Smile! : Street Harassment

When I started this blog a year ago, I set out to write about feminism and wound up talking about writing and cooking instead. When I started writing posts again this fall, I set out to write about webseries and have been talking about feminism ever since. Typical.

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A short video recently caught my eye, and has been prickling under my skin ever since: Jessica Williams’s piece on The Daily Show regarding street harassment.

Jessica Williams on Catcalls

I’ve read articles about street harassment before, and I always have the same set of reactions to it: Disgust, incredulity– and gratitude that I haven’t had to deal with it. I guess that’s just in big cities, I thought.

Well.

That short, satirical video about catcalling changed my definition of street harassment.

While I consider myself blessed to not have had to deal with truly profane harassment like many of the women on Williams’ segment, I have in fact dealt with catcalls, some more upsetting than others.

Any time you are walking down the street and someone yells/hollers/whistles/comments/speaks to you a) in a way that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and b) stems from your gender/race/sex/etc.— that is street harassment.

Look, if you see me walking down the street, go ahead and smile and wave. Say “hi” in passing (I live in places where it’s very common to give a smile and a “nice day, isn’t it?” to strangers; in New York City, that would be weird). If you’re lost or I look injured, by all means say something. If I’m wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band, you can say, “I love Bastille!” and move on. But if the only reason you’re talking to me is because I just happen to be a woman, don’t.

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What do I mean by this? During the summer, I spent 2 months at home after traveling through Europe. On numerous occasions, I received a shout or comment when I was just working in the garden or walking my dog. Once, I got out of my car at home and a guy on a bike hung around the edge of my parents’ property watching me and trying to catch my attention, until I ignored him long enough.

What I think is the really insidious aspect of street harassment is that a lot of the time, it feels like I should be flattered. Flattered by the attention, flattered by the implied compliment, flattered because how else should I react to various comments? But I never walk away from being addressed or shouted at, and feel cheered up; instead, I walk away feeling uncomfortable and bothered with something I can’t articulate.

Sexist comments, comments about my body, even strangers who strike up conversations on the street and act like I owe it to them to respond to them– it’s street harassment.

I don't know who this person is, but kudos, sir.

I don’t know who this person is, but kudos, sir.

In Europe, I had many, many experiences of sitting on a street corner, writing or just resting from the weight of my enormous backpack, and random guys would come up and strike a conversation with me. Now, I’m talking about men 10-20 years older than myself, different nationalities than me, while I was a single young woman who didn’t speak the language. The whole basis for their striking up a conversation with me was that I was a woman- and a woman alone. I felt extremely vulnerable, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, but they were these perfectly nice guys. I would walk away from the encounters feeling rattled and thinking, What gives you the right to come up and demand a conversation with me? Why do you act lie I owe you anything? I don’t know you! I’m a polite person, and so what they got from the conversation was me smiling and nodding but not being especially eager to continue the conversation. Invariably, they would make passive-aggressive arguments about how they weren’t the “kind of guy” a “girl like me” talked to (I have no idea what that means).

I’m guessing these guys have no idea what it’s like to be a woman traveling alone, always alert for the possibility of danger. When I’m looking out for my safety, having strangers approach me on the street or shout at me is very disconcerting. I’m not saying I don’t want people to talk to me, ever. I love meeting new people. But there’s a time and a place for everything. If we’re in the same tour group, the same hostel, looking at the same piece of art at a museum, something that isn’t you drawing me into conversation on the street when I’m minding my own business, then by all means strike up a conversation if you’re interested.

cartoon_street_harassment

I don’t know if I’m making my point well here. It’s hard to take these things apart and examine them rationally, when I’m affected primarily because of how they make me feel. The biggest thing, I think, is safety and location: If you approach a woman in this situation, could you make her feel unsafe?

Even here at school, at a women’s university, I’ve been heckled by a car full of guys– and of course, I’ve experienced guys shouting at me from cars in every city I’ve lived in. Talking with my girl friends, the consensus seems to be that this is so normal it doesn’t even merit talking about. Why talk about something that always happens? It’s like talking about getting poor quality food at the school cafeteria. Why bother?

I think this is worth bothering about. Ideally, yes, I’d prefer not to get yelled at from moving vehicles, and to feel safe on the street. But at a more basic level, a level I can actually control, I think we need to talk about street harassment so women can stop internalizing this toxic nonsense. We need to talk about it so women don’t feel like they have to take it as a compliment even if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

I had a hard time distinguishing incidents to talk about for this post, because like my friends, to some extent I just expect it whenever I go out. That’s sick.

