By: Kristen Topp
Sometimes I hear ridiculous questions. Like “Why are there still feminists? Women are equal now.” These are the same people that live in a magical world where racism is dead so I usually will take a very deep breath and begin my customary explanation about the realities that women and men still face. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc…all still very real and very tangible. One of the most common examples I like to give is the issue of street harassment.
As a young black woman, walking down the street can become the manifestation of rape culture. Let’s start with the preparation that is required to leave my home alone on foot. Do I have a weapon? Have a checked my surroundings? Am I wearing anything that may draw unwanted attention? There is a safety checklist that must be completed. Why is that?
The answer is a sad reality. We live in a rape culture, where walking down the street, or presenting as a woman, is a constant danger. Even without the explicit discussion of rape culture, most girls, especially ones in the city, have the talk about “being aware of surroundings”. No dark alleys, strangers, and keep one headphone out so you can hear someone approaching.
The fact that “stranger rape” is far less common than “acquaintance rape” is not lost on me. But training young girls to be aware of their dates and schoolmates is far more challenging, and another topic all together.
I was inspired to write this post because of some brilliant street art I keep seeing. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an artist from Brooklyn, has a series of posters that she’s been putting up in cities around the country. The posters are images of women with messages such as “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation,” or “Women Do Not Owe You Their Time or Conversation.”
I love the message that Fazlalizadeh is sharing. I am happy to see a small reclamation of public space. I appreciate that someone is giving voice to the young women and men who walk down the street to calls of “hey baby” and “what? you don’t wanna talk to me? you too good?”
I may be too good to talk to you. Or I just want to walk in peace. Or maybe I’m just tired of the bullshit. Either way, no I don’t want your number. And be warned, I do carry a knife. One that my Daddy bought me long ago, because he wants me to be safe. What does that say about a culture where women are armed at a young age to protect themselves? It says that our streets are not safe. And that right there is an illustration of a culture that still needs feminism.
Check out www.ihollaback.org, a website that advocates against street harassment.