Every woman has a story about sexual harassment. Every woman probably has a story from the last week about sexual harassment. Our entire lives revolve around avoiding harassment. It determines how we dress, what routes we take, when we go out, every time we leave our home harassment is on our radar.
And yet, despite how prevalent harassment is towards women, we have as a society chosen to completely normalize this dynamic. When we go out for a run, go to the grocery store, go to a bar, literally just step out of our homes, sexual harassment is just a reality we are forced to bare. Men are left unchecked, unchallenged, and absolved of responsibility for their own actions.
If someone targets people based on their race or their religion they can receive harsh legal punishment. Someone who repeatedly targets women faces no such sanction. Are we okay with that?
And don’t worry, I hear you already: this #MeToo movement has gone too far! Catcalling is just a compliment, you should be flattered! I wish people complimented me every time I left the house! If we police all of our interactions men will never be able to talk to women again!
To you I say this, we’ve talked about this before. Flirting and sexual harassment are not the same thing, women know the difference, and if you don’t then you shouldn’t be talking to women. I’m not asking for the opportunity to charge every man who dares speak in my direction with sexual harassment. But the men who catcall me, the men who call me a bitch for politely declining them, the men who purposefully get in my way so I cannot get past them in the street, I want them to know there are real consequences to this behavior. That this kind of behavior is not flirting, it is harassment, and harassment is not okay.
And maybe if harassment were a crime, the difference would be much more understood.
Misogyny isn’t going to disappear by itself. Women are being raped, abused, and harassed daily and our instinct is to defend the man, downplay the crime, and find a way to blame the woman for her fate.
If we classify sexual harassment as a hate crime that can be reported and charged, people will start paying attention. They will pay attention to the statistics more, they will pay attention to the severity more, they will learn hard and fast what the difference is between harassment and flirting. And most importantly, women will feel like as a society we are finally listening. That we take the #MeToo movement seriously and are no longer accepting the status quo.
This isn’t about persecuting every cat-caller and creepy neighbor, it’s about telling our teenager girls who get harassed that their anger and fear is valid. It’s about telling the world that women are people and we must respect them.