All too often, efforts to end street harassment focus solely on women and girls, but research shows that most harassers of women/girls and men/boys are men and boys. Thus, it is crucial that we work to educate men and boys about this issue so they can be more aware of it, not engage in harassing behaviors, and can speak out when they see it happening.
Men who are not harassers especially can been very instrumental in educating other boys and men as their peers may be less defensive and may listen better (sadly) to them than to a woman.
Here are a few examples of men working to educate others about the issue of street harassment:
If you work with young men, Relando B. Thompkins, program coordinator for the Future Public Health Leaders program at the University of Michigan and a former SSH board member suggests: “Help young men recognize their role in it. Talk with them about sexism. Talk about male privilege and violence against women (not just physical, but emotional, sexual, and other methods). Find ways to help them recognize patterns in themselves and among those around them.”
* Young Women’s Action Team produced: Where Our Boys At? A Toolkit for Engaging Young Men as Allies to End Violence.
* Girls for Gender Equity held a Bring Your Brother Day workshop on street harassment.
* Men Can Stop Rape’s campus bystander campaign Where Do You Stand includes information on street harassment.
* The International Center for Research on Women held a “coaching boys into men” program in India called Parivartan, which covered topics like healthy masculinity and why sexual harassment isn’t okay.
Messaging for speaking with men and boys:
(These are expanded on in Chapter 7 of the Stop Street Harassment book)
1. Men can provide other men and boys with healthy definitions of masculinity. Boys and men need to be able to perceive themselves as masculine while displaying sensitivity, caring, and respect. For the last several years, there has been a growing movement among men’s anti-violence groups to do just that, including showing men they do not need to use or condone violence or harassment to be men, such as Men Can Stop Rape, whose slogan is “My Strength is Not for Hurting.”
2. We need more initiatives that teach boys and men to respect women to help counterbalance the harmful message they receive in the media and elsewhere in their daily life. Violence against women is endemic around the world, and disrespect for women is a primary reason. Male allies can do a lot to lead by example and expose boys and men to powerful and accomplished women (who are powerful and accomplished for reasons other than their appearance) so they can have positive female role models.
3. Many men need to be taught specific messages about street harassment so that they understand why women do not like it and so they will be more likely to stop or never engage in the behavior. One barrier to men understanding the inappropriateness of street harassment is male privilege, which can keep men from realizing or understanding women’s point of view and make them defensive when the topic is brought up. Getting them to view street harassment from a woman’s perspective is an important part of educating men about street harassment. Or, putting the scenario in a framework that is understandable to men can help them better understand it, too. For example, asking men how they would like it if other men who were larger than them regularly interrupted them to tell them to smile, comment on their looks and body parts, ask for their name, touch them, follow them, or start masturbating in front of them.
4. Since men and women may have different views on that given their different perspectives and place in a society with gender equity, it is important to teach men appropriate ways to interact with women that will be the least offensive or threatening.
85 men took a 2009 male allies survey, and 82 percent said they would be willing to talk to their male friends and family members about street harassment to help end the problem. The messaging they thought would be effective included the following:
Street harassment is vastly more common than men think. It happens to almost all women at some point.
Women deserve respect and have the same right to exist in public spaces as men.
Think about what you are REALLY doing. Street harassment to the harassed is really scary and a person could have fear of bodily harm.
Making men empathize with the harassed or imagine themselves in women’s place.
Casting street harassment in terms of how many of their male friends might be problems, and how many female friends suffer from it.
These people [being harassed] are your mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, coworkers, fellow citizens.
We have a choice to not harass people on that street, and the power to do so, and we should exercise that choice and power. Also, this is not saying you are not allowed to appreciate a beautiful woman on the street, but you must stop doing so in a way that invades her space and makes her feel unsafe… Men can still look at women, just do so without comment or a leer that suggests that you own that woman’s body or have the right to consume it.