Street harassment—sexual harassment of women in public—has gained notoriety in Western media since the start of the Arab spring. Most recently, a harrowing first-person narrative of a mob sexual assault of a Western woman on Cairo streets had an editor from The Atlantic conclude that he would do anything to stop his daughters from going to Egypt and being exposed to that kind of abuse.
Unfortunately, research suggests that if you want to prevent your daughters from experiencing street harassment, you would need to keep them off the streets pretty much anywhere. The vast majority of women from Indianapolis to Beijing have experienced street harassment at some point, including leering, whistling, and sexual grabbing or touching.
And though most street harassment definitely is less physically aggressive than the story from Egypt, it is anything but benign. Enough scholars have examined the socio-political context and psycho-social consequences of street harassment to conclude that men harassing women in public is a symptom of the sentiment it perpetuates: women as inferior objects of prey.
I know what I am talking about, as does just about every women and post-pubescent girl. The worst case of street harassment I have suffered made me throw up and had me tank a job interview. Even now, 18 years after, I remember the smell of the guy who slid up behind me on a Paris metro escalator to hold me still while he whispered into my ear just what he was planning on doing to me. I froze, somehow unable to move. When the interminable escalator-ride was over, the guy was gone and I was retching. I did keep my interview afterwards, but lost the job.
But even the other, less horrible, cases of harassment took their toll. There was the adolescent boy who purposefully ran into me on a street in downtown Guatemala City some time in early 1997 and grabbed my crotch, hard, for precisely 3 seconds (I counted). Or the grown man who did the same on the F-train in New York City this very year. Both had me shaking and slightly disoriented for hours.
I could go on.