commanding tone of voice made a significant difference. I feel sorry for girls/women who are taught never to be assertive. Having a quiet, submissive demeanor makes them even more vulnerable.

I often think how hard it must be to be a kind and non-harassing male. If I like a woman's necklace, think her hair looks fabulous, or just love a guy's tie or shirt, I might compliment them sincerely. I've never had anyone act as if I've intruded or gotten too personal--it gives me a warm fuzzy when someone says they like my earrings or jacket--but I suppose there would be individuals that could feel that was an intrusion into their privacy.

But for a man, how much harder to pay a compliment without being thought invasive? I have had compliments from strangers that I thought were quite sincere--an older gentleman in a public building once told me I looked lovely. Quite different from a creep my own age that said, "You're hot, babe."

Not sure which is worse--males in a group or the creepy persistent individual.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:14 PM on June 4, 2014


Following up on elizardbits, my factual statistic is that I was sexually harassed throughout high school, but didn't have a name for it until I went to college, sat in a workshop on it and a light bulb went off over my head. ("Oh! That's what it was! That thing that made me so uncomfortable, made me drop out of the debate team, that thing I was so mortified about I couldn't complain to my parents because i didn't want to repeat the things that were said to me, that! That's what it was!")

To be able to name it was powerful.
posted by ambrosia at 5:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


I am not ignorant of what harassment is. I take other people's word for it when they say they've been harassed, and it'd be nice to get the same in kind, you know?

You're absolutely right and I should have said most women above, rather than imply that implicitly deny the lived experience of women who say they don't experience street harassment.

The more I think about it, I was harassed a lot on the street before I grew my hair long too, it just wasn't sexualized like it is now. Maybe there is some combination of factors that makes some people more approachable for harassers.

One thing is for certain, when I do see persistent harassment of a stranger in public, I make a point of intervening.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:16 PM on June 4, 2014


Why do comments suggest the stats "must be" or "may be" off...and offer none of their own to show the claimed figures are are indeed wrong?

Because of the many ways that reporting harassment can be hard for victims (often purposefully so), the difficulty of identifying of that harassment by both victims and bystanders, the many variations in definitions (legal and otherwise) that complicate statistical collection, the pervasive aspects of misogyny in American culture that teach women to blame themselves for many forms of violence against them...the list goes on and on, so go ahead and pick a few.

By the way, many of those are noted by the researchers themselves as reasons why they think their own numbers may be off. If those reporting the statistics say they might be low, it's not suspicious when others say the same thing.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Two wretched street incidents I've never forgotten - they hurt too much and still do although not quite as much:

#1. It was a hot summer evening and I was walking to my commuter train. Me and two other women were stopped waiting for the light to change on W. Van Buren in downtown Chicago. All 3 of us were normal looking, age ranges from 50's (me) to 30's. Certainly no beauties but as I said just normal work a day women, tired and anxious to go home.
So a middle aged white guy pulled up in a top down convertible and had to stop as the light changed for us to walk. He proceeded to begin barking. This is something certain pigs do (no offense to real pigs) to show what they think of a woman's appearance. He continued to bark as we passed his car to cross the street. Needless to say he was a zero looks wise (middle aged, chubby, etc) but, somehow, he was inspired to howl away to embarrass us. We just ignored him.

#2. I was walking down Lake Shore Drive with my husband, also, on a summer evening. Everything was perfect. We had just completed a 5 mile run and at our age, 60's, we were feeling proud of ourselves. I was wearing running shorts (good legs after running for 30+ years) when - a Black SUV went by full of what looked like FBI or Homeland Security types with suits and short hair. A black guy leaned way out the window to begin HIS barking routine in my direction as I guess he thought with the good legs I was going to be some young hottie. This time it really hurt as he did it in front of my husband who is such a great guy he didn't even know what the howling meant as he could never even imagine someone wanting to be so cruel to a perfect stranger.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:26 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


My husband and I were sitting in a train car and there was an old homeless dude sitting a ways down. He mumbled something but I didn't really look at him; at the next stop my husband said we had to change cars. Apparenetly the guy was jerking off and saying things about me. I just didn't hear him/look at him.

I have no doubt I've missed other kinds of harassment through my own obliviousness, which is fine except that it can be dangerous not to notice. But not noticing is something I think a lot of us do for the low-level stuff because who wouldn't want to screen out that crap?

I walked a lot more as a kid going to school and also riding the bus, and that's the first harassment I can remember. But once I got a car I definitely had to deal with it less.
posted by emjaybee at 5:32 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


This harassment happened in the French Quarter. I was on my way home after closing the souvenir store--just one of my three part time jobs. I was dressed in black slacks and white shirt like the rest of the army of serving people in New Orleans, tired, broke and walking home alone with my keys in my fist, when an inebriated young man who'd wandered pretty far down Bourbon Street intersected my path and said earnestly, "Little lady, excuse me but I've been looking all night, can I ask you, you don't happen to fuck for a living, do you?" He was so drunk and so lost that fifty-year-old me almost retorted, "Sonny, I'm not even making a living and I'm sure as hell not doing any fucking these days!" Prudently, I did not reply but pointed him in the other direction so I could safely continue. I've been harassed since I was barely pubescent and I've been harassed since my Bourbon Street encounter but it is just about my favorite story and I cherish it because it is funny and a little bit of an antidote to all the poisonous encounters we've all had.
posted by Anitanola at 5:47 PM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


And the last time for me was yesterday.

I was alone, coming up the stairs onto the street from the D train. A young guy heading in the other direction said, "Yeah, mami, you should give me a piece of that stuff!" And I just kept going. Because what are you going to do, especially if you're by yourself?

I've heard something like this every single day for the past few years, and have gotten public harassment in general since I was 10, including seeing penises in public at ages 12, 25 and 40 because a man was masturbating while looking at me. Each time I told someone, and each time, all that happened was that they got thrown off the bus or train. Funnily enough, each one said I was a liar to the conductor's/driver's face, even though they were caught doing exactly what I said they were doing, like they expected a fellow male to obviously believe them over some chick.

We can't shame this sort of behavior too heavily, I believe.
posted by droplet at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


The scary thing about harassment in rural areas is if the guys in the car or on the hiking trail decide to slow down and then STOP and come after you . . . there is no one around to help. Even if it happens less overall in the country, you remember it a lot more.

And I want to add that when I first started getting harassed, I was totally clueless for a long time as to what was happening. Oh, you're lost, let me give you directions . . . . until I see you are masturbating while driving. Oh, I know where that is . . . but I'm not going to get in the car with you and show you. Yes, the bus is usually on time . . . but I don't need a ride, thank you.
posted by jfwlucy at 5:56 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


People in the thread keep saying that it doesn't happen in rural areas - my experience has been that it absolutely does. It's where I first started experiencing it. People walk because a lot of them can't afford cars. There are a lot of farm laborers, including migrant workers, so no shortage of anonymous young men, but even when it's out of season and only the locals are around, it still goes on. People are bored and they know that the establishment will turn a blind eye (society tends to skew 1950's-To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-patriarchal). There also tends to be a lot of drinking going on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2014


The study cites some earlier studies that reported higher rates of harassment (in Appendix C), 100% of a small sample of women in an urban area, and 87% of women responding to a national US telephone survey. Without knowing exactly what questions were asked (which can make a lot of difference in survey results) and details of how participants were recruited, it's hard to say why the rate reported in this survey was lower.
posted by nangar at 6:04 PM on June 4, 2014


men who identified as LGBT were much more likely to be harassed

The whole thing is horrifying. I wonder if anyone's ever included heterosexual men in harassment studies. I'm not gay, but I've never been macho, and I certainly remember from my teens often getting harassment from, say, builders or road workers making kissing noises as I walked past. And there's non-sexual harassment: guys hanging around on the street who just happen to need to belch or spit as you pass them.
posted by raygirvan at 6:07 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Getting older and not giving a rat's ass about being conventionally feminine wrt dress and makeup has made a difference, as does a very confident carriage, but there's always the occasional asshole that needs to declare me either butch or bitch. I've told my daughters that I'm glad they revel in their more girly-girl femininity, but they both agree it has its price. They also agree that having a mom who is a crazy horsewoman, who showed them they could control 1100 lb stallions and taught them how to say NO! in a commanding tone of voice made a significant difference. I feel sorry for girls/women who are taught never to be assertive. Having a quiet, submissive demeanor makes them even more vulnerable.

Pretty sure comments like this is why subject_verb_remainder didn't offer up "reasons" they might personally not have experienced harassment.
posted by sweetkid at 6:10 PM on June 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


About 10 years ago, I visited Calgary for a few weeks to work onsite with a client, and I biked to the office each morning. I swear on my life I am NOT MAKING THIS UP:

One morning, a group of local ruffians, all seated on Vespa scooters, shouted at me very clearly as I passed by: "LOOK AT THE GIRL, on the NORMAL BIKE"

Obvious conclusion: We should all move to Canada, and everything will be okay. (on preview: Unless you're a sex worker!)
posted by jake at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


Someone recently yelled out that my shoes looked comfortable (Cole Haan wedge heels, so yeah, but not exactly sneakers). It felt like harassment, but I was a little too confused to really be sure or care.
posted by sweetkid at 6:20 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


> People in the thread keep saying that it doesn't happen in rural areas

I think public harassment is pervasive in urban areas and less so in rural ones. (This is based on having lived in both.) I don't think anyone here has claimed that no one living in the country ever gets sexually harassed.
posted by nangar at 6:29 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


One morning, a group of local ruffians, all seated on Vespa scooters, shouted at me very clearly as I passed by: "LOOK AT THE GIRL, on the NORMAL BIKE"

I can't help picturing that as a Kate Beaton comic.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:29 PM on June 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


I wonder if anyone's ever included heterosexual men in harassment studies.

Am I confused, or did that not happen in this study? From page 14 of the PDF:

"Who took the survey?
Gender:
1,058 men and 982 women. "
posted by cashman at 6:34 PM on June 4, 2014


I do activities where I end up being around guys a lot. A lot of them are younger guys, but occasionally I'm around older guys as well. This shit is tiresome. To me it's so prevalent that asking where it's coming from is asking what people are breathing. It's air. The air of movies, television, music that tell guys to hit on women no matter what, to get their attention no matter what, that women are to be looked at, leered at, stared at, fought over, just whatever you do, get that girl. Movies I love, that we all love. Music I listen to, that is popular music. TV shows everybody watches. The message is pounded into society - be a man. Even commercials that have just seconds to sell products, push it across. Now I smell like a man and women treat me like one. Men take in these stupid ideals and internalize them. Train themselves that saying something is being brave, that not looking is being timid, that catcalling means that the woman might look at them, pay attention to them, give them a chance. And society reinforces that message through films and television and all sorts of media.

