Updated: Dec 26, 2020
There are many myths around public sexual harassment (PSH). They take up space, perpetrating harmful narratives and stereotypes that hold back progressive conversation. We must move past these so we can make real, intersectional change.
"94% of girls in the UK think that street harassment should be made illegal."
1. It's a compliment
PSH is derogatory, invasive and sometimes terrifying; 94% of girls in the UK think that street harassment should be made illegal. We do not enjoy having our bodies repeatedly criticised and sexualised; we do not enjoy being told we would look better if we smiled and we certainly do not enjoy being told that we should take being harassed as a compliment. We are told that if we talk about it, we are lying or bragging to get attention or that we should be grateful as we 'won't get it later in life'.It may seem surprising, but we simply want to move around without receiving abusive comments or having to look over our shoulders to see if there is someone following us, crossing the road every time there is a pub or a group of men walking our way.
2. It only happens when you're wearing revealing clothes
This is arguably one of the most harmful myths as it perpetuates the narrative of victim-blaming and rape-culture. Personally, the worst experiences I had were in a) my school uniform and b) leggings and a coat with no makeup. We put so much stress and anxiety onto women and girls about what they wear when the harassment we face has nothing to do with what we wear. It doesn't matter whether we are wearing shorts or jeans, a dress or pyjamas, every time we go outside there is a possibility we will be harassed.
3. It only happens to women, not girls!
Over 2/3 of school girls in the UK have experienced PSH in their school uniform. This shows the true nature of PSH: it is not a compliment It is about exerting power and dominance over women, girls and minoritised people. It starts before we get our periods, before we get to secondary school, before we even understand what their disgusting comments mean.
4. Everyone experiences PSH the same
Too often we focus on one experience - the cishet, white, straight-sized, able-bodied woman. The truth is that people have completely different experiences of PSH, depending on their identity. 50% of LGBTQ+ women have been followed; women with disabilities are 2x likely to experience sexual assault; and women of colour are much more likely to be harassed. For women and non-binary people with multiple oppressed parts of our identities, an experience on the less harmful spectrum of PSH (although all of it is damaging) can turn violent. A "nice legs" can turn into a slur in the blink of an eye.
All opinions expressed in this piece are the view of Gemma Tutton