As an anarchist I oppose hierarchy and dominance over other human beings. This dominance can be interpersonal as well as through a state or corporation. One common form of dominance I see in the city is street harassment. Street harassment is something much more common in the city and not as much seen in suburban areas.
Every time I go to a corner store or the market I hear it and see it. Men using words, body language and dominant behaviors to objectify and belittle women. This is often called street harassment. I have heard some justify such actions as ‘paying compliments’ which is telling of the sexual dominance in culture. Rape is a sexual violation based on dominance of another human being. Street harassment is along the same line as rape, unwanted sexual advances based on dominance of one person over the other. Like rape it is a form of dominance, it may not be as damaging or violating in most cases, but the same paradigm of dominance and power plays out. In the case of street harassment the man has his way and the woman walks away without much language to express her violation. This lets the woman know her place in society as an object for the man to exploit, own and enjoy and not as an equal human being.
I was at the BP up the street walking from my car at the pump to go inside and get a pack of cigarettes. I saw a man approach a car. Beside the car was a woman who looked scared or concerned. He had blocked her from getting into her car. I did not hear everything, but I heard enough.
“Why don’t you take me home. Keep me warm in your bed.” He was much larger than she, she was uncomfortable. I walked up to him.
“How you doing?” I asked both of them in a confronting manner. He seemed not to want to be bothered. I looked at her, and positioned myself to approach him which made him back off a bit. “Is everything okay here?” I asked her keeping attention on him.
“Yeah it’s okay.” he said, attempting to maintain his control of the situation and his dominance over her voice. Everything was not okay for her, but it was okay for the male who was maintaining power over the woman in the situation. I was able to give her enough room to get into her car so she could get away from the unwanted advances. It was fine for him. He held the power in the situation, and was fine with this. She was obviously not fine with this. This woman wanted back in her car. I was able to distract him by talking to him. He asked me for money. I gave him some change. She was able to get out of the situation.
This behavior is encouraged in our society. The music and movie industry glamorizes the conquest and harassment of females. Women are displayed in magazines like catalogs of merchandise for us to pick out the one we want. They are objectified, meaning they become objects in the minds of many, objects to own like one would own their slave. The popular music re-enforces this mindset. Men see women in the perspective of “she is mine” be it ‘she is my wife’ or ‘my girlfriend’. Speaking in a relationship manner this is fine to have a wife or girlfriend, but the reality is that for many men dominance is an issue and the dominant behavior over women is a possessive one which equates to dominant power over another human being. To see more of how this mindset is perpetuated I suggest watching: Desire, Sex & Power In Music Video. Music videos are not the only area of society we perpetuate this mindset and behavior, but delving further into that is for another article.
Tracy Renee Jones writes about her experiences with street harassment in her article Street Meet: Black Women, Black Men, & Everyday Sexual Harassment:
I am 11 years old wearing a Catholic School uniform. I make a run for the candy store a few blocks away from the school. The men say things to me but I don’t know what some of the words mean. Their stares make me uncomfortable.
I am 15 years old wearing shell toe Adidas and a gold name plate. Backpack on one shoulder, one sock slouched as I make my way to my Catholic high school.
I am 23 years old wearing steel toe boots and dingy, baggy clothes on my way to work the docks at UPS.
I am 30 years old wearing a suit, early in the morning, while making my way to work which I now called a ‘career’.
I am 36 years old wearing the shapeless clothes one does when they get older, my hair is in a ponytail and I’m walking with my adult daughter.
“Good Morn’en”, says the toothless alcoholic who lives on the curb as I make my way to the bus during my morning commute.
“Hey Pretty Lady”, says the dirty day laborer as he rubs his dick, “You got a hus-ban?” I look down my nose at him, making my disgust clear. I refuse to break my gaze until I see the look of humiliation cross his face.
I strongly suggest reading the full article here: Street Meet: Black Women, Black Men, & Everyday Sexual Harassment, as well as the letter in response to her article: We Got Mail: One Reader’s Story of Everyday Street Sexual Harassment
From my experience here in Northeast Kansas City the incidents are not isolated to race. The victims and perpetrators tend to come from many racial and cultural backgrounds in this area. One common thread in the incidents I am told about and witness is that the perpetrators are male and do hold beliefs that are highly patriarchal and male dominant. I will not deny that there may be specific cultural and racial issues involved with this issue as Tracy Renee Jones addresses, but those are not my specific focus of this article. My focus is coming from the experiences I am mostly aware of from my own wife’s experiences that have brought this issue to my attention and our discussions on this issue.
My wife and I were walking our dog one night when the issue met a climax in our life. We were holding hands when a strange voice began to call out lewd and lascivious comments about my wife’s body. My wife is an extremely beautiful woman and this was not her the first experience. The voice was hiding in the dark. She responded which shut the voice up, but the perpetrator was nowhere to be found. He was hiding somewhere in the dark and despite an effort to locate him he was successful in concealing himself. When we returned home she was furious. Which led her to do some online research where she found the website Stop Street Harassment. This also led her to getting the book Back Off! How to confront and stop sexual harassment and harassers, which I would suggest for women and men in dealing with this issue.
We see the problem that exists and this makes me ask if there is an answer to the problem. The answer is where we find the root of the problem it is within the men. The responsibility is theirs, but as the case with most forms of hierarchical abuse we find that our society often places not only blame but responsibility on the victim. “She was asking for it.”
“She just can’t take a compliment.”
And sadly in most cases men are not willing to take the responsibility to do anything to adjust their actions so the responsibility to end this falls on the solders of the victims, the women who have been harassed. We find the fix with these two groups. The first more desirable is in men. We must stop this by ending our harassment and not tolerating such behavior. I say this is most desirable because it puts the blame and responsibility in the hands of the individuals who are the perpetrators. It’s not too far off from the idea of ‘only men can stop rape’ idea. It’s the perpetrators who have the most power in ending their crime. The sad fact is that in many cases it falls on the women who can learn assertive ways to respond and handle the situation. I strongly suggest visiting the resources I have pointed out for all groups and learning not only more about the problem but also in how we can handle it.