LASH out at Street Harrasment.

Whilst browsing for low level perverts on Hollaback, the NY edition drew my attention to a new campaign launched recently in the borough of Hackney, London. The London Anti-Street Harrassment (LASH) has a rather ambitious aim: to put a stop to a certain kind of man who thinks it’s flattering/appreciated/wanted for him to give you an insight into whatever seedy thought is running through  his brain whilst he encounters you in a public space. Or worse, deciding his hands just have to wander over to your body. LASH is busy writing to MPs and the media to try to give exposure to an issue that is often considered as yet another thing women just have to ‘put up’ with.  Founder Vicky Simister decided to start up the campaign shortly after moving to Hackney and noticing the level of street harassment she received increased. She states:

With many noble organisations dedicated to preventing gender discrimination in the workplace, sexual assault and other important women’s issues, street harassment gets overlooked as a minor problem. Women are told to accept harassment as a fact of life, or to ignore it. We don’t think is fair. We need to re-educate people, both the perpetrators – who often brush off their actions as “harmless” – and the victims, who frequently feel intimidated, offended and afraid.  It needs to become socially unacceptable to yell at a woman in the street, or make unwelcome comments about her appearance.

Street Harrasment is one of those areas which divides opinion on as to what actually constitutes inappropriate behaviour. In the chat forum on Cosmopolitan, started by LASH, the first two pages of comments are pretty depressing. One commenter posted, “It’s when they stop wolf whistling at you that you have to worry!” and offered the useful adviceCould you not walk another way? or something?”.  Whilst a small cross-section, most depressingly most of these comments appear to be written by women. Whilst no doubt some women do appreciate being wolf whistled at on the street, I’m not sure they would appreciate what the next step may be; being kissed at or having someone masturbate in front of you – just two of the most recent posts on Hollaback. So, exactly what is street harassment, what do you think constitutes street harassment?

I certainly don’t feel flattered when a man wolf whistles as me; I am mostly confused as to what sort of response I am supposed to give. Does he really think I will run over and declare my love? Or is he simply satisfied knowing that he’s made my day by blowing air through his lips?

Nor do I feel flattered when I am wheeling my bike down the road and a man suggests “I’d give you a ride” punctuated with a sleazy smile. Nor (having grown up near a park known for curb crawling) to have a man, old enough to be my father, slow down to a crawl alongside me and ask “Are you working?” before laughing to himself and, thankfully, driving away. Did I mention I was wearing my school uniform at the time? Nor when sitting on the tube with my sister, to have the man opposite us stare unbroken until we felt so uncomfortable we moved.  These are just few examples street harassment I have encountered that stick in my head, but every time it happens I flit between felling scared and angry at my first reaction of fear because some else has a problem.Why should I feel threatened when I am simply walking down a street?

I feel uncomfortable discussing exactly how I look and how I dress, because I feel that removes the focus from the real issue. It is not about how attractive or unattractive a person might be… how slim they are or how big/small their boobs are. None of this is what is at fault. It is the man, who feels it gives him some power by commenting on the way you look, that is at fault.

That said, and as much as I believe that statement, I have a further confession to make… one that I am rather ashamed about; recently I have started lowering my hemlines or covering up a short hemline with a long coat.  I know this is slightly illogical to my previous statement (and, no, you are not excused from comments just because you are wearing jeans and a jumper) but it does seem to decrease the amount of comments.

I am so fed up with these attitudes of some men, and my reaction to it, that I want to do something more constructive than getting pissed off and amending my outfits. There may be a lot of people to convince that street harassment in any form is not ok but, with growing support, LASH may well do it.

Image from here

By: Dearbhaile Kitt, 04.05.2010 | Comments (5)
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