Home CommentaryOpinions Cat got your tongue: Responding to street harassment

Cat got your tongue: Responding to street harassment

by Lindsay Richardson January 21, 2014
Cat got your tongue: Responding to street harassment

Photo by Flickr user Ke7dbx

A man in Philadelphia has been notoriously dubbed “the Swiss Cheese Pervert” after pulling up next to unsuspecting women on the street, masturbating with a slice of Swiss cheese, and trying to solicit sex in exchange for money.

In response, women seem to have run scared, (figuratively) boarded up their windows, and kept their children inside. Men have taken to social media to make light of the situation and laugh it off. Enter jokes about “Philadelphia” brand cream cheese and suddenly violation is absolutely hilarious.

So while men like the Swiss Cheese Pervert are at large, getting off on exposing themselves and harassing women, it begs the question: where has everyone else hidden their balls?

This article is calling for a shift in mentality: the population needs to stop believing that this is a natural or normal social encounter.

The previous example is obviously a sensational one, but women are indirectly violated by comments and unwanted stares every day. Though there is no definite way to stop street harassment from happening, the person on the receiving end should feel confident enough to speak up and make a fuss when being publically objectified.

At the very least, the act of shutting down unwanted advances is self-affirming and cathartic. Keeping silent, walking away, and internalizing the frustration is, in most cases, the wrong thing to do. It perpetuates the belief that women’s bodies are merely a source of entertainment for men, and that they have the right to freely comment on or criticize them.

“[Silence] provides validation for any non-consensual sexual interaction, so I think it’s very important for people to call that stuff out,” said Julie Michaud, administrative coordinator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy.

“It’s not OK, it’s not cute, it’s not flirtatious… it’s aggressive and threatening,” she said.

The intent of this piece is by no means to discriminate or victim-blame, but to draw attention to the fact that scores of people disregard these transgressions and pass them off as a “necessary evil” that complements urban living.

It is understandably an emotionally-trying and challenging situation for a woman to be in, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that they are faced with these encounters to begin with. Not everyone can harness the confidence and the cojones to shoot down someone infringing on personal boundaries. Besides, safety is always paramount; no one would expect a woman to call out a gang of guys past midnight on a deserted street.

However, predators will take advantage of the situation if they feel that someone is easily intimidated, so under the right circumstances, just yelling out “stop” or another expletive of choice provides a great feeling of release and satisfaction, and also makes the harasser more obvious to the public eye.

The onus is not only on women to speak up. Men share an equal responsibility.

“The thing that is most powerful is for men to call it out, because those behaviours are often encouraged and read as normal in a male social situations,” Michaud said.

Unfortunately, they can’t always be counted upon to do so. When there is a social norm in place, like that concerning street harassment, people adapt to it and are less likely to take a stand.

Ultimately, women should be able to stand up and tell perverts where to stick it (a fridge, in the case of the Swiss Cheese Pervert) and feel good about doing so. Though an outward, societal change is ideal, we can only work on personally developing an inner strength to help deal with the “macho” nonsense.

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