And I'm sure I sound like Charlie Brown's teacher and they tldr me when I start trying to explain the problem. Because all they can think about is fitting in and playing the societal game. And the jerks are on top of this pile putting out this media that says to do this to women. I say things, but honestly the only reassurance I have is that someone other than the person doing it is listening and changing. Because the guys that do it never seem to show any kind of remorse or understanding, and instead try to turn the tables and make it seem like you're the one who is socially an outsider (you a white knight? captain save em?). But hopefully someone witnessing it is thinking, maybe that really isn't a good thing to do. Maybe I can get through life without being that way. One can only hope.
posted by cashman at 6:47 PM on June 4, 2014 [18 favorites]


he said "I think the problem is that the only win condition is not being female"

If only. A lot of the harassment I've gotten, and most of the more threatening harassment, has started with "Hey, are you a man or a woman?" or similar.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Give me a smile" does happen to me every goddamn day. Yet as common/"normal" as it is, it absolutely still counts as harassment for me, and each and every time I fucking resent being forced to expend part of my finite daily mental energy trying to convince myself not to let it get to me.

The "Smile, you'll look more beautiful!!" that was commanded to me this morning has made me wince multiple times today. Practice doesn't stop it from getting to me. The fact that it was "non-threatening" doesn't, either. I'd say that I wish I better understood how/why someone could believe that saying things like that to strangers is worthwhile... but in truth, I no longer care. It doesn't make any difference. I only know that, no matter what the perceived benefits are to the harassers, I and far too many others are being taxed by it.
posted by argonauta at 6:52 PM on June 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


A lot of the harassment I've gotten, and most of the more threatening harassment, has started with "Hey, are you a man or a woman?" or similar.
this exactly thing has happened to me as well. (more at flickr) [and, via, which is where I got the fpp link from originally...]
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 7:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh the "smile" thing, it makes me crazy under normal circumstances ... but one of the more egregious instances of that for me was when my mother was literally dying that week, and some random guy was urging me to smile as I walked sadly toward home.

As someone of only average looks, I have been barked at several times over the years. There is also one bar in my neighborhood that is directly on my route from the grocery store home where I have been "rated" fairly low on the 1-10 scale within earshot several times by groups of drinking guys sitting at the outdoor tables.

In college, I had a friend who was really spectacularly beautiful, and got harassed pretty regularly as a consequence. One day she and I were walking to class on the sidewalk of a street and a random guy actually drove his car onto the sidewalk directly in front of us to get her attention and asked her to go out with him.
posted by gudrun at 7:33 PM on June 4, 2014


This is one of the reasons why I haven't volunteered with Hollaback! or similar, despite an invitation.

I haven't because this shit is too prevalent in my own life and I don't how to deal with it properly. I know that previous MeFi threads have triggered me enough that I had to cut off the internet for that night and take some prescription sedatives, like an incident that involved a particularly rape-y subreddit and the good people who were laying the smackdown on the creeps.

In the past, like when cornered past midnight on a dead-end street by a car that had been following me, I've gone absolutely fucking postal, charging at them, ready to gouge out eyes with my thumbs. I wasn't bluffing. And it worked, twice.

I remember the howls and the honking horns that followed me for a year straight nonstop until I felt haunted and agoraphobic, like the woman character in Carnival of Souls who's followed everywhere by this undead creep... a situation that only I seemed to recognize as real, while the world spun into insanity around me.

Then, recently, on my way home way after midnight, two guys in a car asked me if I'm going in their direction, and would I like to ride with them? Three more questions followed before they finally left.

I still jump at every red sports car I see driving slowly at night. I mentally jot down the license plate number just in case.

I've thought of carrying pepper spray, or a whistle, or even getting a restricted firearms permit to carry a handgun. I've certainly thought of carrying a BB gun. I don't necessarily want to hurt them (although in the heat of the moment, unfortunately, I WANT to hurt them), but I want to stun them and get away. I've put years of planning into my getting-away strategies. My proof that they work nowadays is that I'm alive.

Which is just sad as a means of "proof that my strategies worked".

These days I can actually visit a pub where something happened a few years ago that made me fear for my life. The fact that the ominous association is GONE is huge for me.

These catcalls aren't just words, "only words".
posted by quiet earth at 7:55 PM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


I ignored some street harassment this weekend and got grabbed from behind as punishment. Only a few people around me did anything about it. When I told a family friend about what happened, he gave me a once over and said, "Well, you look exceptionally good today," like that made a difference.

Sometimes I feel like I need one of those license plates that usually shows the "score" of boy children vs girl children in a given household, but one more skewed towards my harassment score, like this...

Sexual Harassment: Ongoing
Sexual Assault: 3 times "officially"
Rape: 2

Wonder if it would make these sorts of statistics more real for some people.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:27 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


like the woman character in Carnival of Souls who's followed everywhere by this undead creep

OMG YES. I've wondered if Herk Harvey had any idea how much that element would resonate with women who saw the movie.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:29 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know a single woman who hasn't been publicly harassed, the study's numbers are surely wrong. I don't have much else intelligent to add; So I guess I'll tell a few little anecdotes.

1. Nobody else has admitted to it yet - I catcalled some women once. They were walking down the sidewalk, I was driving somewhere with my windows down, and for some reason, beeped my horn and yelled "hey ladies!" as I passed them. Not particularly proud to have done it. Why did I do it? Can't explain, the urge just sort of welled up out of nowhere. Friends at the time weren't the street-harassing type, and I've never done it before or since.

2. I used to work construction years ago. I was standing on the roof with a couple of guys, we were getting this McMansion prepped for the concrete pour for the second story. This woman comes into the cul-de-sac on a bike, riding slowly, probably mid-30's or so. This is crazy but I still remember she was wearing white shorts and a red top. Anyhow, she is about 2/3 of the way around, this is quite a ways after she passed directly underneath us, and one of the guys throws his arms in the air and yells "WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOO!!!!" What did he accomplish? I'm not sure. None of the rest of us catcalled or anything. The woman didn't respond in any way, though she was a good half-block away at the time and who knows if she even heard him. When I asked why, he just laughed and walked away. Probably there was no point; just ape-like see woman make noise lizard-brain type thinking.

3. Was walking down the street in Miami with my lady-friend, a car slows down as it nears us, two teenage guys are in it. I tensed up, oh boy, here comes some vulgarity or another, or maybe something more serious is about to happen. The kid in the passenger seat leans out the window, screws up his face, and screams: "HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!!" and the driver floors it. Still makes me laugh.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


It started for me when I was 11 or 12 and I looked young for my age. It came from grown men in cars when I was on foot.

I've started carrying a small rock to throw at catcallers' cars when I go running on the grounds that if they want to menace me I'll menace their paint job. I haven't worked up the guts to actually do it yet, though, and I get harassed a bit less since I switched to lower traffic side streets. The rock in my hand makes me feel better, though, like an offensive worry-stone.

Probably there was no point; just ape-like see woman make noise lizard-brain type thinking.

Dismissing this as "lizard-brain" implies it isn't sociologically conditioned. It is.
posted by NoraReed at 9:14 PM on June 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


One of my recent lightbulb moments: a statement that the ubiquity of earbuds and iPhones/MP3 players was heaven for many women, as it allowed them to carve out their own private space in public. Not that earbuds are a solution, of course: no-one should be reduced to stopping up their ears just to get by in the world. I do wonder if the visual signature of "I'm not going to hear your idiotic banter" has reduced harasser behaviour... or only made them try harder.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:23 PM on June 4, 2014


No, they motion for you to take your headphones off, and then say "You're beautiful."
posted by sweetkid at 9:25 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


The "Smile, you'll look more beautiful!!" that was commanded to me this morning has made me wince multiple times today.

the correct and satisfying response to this is a slow smile that builds up til all of your teeth are showing threateningly with your eyes bulging out wildly

then you haka at them
posted by elizardbits at 9:34 PM on June 4, 2014 [19 favorites]


hammerdancing is another option
posted by elizardbits at 9:35 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


The Broken Blossoms' demanded smile with raised middle fingers.
posted by brujita at 9:44 PM on June 4, 2014


Augh, the "get out your headphones" thing is awful, because it gets the foot in the door for asking more, like telemarketers who want to "just ask you a few questions". It uses a socially conditioned response to not engage in a conversation against women and it's bullshit.

I especially hate it because I like saying hello to people and hate cutting myself off from humanity. I usually keep my iGoober on just playing out (unless there are a lot of people out to annoy or I'm in close enough quarters, like a bus, to force them to hear it for longer than they'd hear the music from a car with the windows down) because I don't like putting a wall around myself; I want to say hi to folks and wave and maybe pet their dogs if they seem amenable to that. I have to sacrifice low-level positive interaction with strangers if I want to avoid harassment and that is shit.
posted by NoraReed at 9:45 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am a woman that almost never experiences street harassment. Like, I can count the number of times in my life on one hand. I am *incredibly* grateful that this is so, although I've always been a bit baffled about it.

I mean, I'm not exactly a typical target (fat, visibly gay, tall, not especially attractive), but from everything I have seen or read pretty much every woman everywhere is a target. No idea what I do differently from others.

I wore female drag a few weeks ago and was insta-harassed by about 10 people so it's definitely something about my appearance, but no idea what.

So no, it truly isn't 100%, even if it's 99.5%.
posted by zug at 9:54 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure comments like this is why subject_verb_remainder didn't offer up "reasons" they might personally not have experienced harassment.

Sweetkid, did you notice that I gave several incidences where I'd been harassed? My daughters have also. Being assertive and carrying yourself with a sense of power doesn't stop harassment, but it certainly helps. I've seen too many mothers teaching their daughters to be gentle, humble, and agreeable always. Woman submitting to men's crap--isn't that mindset part of what we're discussing here?


In the past, like when cornered past midnight on a dead-end street by a car that had been following me, I've gone absolutely fucking postal, charging at them, ready to gouge out eyes with my thumbs. I wasn't bluffing. And it worked, twice.

This. There's no guarantee that it will work, but by damn, if someone is out to hurt me, I'm going to hurt back. And I've thought about it and talked to other women about it. Gouging out eyes isn't something you'd do easily, so you better be ready to do it. I told my girls to practice--imagine how scared or angry you'd have to be, then gouge your thumbs into a raw chicken thigh. For realz. Because that's what it's going to be like--tough, bloody, fleshy raw feeling, and you'd better be ready to commit.


