It shouldn’t take a woman going to the police to make us better men. It shouldn’t have to be a matter of legality to have us undo creepy behaviour. Relying on the law to govern our morals doesn’t make us moral beings, it makes us slaves to legality. We shouldn’t require a threat of jail or fine to reflect on our behaviour as men. As moral entities we can engage with others, rethink our actions, consider their impact on those perhaps more vulnerable, more targeted, less privileged than us.
A failure to do so probably won’t result in jail time – and that, apparently, is sufficient reason for so many men to never rethink their actions, their beliefs, their words. That must change if we want to make a better world, but it has to start with us men realising we will fuck up and, maybe, we don’t know everything.
Consider the men in a recent case. A woman decided she wouldn’t tolerate strange men street harassing her, every day, while getting to work. After trying various responses, Poppy Smart took the matter to the police.
“Every day I’d walk past and they’d wolf whistle. They’d even come out of the building site to wolf whistle as I’d continue down the road.
“One of the guys got up in my face and all he said was ‘morning love’, but it was in a very aggressive way and the other one sneered.
“They blocked the pavement and I had to walk around them.”
She discusses her own attempts to try, literally and figuratively, get around harassment.
“I started wearing sunglasses so I didn’t have to look at them. I started putting headphones on so I didn’t have to hear them.”
“Eventually it got to the day where I had enough.”
Poppy called the police and reported it.
So what do the men who did this have to say? Well…
A builder questioned by police for wolf-whistling at a young woman has hit back – claiming he was paying her a “compliment”.
Ian Merrett, 28, said wolf-whistling was “part and parcel” of working on a building site and even bragged about using cat-calls to seduce a string of other women.
Oh, well, I guess that’s OK then: this man – who, like me, is a 28 year old straight dude – says it’s a compliment to yell lecherous things at woman; to physically block a woman half his size, while she’s made it clear she’s not interested. I’d like to see where, in his work contract, it says “you will wolf-whistle at strange women” since it’s “part and parcel” of working on a building site.
But, you see, he’s had success seducing women! Because there’s no other, non-creepy, way to meet women!
“I’ve seen the news coverage and it’s not right. I’m a builder and my mates are builders. We are all hard working people and our reputation has been damaged.”
Your hard work doesn’t negate that you are a creep, it just means you’re capable of multitasking.
Or maybe not.
If you really are hard at work, why are you wolf-whistling at strange women? If I was your employer, I’d be concerned I’d hired people who weren’t doing what I was paying them for.
Your “reputation” matters less than women’s safety here: You can go somewhere else, but women have to try commute knowing, daily, there are men who feel entitled to harass them under the guise of compliments. Grow up, apologise, be better men.
“Wolf-whistling is part and parcel of working on a site, it’s complimenting a girl.”
Again, I’d like to see your work contract stating this. All you’re really saying is “boys will be boys”, that’s “just how it is”. The problem isn’t that we don’t know that: The problem is precisely this mindset. The problem is that harassment currently is part of working in a public area and targeting strangers. We’re saying change that: It’s creepy, gross and bad. We know it exists, we know why: We’re saying stop, please.
And just because you intend it to be compliments doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll be interpreted. Intention isn’t magic. Women are literally telling us all the time they do not like this; it doesn’t matter what you think you’re giving when recipients keep saying “Stop”.
“I didn’t even see her face, and I wouldn’t recognise her if I fell over her in the street, so I don’t know how that could possibly be sexual harassment.”
I keep forgetting that because you don’t see someone’s face, it’s impossible to make that person feel uncomfortable, unsafe, harassed and targeted.
“It’s not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don’t know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station.”
She’s a woman. So it’s not worth you getting into trouble, but it is worth her sense of security? And you still don’t know why she complained? If you don’t know why a person would take something to the police, maybe… try figure out why they did? Maybe consider the impact your actions have on others?
It’s not like it could’ve been an easy decision for Smart to go the police, knowing people would hate and harass her further (which is, of course, happening).
If “above her station” means the ability to walk down the street not harassed then I guess she was. But that’s not “above” her station, it is her station as a person; that’s a privilege many of us, as straight cis dudes have and it shouldn’t be only us. When people ask for this same privilege of non-harassment , and we berate them for thinking they’re “better” than they are, that only highlights how toxic our culture is.
Men who defend harassment as “boys will be boys” have a very low opinion of men; men who state this aren’t affirming they can’t change how things are, but that they don’t want to. We created this toxic culture, we can be part of changing it. But it won’t happen while men double-down and refuse to listen to women and claim street harassment is compliments. Men: We can do better and we must do better.