You Are Not Alone

Unfortunately, Don't Be Silent announced last Friday that she will no longer be posting to her blog. We wanted to be among the bunch who wish her well and say thanks for her combined efforts to use the blogosphere to call attention to the disturbing and rampant life of street harassment in our cities.

She writes,
I'm going to step back into the background. Like someone told me, there are
quieter and less dangerous ways of trying to change the world, and that's what I
want to do.
DBS, we hope you find the background actually the foreground. It's been a pleasure sharing this space with you and your analysis for while.

Be safe. All the best -

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Safe (public) spaces

A couple of weeks ago on the Nation blog, Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti tackled the issue of women-only spaces (as she did previously for The Guardian), wondering about the effectiveness of the recently-instituted segregated public transit in Mexico City. Unfortunately, Valenti doesn't say anything particularly insightful or new as she directly quotes paragraphs from her Guardian article and states:
I'm pro-breathing space, but I have larger concerns as well. What happens when a woman is groped - or worse - in a train car that isn't women-only? Will she be blamed for not taking advantage of the "safe" space provided? (After all, women are all too used to being blamed when it comes to assault, questioned as to why they were out on their own/wearing a short skirt/drinking.)
We applaud Valenti's attempt to shine light on this issue, but isn't this all a little redundant by now? We're pretty sure Nation readers know about the most obvious forms of victim-blaming, and this blog post does nothing to move debate forward. Even though women can sound like they're victim-blaming by advocating for self-defense tactics as a primary weapon against unwanted harassment (or worse) in public, we like this post by Taking Care of Ourselves, who advocates for learning to fight off attackers in addition to "good lighting, regular police patrols, and a societal decision to take such attacks more seriously." At least alternatives to rhetoric can provoke discussion.

However, towns in Massachusetts are considering their own type of segregation after a the rape of a six year old in a public library in New Bedford last month. Trying to find ways to enforce laws that keep everyone safe in public spaces, New Bedford mayor (and a former prosecutor) Scott Lang suggested that everyone present ID before entering the library. "If it means the inconvenience of swiping an ID or using a guest pass to let people in," he said, "it’s a small price to pay to let people know they’re completely safe."

We're not sure penalizing those without picture ID or library cards is a solution in the fight against sexual predators, so we like the counter argument made by the New England School of Law professor, David M. Siegel:
"Excluding people from so many places and certain places could violate their fundamental rights. The idea of identifying some public spaces as off-limits to people who are registered sex offenders because there are children in them, like libraries, is potentially unlimited."
It's the same problem we face when trying to find solutions to street harassment. While we obviously realize the important and glaring differences between catcalls and the violent sexual assault of a minor, we do believe these incidents live on the same spectrum, that violence exists in relation to its own variants and that harassment is part of sometimes-violent oppression. But how far do we have to go legally to keep ourselves - all of us - safe? Enforced limits on shared space have never made a difference - "separate but equal" has never been equalizing - and yet we don't wish to live our lives in fear. Addressing the underlying social diseases that make these symptoms visible often seems like our only choice to effectively move forward.

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The fight to speak the truth

The Gotham Gazette has a really nice long article about street harassment in this month's issue. Aubrey Fox does a solid job of tackling the issue from all sides, interviewing street harassment scholar Laura Beth Nielsen, whose study on the issue was explained well:
"In a rare attempt to quantify the frequency of street harassment, Nielsen interviewed 100 subjects (including some men) in the Bay Area. Fully 62 percent of the women reported experiencing offensive or sexually suggestive comments 'every day' or 'often.' An additional 28 percent said they heard comments 'sometimes.' Only 10 percent of the women she interviewed said that they 'never' heard comments."
Nielsen's research also shines an interesting light on how different social groups respond to street harassment and the idea of implementing laws to change the current climate of public space.
"Nielsen herself has a nuanced view of government intervention of sexist speech. In her interviews, she found little support for an expanded government role, even among men and women who believed strongly that sexist speech is offensive and morally wrong. White men tended to cite the First Amendment to support their position, but white women and people of color used a much more pragmatic calculus. In essence, they believed that policing sexist speech would either not work or would backfire on its intended beneficiaries. In other words, women doubt that government is the answer to the problem of sexist speech. Nielsen, though, believes that changes in law would have an 'important symbolic effect.' New laws, she said, would help women make the case that harassment 'doesn't just suck, but is illegal.'"
And as a totally unrelated aside, we also recommend two posts this week that totally break it down, this one on The Burning Times about a personal history of street harassment. The author's well-stated point is that men forget about the harassment they have initiated, carried out, and thought was simply a joke. Women never forget. It continues to haunt us daily. How inconvenient.

NOLA radfem follows it up nicely:
Living while female means being in a state of constant alertness that burns up lots of emotional, spiritual, and physical energy before you even begin to gather your strength to compete with men at school and at work. It also means that the men around you are oddly oblivious to the fact that you live and function inside a war zone, while they function in the mythological great American meritocracy.
Beautiful testaments, ladies. Speak the truth. Get it done.

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