I'm proud to say I've been a 'bad influence' on a couple women friends--one of which told a drug store cowboy his gelding had more balls than he had (she heard it here first.) The other rode with me and my outspoken feminist attitude for a year, then told her patriarchal bible-walloping SOB husband that she had always loved horses, she wanted a horse, she was working and earning her own money, and by dammed, it she could either pay for a horse or pay for a divorce, because it was one or the other. (He opted for counseling--old dog; a few new tricks.)

I used to script out and practice with my daughters how to decline sexual overtures, gracefully or not. We have to teach our daughters it's OK to stand up for yourself. We have to teach our sons that women aren't their property.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:28 PM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]




Bluehorse, you are still implying that women who don't have a confident carriage or are not ready to gouge out eyes are somehow to blame for being harassed. Do you see how unsupportive that is?
posted by jfwlucy at 4:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I also teaught my daughter to stand up for herself, to talk back, to call people out on there harassment. It does not mean that she is to blame for any of it, even if she doesn't speak up.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Gouging out eyes isn't something you'd do easily, so you better be ready to do it.

Obviously we don't know the context in which you gave this advice to your girls, but I hope you clarified the difference between a horrifying worst-case scenario versus the vast, vast majority of circumstances where the solution is not to confront or escalate but instead to escape and seek help. In this context, the remark comes across as NRA-like. (Eg, "Better be ready to shoot 'em!") It's quite possible that isn't how you originally said it, though.

So no, it truly isn't 100%, even if it's 99.5%.

The statistics reported in this FPP may indeed be low. However, some of the (well intentioned, I'm sure) attitudes in this thread are unfortunate. It's important that we shed light on this problem. It is important that we talk openly about what constitutes harassment, and its consequences. It is not so important, however, that we must inflate statistics and thereby make people whose experience differs feel like they constitute the 0.05%.
posted by cribcage at 5:06 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


NoraReed: Dismissing this as "lizard-brain" implies it isn't sociologically conditioned. It is.

Is it, exclusively? How?
posted by surrendering monkey at 5:10 AM on June 5, 2014


I have two sisters and all three of us have been harassed and groped in public more than once. My one sister has decided not to take public transportation again because of it. I agree that the stats seem low because in my household, it's 100% of the women, however, I live in a city and take public transportation multiple times a day. There are many places where people drive and are not in contact with as many people as where I live. Earbuds, headphones, pretending to read doesn't work. I usually avoid interaction, but I have had to have physical altercations to defend myself.
posted by Yellow at 5:43 AM on June 5, 2014


I'm another woman who almost never experiences street harassment. I live in a big city and walk and take public transportation regularly. I don't talk about it much because I'm anxious about getting either the "you must have your definition of harassment wrong/be forgetting about it" reaction or turning into an example that assholes can point to with a "see? obviously its not a problem for everyone", as if somehow less than a complete 100% makes it less of an issue. I also feel bad about the fact that I must not present enough femininity or be attractive enough to be a target (yes I know that's not how it works), so fuck 'em for making me feel bad about that too.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


NoraReed: Dismissing this as "lizard-brain" implies it isn't sociologically conditioned. It is.

Is it, exclusively? How?


Compare it with another lizard-brain impulse - defecation. Your lizard brain is in charge of "I need to poop!" But society frowns on you just dropping trou in the middle of the street because that's when the urge struck. So that is why, when your lizard brain says "I need to poop!" your superego takes over and says "not right here, let's find a restroom first and then you can."

There is no similar restriction on "hey baby" comments, because society has not deemed that such a restriction is necessary.

Moreover, the real "lizard brain" deals with biological impulses mostly, like shitting, eating, and mating. So your lizard brain isn't even in play when you're catcalling someone - your lizard brain wouldn't even enter into it until you actually were in bed with a woman. The catcalling is all a societal thing that "it's okay for guys to do this!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


Related.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've experienced a LOT of harassment. Like, a lot lot. I rarely do anymore, because I'm becoming one of those invisible middle aged ladies and because of various other lifestyle differences.

But the thing is that, when it was happening, I almost never talked about it. I learned when I was still a pretty young kid that if I told anyone about it, I was the only one who'd be penalized for it. The harassers would go on to live their lives exactly as they chose, and I wouldn't be allowed to do whatever I happened to be doing at the time it happened. And that would quickly lead to me only going out to boring places to do boring things with a boring chaperone. So I didn't tell anyone.

When I got too old to ground, people shut me up other ways. By blaming me or accusing me of bragging or telling me I should like it. So I shut up then, too, because it just made it worse. So it's funny I guess that I started talking about it only after it stopped being much of an issue for me.

So as shitty and depressing as the stories are, I am so glad that women are telling them now. That in itself is a huge step in the right direction. People need to know it's happening and that it's not OK.

So I'll admit I get a little prickly when I hear anything that sounds even remotely like blaming the victim, including well meaning advice. I am not saying that anyone here has done this, but it's very common for people to start dispensing offhand advice about how to avoid or address harassment, and it's almost always insulting at best.

The fact is that a grown woman who experiences street harassment in her daily life has probably thought about it and come up with her own strategies for dealing with it. So telling her what she should have done based on your limited experience or even speculation is insulting. She probably thought of that a long time ago.

In my case, I know that some of the choices I made likely increased my exposure to street harassment. But we all set our own risk tolerances based on our own criteria. I was not about to start changing fundamental things about my life to avoid harassers. I am still going to go places, often alone, often after dark. I am still going to read books on public transportation, look at the ground while I'm walking, and mind my own business. I am not an extrovert and I don't want to be, and behaving like one for a substantial part of my day is exhausting. I'm aware that, to a predator, that kind of thing might make me look like prey, but I'm not going to change my basic natural demeanor every day so that I can make eye contact and greet everyone who passes me. (Which is some common advice I have gotten from lots of women who I assume are picturing this happening in small towns and suburbs. Imagine even trying to do that on a city street.)

The people who are being harassed are pretty much the only group that doesn't need its awareness raised. We should be focusing on the harassers, the bystanders, the various authorities, and the dismissers when we talk about this stuff. Those are the people who need instruction.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Last week I was thinking, hey, I almost never experience street harassment any more. And then Friday my streak was broken.
posted by bq at 7:17 AM on June 5, 2014


The statistics reported in this FPP may indeed be low. However, some of the (well intentioned, I'm sure) attitudes in this thread are unfortunate.

You mean the one instance of possibly innocent inquiry?

It's important that we shed light on this problem. It is important that we talk openly about what constitutes harassment, and its consequences. It is not so important, however, that we must inflate statistics and thereby make people whose experience differs feel like they constitute the 0.05%.

One of these is happening all through this thread. The other is not. I'll leave it up to other MeFites as to which is which.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


While reading this thread, I was mentally reviewing the sorts of street harassment I've experienced and what struck me is how *early* this crap starts. Like the boys dropping things so you'll bend over or "can you touch your elbows to your back" crap in middle school. It's hard enough to deal with as an adult, but it's ridiculous (and confusing) when you're 11. The Guardian article even mentions a flashing incident at age 12. I'd be interested (and likely horrified) to find out what the average age for first time being harassed is and what the average age of the harasser is.
posted by wiskunde at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2014


I'd be interested (and likely horrified) to find out what the average age for first time being harassed is and what the average age of the harasser is.

I don't know about averages, but for me it was 5 and 12.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2014


RE: sociologically conditioning
Legal changes introduced after the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012 have made rape a capital offence. Mulayam Singh Yadav, a heavyweight politician in Uttar Pradesh and member of the national parliament, said this was too harsh, because "boys will be boys … [and] make mistakes".
I mean seriously, what the fuck? I know that's not the US, but a lot of people, even here, seriously have fucked up attitudes about harassment and sexual violence against women. It's really fucking disgusting. Don't tell me that shit is because of "lizard brains". We don't go around killing people and excusing it, but somehow there are people who think it's okay go around harassing/assaulting women and that's somehow okay? What the fuck.

maybe this should't go in here, and maybe this should go in metatalk, but, I posted this as a comment in another thread, someone complained about it ('git yer own thread!') and I looked at their profile and flagged my own comment as derail after seeing they were a guy. I don't know why I did that and it's bugging the fuck out of me.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2014


NoraReed: Dismissing this as "lizard-brain" implies it isn't sociologically conditioned. It is.

surrenderingmonkey: Is it, exclusively? How?
I'm very annoyed by people seeing a claim and then requesting that the person making it justify an even stronger one that they never made. Nowhere in NoraReed's original post did she use the term "exclusively" and it's extremely disingenuous to add it when asking for a justification.

That said, I think EmpressCallipygos did a good job justifying the stronger claim.
posted by valrus at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also don't know if I'm average, but I was ten the first time I was sexually harassed on the street. He was a grown man.
posted by rtha at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


subject_verb_remainder, do you include things like "give me a smile" or "you have a nice smile" as harassment? What about "damn girl" or something like that, in a non-threatening manner?

Yes, this is also harassment. Why the fuck are you, a perfect stranger, commenting on my physical appearance? What do you think is complimentary about the fact that you are sexually interested in me? Not to mention "give me a smile" is not just about beauty but actually a demand to a perfect stranger.

There is no way to do this, as a man, in a non-threatening manner.
posted by corb at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really can't recall a lot of incidents of street harassment beyond three that stick out in my mind. Thing is I expect that I have had it happen and maybe still do to some extent. I expect that I just got really good at blocking this stuff out and during my younger years probably just assumed that anything like catcalls weren't directed at me. I'm pretty sure I've gotten the smile comments though.

My friend and I got flashed when we were teenagers. I remember it pretty vividly because it was such a shock. I was completely creeped out by the shit eating type grin he had on his face and even 25 odd years later it still gives me the skeevies remembering it.

Another time wasn't walking down the street harassment but did happen on a road. At the time I was living by myself in our families old farmhouse out in rural booney land. I was coming home from town after spending the evening with a cousin and her friend. On a really long stretch of road I passed a car that was on the side of the road and noticed that there was at least 2 if not more males in it. Next thing I knew the car pulled out and drove right up to my tailgate. I figured it wanted to pass but then it became obvious that is wasn't. It then proceeded to drop back and drive closer over and over. At first I was just pissed at what I assumed was teenagers goofing around but when I turned onto my side road and it turned too I started to freak right out.

My mind raced and my first thought was that I just wanted to get home. My second thought was that even though this was likely just guys being stupid it might not be and I didn't want them to know where I lived. I kept driving passed my house. I started going through people I knew that I could drive too and tried to remember where the closest police station was. All I could remember was the one way back in town. So I basically turned to go back and again they turned. That damn car did the tailgating thing for the 15k back into town. By the time I turned off the highway to where my cousin was at her friends I was so upset that it took everything in me to keep myself together. I got to the house, knocked on the door and completely lost it when the friends mother answered. I ended up sleeping on their couch because I was to freaked to go home.

Since then where ever I go I always make a mental note of where the nearest cop shop is as a precaution.

A few years later I was doing something in downtown Vancouver and was returning to my car late in the evening. My car was in a small lot and as I walked in this guy was standing at his car. He said something to me. I don't remember exactly what but it creeped me out and I knew I had to get out fast. Got in my car and noticed he got in his. Long story short the guy followed me. This time it really, really pissed me off. I was so so angry. I knew where there was a cop station so I drove there and parked right in front. As soon as the guy saw me getting out of the car he gunned it and took off. "Yeah how do like that buddy. I'm not stupid. Fuck you asshole.' I had gotten his plate number so I reported it even though I knew there wasn't much the cops could do. They were pretty cool about it though which was nice. They even asked if I wanted an escort home.

The whole of it is just maddening. I really hate that I have to think about things like 'where is the local cop shop, in case some dude(s) start following me in my car. ' I hate that it's just something I do that practically unconscious like so many other little safety things women need to think about.
posted by Jalliah at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]




I'd be interested (and likely horrified) to find out what the average age for first time being harassed is and what the average age of the harasser is.

The first time I can remember (it's possible it happened earlier and I didn't understand what was happening), I was 12 and he was an adult, probably in his 30's or 40's. On the bus, commented on my body.

I can't count the number of times I've been subject to street harassment, though I feel like maybe the number is much lower than for some women since it's not a daily or even a weekly event (but probably averages out to about monthly - it seems like five or six incidents will happen in the same week and then nothing for six months).
posted by joannemerriam at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2014


I can't think of a lot of things more depressing than women trying to ascertain why they are not being harassed -- being harassed is that universally assumed to be the natural state for women. No one even really bothers to question the premise anymore, or to trace the behavior back to its origin. People are surprised only when statistics like those outlined in the OP fail to match with their perception that literally all women are harassed by virtue of existing.

There's no discomfort with the fact that per the terms of this particular study, 65% of American women have experienced some form of street harassment, there's discomfort with the fact that 35% of us haven't! That's how deeply engrained it is, culture-wide: to be a woman will result in receiving harassment for being a woman. And there isn't a whole lot of space between "will" and "must."

So many of us accept being harassed as the default status; even if we note that we haven't been harassed, we still blame ourselves. Again and again, the presence or absence of harassment is seen as something that is most assuredly the fault of women who experience it (which isn't a choice), not the fault of men who harass (which most certainly is). If that isn't a galling representation of what it's like to live under the thumb of patriarchy, I don't know what the hell could be.

This comment by Corvid has stuck with me for a while now; in part, it quotes a line from Loving to Survive by Dee Graham: "...no one has any idea what women's psychology under conditions of safety and freedom would be like." How different would our lives be if actively experiencing and/or simply living under the constant threat of harassment wasn't accepted as the default status for all women everywhere? How would our perception of the world change, how would our perception of ourselves change with a newfound freedom to live as a woman without fear of reprisal, sexual harassment, and gendered violence? We have no idea.

And we probably never will, because that freedom can be procured only from men. It would require some sort of magical universal acquiescence to the radical notion that every woman has a basic right to exist without being treated like an affection/attention machine that will automatically dispense the goods once a man puts enough Compliment Tokens in it. But even here at MeFi, we are all but continuously reminded that there are tons of guys who feel perfectly content lobbing the bomb back in our direction with a litany of excuses and deflected blame: "C'mon, what's so bad about complimenting a woman on her appearance?" "How else am I supposed to approach a woman I find attractive?" "But I wouldn't mind if someone told me to smile on the street!" "Boys will be boys!" "It's only natural!" "Well, maybe if she didn't dress that way/drink that much/walk that way/leave the house without a man..."

I get so excited whenever I talk to a dude who knows it's his duty to step up and speak out against harassment no matter how respectful and non-harassing he knows himself to be: the buck stops with y'all, collectively. Because there is absolutely nothing women can do to ensure we will not be affected by harassment, through its presence OR its absence. And I'm supremely fed up with being told that we're the ones who need to Do Something about that.
posted by divined by radio at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


I get so excited whenever I talk to a dude who knows it's his duty to step up and speak out against harassment no matter how respectful and non-harassing he knows himself to be: the buck stops with y'all, collectively. Because there is absolutely nothing women can do to ensure we will not be affected by harassment, through its presence OR its absence.

I would also love it if some non-harassing guys would ask the harassing ones why they do it, 'cause that might help us as a society figure out if there are some changes we can make to the underlying conditions.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


divined by radio: "There's no discomfort with the fact that per the terms of this particular study, 65% of American women have experienced some form of street harassment, there's discomfort with the fact that 35% of us haven't!"

I feel like that's a complete misreading of people's responses. Speaking for myself, my "that must be too low!" response wasn't because I think 100% of women ought to be (or expect to be) harassed, it's because in my experience 100% of women I've discussed it with have been harassed.

My discomfort is not that 35% of women don't get harassed. I'd love it if that were the case. But I have a sense that if there were deeper discussion, at least some of those 35% would say something like "Oh, yeah, I guess that does count as harassment — I'm so used to expecting it I don't even think of it as harassment." That's a deeply uncomfortable feeling for me, that this shit is so much the water we swim in that we often don't even recognize it for what it is.

I rarely get harassed. When I do, it has nothing to do with me or how I'm dressed or how I'm behaving or anything like that. The other day I had walked past probably a couple hundred people, all of whom either ignored me or exchanged a neighborly nod-and-smile, before I encountered one asshole who muttered something skeezy-sounding jussssst quietly enough so I couldn't be 100% sure it was inappropriate. Whose fault was that? His. Entirely his. My clothing and demeanor hadn't changed. The only thing different between that exchange and the ones I'd had earlier is that he chose to be harassing.
posted by Lexica at 10:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have a sense that if there were deeper discussion, at least some of those 35% would say something like "Oh, yeah, I guess that does count as harassment — I'm so used to expecting it I don't even think of it as harassment." That's a deeply uncomfortable feeling for me, that this shit is so much the water we swim in that we often don't even recognize it for what it is.

However, the women in this thread who report that they haven't been harrassed have been quite clear that "I know what harrassment is, thanks, and I swear that it hasn't happened to me." I think taking them at their word is the least we could do.

I also was surprised at the figure which did seem low, but suspect that where a woman lives may also play a part; someone in a very insular rural community may be spared because would-be harrassers know that if they pull any shit, that Sid from the Kiwanis Club could overhear and cause a huge community stink. There are other communities where I'm sure other factors keep it down. (I bet there's not much harrassment in convents, say - that's an extreme example, I grant, but hey.)

And anyway - 65% may not be as high as we assumed it would be, but it's still a hell of a lot higher than what it should be at, which is 0%. Perhaps rather than focusing on why the score didn't presently rate higher, we could instead focus on how to get the score lower in the future.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: Compare it with another lizard-brain impulse - defecation. Your lizard brain is in charge of "I need to poop!" But society frowns on you just dropping trou in the middle of the street because that's when the urge struck. So that is why, when your lizard brain says "I need to poop!" your superego takes over and says "not right here, let's find a restroom first and then you can."

There is no similar restriction on "hey baby" comments, because society has not deemed that such a restriction is necessary.

Moreover, the real "lizard brain" deals with biological impulses mostly, like shitting, eating, and mating. So your lizard brain isn't even in play when you're catcalling someone - your lizard brain wouldn't even enter into it until you actually were in bed with a woman. The catcalling is all a societal thing that "it's okay for guys to do this!"

The world would be such a peaceful place if the "lizard-brain-mating" impulse only kicked in once in bed with a sexual partner! When reptiles ruled the planet, they didn't have beds at their disposal, apart maybe from river beds.

If we were to follow up on the fornication/defecation analogy, it would probably go like this:

Your lizard brain is in charge of "I need to have sex!" But society frowns on you just humping the unsuspecting object of your desire in the middle of the street because that's when the urge struck. So that is why, when your lizard brain says "I need to have sex!" your superego takes over and says "not right here, need to date first, share a meal, discuss interests, move in together and then you can."

The point both NoraReed and you are trying to make is that catcalling is a consequence of sociological conditioning (through popular culture, education, parenting?) rather than having anything to do with evolution. I disagree. I think both play a part in that behaviour.

I don't think the "lizard brain" concept applies anyway. We're great apes (Hominidae), like gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees. It's always a bit more complicated than you think, until you're an expert on the subject.
posted by surrendering monkey at 10:52 AM on June 5, 2014


If we were to follow up on the fornication/defecation analogy, it would probably go like this:

Your lizard brain is in charge of "I need to have sex!" But society frowns on you just humping the unsuspecting object of your desire in the middle of the street because that's when the urge struck. So that is why, when your lizard brain says "I need to have sex!" your superego takes over and says "not right here, need to date first, share a meal, discuss interests, move in together and then you can."


The premise is that the "lizard brain" controls the impulse to catcall. The point NoraReed and I are trying to make is that "no, the lizard brain does not control that impulse". And your own argument - which I have cited above - seems to agree; it's the superego which has taken over and said "need to date first, share a meal, and discuss interests". Presumably, you would categorize catcalling as part of that "discussing interests", which puts it squarely into the realm of societal superego conditioning - which means it is not "lizard-brain" thinking, which means you agree with NoraReed and myself.

Which means, catcalling is sociologically conditioned, in the sense that our society accepts this as a tolerable expression of the superego's attempts to woo a mate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I feel like that's a complete misreading of people's responses. Speaking for myself, my "that must be too low!" response wasn't because I think 100% of women ought to be (or expect to be) harassed, it's because in my experience 100% of women I've discussed it with have been harassed.

Yikes, I absolutely did not mean to come across as implying that anyone, anywhere thinks 100% of women ought to be harassed or expect to be -- I'm depressed by the fact that so many of us are so intimately familiar with that 100% figure in the first place.

Like, we're familiar to a degree that we are surprised and even uncomfortable with seeing percentages less than 100%, because it does not match up with our own experience. I'm depressed by the fact that so many of us expect the percentage of women who have not experienced harassment to be lower than it is per the OP because, as so many men are so quick to inform us, This Is Just How It Is.

