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Life > Experiences

It’s Your Space Too- Pushing Back Against Street Harassment

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Temple chapter.

Street harassment robs women of the security they deserve while simply existing in a public space. The city can make you feel small, but that does not mean you cannot reclaim your power. 

When can us girls finally get a break? Street harassment can take many forms like the appears o be innocent- but persistent- bystander hawking at you outside of the 7/11 on Broad St. Often, though, more malicious incidents of incessant catcalling arise, opening the door for physical assault and blatant threats to become permissible. This culture of street harassment has transformed into an epidemic many, if not all, women witness as well as endure. 

The urban landscape of Temple’s main campus boasts a variety of attractive amenities that draw in thousands of students on a yearly basis- of those students, 54.9% are female, according to College Factual.  

Our university’s proximity to Center City, the quality and diversity of degrees to be earned, as well as academic and athletic resources are the benefits of going to our city school. There is a lurking consequence, however, to the bustling social life our city brings.  

The male gaze is a pervasive viewpoint of the world- and one that is ever present in society’s current promotion of ‘alpha-masculinity.’ This perspective objectifies and depersonalizes women and femininity in general.  

Such a gaze lies behind the sexist advertisements of the 80’s and 90’s, every misogynistic joke put into an early 2000s comedy, or that creepy way an older male patron of a restaurant stares at the waitress for a little too long.  

Women are sorted into a hierarchy of power where they rest at the bottom. Embodying little besides passive characterizations of male desire. This can have dire consequences if an individual bases his worldview on such a lens. Quickly, imbalances in gender dynamics turn into imbalances in power dynamics. 

Street harassment is an issue that is woman related and deeply rooted in the gender discrimination women face daily. Yet, it also impacts non-binary people at great rates as well.  

In the same way that the male gaze disempowers the feminine, it does the same to other marginalized individuals who face the similar dilemma of being “othered”- or excluded- from the conventional hetero-masculinity. By targeting those deemed vulnerable by mainstream society, men redesign the way women view our access to public spaces. 

Street harassment has caused women to unconsciously create maps of where it is safe to walk through their memories and past unpleasant encounters. Alleyways, subway lines, and even entire streets will become mentally blacklisted as the fear of verbal or physical abuse guides our movement. 

Various women around campus have reported inescapable verbal abuse outside of their off-campus apartments, by young and old men driving by in cars, and around construction sites city-wide.  

Driving a car mildly alleviates this concern by acting as a barrier between yourself, the driver, and the outer world. In recent years, however, there has been a push in urban environments to prioritize the spread of public transportation. Leaving women with the option of paying higher insurance rates, purchasing parking passes in safe locations, and risking the danger of carjackings and vandalism (slashed tires, broken windows, etc.)- or the unkind alternative of saving money, while risking a sense of spatial security.  

All i all, women cannot enjoy the same access to urban spaces, activities, free movement, and public transportation that men can. The college experience that female Temple students receive is far different and far scarier, than the experience their male peers receive.  

So, what can be done when the world wants to exploit your vulnerabilities?  

First, confidence goes a long way, so fake it ’til you make it. The city can be a terrifying world for any woman to approach, but we deserve to feel secure where we pay taxes, rent, and especially tuition.  

Act like a man. Demand the respect that you have been shorted. On the bus, take up space. Do not be afraid to make a large presence or block your seat from unsavory characters with your bag.  

When walking down the street, through a crowd, or past an individual that is making you uncomfortable, stand high and tall. Put your shoulders back, do not slouch, and look ahead. Avoiding eye contact or making an unpleasant face towards someone is sometimes all you need to avoid a threatening interaction. 

If somebody is persistent and asks for your name, number, or socials, create fake aliases, or make up an excuse that involves other people. Instead of saying you are going home, say you’re on your way to having dinner with your boyfriend- or that you’re meeting a friend nearby.  

Some harassers are tenacious, so match their dedication. If they are following you, don’t be afraid to call them out and demand your due space if it’s in a public place. Often, though, predators will target women going down isolated alleys or sidewalks. 

Alexa Staloski, a junior psychology major, shares her advice for protecting herself. In a case similar to the one mentioned above, where she is alone and vulnerable in her location, she will hold up her phone as if she is taking a selfie. She then snaps a picture of her surroundings, gathering evidence of the dangerous individual. If there is a chance that a predator could become accountable, or their victim will cause a scene, it is more likely for them to abandon you in search of an easier target.  

Temple and its surrounding community must take control of the rampant danger that women face on a daily basis and stopping the casual culture of street harassment is one of the first steps that must be made. Although there is an entire attitude towards gender and power that must shift in order to give women a more equal place in the world they inhabit- don’t let this forced powerlessness discourage you from reclaiming the space you deserve. 

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Elise Priest

Temple '24

Hey! My name’s Elise, I’m a junior journalism major with a passion for all things environmental. I also have a huge soft spot for metal music, cats, and painting!