Have you ever experienced street harassment? Have you played the game Cards Against Humanity? Well-if you said no to either question then 1) you are probably not a woman but should still read this post, and 2) you should get that game for your next gathering—it is loads of fun.
If, however, you said yes—then have I got something for you!
Or more accurately—the creator of Cards Against Harassment—does.
These cards are a new and creative way to deal with street harassment—an old and uninspired form of sexism.
According to her website, these cards were developed as a way for individuals to respond to street harassers. The cards are funny, imaginative, and get right to the point.
As I read through the cards I found myself saying, “No—this one is my favorite!” I could absolutely remember scenarios in which each would have been the perfect response. Because I run as a hobby and bike or walk to commute, I found this one especially relevant:
Ahh, Summer: the perfect time to get outside and get active. Too bad you had to go and ruin it.
The cards can be downloaded and printed from the website. People can choose to make them two-sided with options for the back to include either “Keep it to yourself” or “Next time, just say hello.”
Which I also love—not only do the cards point out how a behavior is making a women feel, they give suggestions about what to do differently. It is ok to be polite and say hello to strangers. It is NOT ok to make harassing comments, gestures, noises, etc.
Love, love, love all of it!
The women who developed the website has also started a project where she videos her interactions with strangers who harass her and how they respond when she gives them one of her cards. She points out in numerous places on her website that she does not think that all women should confront street harassment all of the time, but that women should make their own decisions about their safety and how they want to respond.
That being said, some of the responses of the men she confronts provide insight into why this project is even needed and is a depressing depiction of some men’s feelings about women (check out this article on Jezebel about the videos).
The website also includes an FAQ section that well articulated the issues around street harassment. Two of the points made stood out to me in particular.
“A handy (although problematic) rule of thumb for many men is: if it's a comment you would make if she were walking arm in arm with a male companion, then it's probably an actual compliment.”
This quote was taken from an explanation about how street harassment differs from genuine compliments about women’s fashion choices (e.g. complimenting a woman’s outfit in some way). I think the advice is useful in providing some guidance, but really this comment stood out to me for another reason. It provides an important reminder that woman almost never experience street harassment if they are walking with a man. Which does NOT mean that women should always walk arm in arm with a male companion. What it DOES mean is that many men are probably not aware of how often street harassment occurs, how degrading it can be, and how it can make women feel.
This is another reason that this project is so important—it serves as a way for men to learn about street harassment: either as the recipient of a Card Against Harassment or when women share them with their male friends, colleagues and family to help educate them about harassment.
Recently, I was talking to my husband about street harassment. I told him that while I was walking home that day someone honked at me and I couldn’t figure out who it was. This led to a discussion about the fact that I used to always ignore honking—that I would sometimes show up to work and have someone tell me that they “saw me running the other day and honked” but I must not have seen them. I didn’t see them. Because I didn’t look. It was interesting for me to realize that since moving to Pittsburgh I have experienced such a decrease in street harassment that my first instinct when someone was honking at me was to assume it was someone I knew. That is such a huge shift from how I felt anywhere else I have lived and is a result of experiencing so much less street harassment. I have yet to completely understand why—I am certain the street harassment occurs here and I do occasionally experience it myself, it is just not a part of my daily life in the way it used to be.
For the most part, I feel grateful for this shift. It is a relief to not leave the house “bracing” myself for street harassment. It is nice to actually wave to my friends when they drive by, instead of avoiding eye contact with drivers.
However, I also find that I am caught off guard when street harassment does happen. I have come to anticipate that most of my interactions with strangers will be pleasant and well-intentioned. In fact, during my recent travels this summer I found myself truly surprised by an interaction I had with a young man. I was visiting Fort Collins (where I went to graduate school) and walking to one of my old favorite cafés to eat lunch and do some work. It was a beautiful day and I was listening to music on my headphones—enjoying the nostalgia of being back in a town where I spent some formative years. A young man walked up to me and I assumed he was going to ask for directions (which I would find amusing as once-native-now-visitor).
Instead he made a comment about my looks and insisted that I should go on a date with him. When I said “no thanks” he asked why not and I walked away.
Suddenly my beautiful, fun day felt icky.
Which brings me to the second point made on the Cards Against Harassment website that really hit home for me:
“At worst, it makes women feel unsafe because it forces them to wonder: if this man feels entitled to comment on my appearance, what's to stop him from trying to touch me, or follow me?”
Yup. I found myself being very relieved that it was the middle of the day and I was heading to a public place. Had I been walking back to my hotel I likely would have circled around or found a public place to go to instead.
That’s the thing that some men don’t seem to understand about street harassment.
That’s what makes it about privilege.
It is not just that some people (i.e. most men) rarely experience the “annoyance” of street harassment. It is that they don’t have to live with all the other implications that come with it: the fear of violence, the expectation that women’s bodies exist to please and entertain men, the sense of entitlement that some men feel to treat women however they want.
It is the cumulative effect which makes street harassment a big deal.
Living in a place where I enjoy not anticipating street harassment in my daily life has made me appreciate the value of feeling safe. I want more of it. And I want everyone to feel that way.
Check out the website. Share with your friends. Print out the cards. Design your own. Let’s see what happens.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.