Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.

Musings on Street Harassment and Male Privilege

Recently in class we’ve been discussing street harassment, and the many great reactions to street harassment, such as SlutWalk and iHollaback.

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.


3 comments on “Musings on Street Harassment and Male Privilege

  1. unladylikemusings
    October 10, 2012

    Very intersting theory. I’d never thought of it that way before but it definitely (and unfortunately) makes sense. Thanks for the brain food! 🙂

  2. jonesosaurus
    October 12, 2012

    I’ve experienced the same thing, and I really like your theory of women being equated to property. Interestingly, I have also have men come up to my father while we are walking down the street to tell him he “has a beautiful little girl” (even now, when I am an adult). I think this works with your idea, being that I must belong to my father, and out of respect to him, they should approach him instead of me.

  3. thasson
    November 8, 2012

    That’s interesting. I’ve actually had the opposite response. When I mention that I have a boyfriend, their story usually switches up and they come back with “That’s alright. I wasn’t looking for anything too serious anyway”….”Well take my number anyways,just in case it doesn’t work out with your man”. Silence has almost always worked for me. However, I think your theory is still very viable and accurate. I have also used the excuse that I was partners with the woman I was with and it backfired. In that case, your ideas of male privilege and compulsory heterosexuality sound completely on.

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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