Gentlemen’s Corner is a series of blog posts by men. I want to give men the opportunity to speak about themselves in relation to how they see us, think about us, feel about us… their wishes, dreams, and hopes for us… and their wants, needs, and desires from us. This is an effort to bridge the gaps that seem to perpetually plague our interactions. If you’re a man interested in contributing to this site with a relevant post, please send an email pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s one of the most plaguing issues in our community and while it pains me to break it to you, the fact remains that we (Black men) are all responsible—every last one of us. As Black men, we’ve waged years of unrelenting torment against Black women via street harassment. For our purposes, street harassment can best be described as any form of unsolicited attention paid to a stranger (usually a woman) in public that is an intrusion on her time, personal space, and most importantly, safety. Many of us have failed to see how our conduct in public space has created unspeakable trauma for many women of color. As a result, it is up to us to be amenable to change.
What has stood as the most pervasive impediment to this is the frighteningly large population of Black men who are still clueless to their roles in perpetuating it. This unwillingness to accept this truth only exacerbates androcentrism, obfuscates the conversation of male privilege, and derails any subsequent discourse which might bring about necessary changes. Regardless, the time has come for us as Black men to collectively accept the fact that we’re all culpable. That’s the only way we’re going to eradicate street harassment.
There are men who still hold steadfast to the perverse idea that complete strangers are not allowed to exist outside of their agency. They believe it is a “right” of men to approach women “they” find attractive as they see fit. They justify this harassment by dragging the conversation into the pastures of cordial pleasantries. It’s a bogus counterpoint because we’re all smart enough to know there is a world of difference between complimenting a stranger’s shoes in passing (and keeping it moving) and screaming obscenities at a woman who wouldn’t smile on command.
Image: Books & Feminism Blog
This is what entitlement looks like. When it comes to the safety and comfort of other human beings, complete strangers in this case, we have no rights—no entitlements. We do not have any claims. It doesn’t matter if we’re the nicest guys in the world, the wealthiest, or the best looking– we do not have any autonomy in this regard. If you have a problem with this, chances are great that you’re a street harasser.
We’re not being asked, but rather we’re being told by black women to respect them and ourselves. To acquiesce to this call, let’s establish a framework for both self and collective governance.
First, understand how terrifying street harassment is. It’s to the point where many women have no desire to try and decipher the authenticity of our advances in public. Most women would prefer to be left alone—without exception. Public places are generally not safe and most women (not exclusive to black women) are already on guard. Our advances at this point (particularly in unfamiliar spaces) are generally not welcomed—and who could begrudge them this desire to be left alone? This isn’t personal. This is for survival. There are always exceptions to every rule (for you slow guys), but I implore all of us to swear allegiance to the rule on this one and let the exceptions occur ONLY when there is clear initiation by the other party or invitation. It’s that important.
Remember, strangers do not owe you anything. They do not owe you a moment of their time or cordiality. I’m asking us all to challenge the little voice inside that demands that we place our superficial proclivities in front of the overall safety and well being of women. Worry less about complete strangers who are simply minding their own business and trying to move safely from one destination to the next without being asked to “smile” or “stop for a second.”
Image: The New Agenda
When we are around other men who are street harassers, whether they skirt the line or are overt, you and I have a responsibility to call them out. Our friends, uncles, and brothers should all be held accountable. Many men who are street harassers never see their “harmless” albeit puerile attempts to garner a woman’s attention as anything other than a form of chivalry. This is where the perversion really takes flight. This is a thought process similar to that of rapists, muggers, and murderers. It’s hard for most men to imagine because we have conditioned each other to believe we’re owed the right to talk to anyone, anywhere, at anytime (and women better be receptive and happy about it—or else).
We’re better than this. We can do better and be better. It’s going to take a collective effort. Stop street harassing, call it out when you see it, and let’s do our part to create a world where are sisters, daughters, and mothers can walk to and fro without cowering in fear—of us.
André George is a Lifestyle Writer and Brand Strategist. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr @TheAndreGeorge