I had an experience last night that I did not plan to be the subject of my first post for the revamped 4WomenWorldwide. Alas, when fodder falls in my lap, I must make use of it.
A friend and I were walking home from a bar around 12:30 a.m. and passed a group of boys (men-boys) one of whom held up his hand to give me a high-five. To say that my reaction was polite would be an overstatement; as he passed, I ignored him and gave him a roll of the eyes, though I managed to keep my mouth shut (something of a miracle). Here’s the best part: in retaliation for my apparent rejection, he reacted by giving me a swift slap in the back of my head.
Now, let me be clear. I am not a man hater. Quite to the contrary, I adore many a man and know that in order for women to finally achieve the equality and respect we deserve we need men to stand squarely in our corner. This, however, set me off. I will not reiterate the surge of words that fell out of my mouth following the incident (though they were out of ear shot by that time and would certainly have fallen on deaf ears).
But I will say this: there is something seriously wrong with this society if any “man” thinks that kind of treatment is acceptable. When I finally caught my breath and marched on, my friend and I discussed what we see as a societal problem with men. This truth spans the gamut of issues in relations between men and women and I will not cover all of them in this short post. This interaction, however relatively meaningless it may be, speaks to much larger issues.
It’s Called Street Harassment
Any woman knows what it’s like to be whistled at, cat called, hit on, and demeaned or objectified by men we don’t know. It’s impossible to go through this world and escape the reality that many men think this kind of behavior is appropriate. Awareness surrounding the issue of street harassment is gaining refreshing traction (check out the organization, Stop Street Harassment for more) but the problem persists.
That’s what makes me so angry about last night’s slap. It’s not that I found his high-five proposition threatening; I just didn’t want to reciprocate. And that is my right. I would have thought less of the interaction if he walked past without further incident. But my decision not to slap this stranger’s hand was apparently too much of a rejection for him to handle.
To said stranger: was it my spaghetti strap dress that flowed down to my knees that offended you? Or perhaps the pink and yellow flowers that are printed all over it? Or my gold flip-flops? The reality is that none of this matters. Whatever pedestal he thinks he inhabits is one on which many others find a home.
To keep this brief, I will get to my main point: Men, Please Stop. It’s not a compliment, it’s not flattering; it’s enraging, inappropriate, insulting, and unwanted. Though no words were exchanged between this stranger and I last night, his behavior spoke for itself. And it’s not ok.
To all those men out there who agree with me, talk to your male friends, talk to your wives, your children, your family. Though the underlying causes of street harassment represent a much larger issue, understanding that it is not a compliment is an important step.