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Street Harassment

24 Jun

by Maggie Gallagher

Street harassment is nothing new. It’s been happening to me since I got hips and to other women long before that. I should speak out against it but in the past I’ve just seen it as an annoying part of being a woman. Sometimes if I’m up for a fight or I don’t mind being called names I’ll go as far to ask men to stop or tell them I don’t like that. After this weekend I have hit a wall of tolerating it and the only way I can try to deal is by speaking out.

In the past couple of years there has been a prominent new wave of feminism. It’s not a niche group. More and more people have started to understand what feminism actually is and are starting to see its importance.

I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland and I was harassed once the entire four months I lived there. The catcall was nothing out of the norm for what happens to me almost weekly in Chicago but it stood out. I had let my guard down and it startled me to be pulled back into that culture. It’s not as if men in Scotland are perfect gentlemen. From what I witnessed they would wait until a woman passed before saying anything vulgar, instead of aggressively projecting it onto her.

While visiting a friend in Italy I was warned I know how you get but it’s part of their culture or in other words don’t start a fight because they’re not going to get it. Why isn’t that a warning in the US: don’t worry they’ll yell at you but it’s just part of their culturemost of them won’t even touch youbut if you just let men yell it will help them keep the allusion of power.

On Saturday night I went downtown to a club with friends. On nights like this I prep myself but always call it a night after one too many hey, you trying to fuck. So I said bye to my friends and left. It was 2am and normally I would take a cab but there was an L stop close by, the club charged a $20 cover, and I only had four drinks throughout the night, so I figured I’d be fine to go home alone.

From Grand to Fullerton I was fine, no comments. My apartment is less than half a mile from the L, but it’s through the heart of Lincoln Park, one of the biggest drinking destinations for self-entitled bros in Chicago, second only to Wrigleyville.

Within the first two blocks I was catcalled twice. I was annoyed. My skirt was loose, it hit mid-thigh. I had on tights. I was wearing a jacket. I had make-up on but not too much. I was following their rules and I was pissed it wasn’t enough. So I wasn’t smiling. A man stopped me and in a mocking tone said Wow. Look at this little bitch walking alone at night. Literally mocking me for walking home. I was fuming. There were so many things I wanted to say and do but I kept walking. If I had reacted anything after that could be considered my fault.

I turned it over and over in my head why would someone do that. What’s the point? And I landed on fear. I think men are so afraid of losing power that an adult man felt threatened by a woman walking alone.

Can they see the new wave of people who refuse to let ridiculous 1 in 5 statistics be the norm? Did they finally realize that the old white men on capital hill are literally dying? Is it too much for them to think they might have to share power?

In the past I’ve given up on fights like this because people believe yelling louder is winning and it’s not worth trying to be heard over them. But I’ve hit my breaking point and I’m not going to stop fighting. Feminism is no longer a stereotypical, isolated group. It’s becoming louder and larger than those few screaming and clutching onto power. I’m going to fight for the next generation of women. I will be a part of the change. For me that starts with breaking down the idea that a catcall is compliment and a women walking alone is threat.



Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.


7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

Sexism Abroad

23 Oct

by Allyn Faenza

“Ghana is a male-dominated society, and we like it that way.” This speech was given to every visiting student on the first day of orientation here in Legon, Ghana by a professor of political science. The female students were warned to watch their behavior and never leave their intentions unspoken. We were told that Ghanaian men often interpret “no” as a woman’s challenge for them to try harder. In the past, a visiting international student invited a Ghanaian man into her dorm room and after a few minutes changed her mind about going any further physically. The man didn’t listen. When she tried to alert the university’s police that she was raped, she said they practically laughed in her face. It seems the police could not wrap their heads around the notion that a woman can exercise control over her own body or direct a man’s actions. The professor told us this as a cautionary tale with no hint of irony, no hint of an apology. What the speech came down to was this: men here are in charge and women have to learn to play by the rules to get what they want.

Rarely has a day has gone by here in Ghana that I haven’t been grabbed, catcalled, or proposed marriage. The best way for me to advert attention from myself is to tell the men I’m married. It is as if they could only understand my disinterest by rationalizing that I belong to someone else. On more than one occasion I have heard women and men alike come to the consensus that the female body is a tool for male pleasure. As I walk through crowds of men, I can feel their eyes on me, and more often than not, their hands. They grope and grab me, and if I protest, I am often challenged. They say “Who are you to tell me not to touch you?! You are a woman, you are a woman!”

Today during my Sociology of the Family class, the topic of domestic violence came up. I have seen some of the television programs Ghanaians watch and oftentimes they center around a male/female romantic relationship that ends with the female screaming at the top of her voice only to be punched and slapped by her male companion. But seeing as I am attending class at a premiere university in West Africa, I assumed their opinions of domestic violence would be that it is something to be taken seriously, something that needs to end, and something that is shameful. I hoped they would find it as deplorable as I do, but I was wrong.

The professor began her lecture about Radical Feminist Theory on the family by proposing the question : “Does a husband have the right to physically discipline his wife?”

The male student behind me scoffs, “Of course!” with all of his friends giggling in agreement. Considering my experiences with some Ghanaian men thus far, the male response hardly surprised me. I have come to expect men to believe themselves biologically superior, and, therefore, somehow responsible for the disciplining of females. They get their validation from religion, media, and societal gender roles. What I was most astounded by was the female response to the question. While no one directly answered “yes,” the women laughed and acted like the conversation was unnecessary. I was angry and so very disappointed. I wanted to scream from the frustration, but then I considered the conversation from a new angle. How could these female students think of the lecture as nothing more than a challenge to the norms of this society? And with many women here in search of a husband, they don’t want to look like the dissenting women, bitter with experience. Ghanaian women don’t want to be a woman no man would want to marry. They do not have the tools to stifle sexism or the support they need to demand respect.

The only comfort I can find in this experience is telling and showing males here that I am a person. I am a living someone who cannot be objectified. I am not a tool for your pleasure. I have a mind and thoughts and feelings that tell me their behavior is demeaning. And even though it might get annoying to Ghanaian men and women, I talk about the inequality every chance I get. I am learning how to explain my culture and my expectations as eloquently as possible. While we might have a long way to go in Ghana, I am learning to live with the satisfaction it gives me to stand up to these gender roles and the hope it gives me for a Ghana that takes pride in the minds of Ghanaian women and not their bodies, for an equal Ghana.

This post is part of a regular series that will be posted every Wednesday.

One in Thirty-Three

14 Oct

*Trigger Warning*: This piece deals with issues of sexual violence.

by Anonymous

I don’t really remember 8th grade very well. It was a long time ago for one thing, but I also didn’t really want to remember.

Unfortunately, I never forgot being sexually assaulted.

He was a little older, a seemingly cool and rebellious high school kid. I remember thinking how lucky I was to finally find anyone who liked me. I was never well liked, so finding a guy who was interested was a breath of fresh air. He took my breath away, first by flattering me, and then by holding me down on the floor as I struggled to get free. I said no, so he put his hand on my mouth. I tried to reach up and unlock the door to the room we were in, so he grabbed my hand and slammed it to the ground. He said I looked like I was enjoying it. He said that I wanted this. He said I shouldn’t have been such a flirt. Then, for a split second, I broke his grip and yelled for help. I am so glad someone heard me. I can’t imagine how things might have ended up otherwise.

So why am I telling this story? It is not just because I was sexually assaulted at a young age. I am telling this story because I am one of those 1 in 33 men who experienced an attempted rape, and I bet most people reading this assumed I was a woman. Some people realize that victims of rape or assault are not exclusively female, but a lot of people don’t. I am telling this story because since I started talking about what happened to me, other guys have approached me about their own experiences, and I think it is important that both male and female voices are sharing their stories.


14 Aug

by Anonymous

*Trigger Warning*

How dare he victimize me?

