Street Harassment: It’s Not a Compliment

Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.

Street Harassment SignIt always bothers me when men say things like “If women on the street said that I looked nice, it’d make my day!” right after I’ve complained about something a stranger said to me.  Some even tell me that they’re jealous of the attention.  Perhaps it’s because they’re picturing something harmless or even sweet, like when the elderly gentleman I see most mornings on the bus shyly and politely compliments me on my smile.  Unfortunately, what they don’t understand is that the things random men shout from their cars or from across the street aren’t compliments, it’s street harassment.

Not Exactly Complimentary

Sometimes women can be flattered by attention from a stranger, but I think it’s important to be careful to not label all the various forms of “attention” from men as behaviors that would be appreciated.  For example, when the guy at the cell phone store called after me, “You have a beautiful smile!” I was amused by his impulsive compliment.  But lewd declarations like “Smile for me, whore” or “Nice rack” or “Great legs, c—” are a whole different animal.  Deirde E. Davis, in her article The Harm that Has No Name, says that these kinds of comments can be recognized as street harassment by “the unacceptability of ‘thank you’ as a response; and the reference to body parts” (Davis 55).  Street harassment can also include leering, catcalls, wolf whistles, pinches, or grabs.

There are a lot of different degrees of street harassment, and even something as mild as “Smile for me, Baby” or “Don’t you look pretty”can be frightening depending on the context.  Even women who may not mind being whistled at in the middle of the day as they walk through the mall, would feel completely different about the exact same behavior if it was dark and they were alone.  Whenever I find myself alone after dark or in an unfamiliar area and a man decides to show even a hint of sexual interest it’s scary because I feel out of control of the situation, small, alone, and unsafe.

Feeling Alone and Scared

In these settings I find any kind of attention frightening and intimidating because “[r]egardless of whether there is the possibility of actual rape, when women endure street harassment, they fear the possibility of rape” or sexual assault (Davis 484).  When I’m walking down a dark street and a man whistles there’s no way for me to know if he’s thinking that I’m a cutie or something more sinister.  All I know is that if it’s the latter, I’m in trouble.  My heart starts to beat faster as I walk with my head down in order to avoid eye contact; I scan the area looking for a way to make a quick exit.  And I don’t breath a sigh of relief until he’s out of sight again.  In order to try and limit these encounters, if I’m out at night, I never wear anything even remotely formfitting, sit as close to the bus driver as possible, and quietly keep to myself.  The goal: invisibility.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t even have to be nighttime for street harassment to be frightening.  Back before the city finally put a sidewalk on the main street by my house, I’d have random men in cars literally pull their cars off the road so that they could drive directly behind me.  They’d follow very closely for about a block while often whistling or yelling out their window.  It was terrifying because there was no way for me to escape from  being their personal show; the car directly behind me felt like a gun to my head instructing me to walk on.  I was beyond thankful when the city finally built a sidewalk.

Whether it’s happening at night or even in my own neighborhood, street harassment isn’t a compliment; it’s dehumanizing and sometimes even terrifying.


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Dove Evolution

Dove photoshop makeover

This video, which is put out by the folks at Dove(r), is an eye opening look at what a photoshop makeover is truly capable of. It’s enlightening as well as disturbing, because it shows how skewed our culture’s perception of beauty has become and the lengths even people with a personal hair and makeup team have to go through in order to live up to it.

Movie Review: Transamerica

transamerica1

Unfortunately, I only just recently discovered this interesting and well-made 2005 film starring Felicity Huffman (from Desperate Housewives).  The movie tells the unique story of a transgender woman, Bree Osbourne, who’s in the process of preparing for her sex reassignment surgery when she discovers to her shock that she has a son. 

The thought of being a father wasn’t easy for Bree; she was in the final process of fully embracing her female identity, so finding out she had fathered a son while in college was more than a little untimely.

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Eve to the Rescue: Why “Helper” Doesn’t Mean Subordinate

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved. superhero_birthdaytheme

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. Genesis 2:18 (NIV)”

The reference to Eve in Genesis as a “helper” is one of those tricky Bible verses—confusing and often misunderstood. And, sadly, it’s even been used to justify women being treated as personal servants or doormats.

