Just how ingrained is the sexualisation of women in society? A look at street harassment as an indicator.

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Earlier this week I read an article titled “25 Totally Acceptable Ways To Respond To Catcallers” which was a very insightful and funny piece on an experience that many women face, some on a daily basis.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘Catcalling’ in this context, it is a form of both sexual and street harassment in which men (or women) yell out comments of a sexual  nature to an individual as they pass by in order to get their attention, sometimes this will also include some sort of touching or groping.

Although the piece itself was quite humorous, the situation being spoken about is not. The public as a whole are becoming increasingly indifferent to the issue of street harassment, and because of its normalisation in society, women feel less inclined to vocally take offence.  The author of the article relayed her experience of being catcalled one early morning and stated that she felt guilty for not responding to a man’s questions and advances.  She said, “I started questioning my own instincts: Maybe I was too rude. Maybe I should have at least smiled or waved or something”.  This is an all too common feeling for many women who have had the experience of being catcalled.  We worry about our own behaviour despite deep-down knowing we should never have to respond to strangers who violate our personal space and/or make us feel uncomfortable. 

Street harassment can also cause real feelings of fear among victims.   Many women feel that if they vocally express their disapproval at being catcalled the perpetrator will suddenly become verbally or physically abusive towards them.  The fact that this is not seen as wrong to many individuals in our society today is worrying.  An increasing amount of young men believe that the sexualisation of women in this way is not a serious problem.  Girls as young as 9 now are reporting these experiences to their parents and some women become so anxious they begin to question their own behavioural codes and even their womanhood.

This casual acceptance of street harassment can be viewed as an indicator of how wider society views the role of women in general.  We must begin to challenge this behaviour the moment we experience it and tackle the sexualisation of women at the societal level. For those fighting for gender equality in all aspects of life, the casual acceptance of this kind of harassment is another example of the deep-rooted challenge to transforming gender narratives. 

There is a clear need for more open dialogue at the grass-roots level on to transform the way young men and women look at gender.  We must begin challenging sexist mind-sets by educating individuals within society on the sexualisation of women. The media in particular can cause many young men and women to become increasingly desensitized to the degradation of women. Young people need to be more aware of the media’s role as the driving force behind these sexist and misogynistic attitudes.

The bottom line is that this kind of behaviour is a form of SEXUAL HARASSMENT whether the victim or the perpetrator believes it to be or not.

At the JAN Trust we aim to educate and empower women in the UK about the rights they have here.  We also work closely with other organisations to ensure that our service users are receiving the best support possible.  If you have been a victim of the behaviour(s) highlighted in this article and it has deeply affected you then please do get in contact.  We are able to speak with you and refer you on to organisations that are best suited to help with your situation if need be.

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About JAN Trust

JAN Trust (www.jantrust.org) is a multi award winning not for profit organisation formed in the late 1980′s. We are based in London and cater for women and youth from disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Our work and services are delivered locally, nationally and internationally. Our aim is to create positive and active citizens of society by educating, empowering and encouraging women and youth. We are dedicated to the cause of combating poverty, discrimination, abuse and social exclusion among Black, Asian, minority ethnic, refugee and asylum seeking (BAMER) women. JAN Trust is making a real difference in improving the lives of communities; promoting human and women's rights as well as community cohesion. We provide a range of services and our work has been recognised by a variety of dignitaries. Check out our website for statements from some of our supporters: http://www.jantrust.org/what-people-say
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