Force a giant to feel small

Make me unsafe in my own home, sick in my own skin

Scratching and scrubbing till my cover wears thin

How dare he make me feel less than my worth

And tattoo on my body his permanent curse


Reduce a life to a story

A one-liner on a discarded warning label

Wash cold – will unravel – hang to dry


Make my mind a revolving record

Forced to reply and rewind and futilely try to re-write

How dare he turn pleasure into pain – my loss to his gain

Sick to remember but it rides through my veins

A leech stealing love as his life-meal, his blood

Leaves a discarded carcass of all that once was.

Quotidian Harassment

5 Jul

by Claire McDaniel 

I leaned against the advert for some phone company, eating my French fries and waiting for the train home. It’d been a good night out, just the usual suspects at the usual place with the usual indulgence in the happy hour with the half priced beer. The same thing we’d been doing since it was legal for us to drink at 16 (go Switzerland!), though now only it was on the holidays when we weren’t at university.

I’d made a quick stop at the late-night food stand outside the train station before heading to my platform, hence the French fries. I felt perfectly safe as I ambled around the station killing time before my midnight train. That is, until I turned the corner to take the stairs up to my platform.

A group of four or five men were lounging on the stairs, joking around in French and giggling drunkenly. As I passed by them, several of the men called out to me, saying I had a great ass and wouldn’t I like to get to know them a little better. One of them, an older guy about half a foot taller than me followed me up the stairs and kept trying to speak to me. Ignoring him, my face an impassive mask, I made a beeline for the advert, which just happened to have a transport police officer standing next to it. Police tend to be effective deterrents for men who harass you.

I’ve perfected that face, the one simultaneously of complete disdain and complete indifference. No catcall or attempt at conversation can even get me to turn my head. It’s a mask, and it’s something that I’ve developed over time.

The fact I have to have this specific face I put on just to safely walk alone in public is complete bullshit. I’m so over street harassment, and for the life of me I don’t understand how it continues to even be a factor in our society.

When I first started to go out, I didn’t know what to call it. I knew that past a certain time of night, or in certain places in town, if I were to walk alone or with my girlfriends I would be catcalled, I would be followed. Men would whistle, some of the cars zipping by would honk, and I’d have this uneasy feeling of malaise until I got home and locked the door behind me.

It took me the longest time to realize why these men felt it incumbent upon themselves to trail behind me on my way home, or describe why they wanted me, or to even try to touch me. They are threatened by the very presence of women, especially in places and roles long considered masculine, and lash out in an attempt to put us back into the neat, gender normative box into which they presuppose women belong.

Those who resort to harassing women on the street show their hand like a bad poker player, they’re showing their weakness, their frantic and desperate attempts to reclaim power they feel they have lost. Sadly enough for the misogynists, women are here to stay. We are an integral part of society, at all levels, in all industries and professions. We have more power than ever before, and that fact alone is enough to make certain men feel insecure.

Unfortunately, judging by the omnipresence of catcalling, whether it’s on the streets of a medieval Swiss town or on Georgetown’s campus, boy do they ever feel insecure.

Being harassed on the street makes my skin crawl. I’m used to standing up for what I believe in, and I do so with the impunity inherent in the naïve stubbornness of all twenty year-olds. The men that catcall, the ones that whistle, the ones that honk their car horns, they take that power away from me. These men, and far too frequently boys, make me feel like I have no control over the situation, over perceptions of myself, even over my physical self.

It was worse when I was in high school. I was a teenager, young and impressionable. More than that, I was battling anorexia, and the crass shouts of the disgusting men who harassed me only reinforced my distorted paradigm of perpetual judgment about my body. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable about my body in public, and while I certainly don’t entirely blame catcalling for that fact, the shouts and whistles absolutely did not help.

But whatever power I felt like they took away from me with a couple of crude things said about my figure, I realize now means nothing. The dominance over me that they were trying to assert is not a lasting one. It ends the moment we no longer accept that street harassment ‘just happens’ and that we should just allow it. That’s some patriarchal bullshit right there, and that’s quite enough of it.

Street harassment is no compliment, and it is certainly not benign. By allowing it to continue, as a society we are guaranteeing that women will feel unsafe and unwelcome. It is so unbearably quotidian, and it’s a permanent reminder that, unfortunately, rape culture is still very much alive and kicking.