In I’m So Sick and Tired of This Shit, Robert talks about the infantilization of women – something radical feminists have brought about, either wittingly or otherwise. Street harassment of women has been one focus of this move to give women some kind of permanent protected status.
Like almost every other woman, I’ve been subjected to harassment by males in public places. It has been mainly verbal – no one’s ever put his hands on me. I can tell when someone is being friendly and “complimenting” me and when someone is really aggressively interfering with me. And the latter pisses me off.
It’s not so much that I’ve felt afraid in these situations (although I have a time or two); I’ve mainly been annoyed. And what made me angry was the sense that I had to placate this individual somehow to get past him and be on about my business. How you react to this harassment can make a difference in how swiftly you can get away from it.
In other words, if you say something like “Go to hell” or “Leave me alone,” you have committed the sin of deflating this male’s ego. Retaliation is sure to follow.
All of a sudden your great beauty and desirableness, those things that supposedly got his attention in the first place, fall away and you become the ugliest, most loathsome bitch that ever crossed his path.
I understand the impulse in some activists to do something about this. And in litigious America I can even see why some women have the idea of outlawing street harassment. There’s nothing new about the idea.
Ages ago, in 1993, law professor Cynthia Grant Bowman wrote an article for the Harvard Law Review called “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women.” According to Professor Bowman:
Typically, unacquainted persons passing on a public street, particularly in large cities, do not address one another, but instead perform an avoidance ritual…Staring at a stranger is a well-established cultural taboo.
She goes on to say that breaches of this “civil inattention” are reserved for people who are really unusual, those who are unusually similar to you in some way, or those who are in what she calls an “open” category – dogs and children, for example. Men seem to put women in this “open” category.
Unlike men, women passing through public areas are subject to “markers of passage” that imply either that women are acting out of role simply by their presence in public or that part of their role is in fact to be open to the public. These “markers” emphasize that women, unlike men, belong in the private sphere, the sphere of domestic rather than public responsibility. Ironically, men convey this message by intruding upon a woman’s privacy as she enters the public sphere.
Professor Bowman says that some women react with fear to street harassment because they don’t know if the stranger will turn out to be a rapist. She then asserts that women have good reason to see street harassment as a precursor to rape.
Furthermore, rapists often harass women on the street and violate their personal space in order to determine which women are likely to easy targets – a practice called “rape-testing.” Because potential rapists frequently select their victims by looking for women who appear vulnerable to assault, they may approach a potential victim and “test” her by a variety of means, including making lewd or insinuating remarks, to see if she can be intimidated.
Much of what immediately follows is an explanation of how uncomfortable and distressed women feel when they are subjected to this harassment.
Don’t women have recourse under current civil law? That is, can’t she sue for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or invasion of privacy? Each of these options is inadequate, due to issues of intent, First Amendment protections, and the idea that a “reasonable” person (or, “man,” actually) wouldn’t see the conduct as offensive enough to warrant the intrusion of the law.
Professor Bowman is optimistic, however.
Women have made substantial gains in the last few decades in the field of workplace harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence; similar pressure may create remedies for street harassment…it would be necessary to overturn longstanding statutory and case law to hold that the intent of the harasser is irrelevant to criminal assault.
Finally, we get to what I see as the centerpiece of this article – a proposed statute or ordinance to be enacted:
Street harassment. It shall be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $250, to engage in street harassment. Street harassment occurs when one or more unfamiliar men accost one or more women in a public place, on one or more occasions, and intrude or attempt to intrude upon the woman’s attention in a manner that is unwelcome to the woman, with language or action that is explicitly or implicitly sexual.
Such language includes, but is not limited to, references to male or female genitalia or to female body parts or to sexual activities, solicitation of sex, or reference by word or action to the target of the harassment as the object of sexual desire, or similar words that by their very utterance inflict injury or naturally tend to provoke violent resentment, even if the woman did not herself react with violence [emphasis mine].
The harasser’s intent, except his intent to say the words or engage in the conduct, is not an element of this offense.
With all due to respect to Professor Bowman and to all of the women who continue to endorse such a proposal, this is Dream Land.
Set aside for a moment the idea of legally prohibiting men from publicly expressing their lust for attractive women on the street. Such an ordinance wouldn’t even require that the targeted woman be offended by this behavior. That one sentence in this proposed law reveals the real intent of this proposal: to put a muzzle on men.
This is a truncheon to bring men into line and force them to behave civilly toward women. These women want to enjoy the benefits of moving about in public but they don’t want to deal with the reality of actually being in public, a reality which includes the probability of receiving unwanted attention or being subjected to unwanted speech.
As I’ve said, I don’t appreciate being harassed in public any more than other women do. But here’s what I think: men really only respect and fear other men. I’ve said this before, and I’m convinced of it. A woman often gets respect only insofar as men understand that she is under the protection of some man or group of men. In other words, they have to know that to mess with that woman is to mess with some man – a man they don’t want to cross.
This is ultimately the only real deterrent to this type of behavior – male protection. Women who assert their right to be out and about without male protection now circle back and demand male protection!
And yes, the demand for men to be civil and restrained toward women in public is a demand for their protection. It’s a demand for them to set aside their own instincts and even freedoms for the benefit and comfort of women. More importantly, it’s a recognition that it’s men who actually wield power in the public sphere.
Is everybody listening? It’s men who actually wield power in the public sphere. Don’t get mad at me about it. It’s the way the world has always been. Feminists know it, too.
And to all of you men who want to go on and on about how men have been “emasculated” and made subject to women’s demands, you need to ask yourselves: Who relinquished so much of their power and allowed themselves to be gelded?
- Bowman, Cynthia Grant. 1993. Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law Review Association.