How do we change the street harassment narrative?

Peace Corps Morocco, Social Consciousness / Thursday, February 12th, 2015

In case you haven’t heard the news, it’s official!

I have been accepted as a Secondary Education Teacher for the Youth in Development Project in Morocco. I have a letter and everything to prove it:

This time, I am happy to report that I was not in the bathroom when I received the email. I was actually soaking up some unusually warm rays in the 75 degree weather of early February. I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around it – as soon as I officially accepted my invitation, I was bomb-boarded with a plethora of PC information that no volunteer could hope to read.

Of course, by the next day, I had read it all.

Peace Corps has already resurrected in me a love a big binders. I can’t believe I had forgotten how sexy killing a few trees for the sake of organized and highlighted stacks of paper could be.

But I digress (a little guiltily) . . .

On the same balmy day I received my official acceptance letter, I was also assaulted by the words of a complete stranger. The warm weather had me breaking out the perfect spring outfit of a long wraparound skirt, sleeveless knit top, and wedges. As far as American culture goes, I would say I definitely erred on the side of conservative.

Of course, this didn’t stop a man old enough to be my grandfather from deciding that he wanted me as his next piece of meat. As I turned the corner to walk into a restaurant, I caught his eye. You could say it was my mistake for offering a smile. Or you could assume that common decency dictates that a smile doesn’t give invitation for derogatory comments on my looks or offers to go back to his place.

As I picked up my lunch order, I was tempted to take the long way around back to my car. I knew I was in for another verbal assault, but I refused to cower against his words. I walked as quickly as my wedges would allow, but I had hardly passed by when I heard the leer, “leaving so soon, baby doll?”

By now, I should be used to the harassment that exists from daring to walk in the same sphere as men, but every time it happens, it’s still jarring. I am still in disbelief that any man could find it socially appropriate to speak with such rancor. And I feel still like through a complete stranger’s words, I’ve been violated down to my very bones.

One of the main points of consideration that is expressed to Peace Corps females potentially serving in Morocco is the reality of daily street harassment. And while I have been doing all that I can to mentally prepare myself for this, the fact still remains that this isn’t a problem that is confined solely to Morocco or other “traditionally patriarchal” societies.

No. The real reality is that in many ways, the world is considered a patriarchal society, and although oppression of women seems more evident in some places than others, it still exists here–yes, in varying degrees . . . and perhaps the implications are more subtle—but I am reluctant when individuals in the Western world choose to be high-minded and superior towards other countries, cultures, and societies that are different from their own.

Because it doesn’t matter if females are in America, or Morocco, or heck, if they are in Antarctica dressed in a ten-pound parka, they still have to deal with subtle and more absolute forms of oppression. Some people may balk at equating street harassment with oppression, but it’s hard to believe that a man calls out to a woman with the express thought the woman will actually comply to his request. No, it is primarily used as a way for men to dictate their so-called power over women and their belief that they deserve ownership of the female body. With that in mind, I believe that no matter your walk of life—as women are walking in life—they need to be taught creative ways to be empowered and to take ownership of every sphere that they enter.

What are ways that men and women can work together to change the future narrative of street harassment?

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