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Gender Block: the deal with street harassment

Hillary Di Menna

So who else had a face palm family conversation over the Easter weekend? Well, if yours was anything like mine, it’s time to talk about street harassment.

Street harassment can range from something as obvious as public masturbation to something as seemingly subtle as leering. Last year, the United Nations published Commission on the Status of Women. Amongst the agreed conclusions was a statement that women and men have the right to enjoy, on an equal basis, all their human rights and freedoms. It goes on to say, “The Commission expresses deep concern about violence against women and girls in public spaces, including sexual harassment, especially when it is being used to intimidate women and girls who are exercising any of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

There is a big difference between a cat call and rape. Staring at a woman for an extended amount of time—which is also awkward/intimidating—may not seem like that big of deal. After all, if a woman is walking around during the summer in a bikini top in 24-degree weather, she must know people are going to stare. Guys walk around without their shirts all the time, and if they’re attractive women are probably staring at them, too.

“While women also may harass men in public, gender inequality means that the power dynamics at play, frequency of the harassment, the underlying threat of rape, and the impact on the harassed person’s life is rarely comparable,” reads the website for organization Stop Street Harassment.

Young girls are conditioned to thinking their body is not their own but is something to be judged, ashamed of, and up for grabs sexually. All these feelings are enforced  by media messaging, outdated cultural traditions, and the comments yelled at girls and teens as they are walking to school.

In other words, being stared at while pumping gas may seem like an isolated incident, but it often comes after years of this kind of messaging—and in many cases being a victim to sexual violence. (More than half of Canadian women report having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.)

And, really, it isn’t up to a woman’s wardrobe to determine if a bystander can act like a decent person.

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna writes Gender Block every week and maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.

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