Chris Rock once said, “There are only three things women need in life: food, water, and compliments.” I can think of a few other things in life that might come in handy but yes, a good, well-timed compliment can elevate your whole day. But ask any woman from NYC to LA if the man imploring her to smile because “it can’t be that bad,” or she’s “too pretty not to,” is giving her a compliment and she’ll tell you that he is really just working her nerves.
Let’s call it what it is – street harassment – and recognize that it spans the spectrum from mildly annoying to downright threatening and scary.
Spring took its time getting here, but it is officially in the house. I’ve retired any remaining trepidation about packing away my heavy wool coat and just the other day, I unearthed some tanks from my storage. I even purchased some prescription sunglasses, ready to face the longer, sunnier days with 20/20 vision and style. We love it when springtime frees us up to rock sundresses and take the long way home but with the change in seasons comes the inevitable increase in “Holla Holla Holla” thrown our way.
When men feel permitted to intrude upon our right to walk down the street in public without being questioned, propositioned, interrupted, approached or otherwise bothered, our streets are no longer our own. From a young age, women learn how ignore, deflect and politely decline unwanted advances. Our mothers, aunties, big sisters and play-cousins taught us how to arm ourselves: Wear sunglasses and headphones. Give a fake number. Dress conservatively. Say you have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Sometimes these tactics work and we make it to the subway or home unscathed, but they’re only temporary solutions to a much larger problem. That sense of entitlement some men have is dangerous and not only perpetuates a culture of disrespect but also the myth that men simply cannot control themselves when an attractive woman is in the vicinity. You can imagine the slippery slope that follows.
Fortunately, women are no longer just finding ways to cope with street harassment – we’re fighting back. When you’re pulling those wedges out of storage, take comfort in the fact that young women are speaking out online, through films like the one below, and in books about street harassment as a serious issue in our communities. Now, that’s something to smile about.