Going to school in Atlanta can be incredibly exciting and fun. It’s a city full of adventure, ample opportunities and beautiful people. However, there are a few downfalls to going to school here.
One of the most prevalent issues about living in a big city such as Atlanta is the danger posed to women. Any city can be dangerous, but something about Atlanta feels exceptionally scary as it has a long history of violence against women, especially women of color.
You will most likely see a pepper spray or taser hanging from many women’s keychains if you look around campus. These are necessary tools for us to carry with us here because of the constant street harassment from men.
At least once a day, on my way to class, I experience catcalling, whether it be a crude comment about my outfit or a man yelling at me to give him my number.
Catcalling is an incredibly disrespectful and objectifying way to treat a person. It can be particularly frightening when you are a woman walking by yourself at night. Not only does it feel scary, but it can lead to genuine danger.
It’s not “just” catcalling. It’s harassment and it can often escalate into a dangerous situation. I know far too many women that have experienced catcalling situations that accelerated to a point of physical assault. In fact, 85% of adult women under 24 have been sexually harrassed in public and 90% experience it before the age of 17.
According to Gallup data, surveys done in 143 different countries in 2011 show that in many developed countries including Italy, New Zealand, and the U.S., men are far more likely than women to say they feel safe walking alone at night.
There are many different forms of street harassment that are illegal in Georgia, including abusive words, flashing, following, and groping. The fact that these things are illegal doesn’t stop them from happening.
Georgia State students Halimah Washington and Priya Kolli experienced a frightening situation recently while walking to Washington’s apartment one night.
“This big group of men kept following us, harassing us and asking if we had boyfriends. We told them we did, but that didn’t stop them,” says Washington.
“I told them I was gay because I thought it would make them leave us alone, but they just started yelling that being gay is sinful,” says Kolli.
The men continued on, yelling and making sexually suggestive comments to the women. Eventually, Washington and Kolli stopped engaging with the men and, luckily, the group gave up and left the women alone.
As women, we are taught to be gentle and kind. We are socialized to give grace to everyone and to always be polite to others. What we need to learn and understand is that women don’t owe men anything, even kindness, especially when it comes to creepy men we don’t even know.
It’s very tricky, deciding whether or not to engage with men who harass women on the street. If you ignore the harasser, they could become angry and violent. If you talk to them, they think you are interested and continue on harassing you. It often feels like a lose-lose situation.
Our society must begin to cultivate a culture of men holding each other and themselves responsible for their actions. Violence against women is a growing problem that men only enable by refusing to hold one another accountable.
It is up to men to keep themselves and their friends in check. Standing by and watching your peers make a woman feel uncomfortable or unsafe is just as bad as doing it yourself. Not standing up for women makes you complicit in the act of disrespecting them.
The sad truth is that men aren’t as likely to listen to women’s voices as they are likely to listen to each other. This fact is why men must start to hold one another accountable when it comes to respecting women. It’s 2022. “Boys will be boys” is no longer an acceptable excuse for misogynistic behavior.
When we excuse abusive behavior towards women, we enforce a culture of violence against them. These excuses create a bigger platform for things like rape culture and victim-blaming.
To start moving in a direction that creates a safer space for women in society, we must put an end to this constant disrespect.
So, next time you see a beautiful woman strutting to class and minding her own business, think twice before disrupting her peace.