Thursday, October 30, 2014

Street Harassment - A "Nice Guy's" Guide

Good day cyberspace. I hope that the day has found you well. Last night, Lucy DeCoutere came forward publicly and courageously shared her personal experiences with Jian Ghomeshi. That revelation finally brought a lot of people to their senses which is something to celebrate but in this accomplishment there is also the shame that we should bear for the seven women before her that people tried so desperately to discredit and not take serious. Thank you Lucy.

This incident is an all too common occurrence, sexual and/or violent crimes against women. It is a daily occurrence for women across the globe who do not have the luxury of having enough celebrity klout to be able to speak up and see just done as it is no doubt now certain it will be dished out to Jian to some degree; at least that's the direction things seems to be changing to. We mustn't become complacent when the news story dies, we must continue to believe in the victims. Let their voices be heard without judgment or blame.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment towards women needs to stop in all it's forms. The incidents surrounding Jian Ghomeshi are very serious as they are both violent and sexual in nature. These types of incidents happen every day and more often than not it is not someone jumping out of an alley; it is someone the familiar to the victim. My goal here today is actually discuss another form of street harassment that all this brought to my head and that is in regards to street harassment or cat calling; specifically a defense or argument used by countless men. Granted not all the men I hear it from are misogynists (many are), some are just ignorant.

When it comes to street harassment, many men have a difficult time understanding where the line is drawn or don't acknowledge that line whatsoever. First it is important to get this out there right away: men, you are NEVER entitled to a woman; she is not an object or a prize and your verbal sexual harassment expresses that you feel entitled. You're not. Unwelcome advances are never alright.

It is usually at this stage that the argument in question generally arises and most often to troll or to victim blame: 'but I was just being nice' or 'I only said hello' or 'I'm a nice guy though'. Well gentlemen, I'm no woman but I have been educating myself on women's rights, feminism and sexism for quite some time now and while I do not claim to speak for anyone other than myself, I think I might have an answer for you.

"I was just being nice."
While this may sound like a genuine argument, it isn't. First of all you are taking the onus off of yourself for a wrong you committed, regardless of you awareness or opinion of it, and you placed it on the victim. Most rapes and sexual assaults are not committed in secluded alleys in the dark of night which means someone else 'was just being nice' until they weren't. With the frequency of sexual assaults and rapes against women and the way they are judged and mistreated by the entire system (and society), is it a wonder that a woman might not perceive you as 'just being nice'?

She has no way of knowing anything about you, nor do you have any knowledge of her. What if she has already been a victim and your 'being nice' is a trigger to those memories and events? When you get upset and your excuse is that you were 'just being nice', you are blaming someone else for your own shortcomings. I'm not telling you not to be nice, I'm telling you that just because you think you're being nice, does not make it so.

"I'm a nice guy though."
So am I but that does not excuse you from the responsibility of showing respect towards women. I am mature enough to admit that I too, in my youth, thought and some times said this however I have come to understand how very wrong I was. Being a nice guy, much like 'just being nice', are not something you can impose on anyone with evidence and that is what you are doing when you use this as an excuse to blame a victim. She doesn't know that and that you are blaming her for feeling harassed instead of asking how you can correct your behavior is a good indication that you aren't really that nice of a guy.

What I learned that helped me change is that being a nice guy is listening when a woman, or anyone, is trying to express herself; that being a nice guy is showing the same respect towards a woman as you would a male counterpart; that being a nice guy is understanding that you make mistakes, even typical patriarchal, misogynistic mistakes, acknowledging them and taking steps to change them; that being a nice guy is understanding that consent is given, never assumed; that being a nice guy is not what I thought being a nice guy was.

You can be a nice guy and still make the mistake of crossing a line with street harassment; a nice guy will learn from his mistake. What makes you a bad guy is using an excuse to pass the buck and blame the victim for not understanding you were 'just being nice' because you're a 'nice guy'.

"I only said hello."
This one is a popular one in the list of victim blaming statements commonly accompanied by the personal affront that some male's advances weren't welcomed by a woman. Most every encounter begins with a greeting of some sorts. Hello, Hey, Hi, Sup, How's it going, What's new....even a nod of the head or a wave of the hand are gestures of greeting. This is how most relationships, romantic, professional or platonic begin. Incidentally, it is also someone a victim is involved with in one of those three ways who is most likely to commit a sexual or violent crime against them. Let that sink in:

Lover.
Boss or Coworker.
Family or Friend.

When women know they face the fear, the staggering odds (see above graphic) and disturbing judgment when coming forward about claims of sexual assault or rape there should be no misunderstanding why your only saying 'Hello' could be felt as an unwelcome advance. Again and again with these excuses it is always assumed by the man that they are somehow entitled, that somehow a woman should just be happy and appreciate that you are being kind or nice to them. There are days when I don't like my own family being nice or kind to me, let alone a complete stranger; especially one that fits the profile or image of some of my deepest fears.

Examples of street harassment
Whistling.
Gesturing.
Commenting. 'Hey baby!', 'Looking good!', 'Sexy!', 'You're looking beautiful!'....
Leering.
Touching.
Swearing. 'You're a hot bitch!', 'That is one sexy ass!', 'Check out that slut!'...
Sexualization. 'You can me detention any time!', 'You can frisk me any time baby.'....
Intimidation.

The list of things that fall under street harassment and the thousands and thousands of examples that could be provided are countless and too many to list here. The above mentioned list is perhaps unfairly generalizing the many levels and forms of street harassment, I feel it is an acceptable list for people to start with and grow.

In closing...
It isn't about you, it's about them. That's it. Simple. No need to make it complex. Victim blaming is why this behavior continues; why people escape punishment; why so many women live in fear; why so many women continue live in a silent, nightmarish Hell.

So you may just be 'being nice' because you're 'just a nice guy' who was 'only saying Hello' in your own mind but that's not always the way it is in hers....and the way she is made to feel is what's important not that you feel personally insulted because you don't understand. When we get called out as human beings, we have a tendency to become embarrassed by the situation and in this arena we turn that embarrassment into anger instead of a chance to learn, grown and apologize.

Once again, thank you all for reading. I hope that you will be a little more thoughtful in how you approach women, those you know and those you don't, and why your good intentions can come across as unwanted advances. There is hope yet and we need to support all the women out there suffering in silence; they deserve a stage to speak out from free from the hate, judgment and other disturbing victim blaming behavior. One love.

PS: This post is about sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and crimes of a violent/sexual nature against women. This is not in any way indicative of anything but my support for a historically oppressed group; in his case women. I do openly acknowledge that men deal with these very same issues as well.