Choose Your Own Adventure: Street Harassment.

“Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay the sex, when in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority.” – Mary Wollstencraft

Remember when you were eleven years old and you would read “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?

You know, those novels written in second person so that the reader is actually the protagonist? Every few pages you would encounter a scenario or fork in the road (often literally) and have to make a decision on how to proceed.

Well, interestingly enough, life is kind of like that too. We go through our days navigating various obstacles by choosing how we react to them.

So let’s play a little game ourselves – the “Choose Your Own Adventure: Street Harassment”!

Scenario One

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon; the sun is shining, and there is not a cloud in the sky. You are going for a run through the park, enjoying the day. As you make your way down a path you pass a group of young men sitting around picnic table. One of them calls out to you, ‘Hey there, smile a little!”

What do you do?

A) You don’t feel comfortable with this comment and don’t approve of this behaviour. You respond assertively: “For your information, it doesn’t make women feel good when you tell them to smile. Sometimes women aren’t in a good mood and they don’t feel like smiling. Telling them to smile is offensive.” If they worked eighty-hour weeks and had people constantly yelling at them, they wouldn’t smile either.

B) You are trying to enjoy this wonderful afternoon and these men are totally ruining it. Can’t you go for a run through your neighbourhood park without being bothered?! You give it to them: “My face is perfectly fine thank you. I do not need to fix it for you. Receiving a smile is a privilege, not a right.”

C) You’re fed up; you don’t want to deal with this shit on a Sunday. You simply respond “Why?” They reply, “to look pretty”. You reply, “for whom?” Conversation over.

D) You are tired. You just want to go for your run and relax. You’ve have no energy to deal with this. You ignore them and keep running.

Scenario Two

It’s a Tuesday morning and you are on the subway going to work. You are reading over a contract to prepare for your morning meeting. A middle-aged man on your train comes and sits besides you. He turns to you and says, “Why are you wearing that stuffy pant suit, your tits are way too nice for that outfit!”

What do you do?

A) The audacity of this man. Does he really think it’s okay to act this way? You decide to turn the tables on him. You ask, “Do you honestly believe that what you just said is acceptable behaviour? Would you say that to your mother or daughter?”

B) Nuhuh, no way. It’s seven in the freaking morning. You are not content putting up with this crap. “Excuse me? This may come as a shock to you but I am not here for your entertainment or amusement. If I wanted fashion advice I would go to someone whose opinion I value.”

C) You are fed up with being sexually harassed on your daily commute. You get off at the next stop and report him to the metro authorities.

D) You know what? That’s it, you’ve had it. This guy doesn’t know what is about to hit him. You stand up and yell loud enough for everyone on the metro to hear, “Oh, my breasts? You would like me to expose my lady parts for your ogling pleasure?” If that doesn’t embarrass him, nothing will.

Scenario Three

It is a Thursday evening and you are walking to go meet a friend for dinner. It’s a busy street, cars are zooming past and there are a number of pedestrians on the sidewalks. One man comes up behind you and says “nice ass” ass he smacks your behind.

What do you do?

A) You cannot believe it; for goodness sake, it is 2015! You turn to him, look him in the eyes and say, “Remarking on the physical appearance of a stranger is rude and tactless. You have no right to approach me, speak to me, or touch me.” The man is dumbstruck, deer in the headlights, and remains silent. You walk away with your (fuming) head held high.

B) This is not ok. Period. You are going to let him know: “Sexual harassment is a crime, leave me alone or I will report you”. Game, set, match.

C) Oh, so he wants to treat you like an animal? Fine. You start barking and growling viciously. The man contorts his face in fear and confusion. You continue this act until the man slowly slinks away in fear.

D) Screw this shit – you have zero patience for this man and this act. You start yelling, “You think that’s funny? You like to touch random women on the street? You think that’s the correct way to act? What is wrong with you?!” The man turns away in shame and walks away. (You: 1, Rude Man: 0).

Yay – you’ve chosen your own adventure! Well, you don’t get to choose being subjected to street harassment, but you do choose how you will respond.
All too often women experience street harassment and don’t know what to do. We often want a quick response but struggle to come up with something in the heat of the moment. And although each situation differs (and each person is entitled to deal with harassment however they see fit) these are just a few ways to respond to this daily injustice.

Whether you are feeling sassy, fed up, enraged or tired, there is always a way to respond to street harassment. And don’t forget; responses can be active or passive. Not everyone is comfortable confronting his or her harassers, and not everyone can actively fight the patriarchy each day. Walking away or ignoring a harasser is always a valid option. Patriarchy is ever-present and everyone deserves a break from fighting the paradigm.

So although catcalling may very well be the bane of your existence and unfortunately a scenario you will undoubtedly encounter more than once in today’s society, you still hold the power of response.

Let’s get working on our #catcallingcomebacks !

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4 comments

  1. Paula, great post as always! I have a question for you – sorry it’s unrelated to this post, but related to feminism.

    How do we not judge people who say they are deeply religious but are feminists? I’m Hindu by birth and I’m not religious because my religion puts down women (the famous Manu Smriti).

    I find all major religions – Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity – to be anti-women. They don’t see women as people and as equals. They have rules that are double standards – women must dress a certain way but men don’t have to, wives must submit to husbands. Some of the religious texts clearly endorse punishing women for personal choices. So, it is fine if you decide to be religious. That’s your personal choice. But, how can you be both religious and call yourself a feminist?

    Can you please do a post on this? Just trying to understand/learn …. Thank you!!

    1. Hi Priya,
      Thanks for your comment – please excuse my late reply!
      Great question. I, myself, do not prescribe to a specific religion and was not raised in a religious household. As a result, I come from a certain place of ignorance when discussion religion. I do believe a person an be both religious and a feminist (I have any friends who are). I think the key is the interpretation of a religion.
      I would love to write a post on this – I will start researching so I can give you a proper answer :)

      1. Great, look forward to another great post:)

  2. […] (v.): A colloquial term for street harassment, catcalling is the act of a person (often male) commenting on the appearance of /touching another […]

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