(Previous street harassment post here)
Imagine that we live in a world very similar to our own today, with one difference. Every time you leave your home, office, or another private location, you’re the target of hurled ping pong balls.
Yes, ping pong balls. Constant, unending, determined, driven, ping pong balls. They fall from the sky and seemingly fly up from the ground. They hit you from the right and left; the east, west, north, south, and every other possible direction.
However, this is just a fact of life. For some reason, you live in ping pong ball world. It’s been like this since the day you were born, and for fifty years prior. It will probably be like this when you die.
You never quite know when the ping pong balls are coming, but you can assume it’s probably when you least expect them — when you’re quite happily going about your own business.
So far, probably annoying, but not too horrible. Except, maybe, if you’re old, or otherwise fairly immobile, and are inclined to slip and fall. (Don’t forget, the ping pong balls don’t care if you’re on the stairs or on a hill.)
Now imagine that these sky projectiles are USUALLY ping pong balls. 1% of the projectiles are actually pieces of chocolate (in a chocolate allergy-free world). However, 20% are golf balls, and .0001% are balls consisting of sharp, rusted nails (like a hedgehog, but metal).
Are the ping pong balls still just annoying? No. Because every time you see one of this world’s projectiles flying toward your face, you don’t really have enough time to judge if it’s chocolate, a ping pong ball, a golf ball, or a deathspike ball. Sure, the golf and deathspike balls are relatively few and far between, but your preservation instinct tells you to be wary. Besides, there’s so many damn balls flying at you all day, you’re bound to come across some of the more malicious ones all the time.
If you lived in this world, would you really venture outside particularly often? Would you consider this situation just another fact of life, or would societies across the globe be trying to figure out how to defeat the evil ball atmosphere?
This is what street harassment feels like. When I’m walking alone, I constantly have my guard up. I don’t mean going into a creepy dark alley at night; I mean walking from my apartment to the BART station, or getting some exercise around the neighborhood, or going to pick up lunch, or running other errands, or being a tourist in a strange (or familiar) city.
Recognize that all street harassment is an unwanted intrusion into my life, and that a large minority of comments are actually malicious and threatening in nature. Couple this with the public knowledge and constant threat of rape and other violence. Mix in a constant feeling of siege, and an inability to discern which threats are just words and which threats will have physical and emotional follow-through. That’s what street harassment feels like.
In my last street harassment post, I discussed its personal damage on women. However, it also damages society as a whole, as well as individual men.
There’s a scene in some movie when a Paul Rudd-ish dude is walking to work in Manhattan and happens to be walking a yard or so behind a woman. His monologue goes something like this:
“Oh, shit. There’s a woman in front of me. Do I speed up? Do I slow down? There’s women all over this sidewalk. I guess I’ll stay at my normal place. Man, she must be starting to get annoyed right now. She probably thinks I’m a perv or a stalker or something. So, she’s getting annoyed because I’m walking on the street, and I’m getting annoyed because she’s getting annoyed, I’m not a bad guy, I just want to get to work, and everybody on this street’s annoyed, and now she’s getting scared because I’m still behind her, and I’m frustrated and annoyed because I’ve never done anything wrong in my life! But I guess she has a good reason to be scared.”
Street harassment dramatically infringes upon women’s right to exist as whole and equal participants in public life. It sows fear and resentment into the hearts of complete strangers. Furthermore, it screws over all the decent men in the world who don’t actually want or need women to be afraid of them.
Street harassment isn’t a compliment. It’s assault. It’s forcing us to live in a constant war zone. When you’re at war, it’s discerning between enemy combatants and peaceful civilians is extremely stressful, but at least you always have an end date. All the women you know get no such respite in this world.