Take back the day

Opinion, NakedLaw

What’s it like to be a woman in 2014 America?

You could ask some of my law firm’s clients, like the battered wife standing up to her abusive husband after years as his punching bag. Or the professional woman on the receiving end of explicit, hardcore pornographic emails from her boss. Or the young college student assaulted by a police officer. If you aren’t a feminist already, spend a day fighting my sexual harassment, discrimination or assault cases and become radicalized.

Not every woman is physically attacked or sexually harassed, of course, but all women, #YesAllWomen as the recent Twitter campaign showed, are at risk. That danger remains high, as a compelling new video brilliantly demonstrates.

Street harassment is the low-grade fever we are all expected to grin and bear, and is a constant reminder of the lurking potential of sexual violence. This week, a video by advocacy group Hollaback! showed a young woman walking calmly and silently through the streets of Manhattan, as a man a few paces in front of her concealed a video camera in his backpack.

The results will not surprise any woman who has the nerve to walk around alone for even a minute in America. Over one hundred incidents of catcalls, leering, instructions on her proper facial expressions and etiquette, and creepy dudes walking beside her for several minutes on end, apparently hoping to just wear her down, followed.

Not that it matters in the least, but the actress wore simple black jeans and a plain black t-shirt, and walked purposefully. Her attitude conveyed that she was serious and had someplace to go, and wasn’t the least bit interested in male attention.

She was harassed when she smiled, and harassed when she didn’t. Some men became hostile when she didn’t thank them for their unsolicited comments on her appearance. DANGER. Others demanded explanations for why she didn’t want to talk to them or give them her number, and grew surly. DANGER.

The blatant disrespect for her simple right to walk around the city unmolested was both shocking (to see it encapsulated on video) and painfully ordinary, as every woman knows this is our reality, day in and day out. That “hey beautiful” can turn on a dime into male anger at being snubbed.

For decades, feminists have turned out for Take Back the Night marches, but offensive behavior can be just as bad during daylight hours, as this video shows.

For women, this is such a common life experience that most of us have formed strategies to be left alone. On city walks, I generally wear sunglasses and headphones, music blasting loud enough to drown out the harassment. Most of us learn as young teens to stare straight ahead and let the comments bounce off. We’re required to assess risk by pretending to ignore harassers while simultaneously trying to determine which men may be truly dangerous. We dress down. Or avoid certain neighborhoods and certain times of day, not that we’re ever really safe.

Street harassment is exhausting and misogynist and violates our civil rights. Men who insist on reducing us to body parts and potential sex partners vividly remind us of their male privilege and of the ever present possibility of sexual assault.

Gee, I wonder why she’s not smiling?

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

Related articles: