3 Unexpected Responses Women Gave When Asked to Talk About Harassment

Coming into the world as a young woman has meant that bad things more than the villains in movies and books. The existence of tragedy and pain is not just very real but can now touch me. I learned this all too soon into my time within reality. What took me a bit longer to learn, however, is that not everyone is on the same page about the existence of these things. When something is so clearly an issue in the world, it comes as a rude awakening when you face people in denial of it all.

Sexual and street harassment became a painful part of my reality and I was growing more passionate about it with each new set of eyes I could feel on my body, with each chilling comment thrown at me, and with each time I felt afraid when leaving the house. Sexual harassment is real, wrong, and rampant—a total no-brainer. Or so I thought.

When I set out to get women’s stories of street/sexual harassment via typewriter (see Not Your Habibti: A Street Project), I never imagined that I would get these responses. They struck me harder as more and more women started giving me these same answers. Coming from my fellow women, the responses are sobering.

Not Your Habibti was inspired by the need to open a conversation about sexual and street harassment. Well, now I’m opening a conversation about that conversation. Read on and feel free to pull your friend over to read with you.

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I'm not denying that men aren't harassed but we can all agree that the ratio is pretty unequal. If the ratio were a seesaw, the women would be planted VERY firmly in the dirt. 

And as for the women who truly believed this, I wish they had stopped long enough for me to raise a few questions: Have you considered that maybe men are more willing to speak up about their harassment? Do you know how difficult (even impossible in some cases) for women to speak up about their harassment? Or perhaps men make a bigger deal about it as it's not a normalized part of their lives? Did you forget that many women don't speak up about sexual harassment because it's an issue of honor?

The questions goes on but you get the point. 

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Imagine this response being uttered while the girls were in passing (because stopping would have been too much trouble) and giving me a pretty solid eye-roll. 

And these were the responses that really tried my patience. I had to muster up all of my self-control not to yell are you being serious?! When we've got sexual/street harassment in the world, the issue of girl-hate is so unnecessary. 

This response is dangerous for its implications: a woman who isn't deemed "respectable" according to social standards of dress/behavior is deserving of street-harassment. In other words, it's your fault. 

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An overwhelming number of young women gave me this answer. Despite my surprise, I smiled and thanked them for taking the time to stop and learn about the street project. But after a hand-full of these same responses came in, I decided to start digging a bit further. Instead of asking "have you ever experienced street or sexual harassment," I asked if anyone had ever made an inappropriate comment in the street. That's when they all said Oh, that?! Definitely. But does that count?

Translation: Street harassment is so common that women have normalized it. It takes an extreme case (rape or assault) to become an issue worth talking about. It's heartbreaking to know that harassment is so common that young women aren't even aware of it anymore. 

Yasmeen MjalliComment