The idea that so many women are so used to being harassed that we can be shocked by 35% of women in a study about street harassment reporting that they have not been harassed is straight-up psychologically crippling to me. We should not have to live under these conditions. And yet...
posted by divined by radio at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked that that many women in the study reported not ever being harassed and that people in the thread are reporting such. Not because I don't believe them, or need them to talk about how they think they avoid it, but because I can't even comprehend what it's like to see the world with that experience. It makes me think of those videos where you see everything from a bee's eye view, with all the multiple little compound eyes. That's how foreign and incomprehensible it is to me.
posted by sweetkid at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: Presumably, you would categorize catcalling as part of that "discussing interests"
No, I meant something along the lines of "I enjoy 19th century English literature, I like curtains, I collect watches..."
...which puts it squarely into the realm of societal superego conditioning - which means it is not "lizard-brain" thinking, which means you agree with NoraReed and myself.
No I don't. In the best of worlds, the superego would always take over and there would never be any catcalling or street harassment of any sort. If anything, it's sociological conditioning that prevents catcalling.
posted by surrendering monkey at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2014


I also was surprised at the figure which did seem low, but suspect that where a woman lives may also play a part;

A lot of it also has to do with race, class, and perceived vulnerability/anger.

I'm kind of an odd duck, because my presentation can vary so much according to which makeup I happen to wear and what clothing I happen to feel like, because I can "pass", and because my own economic status has varied so much over the years. My experience has tended to be as follows:

Low-income black, Hispanic, and white men have tended to catcall consistently through all presentations.

Middle-class black and Hispanic men have tended not to catcall, but have been more florid with unwelcome compliments while I was presenting as middle-class: otherwise, ignored.
Middle-class white men have tended not to catcall or give florid compliments, but have tended to be kind of...performatively chivalrous, for lack of a better word, while presenting as middle-class. They have also tended to proposition or give effective catcalls while presenting as low-income.

Upper-class black and Hispanic men have been extremely polite and I have not had any negative experiences. (There are, admittedly, sadly fewer of these, which may be skewing my sample.)
Upper-class white men have tended to only catcall when presenting as low-income, while being fairly impartially polite while presenting as middle class.

I don't know what it's like to present as upper-class because I've never done it.

But I think these things may help explain a part of why some people seem exempt while others don't - I don't think it has much or anything to do with personal attractiveness.
posted by corb at 11:12 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


What it reminds me of actually is this kind of Victorian morality, where everyone felt it was okay to prey on servants and "lesser" folk, but tried not to prey on "respectable middle-class" girls.
posted by corb at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am a woman, live in a major city, am short, have a chest, am reasonably fit, look young for my age and am ambiguously brown. For the most part, I dress really feminine, especially in the warmer months. I get catcalled a TON. I think those reasons listed are part of the reason why.

Also, something possibly related to the middle class girls thing is that I occasionally get comments from black/Hispanic men who think I am half black and half white, and think I think I am better than them because of that and get really angry when I don't respond to catcalls and shout all manner of violent/degrading/horrible things at me. This is all made up, I'm not half black and half white, I'm not really from around their neighborhood, but it's very awkward and scary and horrible.

It doesn't read "lizard brain wants to have sex" to me at all, it reads "crappy racial/sexual structure we are all trapped in and I don't even fully understand, despite being exposed it to it for over 15 years".
posted by sweetkid at 11:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


In the best of worlds, the superego would always take over and there would never be any catcalling or street harassment of any sort. If anything, it's sociological conditioning that prevents catcalling.

So if you think the "lizard brain" is more about the raw mating impulse - which would be to just grab someone and go at it - and the superego is what "suppresses" catcalling, then where do you think catcalling comes from?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on June 5, 2014


EmpressCallipygos: So if you think the "lizard brain" is more about the raw mating impulse - which would be to just grab someone and go at it - and the superego is what "suppresses" catcalling, then where do you think catcalling comes from?

Catcalling is an expression of sexual desire, amongst other things. Sexual desire is controlled by the "lizard brain", or whatever it is in the human body that's affected by testosterone and other related hormones. Sexual desire can be expressed in various ways, within a spectrum which goes from the acceptable, to the mildly annoying, to the downright "20-years-in-jail-without-parole" kind of expression.
posted by surrendering monkey at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2014


Catcalling is an expression of sexual desire, amongst other things. Sexual desire is controlled by the "lizard brain", or whatever it is in the human body that's affected by testosterone and other related hormones. Sexual desire can be expressed in various ways, within a spectrum which goes from the acceptable, to the mildly annoying, to the downright "20-years-in-jail-without-parole" kind of expression.

Right, sexual desire itself is controlled by the "lizard brain". But the expression of that desire is controlled by the superego. And the superego is itself formed by societal conditioning.

Our point is, not everyone received exactly the same societal conditioning, which is why some people believe catcalling is appropriate and others don't. But regardless of what kind of societal conditioning they received, it is still the realm of the superego rather than the id. The id is responsible for the existence of the desire, and the superego is responsible for the expressing of that desire.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I mean, I think it's exemplary that you believe catcalling to be so inappropriate that it must be something that was prompted by the id. But that's the result of your having been socially conditioned in a certain way - a way which is actually in the minority. No matter how crude you believe it to be, the majority of people still accept it as a permissible social behavior, and that's where the problem lies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


All I meant by the "lizard brain" comment is that I don't think that particular guy could have given an intelligent explanation for his actions (neither could I, for the time I did it). Given that some guys catcall/harass and some don't, I agree it's pretty clear that it's a social conditioning thing.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2014


Catcalling isn't always an expression of sexual desire. It can be just straight judgment or unsolicited advice or pure intimidation. Hell, I knew a bunch of guys who used to sit out on a busy pedestrian area at lunchtime and rate every remotely feminine presenting person who passed by them. They were usually rating some type of sexual interest, but not always positively. Their volume varied, and it wasn't always obvious to the subjects what the numbers or red, yellow, and green referred to, but they did it to everyone they perceived as female or even a little feminine who passed by them while they were playing their shitty little game.

But anyways, if there is one takeaway that I think everyone should understand, it's that street harassment, no matter the type, involves interrupting someone who is going about their business. Divorce it from any perceived threat level or the actual content, whether it's putatively complimentary or insulting, it's still someone making the decision to interrupt a total stranger, no matter what they're doing or thinking about, and interjecting themselves.

That's not benign, no matter what it is you're interrupting them to say. You've decided that whatever they're doing at the moment is less important than whatever it is you want to convey to them. So unless their hair is on fire or there is some other actual information you need to tell them that is important to them, you've just prioritized yourself in a total stranger's life. And that is pretty much always bullshit, and that's why there's no such thing as benign street harassment.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


That's not benign, no matter what it is you're interrupting them to say. You've decided that whatever they're doing at the moment is less important than whatever it is you want to convey to them.

This, exactly.

Catcalling isn't an expression of sexual desire, it's an expression of dominance.
posted by divined by radio at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


I do wonder what I could do with the mental energy that would be freed up by not having to worry about how the reality of my body (even a passing sight of it) is considered a free public good. Just two days ago I was sitting on the bus, answering an email on my phone, and heard a man start talking to me in a low, conversational (but cocky) voice. I look up and across the aisle from me is a guy leaning all the way forward who had been (and still was) intently watching my breasts jiggle under my shirt with the ups and downs of the bus, with that pleased, self-satisfied smile on his face that oglers get, as if they had just been served up a piece of dessert by the universe for being so special.

The shirt was loose fitting, high neckline, and the bra underneath was a stodgy unrevealing piece of work too, but the synthetic, thin (because summertime, fuckers--am I supposed to wear boiled wool in June?) drape turned a normal shirt with goddamn daisies on it into an obscene show for this guy. The look on his face (when he finally made contact with my eyes) was unmistakable, and he laughed at me when I abruptly got up and moved all the way to the front next to the driver.

The part about this story that infuriates me the most is how I feel compelled to report how modest my shirt was, and how concealing my undergarment was meant to be, and the fact that my breasts aren't even very large.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


divined by radio:
...isn't an expression of sexual desire, it's an expression of dominance.

Same difference, right? Besides, notice how I said "Catcalling is an expression of sexual desire, amongst other things." I suppose the dynamic is different when expressed in groups. I would argue that one man catcalling whilst amongst his peers is expressing the fact that he is a fully functioning, dominant heterosexual male.
posted by surrendering monkey at 12:24 PM on June 5, 2014


EmpressCallipygos:

I mean, I think it's exemplary that you believe catcalling to be so inappropriate that it must be something that was prompted by the id. But that's the result of your having been socially conditioned in a certain way - a way which is actually in the minority. No matter how crude you believe it to be, the majority of people still accept it as a permissible social behavior, and that's where the problem lies.
I'm not examplary, I'm trying to be reasonable. If there was no id, there wouldn't be any catcalling, there wouldn't be any street harassment or anything worse. Those who believe that this sort of behaviour has no evolutionary component whatsoever and that it can be corrected by constant admonishing and campaigning are deluding themselves.

You can't fight against 2 million years of evolution with hashtags.
posted by surrendering monkey at 12:34 PM on June 5, 2014


> If it helps, 100% of women I know have been sexually harassed on the street. That is my factual statistic.

It continually amazes me how many men still go out of their way to downplay or cast doubt on the day to day reality of sexual harassment for women. Every woman I've ever spoken to about this sort of thing has a raft of stories ranging from mildly annoying to horrific. Meanwhile, I'm a 40 year-old straight man and I have been sexually harassed in public one (1) time in my entire life (by a guy, natch).
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:35 PM on June 5, 2014


Those who believe that this sort of behaviour has no evolutionary component whatsoever and that it can be corrected by constant admonishing and campaigning are deluding themselves.


Except that it is not universally bad everywhere, because there are cultures where this is more acceptable, and cultures where this is less acceptable.

There are lots of behaviors that have evolutionary components that we still work to change. See any parent trying to convince a toddler to try a new food. I am unwilling to accept that we cannot change this, because it's the tip of the iceberg of a lot of power and dominance behaviors that get a lot worse than "hey baby, how about a smile?"

If enough of one's peers say that doing a certain thing is gross and uncool, one will stop doing it, whether it's picking your nose, farting, or catcalling. Being a social animal overrides evolutionary components every day of the week.
posted by ambrosia at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


ambrosia:
If enough of one's peers say that doing a certain thing is gross and uncool, one will stop doing it, whether it's picking your nose, farting, or catcalling. Being a social animal overrides evolutionary components every day of the week.
You're missing the point I've been trying to make for the past 8 hours. You can't compare nose picking to catcalling or street harassment in general. Picking one's nose or farting aren't basic impulses. They can be overcome easily. There are no hormones pumping in one's blood irrepressibly driving one to fart. Picking one's nose has no reproductive function whatsoever. Telling one to stop harassing women because it's gross or uncool won't cut it.
Except that it is not universally bad everywhere, because there are cultures where this is more acceptable, and cultures where this is less acceptable.
What cultures are they? Are there cultures where it is less acceptable to publicly harass women than it is in the US?
posted by surrendering monkey at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2014


surrendering monkey: "Picking one's nose or farting aren't basic impulses. They can be overcome easily."

