Do you feel safe walking down the sidewalk? Believe it or not, street harassment is still a major problem for women in the U.S. and abroad.
I was only 13 years old when I experienced street harassment for the first time. I wasn't dressed provocatively or behaving in a way that would attract unwanted attention. In fact, I was simply walking down the street to return a library book. I wish I could say it was a one-time-thing, but I can't even begin to count how many times it's happened.
Not every woman is brave enough to confront her harassers, but this story might serve as an inspiration to speak up next time.
On Wednesday October 19, 22-year-old Courtney Greatrex left her home in North London to head to work. She was dressed in jeans and a coat. It was 7:30 a.m.
Apparently, it's never too early in the morning for verbal assault. As Greatrex walked down the street, a white van pulled up and three men began yelling insults out the window. When she asked them to stop, they called her a whore.
In a Facebook post, the young woman fought back:
Before 8am this morning, I got repeatedly goaded by these three men in their van in slow traffic. They followed me down the road ringing a bike bell and whistling at me to look at them and laugh. So I took a picture of their van, told them to leave me alone, and they hid their faces, but not before calling me a fucking whore. For walking to the tube. Don't get me wrong, sexual harassment is alive and well in London and this happens most mornings. But today, I'm not accepting it. Don't worry boys, wolf-whistling from your company car means your boss is about to find out all about it!
But why do men catcall women in the first place? It's a question that women and academics have been asking for a long time.video-player-present
Kathrin Zippel, associate professor of sociology at Northeastern University, explained, "Oftentimes it's not really about the women, it's just about the men performing masculine acts for each other and establishing a pecking order amongst themselves. What is really going on is the dynamic among men."
Establishing a pecking order might make sense when a group is doing the catcalling, but what about when it's one single man?
Emily May, founder of the anti-street harassment group Hollaback!, said, "It stems from a broader culture of gender-based violence. To shift that culture it takes people standing up and saying street harassment is not OK because most people in our society don't want it to exist."
In Japan, groping became such a problem on subways that authorities were forced to offer "female-only" cars. While it's good that these women now have a safe space, this is not a long-term answer. We need to teach men to stop street harassment, not quarantine women.
However, it's simply not safe for a woman to approach a street harasser on her own. As experts have warned, catcalling can be a way for sexual predators to test their limits. There's no telling how far they'll be willing to take things.
To truly put an end to harassment, we ALL need to be better bystanders. It's time to stop "minding our own business" when a woman is being harassed. Until we learn to unite, speak out, and show that we will not stand for street harassment, nothing will change.
And to the guys in the white van -- Greatrex isn't just someone's daughter or niece or best friend. She's all of those things, but most importantly, she's a person. You should be ashamed of the lack of respect you showed her.