Street Harassment on Public Transport: India, Brazil, Japan, and even Mexico Top the U.S.

Man accosting woman who is trying to ignore himRead “Mexico City Introduces Women-Only Buses to Deter Groping.” I don’t know what it’s like in your country, but here in the U.S. it seems that taking real steps against street harassment is faintly gauche. There’s a subtle attitude that “hey, the occasional jerk is unfortunate, but nice women toughen up and put up with it.” There’s a subtle implication that a woman who speaks up is oversensitive or immature, and that classy, strong women just stride through the barrage of harassment and ignore it. There’s so much wrong with that line of thinking that it’s hard to know where to start.

I’d love to see optional separate public transportation here in the U.S. A comment I hear from women who commute on public transportation is that “the best you can hope for is to be ignored because the men won’t call each other on that kind of stuff.” In this reality, separate transportation is a superior alternative.

Someone on another blog referenced a street harassment movie about 90 minutes long called “War Zone,” by Maggie Hadleigh West. Here’s the intro on YouTube. (The article that originally referenced this movie is here and also in the blogroll.) Here’s the intro on MySpaceTV Videos.

I found it extremely uncomfortable to watch this movie even though it’s mostly just people talking to each other, and even though I’m a woman myself. We have such an enculturated resistance to the idea of women verbally confronting men over street harassment that even I as a woman have a hard time watching it being done (although it’s empowering–I can’t remember ever seeing it done in real life). So I can imagine how uncomfortable a man might feel while viewing this film. Male or female, I admire you if you watch it. It just is not easy to watch.

According to articles, the film has generated heat, debate, and attention wherever it is shown. This is the type of movie in which it doesn’t matter how exactly the footage captures reality–some people are going to dismiss it out of hand. That, too, is reality.

Given that reality, what can both sexes do to combat street harassment? It includes staring, leering, the elevator stare (a leisurely stare up and down a woman’s body), groping, deliberately brushing or bumping a woman, cursing, whistling, propositioning, rating a woman’s body (“Hey baby, you’re gorgeous”) as if she’s public property to judge, etc.

What can we do about this? What ideas do you have as readers? What experiences have you had with street harassment–whether you’ve done it yourself or had it done to you? Share the wealth of your experience here. Keep in mind the commenting guidelines.

[2012 update: I saw one of our commenters had started a street harassment website back in 2008, Stop Street Harassment. It seems good to post the link here. It is still up and active.]

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One Response

  1. Hi – I wrote my master’s thesis on street harassment last year. A small part of my research recently got recognized in a CNN article (http://edition.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/personal/05/14/lw.catcalls/index.html)and as a result of the comments and blog entries that it spurred, I created my own anti-street harassment website about 2 weeks ago. It’s still a work in progress, but there are a lot of resources (including “War Zone”), interviews with anti-street harassment activists, suggested strategies for dealing with street harassment, some “soundbytes” from my research, and a companion blog where people can share their stories. I’m just now trying to get the word out and a google search led me to this entry on your blog, so I’m sharing! http://www.stopstreetharassment.com/
    Thanks

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