Some thoughts about “Street harassment”

November 10, 2014

In a perfect world things would be more like this:

“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (Translated by Sahih International, copied from Quran.com)

There is a now viral video about street harassment online, and many other reactive videos (I’ll post the ones I watched below). The cruz of the video is a women walking around New York for ten hours, poor girl, and being “harassed” by men, many take issue that the only men show harassing were black and hispanic men -in watching the video I did think -is she in Harlem? What I also thought was that this women is dressed, though mostly covered, in very tight fitting jeans and t-shirt. I think the video producers want us to believe the clothes she has on is standard American wear -which it is, but I also think that want us to believe that because it is a typical American girl outfit it is also neutral. That simply isn’t the case. As a girl whose gone through quite a few fads in clothing I know the difference between wearing standard American gear and wearing a full hijab and Abaya (or other loose fitting clothing), it’s not the same. To be fair, no matter what I wear I usually get a comment from someone about something (I live in a Caribbean/ black neighborhood and I think it’s just a part of the (our) culture) but the comments do decrease the more modest I dress.

There is a nuance issue here as well. To paint all comments as street harassment simply isn’t fair. There is a difference between a man calling out “smile” or “princess” to him calling out derogatory or invasive comments and their is a big difference between a passing comment and being followed. But if were honest, which I know it’s hard to be, even following is sometimes welcome. I remember walking home once and this man started talking to me I wanted him to leave me alone but as he kept talking he began to ask about my father. He was one of my dad’s acquaintances and maybe assumed I knew him. He walked me about a block away from my home, then left. This has happened to me many times. The guy I think is a random creep trying to hit on me turns out to be a long time neighbor I never paid attention to or a family friend that I never really knew. Then there is the guy who starts talking to you, at first you’re annoyed then he mentions you go to the same whatever together. There are other times when we as women dress nice and if we don’t get complements from strangers we’ll wonder if we overestimated our beauty. When that random guy calls out “beautiful” as much as we don’t want to talk to him there is something inside us that says “thanks”.

Some men are disgusting and crude but honestly I can’t recall ever hearing anything beyond the “I didn’t like you anyway” when I’ve rejected to engage. If there was ever the b-word or a vulgar sexual remark, I didn’t hear it. We can’t pretend that street harassment is a black and white issue. We can’t excuse men for bad behavior but we can’t excuse ourselves either. When women get dressed up they want people to notice, the issue is most of us only want certain people (or a certain person) to notice and we wish all the rest would leave us alone. Well, that’s not going to happen. If you “look good” all men will notice and if you don’t want them to notice throw on a burka and they won’t. Men have to change as well. Vulgarity that some women experience is atrocious but are the calls to “smile”, “take care” or “you’re beautiful” worth a campaign, I don’t think so.

But really God already told us what to do. A challenge, because men are visual. A challenge because women like to be beautiful. Allah gives us the best of solutions to fulfill our needs and remove harm from our interactions. Women, be beautiful to those men who not alone adore your beauty but respect you and with whom you don’t have to fear harm. Men look at the beauty of women, but only those who you love respect and honor.

Men should leave strange women alone and gaze at the beauty of those whom they love (their household). Women should dress beautiful for the men of their household and conform to modesty in front of strange men. If we followed God’s way there would be no street harassment… but human beings are, in most things, contentious. Lets’s talk…

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