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Street harassment by any other name is still street harassment. When I think about all the forms of street harassment that I have endured in my lifetime, I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. It’s easy to narrow it down to catcalling, whistling or shouting obscenities on the street, but that’s not the full picture. In reality, street harassment can be on the street or in another public space, well intentioned or purposely hurtful, and everything in between. Together, these forms of street harassment make people feel annoyed, belittled and unsafe in public spaces.
The Hollaback! mission is an immediate one: to give victims of street harassment a voice in an effort to stop its propagation. Unfortunately, many people don’t see street harassment as a kind of harassment at all; rather, they think of it as an inevitable component of living in society. This makes life difficult for routine victims of street harassment, as they find themselves alone in their struggle against the perpetrators.
If we take a collective step back, though, we can see that street harassment is a microcosm of a larger problem. In the U.S. specifically, following centuries of injustice, discrimination and inequality, there are power dynamics today that benefit some and harm others. These power dynamics are often unnamed and thus invisible. Acknowledging these systemic inequalities is the first step in eradicating them. Therefore, it’s tremendously important that we name who exactly has power in U.S. society: the White, the male, the straight, the able-bodied and the wealthy. Conversely, it is equally important that we name who is less powerful and therefore at risk: the non-White, the female, the LGBTQ, the disabled and the poor. Once we acknowledge an understanding of social hierarchies, we can begin the process of interrupting oppressions like street harassment, and ultimately begin the process of healing. Our society, both in Boston and across the globe, is broken in so many ways, and we are all responsible for its future. I think that by taking a look at the history of street harassment and other social oppressions, we gain a better understanding of how things got to be the way they are, and are all the more able to aid in the healing.
What do you think? What constitutes street harassment for you personally?
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