Street harassment is not about being nice; it’s a way to remind us that we’re always being watched and assessed.
The first time I was cat-called I was 13. I was tiny for my age and didn’t look a day over 11 years old. I remember it so clearly, because the honking from the car startled me and the man hanging out of the passenger seat mimed cunnilingus as he stared at me, the upper half of his body leaning out of the window.
Since then, there hasn’t been a week of my life that has been free of harassment from strange cishet men while I was either out in public or at work. I’ve experienced men whistling at me, a man in his mid-60s masturbating in front of me in a bus on my way home from school, and everything in between.
These aren’t just simple occurrences that happen in a vortex. They are deliberate acts intended to humiliate, sexualize and dehumanize women and femmes. Sexist micro-aggressions, physical harassment and assault are part of rape culture and denying that or addressing them as separate issues keeps us from actually being able unlearn such detrimental entitlement to our bodies and our spaces.
I work with a group of local Philadelphia activists called Pussy Division, we use street art as a way to raise awareness about different kinds of oppression including misogyny, racism, rape culture, street harassment, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia and poverty.
Every year we create a project to highlight the detrimental effects of cat-calling and stalking during International Anti-Street Harassment Week. This year we put together a project which mimicked “caution” tape with two different messages: “DO NOT COMMENT ON MY BODY” and “CATCALL CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS”
Our hope was to bring awareness to how detrimental and dangerous harassment is and how it makes women and femmes feel. Catcalls are not a compliment, if they were so innocent, cishet men would tell each other how hot they look while they were on their way to work, at the grocery store and waiting for the subway. But it’s not about being nice, it’s a way to remind us that we’re always being watched and assessed.
Harassment is a global problem, where there are cishet men, there is harassment. Perhaps not all men do it, but all women experience it.