One thing all the women in that Jessica Williams video had in common was that every single one of them had a “bitch face,” and were ready to paste this unyielding glare on their faces at a moment’s notice. I perfected my own glare while studying and traveling abroad; I call it my Assertive American stance or my Confident Woman walk: Head up, shoulders back, eyes meeting those of passersby, chin set, stride brisk and confident. Don’t mess with me, it says, i’m confident and I know what I’m doing.

If there’s one good thing to come from all this, it’s the Bitch Face/ Confident Woman face. Because I am a confident woman.

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Not sure street harassment is all that bad? My experiences are the mildest possible form of this type of harassment. Check out better informed links here.

F-word

I identify myself as a feminist, so it’s a little weird for me to backtrack and remember that it’s not a label everyone is comfortable wearing.

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The only thing keeping me from calling myself a feminist was lack of understanding of what the word meant. Is feminism still a thing, or is it over now that women have the right to vote and work outside the home? Is being called a feminist a good thing? What exactly does it mean to call myself a feminist… and do I want to deal with the negative connotations surrounding the word? What is a feminist?

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Let’s jump back to my first semester at a women’s college. For the first time in my life, I was participating in discussions about equality, diversity, empowerment, and the power of language– I was putting things I had always thought about and considered important into words.

My parents raised me to believe in my own worth, and never pinned me into prescribed gender roles or tried to control what I wanted to do with my life. The women in my life were strong, nurturing, ambitious, successful, and incredibly hard-working. Both my mom and grandma went back to university after having kids; my grandma became a nurse after raising 5 kids, and my mom became a teacher while raising 4 kids. I ran cross-country in the fall, watched romantic comedies at sleep overs in the winter,  hiked along waterfalls in the spring, did folk dancing in the summer, and went away to college at a university a thousand miles away from home. No one ever explicitly talked about feminism, and my mom certainly never hung a picture of Gloria Steinem on the wall at home, but my family always empowered me to be my best, never limited me, and never made me feel I wasn’t equal to my brothers.

Becoming a feminist wasn’t some radical, “she’s gone to college and now she’s an anarchist!” kind of thing, because I was already a feminist. I remember choosing to label myself as a feminist with pride, once I felt I knew what it meant.

So many women and men recoil from the dreaded f-word. “Let’s not bring feminism into this!” I heard a woman say, in response to her friend’s comment that a woman could say herself (instead of being a damsel in distress). I was shocked; how is being an independent woman “bringing feminism” into the discussion?

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Let’s look at what goes into this f-word:

Yes, feminism is still a thing. Less than 100 years ago, American women were granted the right to vote. (Awesome fact: Before American women had universal suffrage, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress.) After the vote was gained, “second-wave feminism” came in and prized basic rights for women out of the cold white hands of the patriarchy. (Part of the fun of being a feminist is getting to use colorful imagery to make a point.)

Imagine a world where your spouse has complete control over your credit cards and bank account, where many careers are considered out of reach for you solely on the basis of your sex (or skin color, or accent, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on– but that’s another, related, story), where your children are seen not as one aspect of your life but as very nearly the only aspect, where you earn less for the work you do than others who do the same quality of work. Many of these are, unfortunately, not hard to imagine, because we (Americans) still have not achieved pay equality.

conanwagegap

Pay equality is a contentious issue, because it’s simply not as cut-and-dry as some statistics suggest. Part of the wage gap comes from more complex issues than just paychecks; there are fewer women leaders in many fields, women workers are sometimes treated unfairly because their employers believe they will become pregnant and leave their jobs, and many women haven’t been taught to be assertive about negotiating their pay the way men have. But the truth is, there shouldn’t be any kind of wage gap– and while that statistic about women being paid 78 cents on the male dollar keeps getting tossed around, when you put race into the equation, it becomes even scarier.

caucasian man's dollar

raceandgender in the food chain

You’ll notice the figures differ in these two infographics. That’s kind of my point. No one agrees on this, no one agrees on what factors should go into to finding this information, and I certainly don’t know which statistics are accurate. But I have no doubt there is a pay gap among races and genders.

I digress. Yes, feminism is still a thing. Feminism in the media is usually white, middle class, 1st world feminism– but while white middle class women are affected by sexism, it’s important to recognize that being a woman becomes even harder when you’re also a minority, or when you’re considered your husband’s/father’s property, or when you can’t go to elementary school because you’re walking 12 miles to get water for your family. Feminism is about all of these things and more; at its roots, feminism is about equality.

tobeafeminist

 

Man-haters? Sure. Because wanting to be treated equally to men, to be given the same opportunities, to have my opinions and my work respected on their own, without reference to my gender, is man-hating. NO! I have incredible, loving men in my life, and I would never think of them as “bad” or anything like that, simply because they are men. Sexism is a systemic problem on a societal level, not something that every single man carries around like a weapon. Some men are awful sexists. So are some women. Some women are feminists, working for equality– and so are some men. It always seems so incredibly bizarre to me when people (mainly women) say they could never be feminist because they don’t hate men, or because they don’t want to raise women above men. I don’t want to be “above” men! I just want you to look at my abilities and contributions the same way you would if I was a man. 

So if you’re wondering whether or not you are (or want to be) feminist, think about whether you believe women and men are equal in worth, and whether you want to do something about the way our society treats women and men.

Because at the end of the day…

fundamental

I finally watched Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism

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We loved her as Hermione, that whip-smart, mouthy, take-no-shit witch who was best in her year at Hogwarts (and let’s face it, probably the best in at least a decade).

punch love hermioneToday Emma Watson continues to inspire as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. The idea behind that is that she will use her celebrity influence to draw attention to important causes and make a difference. I love it when actors/celebrities do this, because celebrities have so much social currency in the media, and using that power in support of a cause is laudable (and a refreshing change from the usual celebrity gossip).

Emma Watson’s feminist speech launching the He for She campaign for the UN has been zipping around the internet lately, and when I finally got around to watching it, I understood why.

Her speech is clear, heartfelt, thoughtful, and brave. No, she’s not saying anything especially new, but she is saying it well, and she’s presenting it to a larger audience. Here’s the video:

Watson makes very salient points here, but I think the best thing she does is bring her personal experience to the table. This isn’t some abstract discussion of intellectuals or “crazy” feminists. This is a well-known actor describing the way inequality between the sexes affects men and women, and advocating for change.

She talks at length about that label of feminism (shudder) and how it is perceived. Feminism is not and never has been about man-hating. Like Emma Watson, I have great respect and love for the men in my life. Feminism exists because little girls are labeled “bossy” instead of “assertive” or “having leadership skills.” Women getting paid less for the same amount of work as men (especially women minorities). Feminism is about all human beings having equal rights and equal value in our society.

Briefly, Watson mentions women’s roles in supporting each other. I have long been fascinated by the concept of female sisterhood/solidarity, and I plan to devote another post to that subject.

Significantly, the campaign Watson launched is about encouraging men to fight for feminism. The truth is, feminism is, at its core, about equality. Men and boys are oppressed in our culture and society in different ways than women are oppressed. Men are supposed to repress their feelings, to take the lead in all relationships, to go to work instead of stay home with their kids. I know several stay-at-home dads, and I’ve seen how loving they are to their children. Watson didn’t touch on discrimination faced by men of color, but I’ve heard enough– well, we’ve all heard enough, haven’t we, with shootings and police brutality and such– to know that it is very real and very ugly.

Look, the last thing we need to do is start arguing over who is facing the most privilege, or heaven forbid, who is superior. Feminism is not raising women above men, it’s about bringing everyone to the same level in terms of rights, respect, and opportunities. And as Watson states, it’s not just about what our patriarchal society is doing to women; men are hurt by it too.

Of course, Watson is a privileged, well-educated white woman, and as MarinaShutUp points out, this privilege (and, I’d say, Watson’s fame) is the reason so many people in mainstream media are taking note. I do believe we need to make more space for women (and men, Watson would remind us) of every skin color, economic level, native language, sexual orientation, nation, etc. etc., to have their say on equality and feminism. But what Watson is doing is using her celebrity status (and yes, her privilege) to make a difference. Look, she could be sitting around watching AVPM or riding her bike or making cookies or blowing her “Harry Potter” earnings on skydiving and a jukebox collection. Instead, she’s devoting her time to using her celebrity status to draw the attention of everyone who follows celebrity gossip instead of the news, and for those of us who just can’t help but pay attention when Hermione Badass Granger speaks up.

I love reading or watching a strong, clear argument in favor of feminism, because I think feminism is a cause that too often gets convoluted and bogged down by fallacies and ignorance. Too many people are willing to attack feminism without fully understanding what it is and why we need it. Being labeled a “feminist” can be a little alarming, depending on the company, but Emma Watson takes the word and owns it. It’s a courageous and very Hermione thing to do.

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Back in the Saddle Again

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This blog has been inactive for months now, but I’m going to try starting it up again. Describing my adventures abroad over at my travel blog, Sheep and Dragons, has been an utter delight (and quite the learning experience). But now the reason people choose to write blogs– we have something to say– is burning under my skin and setting my fingers itching to channel my thoughts through my keyboard onto this random blog. hellodavid

“Random” is surely the best word for this blog so far, because I started it thinking I’d write about feminism, maybe with some history and nerdy musings thrown in… but looking back, it seems to be very food-focused (weird), poetry-centric, and very faith-based. Well, my faith is a part of who I am and is sure to be at the core of what I write, but I suspect the other two will not be the focus of my blog going forward.

