Not my job

This week is international anti-street harassment week, and many brave, eloquent, and all-around amazing individuals have shared their experiences with street harassment.

But this week I’ve also been reflecting on a common reaction to stories of street harassment: the “why-didn’t-you-just…?” You know…

  • Why didn’t you yell back at them?
  • Why don’t you just ignore them?
  • Why didn’t you just walk down a different street?
  • You’re a feminist. Why don’t you teach them?

Let’s be clear: all of these are perfectly legit ways of handling street harassment. But none are required responses.

When someone suggests there’s a right way to handle harassment, it feeds into a larger culture of victim blaming. It’s just as bad as suggesting a person “was asking for it” through her or his style of dress or some other variable.

The “appropriate” reaction depends on a thousand different factors but comes down to one thing: the victims’ own judgment.

And a note on teaching, yelling, or otherwise fighting back against harassment: It’s not our job to educate every misinformed person in the world. Particularly in settings where we don’t feel safe. Or in situations where, if something were to happen, we’d be blamed for engaging them and otherwise “asking for it.”

When you hear questions like this, call them out. Ending street harassment is as much about stopping the perpetrators as it is the skeptical outsiders who hear our stories and dissect our behaviors.

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About Gwen Emmons

Writer, activist, sleepless grad student.

5 responses to “Not my job”

  1. sledpress says :

    Back during “Feminism: The Prequel” (in the 60s and 70s when some people really thought the whole idea was hilarious), there were always plenty of women ready to condescendingly inform other women that if they hadn’t gotten the respect they deserved (or their fair piece of the pie at work and elsewhere, for that matter) they just hadn’t shown enough gumption, or hadn’t chosen the right outfit/attitude/whatever that would make men take them seriously. I suppose second-guessing will always be in style.

    • Gwen Emmons says :

      So true. And I’ve heard from many women that often the harshest criticism is lobbed by women who think that how they’d react should be the standard for all women. It’s clearly something we’ve got to be conscious of among people we look to as “allies,” too.

  2. Tori says :

    I agree. I’m sure part of this is me taking negatives to heart, but I see a lot of people judging others’ reactions to harassment rather than understanding them. A lot of times, we’re criticized for either not reacting enough or for overreacting. (Sometimes both at once.) Ultimately, though, the real problem is that the person had to experience harassment in the first place.

    • Gwen Emmons says :

      Exactly. This kind of sniping and criticizing just distracts from the real issue!

      • sledpress says :

        Bingo. Jerks are jerks; the onus is not and should never be on the targets of jerks. When women second-guess other women’s reactions to harassment, they’re playing into the strategy of divide et impera — practically assuming that men are intrinsically jerks and that it’s up to women to manage them properly. The feminist men of the world deserve better than that, while women ought to grant other women some faith in their own judgment

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