Guest Blog Post for International Anti-Street Harassment Week 2015
When I was little, I loved the movie Gone With the Wind. The idea of slow, Southern charm infiltrated my little girl brain. I wanted to live like Scarlett O’Hara and find my Rhett Butler (not Ashley, obviously, because the dude was a wimp and married to his cousin). Rhett Butler, though, was that ideal Southern gentleman, all charm and big smiles. He doted on Scarlett and challenged her, too. At least, that’s how I saw it when I was little. But, let’s face it. Rhett Butler was kind of a jerk.
Where am I going with this little rant? Well, when you think about the South, you don’t automatically think of the kind of street harassment you see in New York (those Yankees!). The notion of the perfect, Southern gentleman permeates through society. He’s slow-talkin’ with perfect manners. He would never cat-call a lady as she’s walking down the street. No, no, he holds the door for them when they walk into a store. Maybe tips his hat and offers a small smile. It’s a nice image, but it’s that chivalry that’s exactly the problem.
Street harassment definitely does happen in the South. It’s just slyer, more insidious. It’s coated with a particular politeness. It’s the subtle “Hey, darlin’, you sure would look prettier if you smiled.” It’s that “Miss, you are so pretty.” One time, I was standing at the bus stop and a man come up to me, smiled and said “Ma’am, I just had to come over here and tell you, you have one of the nicest asses I’ve ever seen.” It’s always phrased as a compliment. Heck, they give you the courtesy of a nickname or a “ma’am.”
But at its root, it’s the same exact cat-calling, just dressed up in nicer clothes. It’s not propelled by chivalry; it’s propelled by sexism. A woman is an object, something for entertainment. Even though it seems like a compliment, it’s not. It’s unwanted, uncalled for. I’m not standing at the bus for anyone’s entertainment. I’m just trying to get home from grocery shopping. But it’s not coming from a place of flattery. It comes from a place of needing to be acknowledged, and, if I don’t, I’m not the obliging Southern lady I should be. I’m not Scarlett O’Hara.
So, yeah, Rhett Butler was a jerk who forced himself on Scarlett O’Hara. Just check out this scene. He brings her back that bonnet from Paris, and, then, immediately comments on her underwear. Gross. And he’s just the beginning. Southern street harassment is born out of the notion of Southern manners, but, overall, it’s the same old misogyny. It’s just dressed up in a waistcoat.
Taylor Brannan is a University of Mary Washington alumnaShare on Facebook