The posts I can squeeze in over the next six months between classes, work, my screenplay (!), and catch-up on Sheep and Dragons, will likely center on writing, feminism, books (dear heavens, prepare yourself for some passionate book reviews) and… webseries/TV series.

The latter is the reason I’m writing this post instead of working on the first scene of my screenplay, choosing which pictures to use on my Versailles post, or reading about World War I. Ever since my good friend Becca introduced me to the better-than-marzipan wonder that is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I have been wholly obsessed with modern literary adaptations on YouTube.

Since then, my  fascination with narrative possibilities on YouTube and my respect and admiration for these content creators have grown bigger than Hagrid’s pumpkins on Flesh-Eating Slug Repellent. I managed to work The LBD, as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is fondly called, into a paper on author-audience interaction in transmedia that was worth half my grade last semester, I have formed lasting friendships that began with discussions over The LBD, and I have found a half-dozen truly remarkable web series to fall in love with.

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Over the next several posts, I will discuss the creative potential in web series, review the web series’ I follow, and who knows? maybe continue on my random bent.

Oh- and I’ve learned that I can use blogging as an excuse to display my favorite photographs (that I take) and gifs (that I pilfer from the Internet). So that’s what you can expect from this blog in the coming months!

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A short story

I Am the Arrow. In my Creative Writing class last fall, the prompt was to write a short story inspired by any Sylvia Plath poem. I sifted through a half-dozen Plath poems and extracted lines that called to me until they formed the shape of a story. The italicized lines are all taken from poems of Plath’s from her last book of poetry, Ariel. The story is my own.

I Am the Arrow

An excerpt of this story was published in Ariston this spring. No reproductions or excerpts without author’s permission.

2014, a year to be brave

A new year, a new word. Every year, I choose a specific virtue or value to work on. It’s usually something I feel I have been lacking in my life; in past years I have decided to focus on patience, courage, strength, and perseverance, among others.

Every year, I focus on my word and make a deliberate effort to bring it into my daily life. I push myself to work on it and practice it until it becomes a part of me. Most importantly, I pray over it, and ask God for grace, especially with help on my word (virtue/value) of the year.

psalm 73Those prayers are what give me the strength to keep working on that word, and by the end of the year, I look back and find that I really grew in that part of my life.

The word for 2014 is brave.

Hermione Granger had it right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Hermione Granger had it right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The dictionary definition of bravery is having courage. There are so many places in my life where I want to be brave this year.

I want to be brave in my writing; to be brave enough to sit down and write, then to edit, and finally to submit my work for publishing. Humans are supposed to be made up of 55-75% water, but when I sit and stare at a page of my own words and think of letting others read it, I feel like I’m made up of 60% insecurity.

courage doesn't always roar

I want to be brave in having my say and letting my voice be heard in a group. I communicate best on paper or in small groups; put me in a crowd and I lose my tongue. But how can I stand up for others if I can’t stand up for my own opinions? Dumbledore said it best: “There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

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And most exciting of all, I need to practice bravery because I am spending this semester abroad. I leave tomorrow for Wales, UK, my first time out of the country. I will need to cultivate bravery as I meet new people, leave my old boring routine (I do love routine) in the (American) dust, and scamper around the UK doing scary things like navigating London with friend (who shares my directional challenge) and clambering up ropes courses. 

(You can follow my Wales blog here if you’re interested. I should have something up by the end of January.)

"Belle's bravery" By Bloodonthemoon5 on DeviantArt (I don't know anything about this quote, but it's great!)

“Belle’s bravery” By Bloodonthemoon5 on DeviantArt (I don’t know anything about this quote, but it’s great!)

Bravery is about pushing past fear and doing something worthwhile, something good, despite being frightened or unsure. To me, bravery has nothing to do with a lack of fear, and everything to do with overcoming a fear.

bravery-quotes

When I look back on 2014, I want to see a year of bravery.

What about you? Do you have a word for 2014?

“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Cafeteria Edition

My version of the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from ‘Mulan’ based on my university’s cafeteria service:

“Let’s get down to business to order dinner/Did they send me french fries when I asked for fruit?/Time is racing toward us, has my dinner arrived?/Heed my every order and you might survive/You’re unsuited for the college dorm so pack up, go home, you’re through”


Ah, finals week, when anything seems more productive than studying!