Say you are a man walking down a city street, minding your own business, intent on reaching work or school. Someone makes derogatory, offensive comments to you based on race. That’s harassment, right? In some nations, you’re well within your rights to haul that person into court to answer for their racism. The court will take the charge seriously. It will listen to witnesses. If you have made a video of the other person’s behavior and comments on your phone, the court will take that video into evidence and weigh it when passing judgment and ordering a sentence.
Say you are a woman walking down a city street, minding your own business, intent on reaching work or school. Someone makes derogatory, offensive comments to you based on sex. Is that harassment?
It should be. Depending on the nation, it might be. But don’t count on it.
Why is racism worthy of punishment but the much more pervasive sexism ignored? When half the world is female?
A Belgian researcher has released this video of harassment on the streets of Brussels, the country’s capital. (Though a small country, Belgium has two official languages – Flemish is spoken in the north, French in the south – so the abusive comments are in both.) The “Femme de la Rue” (“Street Woman”) videos by Sofie Peeters have garnered much attention. One Frenchman unleashed a storm on Twitter by claiming that he had never heard of street harassment, so Peeters’s experience must be exceptional, a one-off. He was answered by a flood of tweets detailing other women’s experiences on the street – and underground, in the Métro.
Any woman who has walked by men – not just construction workers – knows the hassle, the fear, the emotional pain of jeering, suggestive, or offensive comments. Yet when we object to them, we’re called other things.
Too sensitive. Making it up. Deserving of it because of our clothes.
Nothing prevents these comments. Age does not inhibit offensive remarks and questions. They’re tossed at young girls and grandmothers alike. What we wear has no bearing. We’re as likely to hear insults and invitations whether we wear a business suit, a dress, or jeans – or, as women even in Saudi Arabia will attest, a burqa and veil.
The only thing that silences the foul-mouthed is the presence of an accompanying male. Apparently, the idea that a woman is “owned” by another male stops the gobs of abusers. Otherwise, they’re all in. If the same woman walks by thirty minutes later, alone, the verbal knives will be drawn.
It’s time to make horrifying remarks about sex as unacceptable as horrifying remarks about race. It’s just trading one sort of verbal abuse for another. Aside from white supremacists carrying on with their rage and hatred, most men have realized that most of society regards making racist comments as the verbal equivalent of spitting on the sidewalk. It’s just not done anymore.
But sexist comments seem immune to general societal disdain.
Let’s not keep on that way. Comments based on a factor of one’s being that one cannot alter are out. (Re-gendering is only visual change, as every cell in the body proclaims through DNA the truth of sex.) Height, skin color, sex, national origin, ought to be out, out, out. The brain processes emotional pain using the same structures in the same way as when processing physical pain. So those words? They’re not just metaphysical sticks and stones. They are sticks and stones.
In addition, what goes around comes around. Next life, the abusive guys will be female. Won’t those women deserve better treatment?
Karma. Now that’s the real bitch.