I pretend I haven't noticed how your gaze rakes over my body. I refuse to listen to you whistling at me as if I was of your property. The only thing I'm thinking is to tell you I hate the way you look at me when you don't even know who I am ..
This goes through the minds of many women around the world while they go to work, walk alone down the streets, attend parties or gatherings. They are harassed just because they're women and considered to be part of the "weaker sex." This is a problem that like a rising wave it cannot be silenced nor pacified, it has to be addressed, over and over until it is ingrained in the minds of all.
Tackling sexual harassment on a public policy level is quite recent in some countries. Take as an example Mexico, it was in 2007 it recognized sexual harassment as a form of violence against women. As a consequence, the General Law for Women to Access a Violence-Free Life was created. Ironically, in 2014, Mexico was globally ranked first in sexual abuse, physical violence, and feminicide in girls under 14 years old, according to the
"You're going out dressed like that?" or "You should wear something else to go out" are well-known phrases every woman constantly hears as they walk out the door. These burdensome phrases echo in their minds since early childhood. Analyzing our outfit before going out is an almost impossible habit to shake off. If we look at our skirts skimming our thighs we inevitably think, "will I be catcalled for wearing this?" After an awkward fidget and slight hunching of the shoulders, we decide to wear something deemed "appropriate" by others.
In an ideal world, our only worry should be choosing whatever we want to wear, without thinking we'll be harassed.
What is astounding is that this insidious form of violence can occur in plain daylight and in the middle of a busy crowd. Street harassment is a form of violence that can have verbal and/or physical implications.
In New York, "Hollaback!" –an activist company that deals with street harassment– performed a social experiment to show the reality every woman faces in today's society. They show that it's almost impossible to go out without becoming victims of yells, whistles, "compliments," and undesired innuendos. The video shows a woman walking through New York City's bust streets with a hidden camera. In it, we can see the way this girl becomes the victim of many different aggressions. But, what can we do to defend ourselves against street harassment, an offense that has only been recently recognized?
One way we can defend ourselves from street harassment is to face cat-callers head on. To do so, we must discard the idea that we can move away and avoid these aggressions.
As it is shown in the experiment, the girl faces her harassers just with the necessary words for them to realize they're not untouchable. This breaks the barrier that says women can't defend themselves or speak up against these attacks. Women are not submissive and nor are they silent to these offenses. These are mantras we should have ingrained in our minds and hearts.
"Street harassment attacks women's freedom; it's an aggression because it's something we didn't ask for. No one gave men the right to make comments about our bodies or our existence."
Lulú Barrera (organizer of the National Movement Against Violence)
While organizations like Hollaback! and other social movements are shining a light on these issues, governments have proven sluggish when it comes to policy. Women shouldn't be afraid of going out, nor should they worry about what to wear or fear not going back home one day; they should live freely.
Many verbal aggressions are only the starting point to physical or sexual abuses, which can lead to feminicide, a phenomenon that takes the lives of seven women only in Mexico every day.
Some countries that have already made great advances in women's protection and have penalized street harassment are the United States, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Egypt.
These countries have proposed laws to punish any type of harassment in public spaces without discriminating any gender; the punishments can go from fines to even 12 years of imprisonment. Examples like these show us that even when there's still so much to do, measures are being taken to protect the lives of women and to eradicate this type of violent behavior.
If you're interested in how artists have dealt with this situation check: The Artist That Lets You Touch Her Genitals for Your Shame.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards