I hate wolf whistling, and random strangers shouting “alright love” or similar comments at me in the street makes me feel very uncomfortable. I've been told before that I need to learn how to take a compliment, and I should be pleased that men find me attractive, but actually I’m very good at taking compliments, when they are genuine, and actually I don’t believe these comments have anything to do with my looks. It’s street harassment, plain and simple.
People are probably going to disagree, and for a while I thought there was something wrong with me for not liking ‘compliments’, so I understand. I changed my mind a few years ago when I was walking home and a man walking in the opposite direction said “give us a kiss beautiful” as he walked past me. Thankfully he kept walking, but for the rest of my walk home I thought about the comment.
His comment made me a little bit scared, and a little bit angry, and I tried to work out why. Surely a man wanting to kiss me must be a good thing? But then I really thought about it, and decided it seemed unlikely any woman would have received that comment and decided, yeah alright, I want to snog this strange man in the street, it just wasn’t going to happen. He clearly knew this, or he would have at least stopped on the pavement, expectantly waiting for my reply. The comment had nothing to do with attraction, and everything to do with power. He was asserting his power in a situation where he knew I would feel uneasy, I didn’t keep walking thinking “yay a stranger thinks I’m pretty!” I walked a little bit faster, and kept checking behind me as I walked home. If he had wanted to make me feel positive about myself, a simple smile would have done, and I believe he knew that and chose to make the comment regardless.
When I speak out about this, and every situation like it, people look at me like I’m the fun police, and I’m against flirting. All I can say is if your flirting is confused for harassment, you are definitely doing it wrong. But then again, anything vaguely suggesting that male behaviour should be altered, particularly displays of heterosexual masculinity, generally aren’t received very well.
The sad thing is that many women I know just think street harassment (even if they don’t call it that) is just an inevitable part of life. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn't be. It happens because women’s bodies are still, in part, considered public property, it happens because some men feel they can assert their masculinity by making women feel powerless. It’s something we all need to challenge, whether it’s a man touching your bum in a club, which is only ever acceptable if you want his hand there, and I know too many women that just pretend it isn’t happening because they don’t know what else to do, or someone making comments that make you uncomfortable. It needs to stop, because flirting and harassment are never the same, and the first step is standing up to it, even if that step is just talking openly about the difference between the two. Flirting involves mutual consent, harassment doesn't.