Making women into trespassers

Rachel Hewitt makes an interesting point about street harassment and who own public space.

The disappearance of Sarah Everard while she walked through Clapham, south London, at 9pm on 3 March gives horrific shape to the hum of fear that women constantly feel in public spaces. My social media timelines are full of women who are distressed by Sarah’s disappearance, and terrified that it could have been them. Men have asked what they can do to help women feel safer. But what’s needed beyond the education of individuals are urgent political solutions to counter men’s attempts to claim public spaces as their exclusive domain.

Street harassment of women by men is so common that there are no women who’ve never experienced it.

Street harassment is how men mark out public spaces as their own, making women into trespassers on male territory. Behavioural psychologists have observed how male pedestrians crowd women’s personal space at cashpoints and traffic lights, how all-male groups take up more pavement space, and how men make more antisocial noises in public than women, considering it more acceptable to speak on mobile phones at checkouts or in train carriages.

By abusing and harassing women, men make public spaces their own – and by entering those spaces, they perceive that women acquiesce to their abuse. 

(That is, I think she means, men see women who enter public spaces as acquiescing to abuse.)

Women are meant to be at home, sitting on eggs.

What’s missing from discussions about women’s fears is a focus on men. Men’s harassment and assault of women is part of a sustained, long-term attempt to roll back advances in women’s rights and restrict our presence in public spaces. Some well-intentioned individual men ask how they can change their behaviours to make us feel calmer and safer, and are advised to cross the road to ensure they do not walk behind us at night. But we need solutions that rise above individual behaviour, and tackle men’s abuse and intimidation of women as a systemic problem. This is an urgent frontier for women’s rights.

Instead we have men who say they are women upping the abuse and intimidation.

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