Your digestive system must work differently than mine does. At age 43, I have never catcalled anybody. I've farted a lot and expect to continue to fart a lot.

Are you seriously alleging that the urge to holler "hey baby" at a passing stranger is stronger and more imperative than the biological necessity to get rid of excess gas from the intestines?
posted by Lexica at 1:37 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Are there cultures where it is less acceptable to publicly harass women than it is in the US?

I got catcalled a lot more when I lived in a poor/working class neighborhood that was home to a lot of Latino men than I did when I lived in a wealthier, whiter neighborhood. It didn't *never* happen in that neighborhood, but it happened noticeably less. And since I was only a year older, that probably doesn't count much for the difference.

Men who catcall know that there is a time and place for catcalling. They mostly seem to know when and where to do it - it's unlikely, for example, that a catcalling dude is going to stop by the elementary school at recess so he can say something crude to an attractive teacher in front of a lot of people, most of them children. He knows not to do it in church, or at a funeral. He knows (generally) not to do it when the woman seems to obviously be the property of another man. Men are not helpless slaves to their sex drives.
posted by rtha at 1:42 PM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


You're missing the point I've been trying to make for the past 8 hours. You can't compare nose picking to catcalling or street harassment in general. Picking one's nose or farting aren't basic impulses. They can be overcome easily. There are no hormones pumping in one's blood irrepressibly driving one to fart.

No, "hormones" don't cause flatulence, but other involuntary biological processes do. Dude, hormones aren't magic. People can exercise a degree of control over them - as I'm sure you'll agree. But the hormones themselves only create an urge, they do not dictate the behavior a person takes upon feeling that urge. Society is what dictates the behavior a person takes upon feeling that urge.

If there was no id, there wouldn't be any catcalling, there wouldn't be any street harassment or anything worse. Those who believe that this sort of behaviour has no evolutionary component whatsoever and that it can be corrected by constant admonishing and campaigning are deluding themselves.

So why doesn't every guy do this, then? The reason why every guy doesn't catcall is because some guys were told "that's not appropriate". That is societal conditioning. It is also societal conditioning which states that it is not appropriate to rob people or kill people, even though your id sometimes really, really might want to.

The difference between theft, murder, and catcalling is that the overwhelming majority of people think that theft is a bad thing and that murder is a bad thing - however, we do not yet have that same overwhelming majority of people who think catcalling is that big a deal. That is a societal failing, that's not "2 million years of evolution."

Consider that if you take your argument to its extreme - that it is impossible to control hormones - then that means you are excusing any man who commits sexual assault, because "you can't fight 2 million years of evolution". Are you sure that that's the position you mean to be taking?

If not - why would you hold an individual responsible for stopping himself from committing rape, but excuse him for catcalling? Wouldn't catcalling be a much simpler action to control?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:45 PM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


You can't fight against 2 million years of evolution with hashtags.

How is it that 2 million years of evolution always serves to justify men doing whatever they want? I saw a very attractive man walking down the street a couple weeks ago and felt some very strong biological urges that I did not act upon. Do I get a cookie?

Even if you were to put it in evo-psych terms where the men actively seek out their mates and the women wait and evaluate their suitors, if it were all about biological urges, women would be constantly evaluating the men who catcall them and deciding which ones were worthy enough to take to bed. Yet none of us are thinking about sex when it happens. We feel afraid, angry, harassed, belittled, and threatened. Why is that?
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:25 PM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos:
No, "hormones" don't cause flatulence, but other involuntary biological processes do. Dude, hormones aren't magic. People can exercise a degree of control over them - as I'm sure you'll agree.
I agree. That's what social conditioning does. Tells you not to fart on the subway.
But the hormones themselves only create an urge, they do not dictate the behavior a person takes upon feeling that urge. Society is what dictates the behavior a person takes upon feeling that urge.
I agree. Social conditioning is what stop most men from catcalling or harassing women. Superego keeping the id under control, etc.
So why doesn't every guy do this, then? The reason why every guy doesn't catcall is because some guys were told "that's not appropriate". That is societal conditioning. It is also societal conditioning which states that it is not appropriate to rob people or kill people, even though your id sometimes really, really might want to.
Yes, social conditioning does that, law does that, religion does that, etc.
The difference between theft, murder, and catcalling is that the overwhelming majority of people think that theft is a bad thing and that murder is a bad thing - however, we do not yet have that same overwhelming majority of people who think catcalling is that big a deal. That is a societal failing, that's not "2 million years of evolution."
I think that's where you start missing the point I'm trying to make. What I'm saying is catcalling and harassment didn't come out of the blue (as it were). There's an evolutionary component to them which makes those behaviours more difficult to keep under control. It'll take more than just tweets and tumblrs.
Consider that if you take your argument to its extreme - that it is impossible to control hormones - then that means you are excusing any man who commits sexual assault, because "you can't fight 2 million years of evolution". Are you sure that that's the position you mean to be taking?
I said you can't fight "2 million years" of evolution with hashtags, by which I meant it'll take a much more concerted, prolonged effort. Please read my comments carefully before implying I condone rape.
If not - why would you hold an individual responsible for stopping himself from committing rape, but excuse him for catcalling? Wouldn't catcalling be a much simpler action to control?
I haven't thought about it. I would say it's easier to get away with catcalling because it's not illegal.
posted by surrendering monkey at 3:07 PM on June 5, 2014


How is it that 2 million years of evolution always serves to justify men doing whatever they want?
As stated above, note that I said "you can't fight 2 million years of evolution with hashtags", by which I meant it'll take a much more concerted, prolonged effort. Please read my comments carefully before implying I'm attempting to justify catcalling and street harassment.
I saw a very attractive man walking down the street a couple weeks ago and felt some very strong biological urges that I did not act upon. Do I get a cookie? Even if you were to put it in evo-psych terms where the men actively seek out their mates and the women wait and evaluate their suitors, if it were all about biological urges, women would be constantly evaluating the men who catcall them and deciding which ones were worthy enough to take to bed. Yet none of us are thinking about sex when it happens. We feel afraid, angry, harassed, belittled, and threatened. Why is that?
You sound like you're accusing me of believing that catcalling and street harassment are positive behaviours and women should play along, and that I'm denying the fact that it upsets them. I don't think that's very nice of you.
posted by surrendering monkey at 3:21 PM on June 5, 2014


Same difference, right? Besides, notice how I said "Catcalling is an expression of sexual desire, amongst other things." I suppose the dynamic is different when expressed in groups. I would argue that one man catcalling whilst amongst his peers is expressing the fact that he is a fully functioning, dominant heterosexual male.

is there any way I can just put a filter on my life so that anyone who feels this way just can't get within 500 feet of me at any time

anyone who says "same difference" about sexual desire and dominance, if they could just never, ever come anywhere near me

anyone who says that catcalling isn't illegal because they don't understand that sexual harassment is illegal and catcalling is sexual harassment

anyone who buys into not only a pile of evopsych bullshit but who also is 100% willing to use that bullshit to justify rape culture

my life would be so much safer, so much freer, so much easier, if everyone like that would just take their toxic opinions and live in a cesspit
posted by NoraReed at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


NoraReed:
my life would be so much safer, so much freer, so much easier, if everyone like that would just take their toxic opinions and live in a cesspit
Oh boy!
posted by surrendering monkey at 3:35 PM on June 5, 2014


A possible perspective on why many guys don't interfere in this sort of behaviour. At least in my experience the "type" of guy that is most often the catcaller or otherwise obvious harasser is also the type of guy that wouldn't hesitate to attack some "punk" guy who "made him look like a fool" in front of a "pretty lady". Sadly it's also quite socialized into guys their "place" in that hierarchy as well. Another nice little piece of the poisonous culture that helps keep this sort of thing going.

That said I happen to be a larger then average dude, with less sense of self preservation then most, and a low tolerance for jerky behaviour. Even so I've mentally done the calculus of "Do the right thing" vs " Do I want to get punched in the face" more then once. I like to think I generally have come out on the right side, but I'll admit that not always.

Friends are another matter and should be told off. I've mostly been lucky to hang out with guys that are in the "why in the hell would you catcall/honk/bark at a passing woman, what good could that possibly do and is going to annoy/frighten her?" camp. I will admit that I don't entirely get "Complement == Harassment" part. Don't get me wrong, I accept it as true, just as I accept that women don't feel safe walking alone in "safe" parts of a city. It's just so far from my own perceived reality that it's hard to understand ...
posted by cirhosis at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2014


As stated above, note that I said "you can't fight 2 million years of evolution with hashtags", by which I meant it'll take a much more concerted, prolonged effort. Please read my comments carefully before implying I'm attempting to justify catcalling and street harassment.

The whole "hashtag activism" handwaving would be shitty enough if it was being discussed in this thread. The fact that you brought it up out out of nowhere purely to get snooty and dismissive while grandstanding your ideas about evolutionary psychology is actually worse.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:45 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


zombieflanders:
The whole "hashtag activism" handwaving would be shitty enough if it was being discussed in this thread. The fact that you brought it up out out of nowhere purely to get snooty and dismissive while grandstanding your ideas about evolutionary psychology is actually worse.
I see replies to my comments are becoming increasingly aggressive, whilst bringing little to the conversation. Maybe there is nothing left to say?
posted by surrendering monkey at 3:52 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


cirhosis: " Do I want to get punched in the face"

Cutting & pasting from a previous thread (this first blockquote is not directed at you, cirhosis, I'm including it because of the way the thread has gone since I checked in yesterday and the point bears repeating):
Social and cultural contexts play a role in facilitating the occurrence of sexually harassing behaviours, in conjunction with an individual's disposition for engaging in sexual harassment (see also Pina & Gannon, 2012). They found that this behaviour "is most likely to be perpetrated by men with individual proclivities for sexual harassment only under context where the situational norms are tolerant, ambiguous, or even supportive of such behavior" (Wesselmann & Kelly, 2010, p. 451). In contrast, where the situational norms were not supportive of sexual harassment, men with a proclivity for sexual harassment were no more likely to sexually harass than other men.
Harassers harass partly because of their perception that their peers think it's not a big deal, it's harmless, it's unremarkable (as in, not deserving of discussion), it's perfectly OK.

Here is extremely useful advice for how to call it out, from user tkchrist (may he come back to Metafilter someday):
Take good ten long steps away from them. And then yell "Hey, is everthing okay over there! Howz it going! Be nice!" Don't call anybody names and smile. Don't jump between them unless you know what you're doing. If you got a couple people with you have everybody do this.

