It’s Not a Compliment…it’s Harassment.

By Jillian Gilchrest, Age 33

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It happened again today. I was on my way into work and a man beeped at me, slowed down, and stared at me salaciously…at least that’s how it felt. I’ve been at my new position for 6 months now and I’ve been harassed crossing the street into work so many times that I’ve lost count. The irony is that I work for a feminist organization housed right across the street from the State House, but even I am not protected from sexual harassment in the form of street harassment.

I don’t know why there are two separate terms, I suppose it’s because sexual harassment is an actual legal term, because based on how it makes me feel, having sexually charged things yelled out at me on the street is sexual harassment, plain and simple. This topic, like most having to do with sexism, typically solicits reactions that attempt to downplay, minimize, or justify the behavior… “it’s a compliment”, “lighten up”, “be happy you’re still getting attention”. I know this to be true because every time I’ve called out this type of sexual harassment, in both my personal and professional lives, I’ve been met with the aforementioned responses.

The reason I continue to call attention to sexual harassment on the street is, well… unfortunately, it continues to happen, but more importantly, I do it to bring attention to and challenge what I believe is part and parcel of the continuum of sexism that plagues our society. It’s easy for most to dismiss the existence of sexism and argue that women have it good and are more equal than ever, so quit complaining. But I don’t feel so good or so equal when I face the very real threat of being shouted at by a man for merely being on the street.

When a man (or men) yells an unprompted declaration at me about me and my body as I am crossing the street into work, he is asserting his perceived right to do so. His actions speak so much louder than his words and his actions are saying that he owns that space and what he thinks about me and my body matters and how I may feel about it does not. His assumed superiority over me is made perfectly clear. I don’t need to know what his intentions are in saying such things because the mere act of him saying them makes clear his place in the world, and mine.

As I’ve been beeped at, yelled at, and whistled at, I am reminded of just how vulnerable I am and it makes me feel unsafe. Although I professionally work on combating victim blaming, the harassment makes me question myself and how I am dressed. Is this outfit too provocative? And, I’ve noticed that the harassment has caused me to prepare myself for the walk across the street, knowing that being harassed might very well happen. I’ve also noticed that when I haven’t prepared myself mentally for the walk and I am harassed, the harassment feels so much worse.

There will be some who think I should enjoy it now while I’m still getting the attention and others who claim to enjoy it when it happens to them. To them I say, agree to disagree, but I can’t help but view those reactions as part of the continuum of sexism whereby a woman’s value is based on their value to men. I, for one, hate having sexually charged things yelled at me on the street. Over the years, I’ve joked about the subject by saying that there are many things running through my head on a daily basis but you don’t see me yelling them out at people unprompted. Unfortunately, sexual harassment on the street is about so much more than self-control. If only it were that simple…

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov. 

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