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Just recently, a friend on Facebook complained about being harassed in public transportation. This isn’t a very new sentiment since I know of various women and members of the LGBTQA community who have been unduly harassed by perverts in public places.
What saddened me, however, was despite the supportive comments she received, another acquaintance thought it best to argue that what women wear subjects them to harassment. He even further argued that men, essentially, have trouble controlling their urges and that it’s the woman’s responsibility to get into more “decent” clothes in public if she doesn’t want to get harassed.
If you don’t know by now, I am a feminist who has also experienced my share of harassment and abuse from perverts. As such, I was truly offended for the friend who experienced harassment and for everyone else who had to endure cat calls and normalized street harassment.
As such, I have written this fairly impassioned post as a response. Be warned, though, that I may have been overcome by emotion when I penned this. I have refrained from directly calling him out as a dick and an asshole even though it took a lot of my willpower to do so.
Enjoy my random ranting:
First off, I would like to point that I do not usually engage in public posts such as these. We are all entitled to our own opinion and I fully support your right to express your dissatisfaction over certain posts. This same freedom also grants others the right to comment and disagree with your own opinion. After all, that’s what democracy is about. So, with an open mind, I hope you also take into consideration my response to your “open letter.”
You have made the statement that men, in some way, are justified to catcall or grope women in public places simply because “they’re men” or that’s just “how men are.”
Here are the list of reasons why this statement is problematic:
(1) Men are not idiots.
To argue that some men cannot control themselves and would not be able to resist making women uncomfortable is an insult to the intelligence and moral compass most other men have. And, by other men, those men who actually look at a beautiful girl, think “hey, she’s pretty” but will not attempt to make her feel uncomfortable by cat calling or trying to get a feel.
The statement “that’s just how men are” severely downgrades men’s ability to think rationally and to act in consideration of another person’s feelings.
This line of thinking is problematic because it undermines men’s ability to rationalize. It categorizes men as self-serving, sex-depraved monkeys who would jump at any chance to violate or harass women simply because they “can’t help it”.
We all know real men are better than that.
(2) A man’s penis should not be used as a justification for lewd and disrespectful behavior.
We, as human beings, are subject to feelings of desire and attraction which are all quite normal. What’s abnormal is allowing those feelings of attraction to override logic, especially in situations that simply do not facilitate that attraction (namely, riding a bus, jeepney, or simply walking down the street). This is why the phrase, “men have two heads but the only one has the brain” comes in. Sure, you have a penis but that doesn’t and shouldn’t make you feel entitled to violate another person’s boundaries and subject her to harassment.
It’s insulting to the rest of the men who actually do respect women.
(3) What a woman wears and how she carries herself is not for your benefit.
When a woman makes an effort to look pretty or sexy, she’s doing it for herself – not for you.
Most women struggle with self-love and self-appreciation, so we make the most of every effort to feel confident in the clothes and makeup we wear. Our clothes are a reflection of our identities. As such, you have absolutely no authority to condescendingly judge a woman for the clothes she wears and why she wears them.
So, do women owe it to men to judge us on what and how we should wear our clothes? Of course not!
Even if you did judge, and that is inevitable, it is still not enough of an excuse for perverts to disrespect other women.
(4) Women are conditioned to fear men because of the normalized street harassment, whether we like it or not
Often, we’re left to wonder: Isn’t it much better if women just blatantly spoke out against their harassers? That way, the harasser would know that what he’s doing is wrong (he probably already knows it’s wrong) and that he wouldn’t get away with it (even though he was hoping he could).
Well, funny thing is, women have gone through this kinds of abuse from since they were very young and one thing you learn from growing up in the Philippines is, you don’t ever disrespect someone who’s much older…even if they were wrong.
Imagine a young girl of 12 walking to school wearing the pretty hair band her mother gave her because “she’s a pretty princess” only to consistently have to look down while walking simply because couple of guys on the streets keep calling out and saying “smile, pretty girl” or “hi, sexy.” Most of these guys are in groups and most of them are definitely waaaay older.
How do you think a young girl would feel growing up in a society that normalizes that kind of behavior? Worse still, when she comes home and complains to mommy, her mom has to tell her that she shouldn’t talk back because they could be dangerous (which, is also, probably true).
(5) Victim-blaming propagates the fear of speaking out against harassment
Notice how most women have to be told to “restrain” themselves from calling out against abuse? Often, several women often have to keep themselves in check instead of blatantly putting down their harassers because “he’s not worth it.”
Apparently, women have to consistently keep in their anger and frustration against being subjected to harassment because it is “disrespectful”, as if the harasser even considered respecting the victim in the first place.
Confused? You see, women, for a long time, have had to endure forms of harassment that has somehow become normalized.
At a young age, a girl has to undergo through the conflict of wanting to look pretty and wear nice clothes but at the risk of going out and getting cat called for doing so.
When that young girl grows up, she’s conditioned to believe that simply talking back against these cat callers is dangerous and bad. On the other hand, some of the people who don’t know any better would quip about how she should feel flattered about being cat called because that means she’s “attractive”. Like, really? That’s supposed to be a compliment?
Evidently, the cat calls are misogynistic but they are normalized to the point that those subjected to it have to feel bad for feeling bad about it.
This is also the kind of mindset that propagates the very same thinking that “what women wear is related to how women should be respected”, which, in itself is a very flawed concept. What you’re doing, dear cat callers/gropers/perverts, is to condescendingly normalize harassment and even justify it without consideration for all the harassment women have to go through.
And, it’s not just women. Even members of the LGBTQA community have, at one point or another in their lives, been subjected to harassments that are often normalized with statements like “you deserved it” or “you asked for it.”
(6) Arguing that a woman’s clothes is a cause for rape or harassment only propagates the victim-blaming logic entrenched in patriarchal societies.
Once again, the victim is blamed for an act that could have and should have been avoided.The subject of the harassment is further harassed by judgments like “she probably asked for it” or “she provoked it.”
Simply, there are just some animals (I wouldn’t call them men) who cannot control their urges and are willing to break socially accepted rules of conduct just to satisfy their lust. We call them perverts and/or sex offenders.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all men are.
To nurture this kind of thinking is to encourage young girls to consistently fear men because they will never know who, among these men (be they ‘educated professionals’ or not), would potentially molest or harass them.
To nurture this kind of mindset is to downgrade the rest of the men as lustful animals driven only by sex.
To nurture this kind of thinking is to make more women feel like objects subjected only to the desires of these animals (not men) because, apparently, even the clothes we wear have to be subjected to approval otherwise we’d all be labeled as ‘open for harassment’.
This is why several rape victims are afraid of speaking out against their rapists because even if they tried, they would still be judged as if the rape was “their fault.” This mindset helps propagate the idea that “it’s okay” for these animals (not men) to harass women so long as they can get away with it.
No, abuse is abuse and harassment is harassment.
It doesn’t make it less of an abuse by accusing the victim.
No, no one likes to be abused, and no, no one asks for abuse.
To summarize, I think it’s only fair to say that condescending statements like “sala mo kay sexy ang bayo mo” (it’s her fault for wearing something so sexy) is total bullshit.
These are the exact statements that could be expected from somebody who would also openly talk about women’s bodies as merely sex objects
No, we don’t wear nice clothes for you to catcall us. No, we don’t care about your opinion. And, no, that doesn’t give you the right to try to grope me or stare at me provocatively.
Think with your rational head please and keep the other one at bay.
My middle fingers salute you.