If you’re a woman and you’ve walked down a public street, chances are you’ve experienced street harassment. One woman who had a particularly disconcerting experience being harassed on her way to the train posted a photo of what she was wearing, to silence all the “you asked for it” comments out there.
Christen Brandt is wearing brown tights, a parka, long boots, and a giant scarf. It doesn’t matter. Street harassment is never about what at woman is wearing. It’s about a power play. It’s about someone deciding you are not entitled to your own space or peace. It’s about someone continuing to invade that space and peace with a sense of entitlement about how you should react.
“This is what I was wearing this morning as I made my way through a crowded 34th Street subway station, and a man passing by me said, ‘Damn, you have some great legs,'” Brandt explains. “When I ignored him and kept walking, he turned around to follow me, to get closer, even as I was moving away. ‘Did you hear me, honey? I said you have nice legs. Damn! Thank you.’
“It was the ‘thank you’ that got me. As if my 5 inches of legging-covered skin were there for him. Given as a gift wrapped in brown tights. Existing in the world for him to appreciate, or not.”
Where does someone get off demanding a stranger on the street interact with them? That is some next-level entitlement. Here’s a little tip on public behavior: you cannot demand a stranger on the street engage in conversation with you, ever.
This is something women seem to understand. We don’t go around “complimenting” men and insisting they be grateful that we managed to cobble together a few disingenuous words and fling them into the atmosphere. It’s not even that these men truly want you to engage: they want you to smile coyly like you’ve never heard anything as original and wonderful as “great legs.”
The never-ending expectation that women exist in the world to make sure a man’s fragile ego is intact at all times is exhausting. It’s infuriating. And it’s why women are damn tired of being harassed in the street.
“Next time you wonder whether your skirt is too short, next time you ask your teen daughter to change her clothes, or the next time you hear about school dress codes in the news, remember this photo,” Brandt says. “I am in a fucking parka and boots. And it. doesn’t. matter.”
Every time we say “no big deal” when a girl is being disciplined for a “dress code violation” we are feeding into the notion that they way women adorn themselves is up for public debate. We all know that most of these “dress code violations” are ridiculous: a glimpse of a shoulder, a knee, or a bra strap. Big deal! But we make it a big deal every time we accept that girls should be conditioned to believe that their appearance is inviting scrutiny, harassment, and in some cases even violence.
Next time you hear about a woman being harassed or a teen being chided for a “dress code” infraction — make note of how you respond. If your automatic response is “big deal” or “she shouldn’t have worn that” — you may want to rethink your position. You could be sending a very dangerous message to your children.