Sometimes I feel that it is futile to fight back against the street harassment that I and many women experience on daily basis. There are the direct comments, the overly-loud remarks to friends that are meant for me to hear, the snide remarks about my body, roaming eyes or the lewd gestures suggesting what some man wants to do. It feels that I can’t walk down the street from my house to the T or from one office building to the next without feeling that my body is on display for the men around me.
I do not walk down the street hoping that some man is going to shower me with references to my body or some sexual act. Men need to understand that their comments and gestures are not compliments. I do not need strangers commenting on my body in order to make me feel good about myself or to have a happy and complete day. In fact it’s the exact opposite, these comments can ruin a perfectly good morning, afternoon, or day depending on the extent of the harassment. Sexual and street harassment is an objectification of the woman. She is no longer an entire person. Instead, she is an object for the sexual pleasure and viewing of men.
It can be completely exhausting to try and address each incident, but how do we decide which ones are worthy of our attention? Should it be the ones that are verbal and said directly to us? Should we ignore the physical gestures without verbal comments because, honestly, how does one address that without being told the movement was misinterpreted? Should it depend on how many harassers there are - one is okay to address but if he’s with three friends maybe we should stand down? Should it be like a random scientific experiment in which we do every third harasser?
And how should women be addressing it? I’ve employed a variety of methods that don’t seem to be terribly effective. I have ignored it and this only inflicts a barrage of insults thrown at me since I am not giving the harasser the attention he wants and thinks he deserves. I have told harassers to shove off (but with a couple of other choice words) and this creates either laughter or insults from the harasser. I have directly address the harasser and informed him that his behavior is sexual harassment, that is it unwanted, and then an explanation of how it makes not just me, but women in general feel. This option always takes the longest and sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy for it. While running to catch the train or make a meeting on time, I just don’t have the time to stop and engage in a ‘teachable moment’ with every other man on the street. Therefore this harassment is left unchecked which is a form of quiet acquiescence on my part even though it leaves me seething as I quickly move to where I need to go.
This is why I am so excited to know about Luce Tomlin-Brenner’s stand-up comedy. She takes her experiences of street harassment and turns them into hilarious and educational sets. It is so refreshing to see this new approach to addressing the problem. Instead of addressing individuals after an episode of harassment, she tries to educate an entire room of people about how often women experience harassment and how degrading it is. Comedy can be an excellent way to address issues as it offers the ability to talk about high-charged topics in a fun, safe, and humorous way. Oftentimes women are told to lighten up or to get a sense of humor when they negatively react to street harassment. When Tomlin-Brenner uses comedy, it cancels out that argument as she is relying on a light and comedic atmosphere to present this heavy material. Using this format can help to defuse some of the defensiveness which typically arises when talking about street harassment in other forums. In previous interviews about her comedy, she states that she has had men approach her after shows and comment that they never knew that street harassment had such an upsetting effect on women. Her comedy has been able to reach scores of people who may have never thought of street harassment as a dangerous activity. The first steps to shifting cultural norms is recognizing, naming, and acknowledging the problem. Tomlin-Brenner’s comedy is able to do this. See the clips below and be sure to check her out if she comes to a town near you!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMQAIVAPRtY Oversharing by Luce Tomlin-Brenner
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQQwQp4mBtw Luce Tomlin-Brenner at SlutWalk DC 2011
Written by: Stacey