The street harassment video of a woman in New York that shows the egregious nature of male cat calling, and sheds light on the way people harass others in public, is a fresh reminder of the power dynamics that still plays a succinct role in a society that is far from achieving a form of equity. Individually, no woman or man is truly free from coercion of others, especially those who are just plain losers.
There is no denying that physical or verbal harassment are real serious issues in Western culture, as made even more clear by the recent allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, the ex-CBC host. However, let us step back for one moment and view these issues from a much larger perspective, something which might help us understand just how different the problems that women face in today’s world are.
Recently, a woman in Iran was hanged for killing her rapist and molester in self-defense, in a country whose totalitarian grip over society deems women as second class citizens. The story of Malala, the Pakistani girl that got shot in the head for simply wanting to attend school brings forward the issue of the degree of problems women are experiencing around the world.
Not to retract from the seriousness of the dispute of harassment that women all over the world actually face of course, each problem in itself must be viewed from its own internal context, yet I can only begin to underscore the salience of the degree between being catcalled, and being shot in the head for simply wanting something as basic as education, a right that must be afforded to all human beings.
Yet, my problem here is not really public attention, although these two usually go together, it is rather media attention. Women live exceptionally horrible lives in Islamic totalitarian states, their rights as secondary citizens is passed along in fears of political correctness, while that of women being catcalled is seen as something that must gain the frenzy and attention of the media. The advocates of feminism therefore must realize that the more immediate concern is that of women who are not even considered human beings in some parts of the world, but mere tools to the patriarchy, autocracy and theocracy.
I get it, being catcalled by creeps in annoying, and really simply devastatingly ludicrous. To receive unwanted attention from strangers in an urban setting is something that most normal people do not enjoy. Yet still imagine not even having the freedom to walk down the street without being accompanied by a man, or without a man’s permission. This is the lives of millions of women around the world.
My point is not to weigh one issue against the other, or try to tell women that they should not complain that they do not have it as bad. No. I want people to understand that while we deal with harassment, others do not even have to most basic of freedoms to create a space where they can call things of such magnitude to attention. The fact that we can produce videos, question, and reveal what women go through is in itself a testament to the freedoms we enjoy daily.
In theocratic states, women who express the fact that they had been abused sexually are usually the ones that are blamed, and even prosecuted for opening their mouths against their abusers. We are lucky here in the West, both men and women, as we live in a societal structure that allows to call others out on their actions, and receive support from greater society. We can bring issues such as street harassment forward to the public, without fearing that the state would being to persecute those who advocate for women’s rights.