Note: The first 25% of this blog post was curated from an existing Slate article.
Hollaback! is an anti-street harassment organization that recently teamed up with the marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative to reveal what it’s like for a woman to walk down the street alone.
The agency outfitted a backpack with a hidden camera and walked across NYC streets for 10 hours in front of actress Shoshana B. Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and holding a microphone in each hand.
The mics recorded these comments:
Friendly. “Have a nice evening!”
Entitlement. “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!”
In addition there was ceaseless whistling, cat-calling and even some light stalking.
The video demonstrates that just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command.
“How are you this morning?” Sure this sounds like an innocent greeting but when a man shouts it from across the street it sounds like a demand.
Bliss recorded more than 100 instances of verbal harassment in all, not including winks and whistles.
I would argue that this isn’t a “straight” male problem, it’s simply a male problem. We need to address how we raise our young boys, while teaching them more appropriate methods of interacting with their penises.
This sort of harassment happens to me a lot. Straight men call me a”faggot” all the time. Of course they’re usually behind the wheel of their car, typical cowards, but there have been incidences when a stranger has approached me to utter the most homophobic remarks. The takeaway is that my sexuality is so offensive to them that they must tell me.
But I digress. Let’s return to the subject at hand: Sexual harassment. Gay men, unsurprisingly to me, are just as hypersexual as straight men, the only difference is that they have the permission to act on their desires more readily.
Just this weekend I was at a pub when a man appeared out of nowhere to compliment me on my jeans.
“Thank you,” was my reply. “I purchased them at Holt Renfrew and they were quite affordable.”
The stranger looked back at me, ignored my statement and continued, “They hug your body nicely. And you have an amazing ass.” Then he departed my company, lingering at my behind as he returned to his table.
Okay so I do have a nice bum, I work out at the gym and squats are part of my regular routine, so thank you for noticing. Is this comment something I should be grateful for? I mean, I didn’t ask for it, I gave the man no indication that I was interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with him, yet he had absolutely no issues with letting me know that he found my looks acceptable to his tastes. The encounter was odd, but something I am accustomed to.
Literally the next day I was out with friends when I was introduced to a man who was running for city council. We talked about the ward he wanted to represent. I thought everything was going really nicely, we had good rapport, he was kind, respectable, what have you. He seemed genuinely surprised with how knowledgeable I was, so much that he confessed, “You’re in the minority, too many voters are ignorant about their municipal politics.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Like a lot of people I know I try to be an informed citizen.”
Then there was an awkward silence that I broke with a discussion about the mayoral race. During my speech (it was a kind of monologue) he interrupted me to say, “You have the perfect nose. How does someone get a nose like that.”
I was genuinely surprised. How did he make that leap? I was in the middle of talking about Olivia Chow, a mayoral candidate who he apparently worked with once. Now we were talking about my physical appearance? Really?
“Ummm… thank you.” I didn’t know what to say so I blurted, “I was born with this nose.” Then he stared at me, expecting more, I wasn’t sure what else to do; it was clear that our conversation about politics was now over. He wanted something in return for his compliment. I made an excuse to get away from him, and that was that.
The following day the polls opened, so I sent him a note on Twitter saying, “Good luck.” I felt bad for just ditching him the night previous, but the mood of our interaction changed with a judgment on my aesthetic. I thought for a moment that perhaps I had overreacted but I eventually determined that it was best to trust my gut instincts, they’ve never failed me before. He never replied to my tweet.
The first incident that I described here was harassment. I did not ask that man to comment on my bum, and what he expected from me in return was gratitude. No. Just no.
This type of behaviour is prevalent and wildly accepted in the gay community. And having a conversation with gay men, who are rarely critical of their own actions, can be challenging as they don’t see anything wrong with these attitudes that are embraced by their social circles.
The idea is that our entire value as a human being is determined by how attractive we are to other men. Nothing else matters, but that. If you peruse the Instagram accounts of gay men, they’re saturated with nude or shirtless selfies. The statements they’re making are clear: I’m attractive, I’m hot, I look sexy in a bikini brief, therefore I’m important because people find me sexually desirable.
Thing is they’re right. Our worth is determined by how we look. And that’s not a good thing at all. As a result men are rarely challenged by these societal norms, they don’t believe that their behaviour is offensive or degrading. Well, sometimes they do know, but their hubris supercedes their decency.
I thought about how many of my peers would have submitted to the advances of these men who made a value judgment about me based on shallow criteria. To some, it’s considered a sincere form of flattery because it elevates their self-esteem.
So I’ll leave you with this last personal story. A month ago I was walking home from my barbershop, when a man, who was twice my size in height grabbed my arm, looked me up and down, and then said, “Whoa, you’re fucking hot. And that ass, damn, that ass.” I pulled my arm away and continued walking, but he began following me, yelling, “HEY, HEY, I gave you a compliment!”
I felt unsafe, embarrassed and violated. Eventually I stopped a woman on the street and asked her to pretend that we knew each other, whispering that I was trying to shake the man who was following me. She gave me a faux hug and then brought me inside a local store where we waited for the man to leave.
She and I have since met for coffee!
We spoke a long time about similar experiences. We agreed that there has to be a shift with men at some point. They have to help change our culture, but mostly, collectively we have to teach our boys how to control their libidos so that they’re not lechers.
There’s no defence for this kind of harassment. It’s not a compliment. It’s frightening. Why would a man want to make someone feel uncomfortable to satisfy his erection?