Almost every woman knows why strangers hooting and hollering at people on the street is a problem. More than 80 percent of women experience gender-based street harassment: unwanted sexual comments, demands for a smile, leering, whistling, following, and groping. Many men do, too, especially in the queer community.
This week is International Anti-Street Harassment Week—a perfect opportunity to engage people who may not otherwise be aware that this is a widespread problem, especially straight men. Here are three ideas—and resources—for ways straight dudes can be street harassment allies.
1. Listen to your friends’ stories about harassment and examine your own behavior.
Most guys who aren’t perceived as gay or feminine have no idea how often gender-based street harassment occurs. Often, men confronted with the problem say, “I would love it if a woman on the street told me I looked sexy,” and then dismiss the harassment as being a compliment. Similarly, most straight people have no idea how often people in the LGBTQ community are harassed or how violent it can be.
Guys and straight folks, it’s your job to ask people you care about what they’ve experienced. Really listen to them when they share their stories. Spend some time reading the daily stories of street harassment on iHollaback and rethink your own behavior if you’re doing something that might make people uncomfortable on the street—even if you think you’re just being a nice guy.
When I first became an activist on this issue, I made a point of telling my male partner each time I was harassed and how it made me feel. That helped him understand the issue better. And for me, as a straight person, hearing the harassment stories of my queer friends and peers has raised my awareness about what they face. Girls for Gender Equity held a cool “Bring Your Brother Day” workshop on street harassment where teenage girls all invited a male relative. Letting people know how annoying and scary even small comments from strangers can be has a big impact. So if you’ve been harassed, speak up and help the guys and straight folks in your life understand how street harassment impacts you.
2. Call out street harassers when you can.
Most people ignore street harassment when they witness it. Often, it’s an awkward situation and people don’t know how to react to someone leering at their friends or hollering a slur out of a car window. Also, there’s always the fear that intervening will escalate the situation. But if it doesn’t seem like the situation will get physically violent, anyone can call out people who are harassing folks on the street—especially if it’s your friends who are doing the harassing. (And if it does seem physically violent, call for or get help.)
There is lots of advice out there for how to interrupt street harassment. For guys, Men Can Stop Rape has a great campus bystander program that includes a segment street harassment. The group’s Men of Strength Club at Georgetown University held a workshop as part of the program and the young men came up with their personal suggestions and Stop Street Harassment.org has a slew of tips for male bystanders. Or you could always tell ‘em, “Misogyny: Super sexy.”
3. Talk to kids about how not to be a creep.
Many young boys who engage in sexual harassment are mimicking what they’ve seen among male relatives or older friends, or they are trying out what they’ve seen in the media (including kids’ cartoons!). Talking to them at a young age about what street harassment is and how to interact with people in public spaces without being a harasser (give them a positive substitute behavior) is extremely important to help counterbalance those messages and help them be allies
Talking to kids about these kinds of issues can be intimidating. Luckily, here are three great resources for working with youth:
a) The Futures Without Violence program Coaching Boys into Men provides men with a playbook/toolkit they can use to talk with boys about street harassment, domestic violence, and sexual violence.
c) Jake Winn, a Peace Corps volunteer and a youth development facilitator in northern Azerbaijan helped his male students make an Anti-Street Harassment video. He also developed a companion lesson plan.
Most gender-based street harassers are men and to truly end street harassment, all men must be part of the solution.