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Street Harassment Isn't 'Deplorable' Behaviour, and It Isn't the Fault of Everyday Sexism Project

11/04/2014 11:50 BST | Updated 10/06/2014 10:59 BST

Apparently, "(t)he Everyday Sexism campaign risks making all sexual advances 'misogynist'". At least, this is what David Foster recently claimed in the Guardian. Women are over-reacting about random men speaking to them in the street to the point where no one will be able to have sex ever again. And, this is the fault of The Everyday Sexism Project for having the temerity to record the thousands of micro-aggressions women experience daily in public. This is without even getting into the constant threat of sexual violence. This is classic victim-blaming: holding women responsible for being the victims of street harassment and other forms of sexual violence.

Here's the thing: even if Everyday Sexism were just cataloguing instances of random men saying hello to women in the street, men still aren't entitled to a hello back. No one is entitled to an interaction with another person, even about 'happy' things like cute bunnies and sunny days. It doesn't matter how much you might want to have a chat with someone, you don't have the right to insist on it. This goes equally for celebrities buying tampons in Boots as it does for any woman standing at a bus stop. Insisting that women reply to any approach, however polite, is an example of male entitlement and it's not an attractive quality in men.

But, The Everyday Sexism Project isn't archiving examples of men saying hello to random women. They are collecting and sharing women's stories of street harassment and low-level forms of sexual assault and violence.

Foster seems to have misunderstood the difference between asking a woman on a date and sexual harassment. Shouting 'slut' out a car window isn't asking a woman for a date; nor is walking up to a woman and asking her to "suck my cock" the equivalent to saying hi to a woman you find attractive. These aren't examples of "deplorable" behaviour either. Deplorable behaviour is someone picking their nose in public: not sexual harassment. Foster's disingenuous conflation of street harassment with flirting is extremely dangerous because it erases the reality of women's (and girls') experiences of sexual harassment and violence.

It ignores a recent EU study, which found that 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence up to and including rape. It also ignores a UN study from 2002, which estimated that 150 million girls under the age of 18 have experienced sexual violence. It ignores the abusive comments women get daily. And, it ignores the reality of violence because men who feel entitled to engage a woman in conversation frequently have no problem in assaulting that woman if she deigns to ignore him.

Instead of acknowledging this reality, Foster blames the Everyday Sexism Project for talking publicly about rape culture. Foster refers to "misguided" behaviour of "some unreconstructed" individuals, as if shouting abuse to a teenage girl was the equivalent of taking the last sweet from a box without checking if anyone else wanted it first. The Everyday Sexism Project does not

lump- together sexual assaults and genuinely threatening behaviour with casual propositions

It catalogues abuse and harassment: things that are a crime in the UK for a reason.

And, let's be honest here: has a man ever walked up to a strange woman and said "fuck me" without it being creepy? Would a woman really feel safe having a sexual relationship with a man who walked up to them on the street and "casually propositioned" them? I would suggest no and it doesn't matter if that particular man is actually a nice guy. The reality is that most women have experienced street harassment and many of us have experienced sexual violence. We have to start from the point that the man isn't nice to protect ourselves from predators.

The old adage that men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will rape them is true and the Everyday Sexism project submissions demonstrate this. When a man starts chatting to me in the street, my first instinct is to ensure I can get away safely. This is because of repeated experiences of street harassment and men who have become violent in response to my refusal to engage with them.

Foster is wrong when he says:

(w)e can all agree that aggressive, lewd behaviour is deplorable. But what lies behind some of the crude and boorish conduct catalogued by the Everyday Sexism project is repressed sexuality.

It is not deplorable behaviour. It is abuse. And, it has nothing to do with "repressed sexuality" which makes men believe they have the right to abuse women in public. It's rape culture.

Foster asks, "whatever happened to the sexual revolution". The answer is simple: it never happened. Men continue to rape women. Men choose to confuse street harassment, which is a crime, with asking someone on a date.

Men's right to proposition random women in the street is not more important than women's rights to walk to the corner shop to buy bread and be left alone.

In a way, Foster is right that street harassment is responsible for men not "getting" (if you buy into this deeply misogynistic language) sex. He's just confused as to who is responsible for this: it's men.