The Right to Privacy in Public

I have been wanting to write about this topic for some time, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  The actual topic is sexual harassment, and the unwanted attention that women have to deal with in public.  My commentary will join the billions of blogposts already written about this topic.  However, it seems to me that people are taking a bit too long to just get it. 

Too many people (read: mainly people who themselves don’t get constantly harassed) are quick to counter complaints about harassment/unwanted attention with any of the following:

-we have to stop feeling annoyed, and start feeling flattered, by the attention and compliments,

-we should be polite and accommodating to strangers who are just being “friendly”,

-smiling at strangers makes the world a better place.

While all of these responses irk me VERY much, I can see where they come from:

Unfortunately, many people who propogate these messages do not understand what interacting with strangers means for a lot of women.  Where I’m from, most people expect to be able to go out in public and about their business without actually being bothered by random strangers, and being demanded by strangers to converse with them.  These messages assume strangers helping out a friendly neighbor, an elderly person, or a distressed soul on the verge of committing suicide, rather than a creepy man who demands that women smile at him for his own enjoyment.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority, if not only, of strangers who demand attention from me just happen to be old men who, for whatever reason, only seek out interactions from other women.  My swift rejections to these advances are immediately met by “Hey!  I’M JUST TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!” and “Why don’t you give me a chance?”

I cannot stand or sit alone for more than five minutes outside in my city without being bothered by one of these idiots.  Unfortunately, poetic rhetoric is not on my side.  Apparently, we are obligated to smile to light up some other person’s day and converse with random strangers to alleviate their loneliness.

Or are we?  It has long been known that the definitions of being nice and polite have been warped against females so that rejecting male attention actually compromises our morality.  However, no one is actually obligated to interact with another civilian against their will on public transportation, in a store/mall, in a park, etc.  The difference is that women are likely to get too much unwanted attention, and then criticized for rejecting it.

The fact that many women feel uncomfortable in the presence of strange men is so misunderstood that, during the Trayvon Martin trial, women repeatedly became the punching bag as the racist bitches who avoided black men in elevators and on the street.  Therefore, George Zimmerman happened.  Even the President of the United States didn’t get it!  Has it ever occurred to some people that these women may have just been avoiding strange black men because they were avoiding, well, strange men?  And that they may be avoiding strange men because they have had previous negative experiences with strange men?  (Which is why I appreciate this nice response to Questlove’s annoying rant.)  Now, you can argue that women avoiding black men is racist, and thus women avoiding men is sexist.  Sure, I’ll give you that.  But as long as they aren’t going out of their way to shoot you, harass you, or disenfranchise you, you haven’t got much to worry about.

This is a good article describing one girl’s experiences with harassment under the guise of stranger-friendliness in the D.C. area, which is very similar to my experiences in San Francisco.  People who insist that everyone regularly interact with strangers assume that all strangers are sane and should not make the person feel uncomfortable.  They also forget that circumstances differ in places like big cities.  Many women, feeling the need to be polite, end up disregarding their feelings of discomfort and vulnerability, and possibly put themselves in danger.  It is about time we stop this nonsense.


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