Biblical scholar and professor, Gilbert Bilezikian, says in his Book Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Women’s Place in Church and Family that “In the past, uninformed teachers of the Bible seized on the word helper to draw inference of authority/subjection distinctions between men and women.  According to them, helper meant that man was boss and woman his domestic.”

Helper Doesn’t Mean Servant:

Thankfully, though, professor Bilezikian says that careful study of the word helper has “dispelled such misconceptions” because “this Hebrew word for ‘helper’ is not used in the Bible with reference to a subordinate person such as a servant or an underling” (Bilezikian 22). Instead of showing weakness, the word “helper” in this context actually highlights strength.

This Hebrew word for “helper” in the Bible “is generally attributed to God himself when he engages in activities of relief or rescue among his people.  Consequently, the world helper may not be used to draw inferences about subordinate female roles. If anything, the word points to the inadequacy and the helplessness of the man when he was bereft of the woman in Eden” (Bilezikian 22).  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s the same word used to describe God and no one would make the assumption that God was subordinated by his people because he helps them.  The fact God helps illustrates his strength and compassion.

Eve to the Rescue:

By himself Adam wasn’t able to fully reflect God because he was lacking in community. God intended to create people … not just one … for relationships/community. As a result, the fact that Adam was alone was even deemed “not good.”  So God provided Adam “with a ‘rescuer’ to become with him the community that God had intended to create all along” (Bilezikian 22).  Eve wasn’t a second thought, creating community was the plan all along.

Due to the strength of this word, Bilezikian says that “To wrench the word helper from this precise context, where it has the strength of rescuer, and to invest it with connotations of domesticity or female subservience violates the intent of the biblical text” (Bilezikian 22).

It’s funny how “rescuer” sounds more like a firefighter, brave soldier, or a superhero.  But the word “helper,” even though it could mean rescuing someone, tends to be associated with things like personal assistant or maid.  Perhaps in order to more effectively communicate the original intent of the passage, it’d be better if the word was translated “rescuer” or I’ve heard others suggest “lifesaver.”


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A Girl Like Me

A Girl Like Me

I used to think of issues like race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality as being isolated issues.  But no one is only a race or only a gender, so those aspects of our identity seem to fuse together to make up our own unique lived experiences. 

As a result, I love this video because it does an excellent job of showing the intersection of race and gender as the girls interviewed in the video explain how what society, friends, and sometimes even their own parents tell them is pretty and feminine is also what makes them look the most white—bleached skin, relaxed and dyed hair.  It also illustrates how even little kids have the ability to pick up on the racial biases and prejudices they’re surrounded by.  And how damaging those messages can be regardless of someone’s age.  

Book Review: Dating Jesus

campbell-datingjesus_new_02A couple of pages into Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl and I was already in love with Susan Campbell’s witty, raw, and often wry writing voice.  The style of this book really intrigues me—creative nonfiction, a bit of research thrown in for good measure, and it’s written in present tense. 

The book chronicles Campbell’s spiritual and ideological journey.  She was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and saw sexism in both her church and community at large, which profoundly impacted her as a girl.  “I love Jesus,” Campbell writes, “but if all believers are urged to stay on the straight and narrow, there seems to be an especially narrow road built for women” (Campbell 64).

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Gender Differences

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Stumbled across this interesting article on NPR’s website about gender differences.  Here’s an excerpt that I liked: 

“What makes us different? We do. We don’t just happen to be boys and girls, men and women; we identify with ourselves as such, and we shape ourselves to conform to the rigid matrix of ideas and values that make up our conception of what it is to be male and female …

“Gender [what’s socially defined as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ like the colors pink and blue] is real. People are men and women. And this makes a difference not only to how they live, to how much they earn, to how well they perform, but also to how they experience themselves, their bodies and their lives.

“But gender doesn’t happen in the brain, whatever sex differences on the brain there are. Gender, rather, is something we enact together…” 

From “Social by Nature” by Alva Noë

Or as sociologists say, we “do” gender.

Just for clarification because the article wasn’t super clear: in sociological terms, "sex" is defined as biological (what makes someone male or female) but "gender" is defined as cultural (what makes something masculine or feminine whether it’s lipstick or a specific behavioral trait like aggression).  As a result, how people "do" gender (what society defines as being manly or womanly) varies based on our historical and cultural context.  The fact that gender is something we “enact together” doesn’t at all diminish it’s importance in our lives; it profoundly impacts all of us in a way few things do.