Black Women x The Streets x Harassment

This “Black men walking on the outside of Black women on
the street” business touched a cord here on my blog, and
opened up a really interesting discussion on race, gender
roles, Black men and women, and patriarchy. I plan on doing
a some follow up posts to address some of the issues that
came up. This post is one of them.

The issue that I want to address is how a woman’s ability
TO BE IN THE STREET is connected to her ability to participate
in public life, in Democracy.

Tonight I reread Cynthia Grant Bowman’s paper, “Street
Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women”
which was published in the Harvard Law Review. I am going
to provide some quotes from the paper then offer some
comments.

Street Harassment and Liberty for Women

The liberty of women, in this most fundamental sense of freedom from restraint, is substantially limited by street harassment, which reduces their physical and geographical mobility and often prevents them from appearing alone in public places. In this sense, street harassment accomplishes an informal ghettoization of women — a ghettoization to the private sphere of hearth and home.

If we can’t be on the street, we can’t feel comfortable in public, if we can’t feel comfortbable in public how will we participate in a democracy?

Working Definition of Street Harassment

Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women . . . in a public place which is not the woman’s/women’s worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures the man asserts his right to intrude on the woman’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.

So, if I am on the street, and you are saying something to me, you are trying to FORCE me to interact with you. Patriarchy says that men, by virtue of simply being born biologically men have the right to dominate over women and children, in the home and the street. This street shit is patriarchy in action.

The Purpose of Harassment: “Know your place, Celie.”

The first function of public harassment is to reinforce spatial boundaries that drastically limit women’s “sphere.” It clearly stakes out public space as male space. Women who want to be outside their homes must do so at their own risk and with the full knowledge that at any time they can be publicly humiliated or “complimented.” Women are at all times subject to public scrutiny.

The purpose of men saying shit is to let me know that I am always on display and subjected to something popping off? Shit is tiring. It must be how Black men feel in terms of dealing with the police.

I Guess I am Suppose to “Play My Position”

Unlike men, women passing through public areas are subject to “markers of passage” that imply either that women are acting out of role simply by their presence in public or that a part of their role is in fact to be open to the public. These “markers” emphasize that women, unlike men, belong in the private sphere, the sphere of domestic rather than public responsibility. Ironically, men convey this message by intruding upon a woman’s privacy as she enters the public sphere.

I never tripped off of me not being allowed in the street as being connected to me needing to remain at home, as it is my “proper” place. But this makes sense.

Freedom, The Streets and Autonomy

Central to the freedom to be at ease in public spaces is the capacity to pass through them while retaining a certain zone of privacy and autonomy — a zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent. If, by contrast, women are subject to violation of that zone of personal privacy when they enter public areas, that very invasion of privacy effectively drives women back into the private sphere, where they may avoid such violations. Thus, by turning women into objects of public attention when they are in public, harassers drive home the message that women belong only in the world of the private.

“… zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent.”

Its bugged how I immediately notice how men treat me on the street when I am walking with another man. I also use to notice how they treated me substantially different when I was on the street a White man. And lets not start with being on the street with a woman.

Street Harassment and the Rape Test

Furthermore, rapists often harass women on the street and violate their personal space in order to determine which women are likely to be easy targets — a practice called “rape-testing.” Because potential rapists frequently select their victims by looking for women who appear vulnerable to assault, they may approach a potential victim and “test” her by a variety of means, including making lewd or insinuating remarks, to see if she can be intimidated. If the target reacts in a passive fashion to the harassment, the rapist may assume that she will probably not fight back, and he is more likely to rape her. Thus, the connection between rape and harassment is not just in the mind of the woman.

This rape test + harassment connection is real. Who knew that the ways in which we responded to a comment sent a signal to would be rapist?

From Friendly to Hostile to Bitch in 10 Seconds

Hey, why so serious, honey? Give us a little smile.” My sense of humor, he didn’t know, was temporarily out of service, so of course I didn’t give him a little smile. But in not smiling, I had again violated the code, provoking another seizure of silent suffering that became verbal. As I passed the sleeve on the street, it hissed a word at me, with the edge of anger to it, with a sharp rebuke in it: “Bitch.

This account describes a common pattern, in which the target’s failure to response results in escalation and a superficially friendly interaction is transformed into one that is transparently hostile.

I realized that one of the reasons why I was so insistent about my gentlemen friend’s insistence at walking on the outside is that I am already subjected to hella patriarchal social relations, in the streets, with men that I don’t know. My tolerance for taking that shit off of someone that I choose to be around was reasonable.

In some ways, I realize that I saw what he was doing as a further extension of what I have to navigate all the time. Because I be in the streets and I believe that women and men have a right to do so autonomously.

Am I saying that his wanting to walk on the outside is the same as street harassment? Of course not. Am I saying that both are patriarchal in that they are rooted in the idea that men, by virtue of being biological males have the right to protect and dominate women? Yes.

I think one of my favorite lines from this paper is: Central to the freedom to be at ease in public spaces is the capacity to pass through them while retaining a certain zone of privacy and autonomy — a zone of interpersonal distance that is crossed only by mutual consent.

Do you feel autonomous on the street? Why or why not?

Do women have the right to be autonomous on the street?

Why is it so much of a challenge for some Black men and women to accept that the way in which women are treated in the street has implications for all of us?

Racial Sexism?

Any thoughts on Street Harassment?

“Your Man is Lucky”

On the train tonight, I doubled backed to go and look for an earring that I lost.

If you know me, you know my earring game is serious.

I like them. They are little artistic pieces that I can wear everyday.

So. I was on a mission.
I’m exciting the train station and a man, who was cute in a rough around the edges,? chocolate Taye Diggs kinda way says:

Taye Diggs Cousin: Your man is really lucky.

Me: I chuckled to myself and kept walking. (He has no idea I have been immersed in gender and sexual relations in Early Philadelphia this afternoon. So my mind is brimming with ideas about sexuality and race.)

We are now at the turnstile, and he is ahead of me, so he has my attention. I am trying to get out to look for my earring.

Taye😕 Why you laughing?

I hesitate, and wonder if this is a moment to push back on presumptive patriarchy. In Oakland, being snarky with a man on the street while dressed provocatively IS reason (or not) , in some men’s eyes to slap a woman in the face.? But I decided to push him a bit.

Me: Oh, I find it funny that you presume it was a man.

He stopped and thought about it.

Taye: (He didn’t flinch nor blink) Either way. It could be a woman. I mean, she lucky too.

Me: (Smiling)? I could be crazy. Crazy out my skull. You don’t know me.

Taye: (Looked me dead in my face) It would be worth it, and then shuddered like he just swallowed an uncoated aspirin that gave him goosebumps.

I walk out the station. He stays behind, as his card had issues. I’m walking away and he requests to ask me one more question. I turn around and listen.

Taye: So do you?

Me: Yes, my hands are full.

Taye: You are…… Wow?!?!!?! (Looking @ me like imma? deluxe chicken snack,#desire).

Me: (I looked him dead in the grill and said) Everything that we have are gifts. None of this is “me.”

Taye: It’s not wait you have, its what you do with it.

He was right.

Me: Yessir. And? pivoted and walked away.

Ain’t that something. Here I am making assumptions about him, and he rolled right with it. #ummhmmm. Go head Black men, which ‘cho no flinching selves.

Have you addressed patriarchy with men or women in public or private lately?

If yes, how did? it go?

If you chose not to, what stopped you?

Dating Sans Patriarchy: A Black Man is not His Paycheck

In the comment section of my Musing on Harry Allen post, two Black men stated that they agreed with my date, that he should? be able to walk on the outside, etc.

This kind of thinking goes to the heart of patriarchal ideals which basically says that “because I have a vagina” I should be treated a certain way, which is problematic. Full stop.

As Black people, We don’t want to be patronized or treated a certain way (protected like children, dominated like women) by White folks because we have Black/Brown skin, right?

The same rationale applies here. Just because my body looks a certain way does not mean that I should be deemed “protection” or “domination” worthy.

There is a thin line between protecting someone and dominating them. Word to popo.

Patriarchy (institutionalized sexism) turns on the fact that the features of your body determine how you are treated. When in reality the fact that you are a human should. Full Stop.

Speaking of patriarchy, it is Black feminism that has helped me to articulate that a Black man is NOT his pay check.

Meaning that in our society, dominant manhood is rooted in this get a job, bring home the bacon narrative. You and I both know that employment has been and continues to be trife for Black men in this country. You remember that article in the NY Times last December about how Ivy league educated Black men are scrubbing the negroness from their resumes, because they can’t get jobs. #ummhmm.

I long for the day when Black male Humanity isn’t rooted in this White, get a job and a paycheck notions of BEING.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need to work to surivie, eat, live and support our families.? I am talking about tying a person’s sense of SELF into their paycheck here.

Both my daddy and my brother were human beings and men whether they were hustling, working, unemployed, barely getting by or getting major dough.? Full stop.

This is one of the reasons why I remained committed to writing about the troubling aspects of Beyonce’s cannon of work. As many of you remembered I was very clear about “Why is a lightskinned, middle class, Black girl from the Dallas suburbs continually singing about needing a soldier or a baller?”

In many ways,? I saw that she normalizes these transactional,? a man is only worth his paycheck ideals, which is really a problem for? Black folks and our families.

bell hooks offers a great analysis of Black masculinity and patriarchy when she writes, in We Real Cool,

Patriarchal socialization says your responsible if you get a job, bring your wages home, and provide for your families material well being. Yet poverty and lack of opportunities have prevented many males from being responsible in the patriarchal sense of the term. Many Black males accept this definition of responsible manhood and spend their lives feeling like failures, feeling as though their self esteem is assaulted and assailed on all sides because they can’t acquire the means to fulfill this role.

