How is to be a girl? And to walk down the street? I was watching the preview of a documentary on sexual harassment on the streets of Brussels: 25 year old filmmaker and university student in Documentary Sofie Peeters investigates the reaction of men, while she walks her way from home to the city center. Sofie moved two years ago to Brussels and soon experienced the fact that in some areas of the city “Guys talk to me on the street like I have a big sign on my head that says Whore”.
Even if I wear long trousers and a t-shirt, they find it appropriate to call me “baby”, “slut”, “doll” and other degrading names. They follow me around clicking their tongue and asking me where I live, if I’m married and how much it costs to have sex with them. It’s even worse when you wear a skirt or a dress.
Then I was reading this article saying that the average man will spend almost 43 minutes a day staring at 10 different women: almost one year in a life time. Now, to look is quite different than to approach, and definitively it is not the same than to call a woman with degrading names. Or maybe not. Maybe it starts just like that, until social inhibitions fail to prevent harassing behaviors.
What does it make to happen, then? Why the wall breaks, and at some point men behave against social norms?
I like to see it the other way around. I am afraid that men harass women on the street because it is socially expected for them to do so. In particular in some social groups. It is the idea of “masculinity” itself to compel a man in verbally assaulting women on the street. When a group of males hang out together, those aspiring to the leading role affirm their power by showing aggressiveness. In general, I do not like the parallelism between human and animal behavior: it may justify unacceptable practices as a “call to nature” that forget personal responsibility.
I think it is more about culture than instinct.
An American girl in Italy
I love this photo by Boston-born photographer Ruth Orkin: “An American girl in Italy“. The picture was taken in 1951, in Florence, Italy. A girl is walking on the street, while a group of men engages in what their culture is expecting from them: sexually harassing her. I am born in the Country, and I know how it feels. Any man who would not have behaved as those in the picture, would have been identified as homosexual. Just, with more degrading terms. Not too long time ago, Mr. Berlusconi defended his attitude towards women saying “I am not gay!” — Do not judge the man, he is son of his culture. And I personally know many European males who would freak out, if someone would raise a faint doubt about their heterosexuality.
Then I read on the news paper an interview to the director of a university department, the same university where I earned my master degree, saying “when girls come to university with short skirts, or too open shirts, I send them home to change“. And several comments of male Italians approving this moralizing approach.
The contradiction is striking. Is it just me seeing it?
Femme de la rue
The trailer of the documentary Femme de la rue, by Sofie Peeters. The Facebook page of the project is: https://www.facebook.com/femmedelarue