Some people consider harassment as a harmless activity which is done just for fun. But harassment is about power and control which can easily turn to violence. People who advise women to take street harassment as a compliment do not recognize the enormous impact it has on victim’s life. Not just in the moment, but day-in, day-out.
You walk down a street late at night, knowing that somebody is following you. It being dark so you are not able to see his face clearly. But thanks to the street lamps. Now you are able to see his face and notice all the tell-tale signs. You can see that the man is overtly looking you up and down, eyes lingering on your breasts to your legs. You could watch him talking on the phone and smirking. But you couldn’t hear anything. Maybe he is calling some mates. Your heartbeat quickened, the hair on your arms rose. You could feel all the emotions flooding through you. Anger, fear, anxiety, disgust, and shame.
This is one of those feelings that some people don’t understand. They will ask you to take the disgust comments as compliments and move on with that experience.
But how can someone take it as a compliment?
It’s not a compliment, but a statement of power, violence, and control. It’s a way of letting a woman know that a man has a right to her body. A right to discuss it, a right to analyze it, a right to assess it and form a verdict. Whether a woman likes it or not.
It is not easy to forget. Scanning the street as you walk; the constant alert tension; the moment of revelation and the sinking feeling as you realize what is going to happen. Countless feelings go through you.
No matter how many defense mechanisms you put into place, it becomes difficult to fight the situation.
During a debate about sexual harassment, one male commentator said “I’d love it if a woman shouted about my body in the street. She is just complimenting me. Nothing is disrespectful there.” He further said, “If you don’t like it, turn around, tell them to shut up. Stand up for yourself.”
But such advice is phenomenally unhelpful in a world in which women frequently see harassment escalate into more aggressive violence and even fatal attacks when they try to protest. In such a situation it is so obvious to focus on the source of the problem. But people rather focus on women’s reaction to it.
When a woman has the nerve to reject the advances of street harassers, they so often turn to angry outbursts of abuse. Because that rejection disrupts the harassers’ entitlement to her body, which society has allowed them to believe is their inherent right.
No one knows the burden that constant harassment puts on a woman.
Sexual harassment is not a one moment experience that is easy to wash away. It is horribly drawn-out affair that a woman can never forget. It makes her rethink her path the next time she walks down the street.
Street harassment issue will never get solved if people will continue debating on how victims should react, rather than focusing on tackling them at their root. It is no more about compliments than rape is about sex.