Street harassment season

Unwanted, disrespectful comments do not equate compliments

Landry is a senior journalism major and Editor in Chief of The Spectator. Landry can be reached at [email protected] or @MarthaLandryy.

Story by Martha Landry, Editor in Chief

Sundress is not a season. Catcall is not a season. Yelling out a car window to a woman that she has nice legs is not a compliment. And street harassment is not something to take lightly.

Everyday around the world women deal with disrespectful treatment from men based on appearance and dress. The term ‘sundress season’ is based on a woman’s decision to simply embrace the warmer spring weather.

Street harassment is an action or comment between strangers that is unwanted, unsolicited, disrespectful or harassing and is motivated (mostly) by gender. I say mostly because cases of street harassment typically are men objectifying women. For example, many of my male friends will say ‘sundress season’ right in front of me without thinking of the insult it has on my gender.

Chris Jorgenson, director of the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center at UW-Eau Claire, told me more emphasis needs to be put on the people giving the street harassment, not the harassee, because there isn’t an effective way to stop harassment once it has started.

Jorgenson said repeating the message that street harassment is not welcome and catcalls are not compliments can not be repeated enough.

“It’s unwanted solicitation,” Jorgenson said. “It’s not sought after. To the person on the receiving end of the street harassment they have no idea what it might lead to.”

And that is a very important issue to touch on. I hope I am correct in stating that the average Eau Claire man does not intend harm when shouting out their car on Water Street, but the woman doesn’t know that. She might feel incredibly threatened or deeply offended. Do you want to be the person making her feel that way?

I know many people will groan and roll their eyes because ‘it doesn’t matter,’ ‘it’s just a saying,’ and ‘no one actually means it,’ but it is serious. It is offensive, and it is not a compliment.

This topic relates to the shift in how sexual assault is now discussed. Now educating the potential assaulters has become the next step to combat the issue. You don’t ask young women to stop consuming alcohol or wear more conservative clothing because those actions do not mean she is not ‘asking for it.’

It’s the same with street harassment. If I am wearing a skirt to class it is because I want to and it doesn’t give anyone permission to whistle at me.

The public sphere is where much of the harassment occurs. In public spaces, it is important for everyone to feel safe and comfortable. Not only is it unfair for people to be put in a position where they feel unsafe, but it is embarrassing.

I am not writing this to villainize men either. Not all men participate in street harassment and some who do are unaware of the ramifications of their actions.

I challenge men to consider their words closely and consider the definition of objectification. And stop calling it ‘sundress season.’