FEATURE

Street Harassment: Is "Turning the Tables" Really the Answer?

Photo by Mo Riza under Creative Commons license

Friends emailed me the link, allies posted and praised it on Twitter, and my Facebook newsfeed was overtaken by it. Just before this year’s international anti-street harassment week came to a close, the Guardian online posted a video, ‘Get your arse out, mate’: we turn the tables on everyday sexism”, where Leah Green, the Guardian journalist responsible for the video, gave men a taste of their own catcalling medicine. Like Green, I also loathe street harassment and recognize that increasing men’s understanding of the invasion, fear, and harm it causes is no easy task. I also agree that we need to drum up creative ways to get men to grasp that street harassment is not a trivial issue, let alone complimentary. But her video—currently boasting “a million hits and nearly three thousand comments”—is not the way to go about it. Such numbers might lead one to conclude that the video did its job: raise awareness and engage men in the conversation. Right? Not so fast. The only problem (well, not the only one) is that some commenters rightly argue that “turning the tables” is in no way comparable to the harassment women face daily.

Let’s start with the obvious: an isolated event is in no way equivalent to the typical experience of girls and women. Although much more research on the prevalence of street harassment is required, existing academic studies from around the globe, including countries such as Canada, France, Yemen, and Japan, indicate at least 70% of women have experienced street harassment, usually on a regular basis throughout their entire lives.

Inti Maria Tidball-Binz, founder of the Buenos Aires chapter of Hollaback! an international anti-street harassment movement, states that videos such as Green’s “demeans the experience of women because catcalling is violent in an aggregated way, not as a one off—in the sense that it begins at a very young age…and drop by drop that continued verbal and real or threatened physical violence continues to define how the world sees us, how we navigate public space, how we experience ourselves and our bodies.” Such ongoing harassment commonly causes girls and women to alter their manner of dress, avoid exercising outdoors, and change the routes they take while on foot.

Beyond acknowledging that one event does not make for a lifetime, flipping the script also fails to take into account the “context of gender role construction which naturalizes behaviors such as catcalling.” Tidball-Binz describes that historically “women were relegated to the private sphere and considered ‘sluts’ when they left the house, part of public property, whereas men have always been free to take ownership of public space, including the women’s bodies who dared to roam it.” Aside from these two crucial points, what I find most distressing is...

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Bio

Sharon HeadshotSharon grew up in a suburb of Toronto, Canada and earned undergraduate degrees in Psychology (B.Sc.) and Exceptionality in Human Learning (B.A.) at the University of Toronto. In her last year of study, she was a regular guest on the radio program Life Rattle where she orated several of her short stories, many of which addressed body image and violence against women. After graduation she devoted her energies to a career in social work, in roles that included supporting families and individuals with intellectual and physical handicaps, co-facilitating eating disorder support groups, and acting as a literacy assessor and educator for homeless women. Upon reaching burnout, she decided to re-evaluate her professional goals via traveling, studying alternative healing arts, and writing.

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Bio

Sharon grew up in a suburb of Toronto, Canada and earned undergraduate degrees in Psychology (B.Sc.) and Exceptionality in Human Learning (B.A.) at the University of Toronto. In her last year of study, she was a regular guest on the radio program Life Rattle where she orated several of her short stories, many of which addressed body image and violence against women. After graduation she devoted her energies to a lengthy career in social work, in roles that included supporting families and individuals with intellectual and physical handicaps, co-facilitating eating disorder support groups, and acting as a literacy assessor and educator for homeless women. Upon reaching burnout, she decided to re-evaluate her professional goals via traveling, studying alternative healing arts, and writing. After backpacking throughout Mexico, Southeast Asia, and much of South America, she found her second home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was there she committed herself to writing. She studied the craft, joined a writer's group (Thursdays@Three), and experimented with various styles of fiction and non-fiction, which led to her participation as an author, editor, and presenter at the International Book Fair in Buenos Aires in 2008 and 2009 representing the US Embassy.

Today, she is a freelance writer and editor who has worked with a wide variety of subjects, including but not limited to medicine, web design, the American justice system, wind technology, anthropology, psychology, and the English and Spanish languages. She has authored textbooks and several online courses for colleges and universities throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Latin America. From authoring white papers to copy editing university-level exams, from ghostwriting for bestselling authors to development editing quarterly and annual reports, Sharon's experience is far-reaching.

She especially enjoys combining her love of the written word with her passion for body image activism and feminism. She regularly writes for Herizons, Canada's leading feminist magazine, and most recently, has contributed to Fifty Shades of Feminism (Virago), an anthology of "fifty women young and old - writers, politicians, actors, scientists, mothers - [who] reflect on the shades that inspired them and what being woman means to them today."

Since 2009, she has acted as co-editor for AdiosBarbie.com, a website that promotes healthy body image and identity for people of all sizes, ages, races, cultures, abilities, and sexual identities and orientations, in addition to being a virtual member of the London-based AnyBody team, part of the international movement Endangered Bodies. Sharon's work with AnyBody inspired her to organize Endangered Species: Preserving the Female Body in Buenos Aires, one of five international summits held in March 2011. Subsequently, she founded AnyBody Argentina, the Buenos Aires chapter of Endangered Bodies, which fights against sizeism and promotes healthy body image for Argentine girls and women, issues that Sharon writes about in both English and Spanish. Since January 2013, Sharon has been a member of the Global Advisory Board for the Dove Self-Esteem Project.

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Proud Contributor to:

Fifty Shades of FeminismPublished in March 2013, Sharon contributes "Owning the F-word" to this anthology of "fifty women young and old - writers, politicians, actors, scientists, mothers - [who] reflect on the shades that inspired them and what being woman means to them today."

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