It seems that people, or mainstream news outlets rather are finally taking notice of the problem that is street harassment. The New York Times recently made it a discussion topic for their Room for Debate feature. The question: ‘Do We Need a Law Against Catcalling?’ There were four responses to the question, one of them was in support of a law. In the post, “Street Harassment Law Would Restrict Intimidating Behavior,” Laura Beth Nielsen writes:
I’d propose a law that would prohibit street harassment and would also be consistent with our First Amendment jurisprudence about other kinds of hate speech (cross-burning in Virginia vs. Black) that intimidates, harasses and perpetuates inequality. It would allow states and cities to recognize street harassment for what it is: physical and psychological acts that intimidate, exclude, subordinate and reinforce male dominance over women.
The law would prohibit “uninvited harassing speech or actions targeted toward individuals in public spaces on the basis of sex or sexual orientation when done with the intent to intimidate.” Violation of the law could be a tort, meaning a woman could sue her harasser; an infraction, like a ticket with a fine; or even a misdemeanor. Even if rarely enforced, the symbolism of a law weighing in on the side of equality would have powerful effects.
Well maybe this idea seems like a good idea on the surface, but there could be racial implications to this law. Just looking at the fact that the street harassment edited out the white guys who catcalled is the first problem and a signal of potential things to come if this were made into a law. And a woman might find one man’s words more threatening than another man’s. What determines this might not just be what words were said, but how the man was dressed, his race, the neighborhood, what type of day it was, etc., etc. We can pretend that these factors wouldn’t come into play, that all harassment from any man would be seen as harassment, but that might not be the case.
While something needs to be done about street harassment, trying to police it might not be the best way to go. What do you think?