Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Walkability Starts When Street Harassment Ends

Courtesy of Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh 


It's been nearly 20 years, and I'm still angry at the young men who yelled that at me as I walked to and from my first urban planning job in downtown San Diego.

At the time, I was also confused. No one had ever explained to me how insidious street harassment can be. No one had pointed out how women are trained to think it's "their problem" if they don't appreciate a cat-call or a comment on their looks. No one told me that "Smile" is code for "Pay attention to me, even if you don't want to." All I knew was that I was uncomfortable. And I was mad.

Obviously that hasn't stopped me from walking and biking, but street harassment does keep other people--in particular women and people of color--away from active transportation. As a pedestrian advocate (and mom of two girls), here are the three things I'm going to do to make sure other people don't have to experience what I did.

1. Call it what it is.
Even now, street harassment is justified or explained away as harmless banter or "compliments." When we call out harassment for what it is, we give victims the ability to address it appropriately, instead of making them feel like they are the ones doing something wrong.

2. Respond.
Street harassment is about power, and figuring out the right response is difficult when you're already in a position of vulnerability. Stop Street Harassment is one great resource for ways to respond effectively, providing info and links from the practical ("Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.") to the whimsical:

Courtesy of The Rior

3. Be an ally. 
Street harassers get away with harassment because their victims can't fight back. But often they're surrounded by people who can fight back, but who choose to remain silent. This needs to change, both on and off the street. Not only should we refuse to tolerate street harassment in the moment, we also need to include more women in conversations about transportation and infrastructure. In the 20 years since that first urban planning job, I've spent a lot of time in meetings where women are sorely underrepresented. We can't build transportation systems that work for everyone until we start hearing from everyone. 

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