Caution: Walking While Being a Woman can be Hazardous

A woman being harassed in the city

Being cat-called on the streets is a common occurrence women face regularly. Depending on where you live, it can be a daily occurrence. It is something we have been desensitized to “get use to” even though we are weary of it. But never have I or any woman I know, been fearful for their lives when dealing with the inexorable unwanted advances of men in the streets – until now.  In less than one week, there were two incidents (that made the news) where women were physically harmed after dismissing unwanted advances from men. Unfortunately, Mary “Unique” Spears of Detroit did not survive her attack after being shot in the head by the man she dismissed, even as her fiancé and other family members came to her aid. The other young lady, a 26 year old woman in Queens, New York was able to get away after her assailant slashed her throat when she dismissed his advances. Apparently these men were so offended by the fact that a woman could turn them down, they are willing to kill over it. This inappropriate behavior by men is something that has gone on for years with the expectation that women should tolerate it. Sadly, many women are subjected to public humiliation via a barrage of insults: being called bitch, slut, whore and more if they refuse to acknowledge a man’s advances. Women are now forced to “smile” or engage in meaningless banter with men on the streets for fear of upsetting them. We are now in the age where our fears have heightened, because humiliating an innocent woman is not enough. We are now being physically attacked and even killed for refusing a man’s unwanted advances.

“women want to be street harassed as much as men want to be stopped and frisked and harassed.”

A woman recently stated on social  media, “women want to be street harassed as much as men want to be stopped and frisked and harassed.” A statement that speaks volumes. Many speak on and protest about the marginalization of black men being stopped and frisked as a violation of personal space. Yet, there are few noisemakers when it comes to speaking out against street harassment, because in 2014, it is still accepted and even justified. I’ve heard men state that if women were not so rude when being greeted on the streets, they will not be harassed. What law is there that a woman is required to respond to a stranger who attempts to speak with her on the street or any public or private space for that matter? Since when is it the right of a man to approach a strange woman in any manner he sees fit?

“I’ve had a guy hold a gun to my head when I turned him down. I froze and he eventually walked away.”

Angel from Brooklyn, New York recently shared her experience with a street aggressor with me: “I’ve had a guy hold a gun to my head when I turned him down. I froze and he eventually walked away,” she shared poignantly. Angel and her friends were leaving a nightclub in Colorado in 2002 when a man approached her at the driver’s side of her car, and asked her for her number. When she declined, he pulled a gun to her head. Understandably, she and her friends were shaken by the experience, but then they were angry: “We were pissed that he felt comfortable enough to do that when there were so many people around.” The unsettling thing is, like in many situations where women are the victims, women are told and even warned about ways to avoid male aggressors such as: Don’t dress too revealing or don’t go anywhere alone. When have these ever worked? Women even advise each other on ways to get men to leave them alone with excuses like: I have a boyfriend/husband or I’m a lesbian.

Ladies, a man who is after you is not interested in your life story. What do you having a boyfriend have to do with him? You’re a lesbian? Well he loves women too, that’s why he’s after you! Don’t give men the impression that you will be interested in them if your circumstances were different. Let your aggressor know firmly you are not interested, or ignore them entirely.

Men, leave an uninterested woman alone! You have no rights over her, her personal space, or her body. She is not required to speak to you, and if she has no interest in speaking with you she should not be disrespected or attacked for this.

“no safety will be guaranteed until we teach our men that this type of behavior is offensive.”

Women are taught that if they are attractive these advances from men indicate that they are beautiful and they should appreciate it, and if they are not very attractive, they should be grateful for the attention. Its egregious how many women even believe this, which is unacceptable.  Often times it doesn’t stop with cat-calling; men also touch and grab women in an attempt to get their attention. Men, this is harassment! In fact, it is Harassment in the First Degree under the New York Law. This type of street harassment must be taken seriously as it impedes gender equality, whereby women are not able to move around in public spaces as comfortably as men. Women should get together and demand that laws against street harassment be strictly enforced; however no safety will be guaranteed until we teach our men that this type of behavior is offensive. Teach your young boys and as they grow to become men, their lessons will live through their actions.  #stopstreetharassment

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