NEW YORK, NY– Imagine you are walking down the street at around 5pm. It has gotten slightly dark out, and you are alone. You walk down the street, calmly. Suddenly, a piercing shout fills the air. “Hey babe!” You turn around quickly, alarmed. The man, who is slouched and looks around thirty, gestures to you. “Come here!” You walk faster, breaking into a run. He follows you grudgingly, and then comes to a stop. You continue to run, feeling vulnerable and gross. Now imagine this happening to nearly every woman on the street.
In January 2021, a UK study showed that 86 percent of women, aged 18 to 24, out of 1000 women, had been sexually harassed in public places. The study also showed that 45 percent of women stated that authorities, they believed, would not have helped. 4 percent of women also said that they reported it and the authorities didn’t help.
Girls as young as 11 have experienced catcalling on the streets, which has stretched back for decades. Not just men of their age, but usually older men, too, will viciously point out body structure our even touch, not to mention hurt or rape younger women.
“A lot of the times I was harassed, it was less about getting an outcome from the situation and more about feeling masculine and powerful,” Jennifer Bleyer, an ex-journalist and current therapist in New York, says. “It was often if a man was with a friend” she continued, shaking her head slightly, “because these men feel this is a way to prove their masculinity to their friends.”
As a young girl, I have felt scared and alone throughout these experiences. The study helped me understand how I was exactly the opposite of alone, calming me while terrifying me somehow. After the three times this has happened, I find it alarming that despite my young age, it feels like something I will “just have to put up with.”
While I talked to other women of all ages across the board, I realized something extremely important in all their words: they all felt vulnerable while walking down the street. Many of them felt afraid and alone. Even as they described what it was like to do something as simple as taking a jog, they were aware of the prying eyes invading their pride in womanhood. “Women shouldn’t have to walk down a street and feel like they are trapped, scared, and alone,” River Morris, a friend of mine, says. “They shouldn’t feel conscious about who they are, their body, or the way they dress.” As I listened to her, I was suddenly aware of how young all of us are. It hurts to know that we are taught from such an innocent age to “be careful,” “dress right,” and “stay away from men.” River, who has, thankfully, never been harassed, is taking a stand at the moment to put these men to justice for the ugly crimes they commit against people her age.
As a society and as individuals, we need to work together to stop this horrible reality for girls of such a variety of ages. There are many small steps you can take right now to stop this, and here is a small and extremely significant way to help.
It’s important not to diminish the experiences of women by blurting out excuses and defense. There is no need to say that it is “not all men though.” Saying that is equally a sexist and pointless thing to say. If there was a cookie box, for example, and some of the cookies were poisoned, you would be wary of the entire box. It may be hard to hear about and acknowledge this, but it is important to validate these experiences and talk about them so we can stop street harassment.