Maureen Evans Arthurs ’13, Gender and Women’s Studies, serves on the National Student Advisory Council for the American Association of University Women.
“Why don’t you show us what’s underneath that towel, baby?”
I heard this shouted from a car of four young men, no older than 19, hanging out the window, being obnoxious. I had been walking home alone one summer afternoon after swim practice in my suburban neighborhood and immediately looked around to see if anyone else was walking near me when I realized I was alone, ashamed, and powerless. I’d like to think if I had been older, I would have been less afraid or maybe even shouted something back. But I was 13, relatively quiet, and awkwardly uncomfortable in most settings, let alone one I had just been harassed in. Back then, I never realized there was a term for what I had experienced (street harassment) nor that there was an impending movement to educate about it and eradicate it.
This was the start of a personal story I shared on the AAUW Community blog in recognition of Meet Us on the Street, an annual week of anti-street-harassment activism, held April 7–13 this year. The campaign serves as a platform for activism, discussions and demonstrations around the world, for women and men to advocate for safer spaces that are free of catcalling, groping and lewd gestures. At UMBC, the group WILL (Women Involved in Learning and Leadership) hosted Chalk Outs and conducted a survey to gauge students’ perceptions of safety and street harassment on campus.
As I write in my AAUW post, I still experience street harassment today, but the difference between how I felt when harassed at 13 versus now is that I can calmly and confidently flip the power balance and confront my harassers. Taking a stand is the first step to educating and influencing the behavior of street-harassment perpetrators.
Contact the author, Maureen Evans Arthurs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.