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Sound-Off: The Heat Brings Waves of Sexual Harassment

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African American Woman Short Dress
While I enjoy layering fall clothes and spending time with family during the winter holidays, the summer is by far my favorite time of year. You’ve got outdoor festivals, al fresco dining and plenty of sunshine to help you get down and get brown (word to Roy Ayers). Plus, the heat forces jackets and rain boots to give way to sundresses, thin t-shirts and miniskirts.

And here is where my happiest season becomes less so.

A summer in Brooklyn, just like every city I’ve lived in previously, means that I’m gonna hear a lot of disrespectful comments from men as I walk down the street and attempt to mind my own business while wearing a little dress at the same time. And as much as I own my right to wear what I want when I want, it bothers me that my sartorial autonomy comes with a guarantee of uncomfortable interactions with many of the men I pass by.

Street harassment is a problem 365 days out of the year; bubble coats and mittens have many times failed to deter a man who talks to women like he hates his own mother. But when skin becomes more visible, the threat level rises. If a woman is “innocently” dressed in shorts and a tee or in a decidedly daring tube dress, it’s highly likely that she will be susceptible to catcalls, rude stares and perhaps some unkind words (especially if she dares to respond unfavorably).

In a country that teaches women self-defense or how “not” to get sexually assaulted (don’t drink this, don’t go there, don’t wear that), conventional “wisdom” tells us that we should either dress modestly and/or simply accept the fact that flesh makes men crazy. Imagine that. What an awful thing to tell women and an awful thing to suggest about men -- that they don’t have the capacity for the self–restraint or to show respect to a woman that isn’t based on what she has on, but is instead offered because she is a fellow human being.

The idea that a woman in “sexy” clothes is asking for attention is negated by the fact that women who aren’t dressed in a deliberately or even accidentally provocative way are still susceptible to being harassed. Many people will actually argue that the uncomfortable stares, the lewd talk and persistence in the face of rejection is an affirmation of attractiveness or a compliment that a woman should be grateful to receive.

My mouth is slick and I have low tolerance for disrespect. I don’t respond to every man who crosses the line between respectful flirtation and harassment, but I have been known to let my feelings be known from time to time. I’ve told men old enough to be my father (or even grandfather) that they should be ashamed of themselves, told younger guys that they need to learn how to speak to a lady. And, in particularly infuriating situations, let dudes know just how repulsive I found them and how I’d be more likely to (insert anything in the world) than to give them the time of day. Ah, and I have thrown an ice cream cone or two down on the ground in response to overtly sexual comments.

Unfortunately, I’ve also crossed or walked in the street to avoid walking past certain groups of men, and on a few rare occasions, went back in the house and put on something less revealing so that I might be able to travel the streets in relative peace. It hurts to know that my inherent right to own my body and adorn it as I see fit is constantly challenged by those who think that a peek (or grand showing) of cleavage is an invitation for a man to leer or speak to me however he sees fit.

I’ll be stocking up on sundresses and letting my legs get as brown as they want to be, but I’ll also be keeping my headphones on deck, so I might be able to have just a little bit of peace.
Filed Under: Culture Love War
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