I've always been curious about the psychology behind street harassment: whenever strange men trundle forth out of the shadows to mutter sexy adjectives at me or whenever they effusively waggle their eyebrows and make kissy noises out of moving vehicles, I wonder, "What is the end game here?" Do they think that I'm going to turn around and say, "Thank you, good sir, I'm deeply touched; I, too, find myself delicious on this crisp summer morning" or chase after their car waving my phone number at them?
Watching the video series recorded by Lindsey, a 28-year-old Minneapolis resident who recently opened up to BuzzFeed about her project, it's pretty evident that catcallers don't really understand the psychology of their need to loudly comment on women's physical appearances, either.
Lindsey — who, like many women, is subjected to street harassment on a daily basis as she just tries to live her goddamn life — came up with the idea for Cards Against Harassment after a stranger began screaming at her when she told him she's prefer if he said "hi" rather than approaching her on an escalator and stroking her hair. The concept of the Cards Against Harassment site is that women can download and print out little cards explaining why street harassment sucks and is not fun or flattering for them, which they can carry with them and dispense to catcallers as necessary.
Taking the idea even further, Lindsey started filming her encounters with street harassers on her way to and from work as a "cathartic extra response"; she posts the videos online with their faces partially blurred out. In the videos, she confronts the men who catcall her and essentially asks why they think doing so is okay. Their reactions are often baffled, then defensive, then dismissive. Some of their responses are shocking in how blithely and casually sexist they are.
"When you're dressed the way you are..." one man says when asked why he thinks women want to hear comments on their appearances from strangers, "What's the purpose for a woman to be on this earth [if not] for a man?" Adds his friend, "God made woman for man." Oh, okay. Dudes can made lewd and unwelcome remarks because that's what God would want. Got it.
In another video, a man with a visible wedding ring who faux-whispered "Minnesota chicks are HOT" at Lindsey as he walked past her justifies himself by insisting that women are flattered by unwanted attention/totally asking for it. "You don't think women get dolled up, dressed up every day to look good?" he asks. Lindsey informs him that women do not, in fact, get dressed up every morning so that strange men can hiss at them. "I'm surprised you're offended... It seems that [you're] insecure if you think it's a power dynamic," he says. Yes, actually, being aware of the skewed gender power dynamic that continues to flourish in our great nation can make a lady feel a bit insecure! Good call, man.
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In a third, her harasser says, "Where I come from, we holler at women. Sorry if that offends you, but you shouldn't feel that way. Because, you know, women were put on this earth to satisfy a man, so if she feels offended, she shouldn't have ever been born." He goes on, "You don't believe in the Bible? That's why Eve was born." In addition to the awful biblical justification, he goes on to utilize every sexist bro's favorite defense of their right to make gross comments with impunity: "But, see, you've got the freedom of speech. That's why you've got the freedom of speech, to holler if you wanna holler." In other words: STOP CHASTISING ME FOR HARASSING YOU ON THE STREET, THOUGHT POLICE!!!!
So, yeah. Unsurprisingly, it's the unexamined belief that men are owed women's bodies — that insidious, sadly commonplace sexist ideology that consistently makes women's day-to-day life at best irritating and at worst dangerous — that causes catcallers to do what they do. This belief, internalized, leads some men to abide by several interconnected misconceptions: to think that any woman would be honored to be the recipient of their (obnoxiously vocalized) physical attraction; that women who dress in certain ways are asking to be heckled and intentionally courting male attention, because why else would a woman look appealing on purpose; and that it's literally their God-given right to approach female strangers on the street and say whatever sexual thoughts pop into their heads.
In the Cards Against Harassment FAQ page, Lindsey explains why street harassment isn't harmless: "Individual comments taken in isolation may seem like they are not inherently offensive, but considered in the cumulative, the constant barrage of such attention tells women that the moment we step outside into a public space, we are being graded for our looks... In other words, street harassment enforces the idea that women are being evaluated on their boneability any time they exist in public view." Yep. Exactly.
Lindsey also emphasizes that confronting street harassment isn't for everyone — many women may not feel safe doing so, after all. However, just telling people that catcalling isn't okay goes a long way, in her opinion. "If you're really not comfortable, just make sure to tell your friends about your experiences, particularly your male friends, so they appreciate the impact it has on women," she advises.