Seriously. Yell from a several feet away. You're not close enough to be considered a threat to him or adrenalize him. He's gonna have to barrel towards you to get to you. . . . If he takes one step towards you immediately yell and point right at his face "BACK OFF!" . . .
The rest of his comment is also full of concrete, seriously useful info.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:03 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Perhaps my comment implied that I think the only way to stop someone from harassing is direct physical confrontation. I really don't and I'm far from a fan of physically confronting or threatening someone. I agree that it often does come down to distracting the asshole so that the subject of the harassment can make their escape.

Which when you think about it really and truly sucks.

That said while I do question some of the reality of tkchrist's suggestions they are helpful as an idea... but let's face it the whole thing still comes down to bringing some asshole's attention onto you. So I maintain that there is always an element of "Am I willing to get punched in the face"
posted by cirhosis at 4:29 PM on June 5, 2014


Surrendering Monkey, I think what's happening is that we have different conceptions of the word "social conditioning". If we go alllllll the way back to the beginning of this argument, it looks like you're objecting to the implication that catcalling has a sociological cause rather than a hormonal one. You say that instead it's "social conditioning" that suppresses the urge to catcall - but I notice that the kinds of examples you give sound more like examples of "proper breeding" or "good manners" than they do "social conditioning".

So, you're correct that the good-manners kind of social conditioning does squelch the urge to catcall.

However - the kind of sociological cause we were talking about was in something you noticed yourself when I asked about rape:

I would say it's easier to get away with catcalling because it's not illegal.

The fact that catcalling is not illegal, but rape is, is itself the kind of societal basis for catcalling that we are talking about. We as a society have decided that certain id-driven impulses - rape, assault, theft, murder - are illegal. The fact that we as a society have deemed this to be so is also social conditioning, and is more the kind of social conditioning we are talking about - the kinds of core values a given society has as a whole. At some point in mankind's history, societies as a whole decided to agree that murder was immoral across the board - it's not the kind of thing that gets individually taught to one person or another.

Moreover, it seems that you're a bit caught up in the precise function of the id. It seems like you are assuming the id not only regulates whether the urge is there, but also regulates how that urge is acted upon - and that simply isn't true. The id regulates whether the urge is there, and that's it. It's the ego and superego that regulate how you behave in relation to that urge; whether you act on it or not, and how appropriately you do act on it.

In fact, I think you may be confusing the id and the ego. The id is the party that gets the urge ("wow! hot attractive woman!"), while the ego is the one that comes up with a way to act on that urge ("hey, lemme shout something to her!") and the superego is the one that regulates it ("dude, just....no.")

The thing is, though, the superego can only regulate catcalling if it has been taught that catcalling is improper. And since society has universally and across the board not yet collectively agreed that it is improper, then...not every superego can do that.

And that means that catcalling is more about social imprinting than it is about id.

Now, I'm not saying that I think catcalling should be illegal - I am saying, though, that it isn't universally perceived as being improper.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


cirhosis: So I maintain that there is always an element of "Am I willing to get punched in the face"

Oh, absolutely. I didn't mean to imply that there was a way to intervene that would be risk-free. Lowering the risk, sure. Eliminating it, no. Here's another suggestion from the same thread:
There is a very simple question that can defuse a verbal or nonviolent encounter. I've done it myself when I saw a woman trying to get a man to leave her alone; I've once or twice had male bystanders ask it of me when I was fending off a creep; my partner has asked it of women we've seen who might be in trouble. The question is:

"Is everything okay here?"

It's reasonably neutral . . . it reminds the aggressor that someone's watching. It does all this without prescribing a behavior or casting you in the role of savior.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was surprised to see that low number, too. The first catcall experience I can remember (a teenager praising my body from his front porch while I biked by) was when I was 12, and it humiliated me so much it physically hurt.

Lots of very classically attractive women get catcalled, and women who don't fit that particular mould are treated to a different kind of street harassment. That's when bands of men who think it is their job to police women's appearance shout out how much you're not meeting their expectations, as if it's my job as a female stranger in public to do so.

The incident that's most deeply burned into my brain was shortly after I'd finished cancer treatment and started on an anti-depressant to cope with the aftermath. My joints were swollen and inflamed from treatment, I was mostly constant in pain pretty much everywhere, I was beyond exhausted all the time, and I'd gained a lot of weight in reaction to treatment (the antidepressant probably didn't help). I was walking across a parking lot to get groceries. And that's when a group of dudebros in a car screeched across the parking lot towards me in order to inform me, very loudly, how fat they had observed that I was. Terrific! Thanks, guys! That's just what I needed! I wish I could say it didn't take me weeks to get over that, because I hate the idea of giving assholes like that any power at all, but it really hurt.

Now my more common experience is men constant staring at my chest. I am a big-busted woman and there's not much I'm prepared to do about that. It is amazing how many men will stare at my chest as if I can't see them doing it. Anywhere. Anytime. The big advantage of winter is winter coats. No one stares at my boobs when I'm wearing a winter coat.

Earbuds, mp3 players, and podcasts are the greatest thing that's ever happened for pedestrians. I know there's lots that goes on around me that I'm not aware when I'm walking around town, and maybe some of it would be worth noticing, but not knowing whether someone is shouting shit at me from a passing car or not, or having to become aware of the staring dudebro walking towards me, is miles better than paying enough attention to have to engage with it in some way.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:01 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's such garbage. I hate it when people pull that "I can't do it, it's just too hard not to control myself. Such unbelievable garbage that you are on here acting like guys can't freaking control themselves and stop harassing women. It's the dumbest frickin thing on earth. I've seen guys shooting jump shots for hours, days, weeks, with no shot at any kind of career at the end of it. I've seen guys trying to learn musical instruments and proper singing for years, with nothing at the end of it. The vast majority of people have more than enough ability to control themselves. The vast majority of men have the ability to freaking control themselves.

When guys pull that stupid "but guys just can't, it's too hard!" this is how you look. Stop it, man. This is about the time I'm reminded of when Theo got sonned after getting crappy grades. His father replied: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. Now, you are afraid to try because you're afraid that your brain is going to explode and it's going to ooze out of your ears."

Here we are, just like I said - you've got these guys trying to reinforce negative messages and pass them down to younger guys. I don't need this shit man. I don't need you making my task harder. I don't need you making the lives of people I care about, harder. Just stop, man. Just stop. You know darn well every guy you've seen do some dumb things towards a woman didn't have some unstoppable drive they couldn't overcome. And if that was the case, then any man with that issue does indeed need to go live in a pit somewhere. Because you damn sure shouldn't be living with the rest of us who can control ourselves and get through the day without perpetuating harassment and oppression continually.

Just stupid. Just really stupid. Now I truly feel why women just want behaviors to stop, without looking at causes. Because some knuckleheads really use that to try to normalize the behavior instead of eradicate it. Good god.
posted by cashman at 6:06 PM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


Previously: a MetaFilter conversation about being one of the "outlier" women who hasn't experienced harassment, and the ways in which that messes with one's sense of feminine community and body ownership.
posted by Errant at 6:27 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]




I'm constantly amazed by the fact that men get all defensive and oversensitive and notallmenzing but they don't come in to say that the "we can't help it" and "it's in our genes" dudes are insulting their entire gender. I'd find that super offensive if I was a man.

Hildegarde, thanks for bravely sharing your story. The idea that women are putting on a show every time we go outside is deeply engrained in our culture-- it's what tabloids depend on when they show images of female celebrities going about their daily business as if wearing normal clothes and no makeup is a sort of scandal. It's what men are trying to police when they tell women that they're fat or ugly or whatever. If you do fall within the canon of the conventionally attractive, they'll harass you with slimy compliments and propositions. If you don't, they'll act like deigning to harass you is some kind of public service.
posted by NoraReed at 7:35 PM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd find that super offensive if I was a man.

I'm offended as hell. I assure you the darns and freaking's and garbage in my comment above are the result of massive editing on my part.
posted by cashman at 9:21 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


yay. thanks guys.
posted by sweetkid at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2014


oh right, I forgot that when dudes say stuff they don't get taken as representatives for all dudes everywhere and stuff like women are
posted by NoraReed at 10:10 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


You're missing the point I've been trying to make for the past 8 hours. You can't compare nose picking to catcalling or street harassment in general. Picking one's nose or farting aren't basic impulses. They can be overcome easily. There are no hormones pumping in one's blood irrepressibly driving one to fart. Picking one's nose has no reproductive function whatsoever. Telling one to stop harassing women because it's gross or uncool won't cut it.

That's just the old "it's biology baby" excuse dressed up in excessive verbiage.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:12 AM on June 6, 2014


I don't believe I'm about to come to Surrendering Monkey's defense, but - I don't think he is defending catcalling when he says "it's biology". He's repeatedly said that the social conditioning is what stops most men from doing it, and where we seem to be getting caught up is on the exact role of biology in a catcalling case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:33 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


jezebel: Awesome Woman Scares Groper So Badly He Craps His Pants

You MUST click on the audio.

I will start practicing my own demon voice right now, using her exact sentence and also variations thereof ("How *DARE* you !!DISRESPECT!! ***ME***," etc) . The whole thing suggests just enough cuh-RAY-ZEEEE to make a lot of assholes think twice.

***
This woman is a fucking genius. I have never ever tried out my bass register before. It's SO MUCH FUN. We should have a meetup where we practice our demon voices at each other.

Whoa. The lingering "ssss sssss" in DISRESPECT scared the cats.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:03 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


where we seem to be getting caught up is on the exact role of biology in a catcalling case.

And I find myself on the opposite side of where I usually am, in saying who cares. What if it's 2.2%. What if it's 0. What if it's 17.3?

I don't care, because the bottom line is, stop harassing women. Why get caught up in trying to figure out the precise amount of biology involved? So that can be some sort of excuse? Because there isn't a percentage that it amounts to that is enough to override acting like a normal person in our society is expected to act any more than any other piece of our biology.

It's distraction. "Well what if this is just some kind of thing guys do! And they have a hard time not doing it!" Nonsense. It's just laziness, privilege, entitlement and a want to be in control of everything. And it's no secret that women's lives are made poorer as a result. So stop that shit. Period, point blank.
posted by cashman at 9:45 AM on June 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


I don't care, because the bottom line is, stop harassing women. Why get caught up in trying to figure out the precise amount of biology involved? So that can be some sort of excuse? Because there isn't a percentage that it amounts to that is enough to override acting like a normal person in our society is expected to act any more than any other piece of our biology.

The reason that people are fighting this particular battle is because, all too often, a lot of people use "it's biology, we can't help it" as an excuse to not stop harrassing women.

