The term “street harassment” might elicit a blank look from both men and women. Most men think of catcalling as something that doesn’t happen anymore or here. Most women say it hardly ever happens — only once a day.
Public sexual harassment includes yelling from cars, groping, gesturing, commenting on certain body parts or suggesting sexual acts. Women and LGBTQ individuals make up the vast majority of victims. Penn State students made a video documenting how common it is.
Communications disorders student Leigh Anderson said having her keys ready as a weapon didn’t make her feel better on a recent night when men honked and yelled at her.
“It was dark, and I was wearing heels and I was alone, so I was scared,” Anderson said. “It makes me worried to wear to wear heels, to have your body impaired to not be able to run away. That worries me.”
One in four 12-year-olds and 90 percent of 19-year-olds have experienced harassment, but “it’s been so normalized, people don’t identify it as harassment,” said Kearl. “Even if they don’t like it.”
Many men think it’s only construction workers whistling at a woman in a short skirt. So Kearl says that women telling men about their experiences is the best way to spread the word to other men that it’s not okay.
The Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, created in response to Elliot Roger’s shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, is drawing attention to the daily misogyny women face, including street harassment.
“When a girl is harassed or even groped by a stranger in public, we’re told to ‘take it as a compliment,'” one tweet read.
“When my husband asks me to slow down when we walk together I realize he hasn’t spent his life avoiding street harassment,” read another.
Internet articles about street harassment are often followed by dozens of comments from men who claim that women would be starved for attention without “compliments” from men on the street, or that there are more important issues to worry about.
Kearl reports that a small percentage of women are okay with friendly comments during the daytime when other people are around.
“No woman that I’ve met so far likes sexually explicit comments, being followed, being grabbed, having people take photos up their skirt. Most women have experienced at least one of those,” Kearl said. “And the more often women are harassed, and if they have had a scary experience, they’re less likely to be okay with any of it.”
Anderson described another recent experience while biking to Safeway, when a man yelled out a car window at her.
“It was really strange,” Anderson said. “He was acting like he was giving me a compliment.”
“It wouldn’t keep me from going outside, but I wouldn’t want to wear something that’s super revealing, just because I don’t want the comments,” said Sumi Maristany, a friend of Anderson.
Written by Rebecca Brewster