August 4, 2010

Hey Baby, The Game

Someone has made a video game about street harassment. You play a woman, walking around a city neighborhood. Men approach you and call you beautiful, or they invite you to blow them, or they might whistle or just leer... and then you shoot them with your machine gun.

I couldn't play the game because my browser doesn't have the right "plug in" or something. I don't know. I only know how to play Tetris. But the game has generated a lot of interesting discussion about street harassment. Like this awesome post by Kieron Gillen:
The game’s rubbish, of course. But the one thing it does well is show how what you may think is an innocuous compliment feels in the context of a woman’s life. You approaching a woman in the street and being what you think is politely flirty is a different thing when, down the street, someone’s suggested that maybe you’d like to suck my dick and you’re a fucking bitch if you don’t.

From her perspective, it’s a culture of harassment she has to either politely deal with or ignore. From your perspective, you’re just showing how you feel. That your passing desire means you get to derail a woman’s life whenever you feel like it is the absolute definition of male privilege.

And this post by Leigh Alexander:
The worst is so many guys on the street are jerks that I often feel like I have to force a smile and a polite attitude for people who are "just paying me a compliment" or are being nice about it. Over time, little incidents like that -- when I indulge conversation with men because they're "just trying to be nice" even though I don't feel like talking, or when I smile when I don't really want to smile -- start to make me feel as personally violated as the harsher transgressions that are easier to ignore.

No, wait, here's the worst. The worst is that there are entire demographics of people out there who would dismiss my complaints -- oh, poor you, you get attention because people think you're pretty, they say. Again, I don't think this has anything to do with how I look (although I had a friend tell me recently she fantasizes about disfiguring herself so that she never has to worry about this happening), because it's not like I'm a model or something.

It's latent misogyny that happens in big cities; it takes my power away. It makes me an object in front of people I don't even know, and that's not okay whether they're nice about it or not. It is nothing less than a slow-burning chronic trauma.

That's exactly how I feel. People who shout things about ass, then call me a bitch when I ignore it, are terrible but at least I can keep walking, most of the time. I've had my ass grabbed out of nowhere, and I've been followed by a group of men who kept loudly discussing my ass... but most of the time, I can walk away when people shout crude comments about my body.

It's actually worse when people get in my face and try to hit on me in a "nice" way. Like the men who follow me home, telling me I'm pretty, begging for my number, arguing with me when I decline. They are smiling and pretending to be polite, doing the whole "I'm just a nice guy who wants to get to know you" routine. When they ignore my "no," they are just being charmingly persistent! I'm the one being a rude bitch, because I won't smile back.

I don't know why some men don't understand that the street is not a fucking singles bar. I have a right to walk home without someone interrupting me and demanding my attention. In my opinion, men should never approach women in this way. But even if trying to start a conversation "isn't so bad" the minute you ignore her "no thanks" or "sorry, no" or "please don't talk to me" and keep trying -- you are harassing her. You suck. You are the reason someone invented the "Hey Baby" video game. Because women fantasize about smacking you, kicking you, even pulling out a machine gun. Because in real life we have no power, no way to make you go away. We're even afraid not to smile because of what you might do. And it makes us feel helpless and objectified and really fucking angry.

I blog about street harassment a lot, and mostly I feel like my readers don't relate. Probably because it doesn't happen in many parts of the country, by design (it never happened to me in the south because everyone drives everywhere). And because it doesn't happen to men. But when I read posts by other women who live in cities, in one of those neighborhoods, I feel validated because somebody gets it. I'm not crazy . I'm not provoking it. And I'm not wrong to feel angry when "nice" guys demand my attention and refuse to leave me alone.

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