Lily Bromley and Faryn Heffner
Imagine yourself walking down the street. You’re going to school or to your house. How do you feel? Are you alone or with a group of people?
Most of all: do you feel safe?
For many SLA students, especially female students, this is a loaded question.
As two young women commuting around Philadelphia, we have both had to deal with street harassment many times. Most of the times we have tried to communicate what our commutes are like to men, they have belittled our experience or called us paranoid.
As a result of our experiences, we decided that it would be interesting to explore how students of SLA have experienced street harassment, as well as what they imagine commutes are like for people of other genders. We sent out a survey in the advisory memo, as well as interviewed students individually. Ten students answered the survey and of that group, there was only one male-identifying respondent. We later individually interviewed male students to get a better view of their opinions.
Street harassment is can be a complicated concept to define. The best working definition we could find comes from “Stop Street Harassment”, an organization focused on ending street harassment: “Unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
The definitions provided by SLA students included mention of what the harasser was seeking to get out of the experience.
“Street harassment is any verbal or physical interaction with another person, most often a stranger, with the objective to objectify,” wrote Sophmore Caleb McCreary.
“Street harassment is any interaction that crosses a universal boundary, as the use of suggestive language to a stranger without them requesting it, or touching a person without them requesting it, especially in interactions where the action is only meant to benefit the harasser,” another respondent wrote.
Through the survey we conducted, most students remarked that they would rate their overall feeling of safety during their commute as a 3 or 4 (with 1 being extremely unsafe and 5 being completely safe).
It is important to point out that it’s not only women that can fall victim to street harassment.
“I have been called racial slurs on the way to school” Sophomore Kofi Kohl explained.
Kohl’s experiences confirm that street harassment isn’t always sexual harassment. As women, we have mostly faced street harassment based on our perceived gender, so Kohl’s experiences remind us that anyone can be street harassed.
Many female students expressed that during the summer and spring when people start wearing warm weather appropriate clothing, they feel more uncomfortable on their commute.
“In the winter I feel less watched, but now wearing like skirts home because it’s warm I’m more afraid of being confronted,” Senior Sofia Powers explained.
Other students brought up reasons why the warmer months can mean more harassment, for instance, when it is colder out people tend to be on the move, instead of staying outside.
We spoke to two other students and asked them what their definition of street harassment is. Junior Olufemi Beatty said: “I feel that street harassment is any sort of unwanted attention/gestures, usually, the acts are demeaning”.
We also spoke to sophomore Fionn Hyland, and his definition is very similar to Beatty’s, but Hyland pointed out that usually if a man compliments a woman and even though the woman shows clear signs of not wanting the attention the man will continue to harass the woman.
Junior Juliana Long said “When I commute alone, I often feel unsafe either because of potentially getting things stolen from me since I’ve gotten my phone stolen while commuting before or being put in a situation with a man making advances on me when I’m not comfortable with it because rejecting men’s advances is potentially really dangerous.”
These sort of things are feelings that women have to deal with every day.
We set out to write this article to highlight the blind spots that anyone who has never experienced street harassment (mainly men) might have. As mentioned before, only one male student answered the survey that we put in the advisory memo. Do SLA boys not care about women’s issues?
Sophomore Mo Kelly presented a possible theory:, “Some boys get uncomfortable talking about issues pertaining to women because a lot of times it’s men that cause the issue and they don’t like to think of it.”
The idea is that instead of facing that street harassment is an issue that women face, usually at the hands of men, it is easier to push it aside and not talk about it.