Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
Yesterday, Professor Richardson tweeted, “When men used to harass me on the street I would say, “I have a BF.” Now I just try to shame them. #fem2.”
I’ve done the same thing once or twice when faced with street harassment, and I wondered why the mention of a boyfriend, my harassers would back off. They didn’t back off when I ignored them, they didn’t back off when I answered back, but they backed off when they thought I had a boyfriend.
My working theory as to why this happens works with the concept of male privilege and the societal equation of women to property. Men who harass women on the street and retreat at the mention of a boyfriend/husband are an example of male privilege at work – they respect another man more than they respect the woman on the street. It also ties into the notion of women as property in that street harassment aims to rob a woman of her bodily agency. Her body is public property on which anyone is free to comment – or, in the event that she states she has a boyfriend, it’s the property of another man.
I suppose this could even play into compulsory heterosexuality – if a woman told her harassers that she had a girlfriend/significant other (without specification of gender), I’d wager that the harassment wouldn’t stop. In some cases, I think the harassment would probably increase. The systems of male privilege and compulsory heterosexuality render women the property of the public or their significant other (who is a man), and consequently, the recipients of unwanted street harassment.