Yesterday, I was talking about street harassment.

Jessica Dickinson Goodman, talking about street harassment at Mosaic (Photo: Jennifer Coloma)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Coloma. (Yes, I have a silly look on my face. Thus is the way with newspaper photos.)

Yesterday, I gave a presentation about street harassment at Carnegie Mellon’s annual gender conference, Mosaic. The title of my presentation was “Combating Street Harassment and Gender Violence Using Social Media and Mobile Technology.” I mostly talked about HollaBack and HarassMap. This was much less heavy than my human trafficking presentation that morning.

Unlike human trafficking, when I talk about street harassment I can:

  1. Assume no one know what that phrase means,
  2. Know that, when I explain it, every female-bodied person in the room will have experienced it.

It have a friend who refers to intellectual property reform as his upper-middle-class, white, American, male human rights issue. Street harassment can feel like that, particularly after a morning spent talking about sex trafficking, but listening to the men and women in the room tell stories about their experiences with street harassment, I was reminded that while it is not as horrifying as trafficking, it still harms women.

Street harassment is more subtle than trafficking: it’s about making women feel out of place, LGBT folks feel unsafe, making us all rather other in our own public spaces. It’s nasty and under-the-radar and generally billed as part of the price of being a woman. I probably wouldn’t be involved in the anti-street harassment movement if I hadn’t read Marilyn Frye’s “Oppression” as part of an application for a fellowship I didn’t receive.

Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would gave trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.

 Harassment is a thin wire in the overall birdcage which tries to make being a lady a more restricted experience than being a gentleman in this world. It’s not the wartiest, most bulbous and thick wire, but it’s still part of the gendered enclosure. It’s still worth ending.

Inspirational Quote:

“Compassion has enemies, and those enemies are things like pity, moral outrage, fear.”–Joan Halifax

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