6 Contortions Women Perform to Avoid Street Harassment

There exists out there the absurd notion that street harassment is a form of flattery. That women should – and even secretly do – love having strangers yell uninvited commentary on their looks and bodies. A new study finds (because the repeated testimony of women isn’t enough; we have to actually keep proving this stuff over and over again) that women not only don’t find street harassment enjoyable, they often go to great lengths to avoid it.

A partnership between Cornell University and Hollaback!, the study comes right in the midst of Anti-Street Harassment Week (April 12-18). Most women know the way that street harassment makes riding the subway an exercise in anxiety, or how it can turn walking down the street in broad daylight into an uncomfortable experience. But the study reveals that the level of unease women feel is so great that many alter their dress, travel routes, and even their jobs, to circumnavigate street harassment. Most of these findings will come as little surprise to women, but here’s hoping street harassers take note. (We realize this is unlikely.) These are just a few of the things women do to avoid street harassment:

1. Take a Different Route Home or to Their Destination. An overwhelming majority of women – more than 85 percent – answered yes to having taken a different route to get where they were going because of street harassment. That means an awful lot of women are literally going out of their way to avoid the unwanted attention of street harassment. So, congratulations street harassers – you are literally making it more difficult for women to navigate the world!

2. Choose to Take Different Transportation. Nearly 73 percent of women answered in the affirmative. For example, women said they took cabs instead walking or taking the bus as a way to avoid experiencing street harassment. In many cases, that means women are opting for more expensive means of travel (taxis, livery cars, driving) instead of cheaper ones (walking, public transportation, etc.) Score another one here for street harassers, who are managing to make getting around pricier for women than it has to be.

3. Avoid a City or Entire Area. More than 72 percent of women said that they didn’t travel to certain parts of the city where they thought they’d likely experience street harassment. This goes hand and hand with another finding: just over 68 percent said that there were areas of their own towns and cities they didn’t travel to because of street harassment. In other words, women’s travel, even in their own hometowns, is often restricted because of street harassment.

4. Not Go Out at Night. Nearly 70 percent – a large but not surprising majority – of women said yes to this. Because the burden of rape culture places the onus on women not to be harassed, or raped, instead of on rapers not to rape, it’s not particularly news that women would choose not to go out during periods of the day when they feel their safety is more likely to be challenged.

5. Change What [They] Are Wearing. The implied accusation of “What were you wearing?” has clearly had a big impact on women, causing a little over 66 percent of respondents to change their clothes to avoid being harassed. Just as in rape situations where a woman’s ability to be seen as a legitimate “victim” can be compromised by the length of a hem or a neckline, women are conscious that clothing is used as an excuse for harassment.

6. Not Go Out to A Social Outing Or Event. Almost 55 percent of women polled said they had opted not to take part in a social activity – going out to a bar, movie, etc. – because of street harassment. So more than half of women are, at least on occasion, not participating in events they’d like to because of the discomfort and anxiety caused by street-level harassment.

This is just a sample of the study, which also found that many respondents said they had been late to school or work (34 percent), moved homes (35.6 percent), or been forced to leave or resign from a job (7.9 percent) because of street harassment. Street harassers should take note that a hefty minority of respondents (41.5 percent ) also reported they’d chosen to take self-defense classes to fix the problem.

The survey interviewed 4,872 women under 40 in the United States. Check out the report in its entirety, here


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