A video showing a woman enduring street harassment all over New York City went viral this past week. Perhaps just as upsetting, if not more upsetting, as the harassment depicted in the video was the misogynistic reactions of various news presenters and other personnel, who critiqued the victims' responses and blamed feminism for the existence of street harassment. Some representative opinions called the 'cat calling' complimentary, advised victims to simply tell perpetrators to shut up (thereby ignoring data that shows how taking a stand leads to an escalation of violence), or encouraged women to shut down their presence on social media.
This issue is complicated, and while it may lack a magic-bullet solution, shutting out women's voices and blaming victims' responses are clearly not the right remedy to stopping this manifestation of misogyny that exists in practically every city today. Instead, as Laura Bates articulates, we should bring these perpetrators to justice. But, even some of Bates suggestions focus on the responses of victims. What may be more useful is for bystanders to take a stand and to stop harassment in its tracks, thereby creating a culture of accountability.
As in so many situations, focusing on the responses of those who experience discrimination is often a way for commentators (who may benefit from the hierarchy of power at play) to distance themselves from the problem by implying the fault somehow lies with the victim’s reaction instead. But we will never solve these problems if we are debating how victims should react rather than tackling them at their root. Whether women close their social media accounts when they receive threats is utterly beside the point; threatening to kill someone is illegal and perpetrators should be brought to justice. Whether a woman being shouted at in the street feels able to stop and respond or chooses to keep walking is completely irrelevant: the point is nobody should be harassing her in the first place. There is no “one size fits all” approach to misogynistic abuse, except tackling the perpetrators and preventing women from having to deal with it in the first place.