I grew up in NYC. I lived there for 18 years. In that time I was cat-called, followed, grabbed, groped, and jerked off at. When I was in junior highschool, girls my age (myself included) would say things like "thank you" or smile when we were harassed. We did this out of fear of escalating the situation. Later, many of us graduated to ignoring. We were trying to avoid confrontation without affirming the behavior by simply not being responsive. Because I thought I was tough, I eventually began to mouth off to men who did that or announce to the crowded subway car that a man was harassing me. I still had fear in my heart when I did this however. To this day, I am afraid when I confront people who are harassing me or people around me. If someone is aggressive enough to shout at, touch or follow a complete stranger, then they are probably aggressive enough to react violently when challenged. Often times, women and girls are compelled to accept the "lesser evil" out of fear of angering the aggressor. Street harassment is scary. It's traumatic to the victim no matter how "innocent" the aggressor's comment. This kind of harassment is very real. In NYC, in New Orleans, Vermont, everywhere I have ever lived.
Recently a video was made by a group based in NYC called Hollaback that works to end street harassment. The video documents New York resident Shoshana Roberts walking around the city for 10 hours followed by a hidden camera crew. In that time Robert receives countless catcalls and creepy comments/actions from male strangers. The video echoes my childhood and the upbringing of any woman who grew up in an urban setting. It is totally familiar to me. What is unfamiliar to me is the sheer volume of people, male and female, who refuse to see this as violence. Many of those people have chosen to personally attack Roberts, and in turn any woman who feels it is her place to stand up against street harassment. Because the project is clear-cut evidence of a sexist behavior (one that any woman can tell you is a big part of everyday life), many have threatened physical assault against Roberts. Personally, I don't understand how one can look at this video and see those men as friendly passersby. But if you truly cannot tell that this behavior is gendered violence, consider the fact that a woman who literally did nothing but film herself walking around in the city where she lives is receiving rape threats. RAPE threats. People are threatening sexual violence on someone they JUST watched experience sexual violence.
Stand up against street harassment, for yourself and for those around you. Remember that often the person being harassed is too afraid to react. It is our responsibility to one another as humans to notice this behavior and to publicly shame it. To ignore or dismiss this video, the responses and this behavior is to perpetuate sexism and violence against women.
Learn more about Hollaback on their website: http://www.ihollaback.org/
(You can also see the original video and read their official response to it's reception)
If you'd like to read some of the terrifying responses to the video, here is a link to an article about it: http://www.vox.com/2014/10/29/7088867/catcall-video-hollaback-rape-threats
If you'd like to read well-written kick ass article on the subject: http://www.salon.com/2014/10/30/americas_catcalling_madness_what_michael_che_co_keep_on_missing/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow