Street harassment is an unfortunate, common occurrence everywhere in our country. A woman could walk down the street wearing a bikini, full winter attire or something in between and still be vulnerable to unpredictable harassment. Although I generally feel safe in Geneseo, its inhabitants are not exempt from misogynistic and threatening behavior. I believe talking about Geneseo’s street harassment problem can help motivate us to fight back and to protect our peers. Street harassment is somewhat normalized in our society, especially by those who may not experience it. While growing up on Long Island and frequenting New York City, I can attest that a common response to street harassment is reduced to a “that’s New York for you” attitude. But because this harassment occurs in any place—not just crowded, busy cities—that kind of attitude cannot be forced upon all those who experience it.
I have experienced Geneseo street harassment in multiple forms—shouts from cars full of college students, whistles from townies in pick-up trucks and catcalls from fraternity members walking home from parties. What all these forms of harassment have in common is both pessimistic and disheartening—that there isn’t any concrete way they can be avoided or properly apprehended. Whether or not the harassment occurs is unfortunately the responsibility of the individual initiating it—and responding to such behavior can put women in danger.
Instead of wallowing in this inevitability and ignoring or sweeping this issue under the rug, we should openly talk about it.
Starting a dialogue with others who may not experience street harassment opens up opportunities to make allied connections and safer spaces within the college community. Women are not the only people who endure these toxic behaviors, and by discussing these issues with other students we can create a strong moral bond. This moral bond could motivate students to call-out or chastise their peers if they harass others—whether the harassment is intentional or not.
Being an active ally to others—especially if you have social and institutional privilege—is crucial when addressing these issues. A college student who catcalls a woman on the street most likely will not listen to her if she responds or protests, but he might listen to his friends who call him out for his rude behavior.
Small college towns often feel like societal bubbles in which we maintain our own safe, little havens from the outside world. This bubble is often burst for those who experience street harassment, racism and other forms of ignorance in Geneseo. Pretending these issues do not exist does nothing to help address them, whereas openly acknowledging them breaks the ice and starts important conversations.