Placing the the responsibility of harrassment squarely on the shoulders of society - where it belongs - means that no one would be able to use "but - 2 million years of evolution!" as an excuse any more. Not that Surrendering Monkey is defending it - but the persistent belief that "2 million years of evolution" has anything to do with the fact that harrassment is socially tolerated is precisely why it's hung on as long as it has. Earlier this winter I stopped to ream out a guy who'd catcalled me, and he fell back on this exact excuse when I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on June 6, 2014


The thing about evopsych arguments is that the vast majority of them are nothing but idle speculation motivated by a desire to maintain some kind of status quo. They're wrapped up in sciencey kinds of words to lend them authority, but they're just a bunch of chin fondling.

Some of that probably has some homeopathic truth to it, but there's just no way of knowing which ones or how much; and it seems they're mostly just motivated by a desire to pretend that cultural biases don't exist.

But they do. Cultural biases exist, and they're perpetuated in many ways, subtle and overt. And one of the ways they've been perpetuated is by defaulting maleness. Even intelligent, generally decent men who are not superficially misogynist can be astonishingly ignorant about women. You can easily avoid media with well-rounded female protagonists pretty much all your life, and that trains you to consider yourself the default human being and women as a sort of one-off use case. That's one reason you see these sort of public awareness campaigns bubbling up from the internet so frequently. It's because women are bringing up things that happen in their lives, other women relate to it and start talking about it, and men are shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, because they're so unused to actually listening to women that a) they have no idea the actual concrete things women experience, and b) it never even occurred to them to consider how women might perceive things.

There's no way to reasonably outlaw street harassment in all its forms, and I suspect most people wouldn't want to even try. I wouldn't. I think that raising awareness is pretty much the only way to make change happen in this case. We have to let women know that it's not just them, and we have to let men know the sorts of things that happen to women, and how they affect us. Some men absolutely do change their minds when they hear about those things from a woman's perspective. There are men who still think that their street harassment is flattering or empowering or something for women, and when they find out otherwise, some of them actually stop doing it. And among the ones who dig their heels in and still refuse to listen, sometimes straight behavioral modification works. Hooray for creepshaming!

To just compare it to another recent 'sexuality' issue that's turned completely around, it was not that long ago that pedophilia wasn't considered a super huge deal. There was a sort of mainstream acceptance if not outright embracing of the sexualization of children. It was even kind of fashionable in the 70s. I am not comparing all evopsych arguments to pedophile apologetics here, but there was a lot of evopsych around that too. And what it took to turn that tide was people saying (sometimes I suspect in response to the trendy pedophilia in the 70s) saying, "Whoa, that's really fucked up," and talking about why.

And look at the difference in perceptions now. I really hesitated to even use it as an example because even the hint of something being similar to some phenomenon related to pedophilia could be seen as hitting below the belt now. That's all about a change in our culture that came about from the 70s/80s equivalent of "hashtag activism."
posted by ernielundquist at 12:16 PM on June 6, 2014 [10 favorites]


I couldn't favourite with ernielundquist's post more.

There definitely isn't any way that we can blame harassment on some kind of instinct. You are speaking so in my mind you are using your intelligence and will to do that, so you can use your will and intelligence not to say things that creep out/frighten your fellow human beings.

I know I grew up being told that you just didn't do things like catcall women but I know a lot of my peers weren't hearing that from their parents or older siblings. And so I'd have never done it but still there wasn't as much of a reason to call out my friends for doing it. Sure I knew it was 'wrong' but I never had any idea of just how hurtful it was. And then you grow up a bit more and you learn a bit more and you start to listen to the women around you. And then it's pretty obvious how hurtful the unwanted attention is.

And on the other hand I did grow up being told the only way you were going to "get the girl" was to be forward and at least a little aggressive. It takes a lot longer to unlearn some of that, or at least learn how to have empathy for the woman's point of view in that situation.
posted by cirhosis at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]




"I think that's where you start missing the point I'm trying to make. What I'm saying is catcalling and harassment didn't come out of the blue (as it were). There's an evolutionary component to them which makes those behaviours more difficult to keep under control. It'll take more than just tweets and tumblrs."

I think everyone gets your argument. It's just that it's a dumb argument based on a straw man and repeated dubious appeals.

Consider that if you take your argument to its extreme - that it is impossible to control hormones - then that means you are excusing any man who commits sexual assault, because "you can't fight 2 million years of evolution". Are you sure that that's the position you mean to be taking?

I said you can't fight "2 million years" of evolution with hashtags, by which I meant it'll take a much more concerted, prolonged effort. Please read my comments carefully before implying I condone rape.
"

Dude, if you repeatedly try to oppose legitimate complaints with a very thin straw man, people will assume that you're actually disagreeing with them, not just making keyboard noises to see your words in print. It will obviously take more than hashtags. But 1) good thing there's more than hashtags going on, and 2) that doesn't mean hashtags are bad, just that they're not sufficient on their own.

Not only that, but even without meeting them, I can guarantee you that every single woman in this thread already knows that. So why you tryin' to tell 'em what they already know, man?
posted by klangklangston at 3:12 PM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


klangklangston:
So why you tryin' to tell 'em what they already know, man?
Is it okay if I read this in The Dude's voice?
I think everyone gets your argument. It's just that it's a dumb argument based on a straw man and repeated dubious appeals.
I don't think it's a dumb argument, I think it's common sense. I don't think everyone gets it, otherwise I wouldn't have been accused of being a rape apologist.
Dude, if you repeatedly try to oppose legitimate complaints with a very thin straw man, people will assume that you're actually disagreeing with them, not just making keyboard noises to see your words in print.
Making keyboard noises, is that what writers do?

All I'm saying is this: Catcalling and street harassment, as well as any form of sexual violence have an evolutionary component to them, which will make harder for society to keep it under control, and eventually eradicate. That's all I'm saying. No more, no less. It will make harder to eradicate it than other societal ills, like say, corruption or drink driving. And ignoring, or denying, the existence of this specific aspect of the problem will make eradicating sexual violence even more difficult.

What I'm not saying is that men should get away with catcalling by invoking "2 million years of evolution" when caught in the act, because they shouldn't be catcalling in the first place. But the fact they use it as an excuse doesn't mean this aspect of the problem isn't real, should be ignored, or denied.

I kind of regret that "2 million years" one-liner. It gave everyone the opportunity to focus on it and disregard pretty much everything else I said. Besides, that 2 million years is a ballpark figure, I could have gone as far back as Early Jurassic (first mammals, 200 million years) or the Proterozoic Eon (apparition of sexual reproduction, 1.2 billion years). Nevertheless, it was interesting to see how quickly it was misinterpreted as an apology to catcalling. Not by you, klangklangston.

NoraReed:
I'm constantly amazed by the fact that men get all defensive and oversensitive and notallmenzing but they don't come in to say that the "we can't help it" and "it's in our genes" dudes are insulting their entire gender. I'd find that super offensive if I was a man.
I'm not speaking on anyone's behalf but mine. I'm not being defensive or oversensitive, I did my best to develop my argument in the most sensible and composed manner, given my lack of formal education. I didn't invoke Evolutionary Psychology, I didn't know what it was until you guys mentioned it, and abbreviated it as if it was already a mainstream concept. I don't think it's relevant to my argument anyway. I think your perception of what I've been trying to say has been skewed by societal conditioning.

cashman:
I don't care, because the bottom line is, stop harassing women. Why get caught up in trying to figure out the precise amount of biology involved? So that can be some sort of excuse? Because there isn't a percentage that it amounts to that is enough to override acting like a normal person in our society is expected to act any more than any other piece of our biology.

It's distraction. "Well what if this is just some kind of thing guys do! And they have a hard time not doing it!" Nonsense. It's just laziness, privilege, entitlement and a want to be in control of everything. And it's no secret that women's lives are made poorer as a result. So stop that shit. Period, point blank
I don't think it's distraction. Let's say for instance you are against gun violence. You want to do away with gun violence. Would you just protest, demonstrate against it, whilst ignoring the root causes of the issue just because gun violence is so wrong it doesn't warrant any analysis? How is this going to help? Do you think some street corner drug dealer is going to see protesters waving their anti-gun signs and think "Oh man, I didn't realise they were so upset, better throw my Glock in the river." I don't think that's how it works.
posted by surrendering monkey at 12:12 PM on June 7, 2014


Okay, dude, I think at this point you may want to consider whether this is a hill you really wanna die on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I don't think it's a dumb argument, I think it's common sense. I don't think everyone gets it, otherwise I wouldn't have been accused of being a rape apologist.

An appeal to common sense is a fallacy. That's kind of a dumb argument by definition.

"All I'm saying is this: Catcalling and street harassment, as well as any form of sexual violence have an evolutionary component to them, which will make harder for society to keep it under control, and eventually eradicate."

All human behavior has an evolutionary component to it, and evolutionary components are not determinative. Ergo, harder than what? Human behavior that doesn't have an evolutionary component? Since that's an empty set, your statement becomes evo-psych tautology with a soupçon of excuse for street harassment.

"That's all I'm saying. No more, no less. "

I know. It's a dumb argument.

"It will make harder to eradicate it than other societal ills, like say, corruption or drink driving. And ignoring, or denying, the existence of this specific aspect of the problem will make eradicating sexual violence even more difficult."

Both corruption and drunk driving have evolutionary components. For drunk driving, not only is there the immediate reward bias/hyperbolic discounting, but also a host of others, from the illusion of control to the maladaptive mechanisms of addition and risk perception. Likewise, corruption (depending on its form) can have a host of evolutionary components, from nepotism to simple inborn greed. There's nothing about having an evolutionary component that inherently changes street harassment or sexual violence more difficult to deal with unless you treat that evolutionary component as a justification, which you implicitly seem to be, which is why people are calling you out.

"What I'm not saying is that men should get away with catcalling by invoking "2 million years of evolution" when caught in the act, because they shouldn't be catcalling in the first place. But the fact they use it as an excuse doesn't mean this aspect of the problem isn't real, should be ignored, or denied."

No one's ignoring it or denying it, they're saying it's insufficient and that you're being needlessly biologically over-determinant.

Speaking of ignoring, you understand my points about how "2 million years" (while sloppy and dumb) was not as much a problem as "hashtag activism," which totally makes you read like a dudebro here to educate some ladies on why street harassment is inevitable.
posted by klangklangston at 12:36 PM on June 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


hey maybe if you literally have no idea what evolutionary psychology even is you don't really know enough about what is and isn't evolutionarily derived to be making arguments about it

just a thought
posted by NoraReed at 9:57 PM on June 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


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