So yeah. You can walk on the outside. But unless you superman, that shit is absurd to me. Now if we in the deep east Oakland/Brownsville/Richmond/St.Louis/NorthPhilly, and you holding something..then yeah..I can see THAT kind of protection.#ummhmm. #praticalbearAintStupid.

You still believe that you should be standing on the outside?

If yes, what investment do you have in holding onto this idea?

Can your body mitigate the impact of? two ton car?

Musing on Harry Allen, Black Nationalism and Black Feminism


Barkley L. Hendricks Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins)

Yesterday,? I had a conversation on Twitter with @harryallen,
about Black nationalism and Black and White feminism,

It all started when I tweeted:

If White feminist examined the ways in which they were dominated by white men more closely, they would have more solidarity w/ Black feminist.

Harry responded saying:

Not a chance. Black feminists underestimate the strength of the relationships between white people, and, thus, overestimate……the value of what white females get from Black females. They do derive benefits, but compared to what they get from white…

He still disagreed with me and contended that: The definition makes clear what I said: You can’t prove “feminisim” exists from it. All the things it seeks to do are undone.

Apparently, Harry’s understanding of a social movement means that a social movement ONLY exists to the extent that it accomplished what it set out to do. Which is an interesting read of both social movements and history as they tend to not be this linear at all. Peep the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution, Womens Suffrage in the US, US slavery abolition, the American Revolution, etc.

I then responded by giving Harry the link to my post “Black Feminism Crib Sheet{101}.”

I didn’t share this with him yesterday, but as I thought it I realized that? my thinking around Black men, White women and Black feminism is rooted in the Combahee Collective, whose statement says:

Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and I970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives Were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.

Earlier yesterday, I asked him if he thought he needed to prove that the Black Nationalist movement existed. He said no, because it doesn’t come out of white supremacy.

So Feminism comes out of white supremacy and it doesn’t exist because it didn’t set out to accomplish its goal?

This is absurd, as it leads to the logical conclusion that the work of Soujourner Truth, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells, Ann Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terell, Paula Giddings, Darlene Clark Hine, Barbara Christian, Beverly Guy Sheftall, Marian Wright Edelman, Hortense Spillers and thousands of others was and is rooted in white supremacy.

The work of all these Black women is rooted in the Liberation of Black women, men and children.

Full stop.

Which leads me to the questions:

What is Black Nationalism?

Has it accomplished it’s goals? And if it hasn’t is it still a movement?

Harry and I have had conversations before about gender and race.

The last one stemmed from me tweeting that “Race is no longer useful as the primary category for organizing.”

We disagreed on that as well.

I understand that I can center women, food/social justice or gender as a unit of analysis because I am being trained to. I see engaging with him and writing blog posts like this as an opportunity to share what I have learned.

According to bell hooks patriarchy is? another way of saying institutionalized sexism.

I wonder if patriarchy prevents Black Nationalists from centering? not only race, but gender and capitalism as a unit of analysis.

I was reminded of the ways in which patriarchy be ALL UP THROUGH my life. A couple of weeks ago gentleman friend, insisted on walking on the outside near the curb. I understand. It’s his Brooklyn steez. But that shit was absurd to me, so I called it patriarchal. His response to it was that I was calling HIM patriarchal, and felt like I, like many Black feminists was alienating an ally. For him patriarchy became a four letter word. OUCH.

I asked him what he sought to accomplish by walking on the outside? That if a car jumped the curb, his body was going to stop ME from being pummeled as well? He answered yes. But I knew he couldn’t be invested in that answer. He is way to brilliant and loving for that.

Love listen, it was hard to stand up to me to stand up to him. Here I am decked out, we are eating cheese eggs,? and he reaching over kissing my hand, IN THE RESTAURANT.#ummp.

Who wants to challenge the person who drops that kind of attention on them? But I did, and we had beef.? *Big beef.

I Love Black men.

However, my Love for them does not include consent to be dominated by them sexually, spiritually, verbally, violently or any other way.

This means that statements such as “feminism” doesn’t exist because it did not do what it seeked to do must be dealt with head up. A literal binary read of social movement histories erases the work of all the women and men who allow me to have the life that I have today.

But for them, I would be picking cotton, rather than writing blog posts, or telling people that they have the right to be who they are.? Nor would I be challenging awesome Black men (and women) on how Patriarchy ain’t they friend.

*Beef was cleared up, but daggumit if that wasn’t hard.

Black feminism null and void?

What do you do when patriarchy shows up on dates?

Did you find this post useful, if so how?

If you are interested in learning more about Black women, White women and Feminism, Social Movements:

All the Blacks Were Men, All the Women Where White, But Some of Us Were Brave
Still Brave
Rules for Radicals
When and Where I Enter
Ain’t I a Woman
Local Black Freedom Movements in America
Sisters in Struggle, African American Women in the Civil Rights Black Power Movement
Want to Start a Revolution: Radical Black women in the Freedom Struggle

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