In the Caribbean, we often accept abuse, assault, insult and injury because “it is part of our culture.” According to Moran et al (2014), ‘culture impacts behavior, morale, and… includes values and patterns that influence…attitudes and actions. Culture is…the driving force behind human behavior everywhere’ (Moran, Abramson and Moran, 2014, p. 11). While I understand that culture dictates behaviour, what is bothersome is that we continue to accept indecency under its guise. One example which comes to mind is that of street harassment.
Street harassment has existed for time immemorial, and is most commonly called catcalling. Many women surprisingly see it as men paying a compliment and because it is so prevalent in society it has been somewhat normalized. My contention is that this does not make it right.
Men who feel a sense of entitlement to say what they wish to do to women are no different to rapists. Perhaps this is harsh. However, it is a violation. If a woman has not engaged you in conversation and consented to your sexual comments and her objectification, you are violating her; you are guilty of rape. Culture is not an excuse.
One author explains and provides examples, noting street harassment ‘as verbal and nonverbal markers … wolf-whistles, leers, winks, grabs, pinches, catcalls and street remarks. Specific remarks commonly include, “Hey, pretty,” “Hey, whore,” “What ya doin’ tonight?” “Look at them legs,” “Wanna f**k?” “Are you working?” “Great legs,” … “Smile,” “Smile for me baby,” “Smile bitch,” “Come here girl,’ and “I’ll be back when you get a little older baby.”‘ When these acts occur on a public street, street harassment takes place’ (Deirdre, 1994, p. 138). In the Caribbean context, it is often men telling women what they would like to do to them (sexually) and making comments about their various body parts. Many women often feel embarrassed, uncomfortable and at times powerless.
According to Laniya (2005) ‘rarely is it the case that a woman in a public space is not
confronted with unsolicited comments and gestures of a sexual tone by men unknown to her. Yet, it is precisely the ubiquity of this phenomenon that distills its perceived effects on women and on society as a whole. Most men view the occurrence as harmless and even desired by women’ (Laniya, 2005, p. 92). This is an unfortunate reality.
Let us not accept this behaviour by ruling it out as culture. Let us call it what it is.
Deirdre, Davis. (1994). The Harm That Has No Name: Street Harassment, Embodiment, and African American Women. UCLA Women’s Law Journal, 4(2). uclalaw_wlj_17595. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/83b9f21g
Laniya, O.O., 2005. Street smut: gender, media, and the legal power dynamics of street harassment, or hey sexy and other verbal ejaculations. Colum. J. Gender & L., 14, p.91.
Moran, R; Abramson, N; Moran, S, (2014). ‘Managing Cultural Differences’, Ninth Edition, Routledge, New York