I was very surprised to see this article on street harassment on the front page of the BBC today. I’m glad to see that this is finally on the Government’s radar, although in my opinion it’s long overdue.
I’ve emailed the BBC through the ‘Have Your Say’ details at the bottom of the article, both sharing my experiences of street harassment in Nottingham and suggesting some additions to the article:
- That it isn’t always safe to confront your harasser and that’s okay
- Although it’s good that they say ‘If you choose to speak directly to the assailant’..
- And also what you should do if you see someone being harassed
- Make eye contact with them, let them know you see them and don’t condone what is happening
- Ask the harasser for the time to break the harassment in a neutral way
- Start a conversation with the person being harassed (about anything at all)
- And, if the harasser has gone, let them know that what the harasser did was wrong and was not their fault in any way
Although it’s helpful that they gave tips on what to do if you’re being harassed, you should always assess whether or not you deem it safe to confront your harasser. It’s completely okay if you don’t feel confident to do so. I myself have had knee-jerk reactions of shouting at someone who has harassed me on the street only for my stomach to drop and a feeling of dread to set in because I knew it could escalate and I would be in serious trouble.
I also feel that there should be a section on what to do if you see someone being harassed. Although we know that street harassment usually takes place where the only two people around are the harasser and the person being harassed, it does also happen on public transport where there are lots of other people. In these situations it’s important for you to connect with the person being harassed so they know it’s not their fault. It may not be safe for you to directly confront the harasser, and you’ll need to gauge whether approaching the person who has been harassed will intimidate them further, but the recommendations above are there if you deem them appropriate.
If everyone looks away and pretends it’s not happening, the person being harassed is completely alone and thinks it’s their fault. It’s important to show that you don’t condone what is happening and that the person doesn’t feel isolated and at fault, otherwise you’re just perpetuating the culture of normalised sexism and victim blaming.
And because a standard justification of street harassment is that it’s a compliment, hare some excerpts from my dissertation on street harassment for anyone thinking that it’s a compliment:
Goffman (1963) argues that street harassment is a compliment but as it does not adhere to the norms of compliment behaviour (Gardner, 1980) and often yields negative emotions or reactions from its recipients (Kissling, 1991; Bates, 2014a) it can be argued that even if the intention is complimentary the effect is not.
Gardner (1980) demonstrates street remarks do not adhere to norms of complimentary behaviour; they occur between two strangers in a public space, the remarks are often about a person’s body which is not usually up for public scrutiny and saying thank you, which is the usual compliment response, can lead to hostility. Furthermore, the remarks are not always positive but can be rude and/or derogatory (Gardner, 1980), which does not suggest intentions of flattery or complimentary behaviour.
Somehow, saying ‘good morning’ or ‘praise the lord’ directly to my ass is harassment, not a compliment.
Bates, L. (2014a) Everyday Sexism London: Simon and Schuster
Gardner, C. B. (1980) ‘Passing by: Street Remarks, Address Rights and the Urban Female’ in Sociological Inquiry 50 pp. 328-56
Goffman, E. (1963) Behaviour in Public Places New York: Free Press
Kissling, E. A. (1991) ‘Street Harassment: The Language of Sexual Terrorism’ in Discourse and Society 2(4) pp. 451-460