Street Harassment is Universal and Age-Old

This week, I watched a video of a woman who was catcalled more than 100 times in the course of a ten-hour walk through Manhattan. You probably watched it, too. The comments she received from men were captured on the video, which was made in collaboration with the anti-harassment website Hollaback!, and ranged from a seemingly innocuous “Have a nice evening” to more aggressive badgering, especially from a man who demanded her gratitude for his unsolicited compliment. “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful,” he called after her. “You should say thank you more.” One man eerily followed her for more than five minutes. I thought, “That’s about right.” Lots of other women did, too. Some women who wrote about it were angry. But by the time you reach your mid-30s, as I have, you’re more tired than anything else. I’ve spent the past thirteen years of my adult life living in cities, first in Brooklyn and then in Washington, D.C. and, if you multiplied the four or five comments I get every day during my regular commute, they would add up to what we saw in that video—a stream of remarks about my physique, my smile or lack thereof, and demands for attention. So would every woman’s. It is endless and it gets really, really old.

More tiresome is that every time street harassment comes up as an issue, some well-meaning guy asks whether some of these comments aren’t really just compliments after all. Maybe we should all relax? I would have thought this video might make the exhausting nature of such constant, unwanted attention more clear. But Fox News, predictably, aired an entire segment that basically said, “Boys will be boys,” and blamed women for being so damned pretty. More questions popped up all over Facebook and Twitter: “Isn’t it OK sometimes to compliment women?” “Was all of that ‘harassment’?” Even the innocuous comments, like “Have a nice evening”? Yes, they are—in a deep, feel-it-in-your-bones way that can be hard to explain.

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