OK, for real: Guys shouldn’t be defending street harassment

We know that catcalling is a problem, and that women endure it on a regular basis. We know that it’s a verbal assault that feels threatening and can sometimes lead to violent behavior. We know it’s a problem that has to stop.

The thing is, not everyone thinks street harassment is a problem. CNN recently invited author of “The MANual” Steven Santagi, a ‘bad boy’ expert to sound off on a street harssment viral video and the topic of street harassment in general.  Santagi informed the female CNN host and the other expert he shared the panel with, New York comedian Amanda Seales, “I’m more of an expert than you and I’ll tell you why, because I’m a guy and I know how we think.”

This is how Amanda Seales summed up the problem of catcalling: “This is not complimentary. Which is funny because I think guys, by letting you know that they would be interested in sleeping with you, that that is the compliment, and actually it’s just objectifying me when I’m trying to walk in my daily life.”

Which is, by the way, exactly how I feel about street harassment. I would venture to say it’s how most women feel about street harassment. We just want to be able to go out in public and live our lives without feeling bothered, disrespected, manipulated, attacked, and unsafe. And to be fair, A LOT of guys totally get that. But those few, like Santagi, who defend the act, seem to be missing where we’re coming from.

Santagi insisted that catcalling was a “compliment.”

“The bottom line is this, ladies. You would not care if all these guys were hot,” he begins.”They would be bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego. There’s nothing more a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is.”

He later says: “So you’re telling me then that if I compliment you on the street then that it’s some sort of abuse, no matter how I choose to do it?”

(Here’s the entire video, if you want to see a guy get shut down.)

These are all the faces the women who shared the screen with Santagi, while he went on and on and on about street harassment, because these are the faces you make when the person you are sharing the screen with won’t stop saying insane things.

Unfortunately, Santagi isn’t the only guy with a platform spouting confused ideas about catcalling. Lately, there’s been a handful of dudes who don’t seem to have our back on this issue. And it’s not good for women, or—as Santagi saw after the response he got—guys either. We need to be united on this front and it doesn’t help when men, who may not have experienced street harassment to the degree women have, weigh in without compassion.

Here’s the bottom line: most people don’t want to be engaged by strangers on the street. Most people don’t want any kind of interaction, even if it’s in the guise of a “compliment.” People get compliments from their friends and parents and romantic interests, they don’t need compliments from strangers. The street is a place where we should all keep to ourselves and mind our own business. And men enjoy the privilege of privacy, invisibility, anonymity on the streets. Women should enjoy this privilege too. It shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. Women don’t need to be told they’re pretty by someone they don’t know. Women need to feel like they can go about their lives without being bothered by random men.

In order to do this, we need guys to understand where we’re coming from. We need men that are going to stand up and say “This is not okay. You don’t want this attention and you shouldn’t have to deal with it. I want you to feel safe and respected on the streets. I want you to have the experience I have walking down the street.” We need those men to stand up for the women they know and love in their lives. We need those voices drowning out the men who want to diminish the experiences of women for whom the streets are a battlefield, for whom it’s a fight just getting from one street corner to the next.

Stop Street Harassment has a great resource section for male allies. (And there are plenty of awesome male allies out there.) This is exactly what we need. Men who aren’t going to tell women how they “should” feel about street harassment, but rather men who are actually going to LISTEN to how women feel and use their influence to make a difference.

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