Street Harassment: Another Misdirected Cause?

A multitude of people saw the YouTube video, or read the story in the news, about the actress who took part in a planned, secretly filmed ten-hour walk through Manhattan that—as expected—resulted in a substantial number of comments, catcalls, winks and what not from men she passed. The filming was arranged by an organization that devotes itself to ending what it calls “street harassment” in cities throughout the world.

There seem to be two major anti-street harassment organizations and when perusing their websites one is immediately struck by the vagueness of their definition of the term. It is very much like the more general category of which it is a sub-set, sexual harassment—and also like child abuse and neglect. The meanings are so broad that they encompass all sorts of things. Like with the supposed epidemic of child abuse, some are calling for laws to put a stop to street harassment without being clear about what it is. The result with child abuse is that upwards of 80 percent of reports are false or unfounded, parents are investigated for innocent childrearing practices that some anonymous caller doesn’t like, and we have a totalitarian-like child protective system (CPS) that in theory monitors every family in the country.

We have witnessed claims of many “epidemics” and “crises” in the last few decades, almost none of which, when examined with some care, truly meet the bill. Child abuse, elder abuse, bullying, campus rape, police brutality (while police misconduct is a subject of concern, an epidemic of brutality is another thing), and sexual harassment itself are just some. What follows is a usual pattern. Interest groups with an agenda spotlight the “crisis” and play it up. If it seems to fit the secular leftist paradigm the media picks up on it. Then, often legislators—usually because no organized opposition has congealed and the public is either inattentive or agreeable because it vaguely sounds good—enact a new law (the solution is always a law). The law then has reverberating unforeseen consequences and creates a whole host of new problems.

The same thing appears to be in the offing with street harassment, and in some places local ordinances are being proposed to combat it. Some articles have appeared approvingly noting how a century and more ago some communities imposed criminal penalties for similar behavior. One wonders if the authors would similarly support the criminal laws then in place about contraception, abortion, fornication, sodomy, and pornography. It doesn’t occur to them that all these problems are cut from the same cloth: the disregarding of sound sexual morality. The leftist activist crowd is increasingly calling for laws criminally punishing speech just because it offends some group of people. The implications are huge: such a standard would shred constitutional protections of free speech.

The anti-street harassment people seem to lump a whole range of comments and behaviors together without making any distinctions at all. So, sexual and sexually suggestive comments to women passing by and stalking behavior—in the video one man silently, eerily comes up and walks next to the actress for five minutes before finally leaving—are lumped together with saying “hello” or “good morning.” This is consistent with the anti-campus rape activists who have expanded the definition of what was once forcible sexual assault to include even “verbal rape,” whatever that is. It’s also, of course, what has been seen for forty years with child abuse and the CPS since the enactment of the federal Mondale Act. Would the anti-street harassment activists be satisfied only when everyone walks along looking down at the ground the whole time, avoiding even eye contact that could be construed as harassing? Or would they then somehow also view that as demeaning to women?

The activists say that someone violates “private space” not just by touching or getting too close to someone, but by any kind of unwanted verbal communication as well. Does that mean that a young man doing nothing more than asking a young woman for a date that she doesn’t want to go on is a form of harassment? Are attempts at friendliness to be automatically viewed with suspicion? Instead of fostering more respect for women, this is likely to put more barriers between the sexes and further damage the possibilities of wholesome male-female relationships. More generally, it seems to be a recipe for social isolation. Should we be surprised that we hear expressions nowadays like people “bowling alone”?

Some of this also reeks of an anti-male perspective. The feminist orientation of these organizations is apparent from their websites. So is their ready embrace of the homosexualist movement. They lament not just the street harassment of women, but also of LGBT persons. (They don’t explain, however, how someone these people pass by on a sidewalk would know about their same-sex attraction, unless it’s because they give an opening or display “in your face” affectations.) Nowhere on the websites is there mention of the need to restore sound, traditional sexual morality or the norms of gentlemanliness. They point a finger exclusively at the males all of whose actions in the video, as mentioned, are equally condemned. They give women advice about what they should do to resist street harassment but, not surprisingly, say nothing about dressing modestly, which is something that serious Christian parents emphasize to their daughters from prepubescence. Immodest dress hardly excuses stalking and sexual assault. Still, it is only in a fantasy world where there is no understanding about the realities of human nature that one can believe that a looseness of sexual norms and an inattention to modesty and chastity have nothing to do with them.

The contemporary feminist movement is partly responsible for the coarseness in male-female relations that we now witness. From its beginning in the 1960s, it wholeheartedly embraced the sexual revolution. In its single-minded obsession with sexual egalitarianism, it doesn’t seem to have considered that an ethic of sexual libertinism might lead to women becoming victims. Instead of motivating men to the sexual virtue that in earlier times was especially associated with women, feminism “liberated” women to be lustful and opened the door to their being even further objectified.

The upshot of some commentators to the video was that the harassment was especially outrageous since the actress was dressed appropriately. When my wife viewed still shots from the video she disagreed and noted the form-fitting clothes, including jeans, the actress was wearing. Let’s remember that tight jeans were sometimes called the emblem of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Maybe the actress was impervious to the problems of her dress like so many young women are today, or perhaps it seemed tame to her compared to some of the female apparel in the acting profession.

One of the first criticisms the video received was that it overwhelmingly seems to depict minority group men engaging in the street harassment. The maker of the video scurried to say that since he had to edit most of the ten hours down to a couple minutes it only appeared that way, that really there were a lot of harassing Caucasian men too. He explained, however, that what they said was “in passing” or “off-camera.” That is unconvincing, especially when a lot of the comments made in the video generally were “in passing.” Is it possible that, like so many things concerning minorities, nobody wants to look seriously at problems within those communities that give rise to a flood of social maladies, including perhaps this one?

A genuine epidemic within the minority communities in question is family breakdown and absent fathers. The result is, obviously, that the strong, solid male examples—who are crucial in shaping virtuous gentlemanliness and good citizenship in the next generation of males—are simply not there. Is it just possible that there might be more street harassment, however defined, by males in these minority groups for the very reasons that the amount of crime and incarceration and gang activity is disproportionate among them? Might the basic problem be poor formation—in both morals and manners—due to poor family background and insufficient religious training?

Actually, as far as the innocent comments were concerned, might they just have been a gesture of verbal friendliness to women passing by that is typical of some men in those minority communities?

The long and short of this is that street harassment—properly defined and understood— is certainly a problem, especially in urban settings. One can’t trust activists and advocacy groups to define it and lead the charge against it, however. As in so many other areas, they lack balance, good judgment, and basic fairness—and are ideologically driven. We have laws on the books already for assault, sexual assault, and stalking and maybe enhanced police presence is needed in some areas. We don’t need and shouldn’t tolerate additional criminal laws that punish comments no matter how insulting or offensive. A renewal of morals and manners is what is needed—the very solution the secular left with all their causes doesn’t want to hear.

Editor’s note: The image above is a scene from “Blackboard Jungle” (1955) staring Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, and Vic Morrow.

Stephen M. Krason

By

Stephen M. Krason's "Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic" column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) in Crisis Magazine. He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author, most recently, of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic (Transaction Publishers, 2012), and editor of three volumes: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and The Crisis of Religious Liberty (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014); and most recently, Challenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians (Franciscan University Press). His next book is Catholicism and American Political Ideologies (forthcoming this fall from Hamilton Books). He is also the author of a new novel, American Cincinnatus.

  • Lego Man

    This is about control. Feminists want to wear whatever they want to attract male attention, which they then apply their new law to in order to punish the man. It has its origin in a deep hated of men.

  • orientstar

    I would like to add to this article but I can’t! The author has addressed all the issues involved and addressed them well. Thank you for this insightful article.

  • St JD George

    I’m not sure we can narrow it too much to one cultural phenomena because let’s be honest in acknowledging the sin of lust has been around for all ages. I do agree with the neurosis that is modern liberalism and related feminism though. The further we remove Christ from our lives the further neurotic we become it seems. Maybe if young men were raised in faith rather than TV and pop culture to understand the beauty and grace of women and Gods gifts we’d all be in a better place. Well, a person can dream can’t they?!

