“Calm down! It’s just a bit of banter”. This is the only explanation many women get when standing up to the men who grope them, yell at them in the street or beep the horns of their cars in “appreciation”. Being catcalled or grabbed doesn’t make women feel flattered. It can make you feel embarrassed, invaded and often frightened. Despite the clear psychological impact of such assaults, women are constantly told we aren’t allowed to be angry.
If a man cat calls you, you must take it as a compliment as they’re simply admiring the female form. They’re “hot blooded males” remember, and as we are constantly told by the media, if they grope you it’s simply because they can’t handle the simple task of keeping their sexual urges under control or their hands to themselves. For many UEA students, their university experience has not included a single night out, whether at the LCR or in town, without some form of groping or offensive comment. This is frankly, unbelievable.
It doesn’t matter how someone is dancing, how someone is dressed, whether you meant it as a joke or a come on – nothing entitles you to touch another person without their permission. This is especially true in a dark room or street and definitely if you turn around immediately afterwards and pretend it wasn’t you.
Street and club harassment has become a part of everyday life for many young women and it’s simply not acceptable. For many girls their first experiences date back to their school days, dressed in their school uniform. Why has this behaviour become so prevalent and so unchallenged within our society, particularly when it comes to the law?
Street harassment has nothing to do with trying to pick up girls, to tell women they are attractive or finding an outlet for an irrepressible sexuality. Street and club harassment are all about power; telling women you have it, telling them they don’t. It’s a reminder that when women walk down a dark street at night, even the street to their own home, they can never feel truly safe. It’s a reminder that even in the 21st century basic inequalities between men and women remain impossible to ignore.
Men can roam the streets, the clubs and rarely feel this kind of threat whilst women are faced with constant reminders of a misogyny which is alive and kicking. Men can still make you feel worthless, or frightened, or angry with the simple beep of a horn. Cat calling, grabbing women in clubs, a simple whistle in the street – it all points to the same thing. They are fundamental, everyday expressions of the work still to be done by our society to balance the obvious inequalities between the power of men and the power of women.
For more information on movements dedicated to fighting back against street harassment take a look at: www.everydaysexism.com and www.ihollaback.org or look into UEA’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment.