Fighting with the Sky

The Right to Feel Safe

Posted on: August 3, 2009

The other week, I read this post about street harassment. I have never really been exposed to a lot of street harassment. Like the author of that post,

I grew up surrounded with contradictary views on strangers: you could smile at them, wave back at them, because in a small town you probably know them and just don’t remember, but never get in their car.

Then I went to college in a small city where I spent most of my time on campus or in the “downtown” area that was often frequented by college students. The amount of time that I spend in big cities, where I feel like street harassment is more popular, is very limited (hopefully that will change soon as I hope to someday move to a city like Chicago). So I just wanted to clarify that this post is not necessarily coming from personal experience but from observation.

This post states,

Street harassment is a display of power, a public forum for letting women know that they should be avoiding the realm of sidewalks and “staying safe” by sacrificing life at large.

Street harassment is all about power of the harasser over the harassed. And while men can certainly be harassed, street harassment victims are generally women. Therefore street harassment is another example of men exercising their power over women.

As a result of this exercise of power, women are made to feel unsafe. Women are constantly made to feel unsafe in our society in subtle ways. In the previous post “Women in Home Security Commercials,” I discussed how advertising for home security system uses women’s “vulnerability” to sell systems and increases women’s fear within their own home.

Street harassment is just another example of how women are made to feel unsafe. Many may think nothing of it, or just write it off as an everyday occurrence. But it’s not. Like the motivations behind rape, street harassment is not sexually motivated, it is an expression of power. And this expression of power contributes to the culture of violence against women.

Women should feel safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods. While a health sense of caution can be beneficial, if women are constantly made to feel unsafe they lose their power. And maybe this is the goal of harassers. But a society where at least half (because it’s not just women who face harassment) are made to feel unsafe by society in general is a broken society. Part of living in a democratic society with all of the rights that we have should be the right to feel and be safe.


4 Responses to "The Right to Feel Safe"

I have faced a lot of street harassment. So much that when I was fourteen I just wanted to isolate myself from people and dress in clothing that did not show ANYTHING. I got over it, of course. However, it is an issue that must be dealt with. I just remember how horrible it was as a teenager afraid to go to the mall becuase I felt like I would be harassed.

this was the one of the first things I posted about when I created my blog–random men on the street telling me to smile, honey! ugh.

I am actually going to look up to see if there's any sociological research done on this and if there isn't I would love to maybe conduct a study when I get into graduate school.

That sounds like a great idea for research, Heidi. My guess (and I may be completely wrong here) is that there is not a whole lot of sociological research on street harassment…some, but not a lot.

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