    • The feminist version of the sexual revolution goes a bit beyond acknowledging the sin of lust. It is about actively inciting the sin of lust expressly so that acting on the sin of lust can be actively punished.

      • St JD George

        Of course it’s that, and more, and both are categorically sinfulness against God.

        • Both are sinful against God.

          But only the later one actively attempts to use basic instincts to attack men.

    • Siwash

      good stuff, George!

      • St JD George

        Thanks, after Steve’s rebuff I appreciate that.

  • wannabeapoet

    I’m reminded of the recent “epidemic” and “crisis” of fraudulent voting by people not legally registered to vote. That generated a flock of “rightest” legislative enactments to impose more burdensome requirements to vote and new limitations on the opportunity to vote. Ginning up solutions to problems that don’t exist is not a tactic used by citizens at only one end of the political spectrum.

    • GG

      Proving you are who you claim is now a burden? Chicago has a long history of fraud. I see no equivalence here at all.

    • Augustus

      There is no evidence that requiring an ID to vote suppresses minority voting. You are operating on stereotypes and prejudices, not facts. Stop treating minority populations as if they are incapable of responsible citizenship. Your condescending attitude is the real reason why certain minority communities are stuck on the liberal plantation, slaves to the welfare state.

      • St JD George

        Yeah, it’s so absurd that I’m not even sure they recognize the hypocrisy or in their elitist circles they recognize that they have John Gruber syndrome with contempt for the little people. When it’s aligned with their agenda to control the population they want to know every thing about you, but when they want to rig elections they want to pretend to know nothing about you. Go figure, even elementary school students are capable of understanding that perversion of governance, or malfeasance.

    • You aren’t reminded of anything. Your post is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

      What is it with left-wing trolls and their inability to be coherent?

      • St JD George

        Remember, there is a connection to perpetual indignation and contrived offenses.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      This is a ridiculous comparison, like comparing pork and porcupines. The U.S. is the only country in the world – as far as I know, and I have traveled and lived abroad quite a bit – that does not require VERY strict voter identification before one is permitted to help decide the future course of the nation. And if you think voter fraud is not a significant problem in some states, you are living in a bubble.

      • And the worst part is that VOTER ID only stops a small part of the voter fraud.
        People from Chicago and Northeastern Pennsylvania understand the phrase “vote early and often” and “the dead have just as much right to vote as the living”.

    • ForChristAlone

      Did you mean “rightist”?

    • ForChristAlone

      By the way, you must be at least 12 years of age to post to this website.

      • St JD George

        Ouch, now that had to hurt.

    • Chris Cloutier

      Can you cite some of these “rightest” legislative enactments that have so burdened and limited voters? Maybe I’m stupid but I’m not aware of any serious restrictions on voting. Even for illegals, and the dead in many cases.

  • GG

    Another great article. Thank you.

  • Scott W.

    “This is consistent with the anti-campus rape activists who have expanded the definition of what was once forcible sexual assault to include even ‘verbal rape,’ whatever that is. ”

    Get with the times, man. It’s “microaggressions” now. 🙂

  • Scott W.

    Watching the video at the end, I learned that 59% of the catcalls were in Harlem. Anyone want to enlighten us on the demographics?

    • Siwash

      . . . it’s good to point out, as you do, that the “study” took place in New York City. Kind of hard to generalize from this one special example.

      • Scott W.

        Yes. I wonder if the makers shooting this in what is for intents and purposes is the capital city of progressivism are aware of the irony.

  • Welcome to the land of perpetual indignation and contrived offenses.

    (Borrowed in part from Michelle Malkin’s description of Islam as the religion of perpetual indignation).

    • St JD George

      Every once in awhile the simplest expressions capture the entire essence of the problem or mental disorder, a bulls-eye here.

  • Siwash

    Funny deal; weird topic. I think men should get together and organize. We could complain about the negative economic impacts on men’s life due to female gossip, for instance, or the economic discrimination faced by men during courtship. Heck, it could go on and on, and it could go on and on and on and on.

    And then some. Kvetching is America’s newest sport.

    • “I think men should get together and organize.”
      We did. They were called fraternal organizations. However, the judiciary, which was used to the wheeling and dealing that goes on in Bar Association meetings decided that male-only organzations were a mere front for invididous discrimination.

  • St JD George

    Is it just me or does that next to last guy on the left in the photo with his left arm extended look like Charlie Sheen? I’m reminded of Satan’s immortality captured in film. I’m not casting judgment on whether he’s possessed even though he exhibits some peculiar God less behavior, just found it an odd coincidence.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      The last guy on the right looks like… Dr. Krason! I’ll have to ask him about that.

  • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    This whole harassment video was a contrived project from the beginning. If I were to take a ten-hour stroll through Harlem, I would expect a lot more than two minutes of harassment. And I wouldn’t just take a video camera for protection. I would be prepared for physical harassment. I would take a 45 cal. semi-automatic.

    • St JD George

      Or a stroll through the Bevo Mill area of St Louis to defend against rogue hammers. Back on topic though, I design advanced airplanes (now jet engines) and have from time to time worked with attractive female engineers. Fortunately they mostly all had a good sense of humor because we could laugh a little after going out onto the factory floor together to investigate a problem. It was so blatantly obvious watching the work stoppage, seeing but not hearing the conversations immediately after passing, changes in behavior, etc. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen in the office either, it’s only usually more subtle but equally adolescent.

  • Anna

    Very typical of the left to react to the symptoms of an immoral society as opposed to root causes. They would rather apply bandaids to problems then determine their source, which is immoral behavior in all facets of life (promiscuity, pornography, fornication – as the author mentions). Don’t want to get pregnant? Contracept. Unwanted pregnancy? Abort. Depressed? Medicate. Street harrassment of women? Punish the men. And the list goes on.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      Exactly! Well-stated.

    • St JD George

      How incredibly astute of you to state the obvious. Pretty amazing isn’t it, almost as if dealing with people from a different universe.

      • Anna

        What crawled into your breakfast this morning “St JD George”? I’ve noticed that your personal assessment of other commentary is scattered throughout this comment section. How incredibly astute of you to assert yourself through us… almost as if you’re dealing with people from a different universe?

        • St JD George

          Probably less to do with breakfast than the frightful weather outside. I get it. You wouldn’t be interjecting your inner feminism here in reply would you?

          • Anna

            Absolutely not… I am one of the most anti-feminist females you can find…Lol. I agree with this article… couldn’t you tell by my comment?

            • Crisiseditor

              Anna,
              Don’t pay any attention to St. George. Sounds like aliens have turned him into one of the pod people. Clearly he is not speaking for himself. You were right on the money. Very few commenters can claim originality; the important thing is to state the truth.

              • St JD George

                Pod people? Is that meant to offend as I’m not sure I know one. Sometimes in a desire to be pithy and achieve levity (needed here occasionally) the meaning can get lost in translation. Hopefully Anna recognized my reply as a compliment as intended. As for originality, I’ll plead the 5th, I never staked a claim to that. I’ll leave that Dept in your care as I enjoy reading the articles you post here.

                • Crisiseditor

                  My reference was to the Sci-Fi / horror film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) in which alien pods come to earth to replace humans with emotionless replicants. The plain meaning of your comments suggested you were not your usual self and that therefore someone (or some thing) was speaking instead of you. Since the true meaning had been lost on readers I suggested that your comments should not be taken literally. In retrospect, I think I judged wisely. Glad to see that you are back to your true, lovable self.

                  • St JD George

                    For some reasons words don’t always perfectly match thoughts, probably also a morning pre caffeine shortcoming.

                • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

                  If I understood you are saying that Anna is ‘spelling things out’ as though to a rather backward child and not attacking Anna herself but the backwardness of the child monster.

                  • St JD George

                    Or put another way, Anna expressed herself well, I did communicate my thoughts quite so clearly.

              • Wow you guys missed it completely.

                • St JD George

                  In fairness, I reread my own words and though I knew what I was thinking, after further reflection I realized my brevity and levity didn’t capture the essence and was open to interpretation of being an attack rather than the compliment it was intended to be. It’s like when two people are in sympatico – one person starts and the other person finishes the sentence in perfect harmony of understanding, while the outsider looks on in bewilderment, sort of.

