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2014-05-15

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May 14, 2014 - 7:02pm

Feminine Critique: No street is safe

BY MELISSA SCHOLKE

Photo courtesy of The Shadow League, theshadowleague.com

Every woman I know — at one point or another — has reprimanded me by saying: “Don’t go running or walking at night! You are just asking for trouble!” While I understand each of these women were merely concerned about my safety, I refuse to accept the notion my decision to go outside after dark allows the blame to fall upon me if a harmful situation presented itself. Perhaps growing up in a small Upper Peninsula town cushioned me in layers of naivety. Back home, jogging on a crisp fall evening was euphoric for me. I feared an overly curious deer more than an attacker.

Ironically, one of the most threatening experiences I’ve had in Ann Arbor occurred in daylight among a crowd of people. I was walking to the post office to mail a package. It was an unusually warm day in March and a lack of clean laundry led me to wear a skirt and boots. As I walked, an older man — probably twice my age — walking from the opposite direction gave me a leering glance and called out “Hey fancy lady … ” and continued to make disgustingly, crude remarks about my appearance. I ignored him and nervously hastened onward.

On my way back — a significantly longer and indirect route than my previous one — I continually fidgeted with my skirt. I pulled it down each time the movement of my legs caused the skirt to shimmy half an inch up my leg. Throughout the remainder of my day, I felt nervous and ashamed. Was my skirt too short? Did my boots make me look slutty? What did I do to receive such vulgar remarks and why did this keep happening?

That incident marked the third time in two months I had encountered street harassment. In fact, it has sadly become a facet of everyday life for women. A study conducted by Stop Street Harassment found 90 percent of girls experience street harassment by the time they turn 19.

Forcing young women to see this degradation as something they will inevitably encounter and must simply accept is ludicrous. Street harassment feeds off shaming unsuspecting women, men and members of the LGBTQ community. Cat-calling and invading someone’s personal space strips them of their independence and their sense of safety.
The effects of street harassment aren’t limited to mere embarrassment. Women who experience these threatening scenarios are more likely to experience depression, limited social interaction and body image issues. Contrary to misconceptions, there’s absolutely no way these sexist remarks are compliments.

After I returned to my apartment, my apprehension had dissipated and venom coated words were slung to describe each instance of harassment to my best friend. I was angry at the men who harassed me, at the bystanders who said nothing and at myself for buying into the lie I was somehow to blame. Street harassment is a game of power and control, and there is no reason a women should fear a leering glance, the rolling down of a car window or suggestive remarks. Whether it’s educating men or providing women with the tools to combat harassment, society needs to change the rules to this threatening game.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at melikaye@umich.edu.


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