International Feminism: Battling Street Harassment

Wir haben uns so an sexuelle Übergriffe jeglicher Art im Alltag gewöhnt, dass wir manchmal vergessen, uns dagegen zu wehre

“We have become so accustomed to sexual assault of any kind in everyday life that we sometimes forget to defend ourselves against it.” This comes from German blogger Maike Hank who was quoted in a Forbes article about street harassment—and the problem in Germany is looking like the same problem that exists in the US and Canada. The problem is the inability of society to let a woman walk down the street feeling safe. Hank’s blog tells an all too familiar story of street harassment where she is jostled by three young men saying, according to my translated version of the article “stupid things”. No physical violence is committed, but encounters like that cause a woman to have to carry around fear like the season’s hottest fashion accessory. I don’t have to explain to most women what it is like—because you all have lived with it.

We already live in a world where girls are kept in at night, told not to dress too revealing, and to always go out with friends. I, like many other women, had the fear of sexual violence instilled into me by parents, teachers, police officers, and friends.  It is wise to not go out alone, and to look after one another. But sexual violence is happening on a scale beyond what these measures could hope to remedy and that is because the victims are not the problem.

In Germany, Hank chooses a place to live based on her ability to avoid the subway, where women are groped. In Belgium, film student Sophie Peeters videotaped herself walking down the streets of Brussels to document the catcalls and insults she faced daily. In France, the Minister of Equality or Territories and Housing Cecile Duflot was catcalled when she stood to speak before the National Assembly.  Anonymous women in forums speak out about being groped in France, Cairo, Ireland, Turkey, London, Japan, and the list goes on-and-on.


Street harassment is too easily dismissed as cultural affectation, or as overreaction. Women are policed when they react out of frustration. We’re gaslighted. We are told to settle down, and not take things so seriously. It makes me feel like we are obviously not getting the message through the receiver.

I recall this past summer, I wrote as my facebook status: “I just want to go one fucking day without someone yelling at me from a car.” Incoming comments were filled with sympathizing, and a (I’m sure) well-intentioned man brought up that in Cuba in his experience was that the women dress-up and, “damn well expect it to be noticed”. So the issue must just depend on who you are and where you are right? Nah uh.

Look, I like being noticed too. I like compliments, and I don’t mind turning heads or stopping conversations mid-sentence. I don’t, however, like being told that I either look like or am a hooker/slut/bitch/skank/whore or that my tits are fake. And it’s not just me…most women don’t like being talked to like that.

Hank’s experience is felt not only by her in Germany, but by women around the world. Here is an issue commonly miscategorised as political correctness and dismissed as sensitivities of bleeding heart liberals. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences” those which do not include touching or penetration and can be things like exposing genitals, public masturbation, or street harassment as affecting  an estimated number of 40,193,000 victims in the United States alone. That number includes both men and women victims, and male victims reported predominantly male attackers.

The prevalence of street harassment is well-documented international problem, and it causes symptoms that do not the best of either gender. As a result of being made to feel unsafe constantly, women may ignore men they see on the street, they may be afraid; some women develop angry reactionary responses to males and vis-versa.  Legislation is only going to help women and men so much, what really needs to occur is a worldwide recognition that the right to notice or admire someone is fine, but there is no right to comment, to grope, to masturbate in public in front of someone because they are walking down the street. This should be obvious, so why isn’t it?



Danielle Paradis is a short story, poetry, and non-fiction writer with a day job in developing educational materials. She is also a graduate student and a feminist. She enjoys serving up a fair amount of sass by arguing with strangers on the Internet. She is a post-it note aficionado. Read her eponymous blog [] Or follow her on Twitter.[]



Photo credit: bestarns via photopin cc.

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  • Why I hate Europe and especially the Mediterranian

  • lennay

    Stalker- Possibly Dangerous

    40-55 year old man, tall (~6’-6’3’’), lanky/thin, Caucasian (but not pale), balding
    at the top and center of his head with very thin light brown hair in the back, thin
    metal round (Harry Potter-shape) glasses, light colored eyes (semi close
    together), large pointy noise, tends to swivel head often but not suspected to
    have Parkinson’s- it’s more of a confused looking-around

    unfortunately encountered this man one too many times on the metro. I believe he creeps on girls (especially
    blondes as I am one and have witnessed him preying on another blonde on the
    same train as me) who catch his eye around the Orange line area especially on
    the metro.

    Incident: morning rush hour @Metro Center station orange line to New
    Carrollton- He was continuously staring at me to a point of me feeling
    threatened and extremely uncomfortable

    Incident: mid-end November 2012 after work day @Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom Orange
    line- He literally followed me off the same cart of a metro train despite him
    being in mid-squat about to sit down in seat when he realized I was getting off
    the train. Immediately after I exited
    the train, I boarded the train across the platform. The doors shut and I spotted the man looking
    confusedly around on the platform, standing in the same place, when he made eye
    contact with me through the train doors and stared at me until my train

    Incident- Inauguration weekend evening time @ Kramerbooks in Dupont during
    Inauguration weekend where he was completely uninterested in books, drinks or
    food. He walked in by himself and only
    stared oddly at people (including
    myself and my roommates with whom I was waiting for a table) for ~25 minutes
    before leaving by himself without buying or eating anything.

    Incident- morning rush hour @Metro Center Orange line to New Carrollton- I was alone
    on the platform waiting on NC train for ~4min, then train approached and I
    boarded, sat down, looked up and suddenly the man was there when I had not
    noticed him no the platform yet he boarded behind me onto the train. He would not stop staring at me even after I
    stared back at him to communicate that I was feeling threatened by him. He kept staring and was looking at my things,
    so I did not want to pull out any personal items or give him any hints of who I
    was. I felt so threatened I exited the
    train at Smithsonian station, where he continued to stare at me through the
    window- sitting in the seat I was just in- until the train departed.

    I have
    called Metro Police Department who recommend taking a picture of him and
    reporting him. The police cannot
    currently act upon this report because no physical
    harassment has been committed. I am not
    one to keep riding the metro to wait until that does happen. Please contact police if you see this man.

    that no verbal communication has been made so there is no voice description for
    this man. He wears casual slacks,
    layered professional jackets, and solider black gym shoes. Beware of this man as it is suspicious that
    he may mental issues and can be dangerous (possibly schizophrenia).