                  • Tamsin

                    I didn’t understand the tone of your first sentence, but I understood your second sentence, Pretty amazing isn’t it, almost as if dealing with people from a different universe, to be in sympathy with Anna in her description of the alternate moral universe of the Left.

                    Win some, lose some. The written word is tricky.

                    • St JD George

                      Amen, I look forward to tomorrow and a new day.

              • Anna

                Thank you, it was very kind of you to reply. But no worries… I’m a big fan of Crisis myself : )

            • ForChristAlone

              Anna, what you wrote very clearly explicated your sympathies with the content of the article. Well said, indeed (and understood as such by most of us here).

    • AugustineThomas

      It always did blow my mind how secularists consider it more humane to rip a child limb from limb in the womb than to “impose morality” on young men and teach them not to have sexual relations outside of marriage.

  • Robert

    The is a perfect example of what Chesterton meant when he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that, in abolishing the big laws, you don’t get freedom, you just get lots of little laws.

  • ForChristAlone

    So, is it or is it not OK to whistle at the next attractive gal who walks past me on the street?

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      I would say it is not and never has been. A smile and a “hello” are fine, except with feminists, for whom this is the equivalent of rape, no doubt.

      • Scott W.

        Exactly. Whistling and catcalling are boorish and immature, but not a crime; and certainly not a reasonable pretext for the inevitable attempt to corral the innocent and pester them with sensitivity training.

        • There used to be a judicial device called a demurrer. Basically, it said you were right, but your case isn’t worth a hill of beans, so stop wasting our time.

          • ForChristAlone

            exactly

    • monk_87

      It’s better that you choose not to do so, and that your peers hold you accountable for your choice, than for the state to watch you and whack you if you violate its morality.

  • monk_87

    We’re well on the way to becoming the most regulated, thought-controlled, micro-managed, monitored,..and fearful nation of people on the planet. We didn’t win the ideological war against the Communists after all.

  • Jdonnell

    The article has the germ of a valid argument but is hopelessly lost in nonsense. The writer’s posture of “neither right nor left” is nothing more than that–a posture. He is so right-wing that he is virtually blinded by it.

    He lists several “epidemics” or “crises” of recent years–child abuse, elder abuse, campus rape, bullying, etc., all of which have received significant media attention.The article has the germ of a valid argument but is hopelessly lost in nonsense. The writer’s posture of “neither right nor left” is nothing more than that–a posture. He is so right-wing that he is virtually blinded by it. seems to fit the secular leftist paradigm,” it gets media attention. That applies to all the “crises” he lists; each of them has had lots of media coverage. His logic is batty. He seems blind to the fact that there is nothing secular or leftist about being opposed to and garnering publicity to bring awareness to any of these abuses. He may not exactly intend what he intimates so clearly, but ideological blindness is no excuse for dismissing concern about these crimes as “secular” or “leftist.”

    He goes on to make a false analogy in likening sexual sins such as “contraception, abortion, fornication, sodomy” with “street harassment” of women, since all of them violate “sound sexual morality.” He fails to notice the difference: street harassment is done in public, not the others.
    The article belittles opposition to street harassment–cat calls, obscene gestures or words, etc. that women have sometimes to endure as they walk down the street. (I must admit that as a high school boy many years ago, my friends and I sometimes could have been accused of street harassment, which I later realized was completely wrong.) The attitude of the writer is that of a right-wing ideologue, not that of a Christian. He seems to confuse those things too; they are near opposites.

    • GG

      Spoken like a left wing ideologue.

      • Jdonnell

        Whatever my views, they are irrelevant and only used by you as an ad hominem attack. I point out faults that transcend any right or left politics, when I show with examples that he is guilty of faulty logic, false analogy, and confusion of categories (another ex. of faulty logic). At the same time, his self-proclaimed position is “neither right nor left,”

        • ForChristAlone

          Despising the Left is a good thing.

          • Jdonnell

            Spoken like a follower of Rush Limppaugh, as well as making an unchristian utterance. Jesus advocated much of what the left advocates and nothing of the rightist “Greed is good” ideology. (And, I say that as someone whose views are mixed–but not mixed up.)

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