Toronto Feminists

Smile – You’re a Pervert in Public!

As per Feminist Philosophers: 

Abby O’Reilly of The F-Word has set up a new blog, Don’t Look Don’t Touch devoted to discussing women’s experiences of harassment in public places.

In December 2007 I wrote a post about an experience I had on the London underground. I was followed by a man at King’s Cross station, and although he did not physically or verbally attack me, he stalked and glared. We were surrounded by other commuters and it was the middle of the day, but he looked at me with such intensity that I was intimidated and scared.At first I dismissed the incident. Women get stared at everyday, it was not a big deal. I thought I’d go home and forget about it, accepted it as nothing more than part of being a woman, and hoped that I wouldn’t feel discouraged from using the Tube alone again or at night. I didn’t plan to tell anyone else, thinking that no-one would care; if anything, I thought, they’d think I was over-reacting. Did this anonymous man reflect on his behaviour? It’s doubtful, why would he? He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. I was too nervous to tell him. If he had, would he have been so confident? It was then I realised that whether this is considered a common part of social interactions or not, it’s not right, and it needs to stop. There are a lot of issues affecting women in modern society, and although this may not be the most significant we need to realise that any form of intimidation is wrong, and however trivial we may feel a situation is, we should still feel able to speak out, and be taken seriously. This was why I chose to write about it.I received an overwhelming response to my post from other women in the UK and abroad, sharing their experiences of harassment in the public forum, be that on transport, in the professional environment or when walking home.

I like the idea of a forum for discussing these experiences. Among other things, it could be a very useful resource for both thinking about and teaching about sexual harassment. There are really difficult issues to be had here. ‘Staring’ and ‘looking’ are really problematic terms to write into a sexual harassment code. Whether or not a look is a harassing one seems a deeply subjective thing. That leads one to think it’s crazy to try to regulate it. And yet most of us know from first-hand experience what it feels like to get the sort of look in question, and when we reflect on that it seems clear we’ve got to take it really seriously, and recognise its potential for intimidation. Anyway, excellent food for thought.

There’s a group of sites centered on US cities. Here’s the site for Hollaback in NYC:

You’ll see links on it for sites to other cities or countries.

***An interesting twist: readers are invited to send in pictures of the perpetrators, which will be posted.


Written by erishkigal

January 6, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. I’ve had brothers and male friends sometimes scoff when I describe how sick I can get of being stared down on the subway or walking home. I’ve been followed, harassed and intimidated -it starts with a certain look and goes from there. I found it alarming this past summer when it took someone following me into work to actually scare me because I’d gotten so desensitized to it. Once I explained that to the guys they started to realize that maybe it’s not so flattering or fun to get that kind of attention when you’re out just trying to do your own thing.


    January 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm

  2. On the way home from New Years, my friends and I were subject to a bunch of drunken jackasses commenting loudly on our physical attributes (my response: yelling back something to the effect of “WTF?”), and then in the TTC station there were a couple of girls being bothered by some more loathsome fellas who decided that since they didn’t welcome advances they must be lesbians, which escalated into quite the little scene (my response: walking right up and staring at them). After the fact, I’ve sort of been like, “well, I’m pretty happy that I didn’t do nothing, but what ELSE should I have done?”
    Clearly, the answer is ‘take their picture.’


    January 9, 2008 at 9:13 pm

  3. Oh yeah, who wrote this post?


    January 9, 2008 at 9:14 pm

  4. Tara, I wrote (mostly copied) the 3 posts before yours on the race


    January 10, 2008 at 4:05 am

  5. Actually on the website it recommends how to respond to sexual harassment on the street, or anywhere. You’ve got courage to do what you did!

    I’m okay with the website’s recommendations but some of the wording may be a little off, I would think of some different, more casual kind of language


    January 10, 2008 at 4:08 am

  6. Is it on their site or is it linked from their site? I’ve been scouring hollaback, and I don’t see what you’re talking about, but you know, I want to! Grr.

    I din’t post nuthin. That were Nichole. Sign yer name to whatcha post, D!

    Yeh, I kinda felt like The Feminist Avenger that night. In a very dorky way. Did I tell you guys? After Take Back the Night, when I was walking home, this guy followed me in his car, and I yelled “I don’t wanna talk to you so GO AWAY!” It felt awesome.


    January 10, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  7. It’s on the British website. And good for you!


    January 11, 2008 at 4:13 am

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