The story of how one young woman was recently sexually assulated at 3:30 pm in Dupont Circle in broad daylight.
What’s appalling about this, and what has me terribly up in arms, are the comments on this story that entirely miss the point. I know, anonymous online commenters can be worse than a middle school lunch table on a Friday, but I thought we had made so much progress in the last 18 months toward broad acceptance of the rule that YOU DONT TOUCH PEOPLE WITHOUT CONSENT, POINT BLANK, AND ANY CULTURE THAT TOLERATES THIS EVEN FOR A SECOND IS SLIPPING. And make no mistake, any culture that has zero recourse towards catcallers is one that not only permits, but encourages the physical equivalent of catcalling: sexual assault. We know assault is about power, not sex; we know it’s been worse recently as women ascend to more powerful positions and levels of education, and as traditional gender roles are challenged in the workplace, resulting in loss of jobs and authority for many men; we know there have been a few movements to put a full stop to catcalling and that many, many streets in America are dangerous ones, not only for women but children and any passerby (Chicago, I’m looking at you). DC is one of the worst offenders for street harassment and the truly moving part of Liz Gorman’s article is not that she was assaulted but the attitude with which she walks down the street when alone - the same way I do - calculating risk with every passing male. I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s exhausting. It’s not at all the same as just being smart and safe like anyone must in a city - like any male must in a city. It requires constant processing of your surroundings, decisions about if and when to walk or take the bus alone, evaluation of threats, all while someone is LITERALLY yelling (or worse, whispering) uninvited, explicit or lewd comments at your person. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to give up.
And make no mistake, comments like the ones on this story are enabling a culture that refuses to place blame where it is due: on the aggressor. Some challenge her allegations in the first place (missing the point); some complain that men are so easily victimized by the justice system when any woman cries rape (SO FALSE, and even if that outlandish claim were true, it barely makes a dent in the number of assaulters that walk free); some say it’s not a “big deal” and she’s actually lucky if this is the worst that happens to her. Oh my God. What is it going to take for people to stop — STOP — defending any evidence of power inequalities between women and men. There is not one instance where they are okay. It’s not a “big deal” that a total stranger put his hands up her skirt against her will? What if it hadn’t been sexual, and she was a dude walking down the street, and this man came up on his bike and shoved the dude to the ground? I THINK THAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED ASSAULT AND TERMS FOR RECOURSE. It’s not about sex! It’s not about whether he slapped her in the face or stuck his tongue down her throat or kicked her knees out from under her or came up behind her on a dance floor and grabbed her without permission (by the way, the worst. dance. move. ever). It is entirely about touching someone when they didn’t explicitly say you could, and it is about living in a world where a smart, working professional (or any human, but again, the power dynamics are striking) has to walk the streets in fear that a fellow human being will, at minimum, cause her to feel immensely threatened and wary. There are basic human rights that apply to each individual in the United States out of the sheer fact that each person operates as a free individual, with free will and choice, free to pursue their own happiness and unhappiness, WITHIN a system that recognizes we all have to share the same space and breathe the same air. It’s as basic as common respect/the golden rule, and it’s so fundamental that its surprising it needs to be said, but here we are, where a woman writes of a bad experience she had that is based in her experience as a routinely victimized woman on the street, and the reaction is somewhere along the muddled lines of “I’m not sure why this is a news article…”
This event is news because it is a common problem that we are entirely in control of ending and we have decided not to. That, like street harassment itself, betrays all logic.
1. You don’t get physical.
2. The world does not owe you something just because you’re a man and suddenly women are making more money than you. Or because they ignore you. Or because you hate them for reasons that really lie within your own place in the world.
3. You are not born with the RIGHT to access women. Or any other person besides yourself. Access means physical and conversational engagement, and catcalling is not a conversation starter.
4. Everyone is allowed to walk wherever they want in public space without an expectation of repercussion.
5. Every time someone, or more commonly, a group of people, catcalls a woman walking alone it is another chip in the armor of womankind as a whole, taking us down a notch, reminding the victim and anyone around her who really runs the world. The horrifying thing is that this arguably works.