El acoso callejero

By Guest Contributor Elizabeth Mendez Berry, originally posted at El Diario

Editor’s Note: An English-language version of this piece is available under the cut

Fui acosada por primera vez a los 13 años de edad. Dos hombres me siguieron en su camioneta por varias cuadras, vociferando unas vulgaridades de lo que me querían hacer. A los 18, un “piropeador” corrió tras de mí y trató de entrar a mi apartamento a la fuerza.

Mi experiencia no es única: el acoso callejero es un problema diario pero raramente reconocido. Según varias investigaciones citadas por Holly Kearl, autora del importante libro Stop Street Harassment, entre el 80 y 99 porciento de las mujeres han sido objeto de atencion agresiva y no deseada en la calle. Ella encontró que el 75% de mujeres habían sido perseguidas por hombres desconocidos y que el 57% habían sido manoseadas de forma sexual en la calle, algunas cuando tenían tan sólo 10 años de edad.

Esta epidemia tiene consecuencias graves. Investigadores de la Universidad de Connecticut encontraron que “la experiencia del acoso callejero está directamente relacionada con una mayor preocupación acerca de la aparencia física y la vergüenza corporal, y está relacionada indirectamente con un miedo elevado de la violación”. En un país donde una de cada tres mujeres es víctima del asalto sexual, estos temores no son infundados.

Desafortunadamente, el coqueto de la vecindad no se da cuenta de lo que provoca. Recientemente, un joven ciclista me persiguió sin cesar. Cuando le exigí que me dejara en paz, el quedó sorprendido y hasta apenado, como si nunca se le hubiese ocurrido que no me gustaría ser cazada de noche por un extraño. Aunque muchos no tengan malas intenciones, no se ponen en el lugar de la mujer.

A pesar de que toca casi todas las mujeres, el acoso callejero en base al género no se considera un problema social como, por ejemplo, el acoso con motivos raciales lo es. Muchos piensan que las mujeres deben disfrutar de los piropos.

Y muchas apreciamos un piropo poético de un hombre respetuoso. La pena es que un “Buenos días, Hermosa“, puede transformarse al instante en “Vete al infierno, perra”. En Mayo en Washington, D.C., un acosador le disparó a una joven, hiriéndola en la pierna, porque ésta no le dio su número de teléfono. Aunque sea un ejemplo extremo, muchas mujeres declaran que han sido amenazadas por acosadores contrariados.

Kearl aduce a favor de que se hagan leyes en contra del acoso callejero en base al género, tal como existen leyes contra otras formas de acoso. Pero las mujeres no sólo necesitamos que nos protejan las leyes. Hasta que decidamos que el derecho de la mujer a sentirse segura es más importante que el supuesto derecho del hombre a objetivar e intimidarla, las mujeres y las niñas seguirán ansiosas por la calle. El acoso callejero disminuye la productividad laboral de sus víctimas; las hace limitar su tránsito en espacios públicos y hasta a veces a dejar un trabajo para evitar un viaje diario tóxico. No se trata de coqueteo inocente: estas son palabras que dañan.

English-language version cross-posted from The Crunk Feminist Collective

I was 13 when I was sexually harassed for the first time. On a sunny summer day, two men in a pickup truck followed me for several blocks, yelling obscene things they wanted to do to me. When I was 18, a catcaller chased me home from the grocery store; he tried to force his way into my apartment.

My experience is not unique: street harassment is an everyday problem, but one that’s rarely acknowledged. According to several studies cited by Holly Kearl, author of the new book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, between 80 and 99 percent of women have been the targets of aggressive, unwanted attention from male strangers. When she polled 800 women, Kearl found that 75 percent had been followed, and 57 percent had been sexually touched or grabbed in the street by male strangers, some when they were just ten years old.

This epidemic has serious consequences: University of Connecticut researchers found that “the experience of street harassment is directly related to greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame, and is indirectly related to heightened fears of rape.” In a country where one in three women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, such fears are not unfounded.

Unfortunately, the average street corner catcaller is oblivious to this reality. Recently, a young man on a bicycle followed me up my own street. When I asked him to leave me alone, he was surprised and seemed even embarrassed, as if it had never occurred to him that a woman wouldn’t enjoy being chased at night. Though many catcallers don’t have nefarious intentions, they don’t put themselves in our shoes. Too often, it’s a long, uncomfortable walk home.

Despite the fact that it touches almost all women, gender-based street harassment isn’t considered a social problem in the way that, for example, racially-motivated street harassment is. Many believe that women should just relax and enjoy the commentary. And many of us do appreciate a poetic compliment from a respectful man. But the problem is that a “Good morning, beautiful” can instantly become ”Go to hell, bitch” if the gentleman in question doesn’t take rejection well. In Washington D.C. last May, a man shot a young woman in the leg when she declined to give him her phone number. It’s an extreme example, but many women report that they have been threatened or even attacked by disgruntled harassers– I know several women who have had bottles thrown at them. The vulgar turns violent with a troubling frequency.

Ten percent of women report quitting a job in order to avoid a harassment-heavy commute. Street harassment also decreases its victims’ workplace productivity, and it makes them limit their time in public spaces.  Kearl argues in favor of creating laws against gender-based street harassment, the way there are laws against other forms of harassment. But women don’t just need legal protection. Until our society values women’s right to liberty and security more than men’s supposed right to objectify and intimidate us, girls and women will continue to navigate the sidewalks uneasily. This isn’t harmless flirtation.

Image courtesy of stopstreetharassment.com.

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