In honor of the First Annual International Anti-Street Harassment Day coming up on March 20, 2011, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a little spring break anecdote:
As the loyal readers of ShoutOut probably know, I went with FamilyJules and Grrir on a fun-filled cruise to Mexico for Spring Break. We had an amazing time parasailing, snorkeling & just generally cruisin’ together. When we docked in Mexico, we were greeted by beautiful beaches, great deals on various shopping ventures and–of course–some charming new Mexican friends! As my traveling buddies-eight stunningly gorgeous female college students-perused the streets of and shops, a friend and I stopped at a kiosk selling purses, hats and an assortment of other souvenir items. The owner came over to talk to us, and during the course of the conversation asked if my friends breasts were real. A little stunned by the question, she responded that they were, at which point the man reaches out to grab her chest as he turns to me to ask if mine are real as well.
At this point, we turned to leave. Little did we know, this simply gave the vendor the perfect opportunity to smack us both swiftly on the butt.
Like… EXCUSE ME?! I’m here to buy a purse. This is completely unnecessary, unwarranted and utterly disrespectful.
Before I go any further, let’s get one thing straight: This is not to target ANY group of people. Not all Mexican street vendors (or construction workers) are involved in street harassment, this is fact. Now, to those of you who are…
It’s been voiced several times on this blog, it’s been talked about in the greater feminist blogosphere, it’s been experienced on a day-to-day basis for women all over the world! And it needs to stop. When someone harasses a woman in public, they tamper with that woman’s right to that public space. Street harassment sends the message that, as a woman, she’s not safe there without a man and therefore has no business in that arena.
When this happens internationally, we add cultural differences and even a language barrier. And that’s tough. Mexico has a history of valuing “Machismo” (masculine bravado) that, by its very nature, devalues women by valuing everything male. Thus, realistically, no one person can completely eradicate this disrespectful albeit normal and-for the most part-culturally accepted behavior. However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing that we can do!
The first of these things is to make the pledge not to let this affect you. Now, I don’t recommend that you wander through unfamiliar foreign territories alone (please be safe in your decisions), but don’t allow the fear of being made uncomfortable or unwelcome to keep you from traveling, especially traveling internationally.
Here are some other thoughts and ideas to consider while fighting street harassment:
- Share your stories to break the silence. Share a street harassment story with a family member or friend. Share it online. Tweet it using #antistreetharassmentday or #march20. If you do nothing else, share your story.
- Respond to harassers: Use assertive responses, report them, ask them to fill out the Catcaller
Form, or hand them an anti-street harassment handout.
- Hand out or post anti-street harassment information. Print and post fliers, factsheets, and signs around your neighborhood, office, campus, school, or community center to raise people’s awareness about what street harassment is and why it is unacceptable. (Examples of fliers, posters or signs (click on link for street signs) and another street harassment poster).
- Use your talents to raise awareness about street harassment. Write/perform songs (see The Astronomical Kid‘s and Emily Swash‘s songs); do stand-up comedy (see Lucé Tomlin-Brenner’s stand-up comedy routine); make a cartoon (see Liza Donnelly‘s, Barry Deutsch‘s, and Jerrod Koon‘s); write a poem (see Fiona Lowenstein‘s and Bif Naked‘s poems); put on a show (see Leah King’s one woman show “Can I get a smile?“); or make a fun online awareness-raising item (see Atozinco’s slideshow, à la garconnière’s street harassment invoice, and Scary Godmother’s Bingo sheet)
- Hold an event, rally, or community planning meeting. Ask people to share street harassment stories and brainstorm how to address it in your community. Show an anti-street harassment documentary. Make it an open mic or art event where people can share their poems or art work on the topic. Hold a self defense demonstration.
- Conduct a community safety audit in your neighborhood. Build a small team and find out what could make your area safer and more inclusive. Take your ideas to your local elected officials.
- Learn more about street harassment. Watch an anti-street harassment documentary or read an anti-street harassment article or book. Request the Stop Street Harassment book for your library, so anyone in your community can read it for free.
- Write an op-ed or article. Write and submit an article or op-ed about street harassment and your experiences with it to a magazine or newspaper. An op-ed that journalist Elizabeth Mendez Berry wrote in the fall of 2010 led to the first ever city council hearing on street harassment in New York City!
- Survey and map harassment. Survey your friends and family, classmates and coworkers about their experiences with street harassment (you can do so for free with SurveyMonkey). Map where you and they face harassment (google earth offers a free tool to do so with a tutorial) to track any patterns about where it occurs. Take your information and ask the police, elected officials, or local businesses to do something about the harassment in those areas (show them your results when you talk to them).
- Start campaigning. Organize or participate in an anti-street harassment campaign, like the UK Anti-Street Harassment Campaign and the Don’t be Silent Speak. Ask your elected officials to address this issue. Ask for an anti-street harassment Public Service Announcement campaign. Ask that schools address street harassment in their curriculum.