"The fact that I instantaneously felt threatened because a dude on Bloor in Toronto couldn’t get over his pride signals the sad state of our public domains and how they relate to gender and sexuality."

Walking the Streets: Space, Masculinity and Street Harassment

“Come on guys, really?!” He shouted at us as we walked by. He was mad that we didn’t want to stop and listen to his headphones. It was a Tuesday, close to midnight, on Bloor street near Christie Pits.

My friend and I just looked at each other and kept walking as this dude screamed, indignant that we wouldn’t physically stop and listen to his earphones. We grinned and laughed a bit. Then, when I realized that he was still yelling at us when we were almost a block away, I thought, “Shit, I hope he doesn’t have a gun.”

Afterward, my friend and I began discussing why situations such as this are even possible. It has been my experience that gender and sex are understood and constructed in public spaces to reduce any visibility of women and queer folks, while maintaining a visibility of men and the show of masculinity.

Many males roam the streets at any time of day or night feeling a sense of entitlement to that space and the bodies within it. If a woman were to act in this same way, she’d be “setting herself up for harassment,” because her body, as female, is not entitled to such space or such ownership – and to make it appear as entitled (or appear at all) is to expect backlash. The same goes for “readably” queer folks, who would meet a similar fate of harassment and perhaps even assault. Queer folks are highly invisibilized in public space, save for certain areas of the city where they have both created their own community and have been siphoned off by a culture of heteronormativity.

I am reminded of the actual physical constructions of male and female bodies. Males are sold the ideal of mass muscles, lots of gym time, protein shakes and powders in order to achieve maximum physical muscle mass and fitness. Women are sold yoga to slim down, diets to shed unwanted fat and are generally discouraged from mass muscle building and therefore physically taking up space with their bodies, or having any physical strength to perhaps fight, fight back or defend.

The fact that I instantaneously felt threatened because a dude on Bloor in Toronto couldn’t get over his pride, or his entitlement toward me and my female friend, signals the sad state of our public domains and how they relate to gender and sexuality. Street harassment is something I have faced my entire life and, as both a woman and a queer woman, have had a complicated relationship with. I have enrolled in self-defense classes, carried pocket knives and pepper spray with me, trained to competitively box and avoided areas of the city and times of night all together to “reduce” my “risk” of experiencing street harassment. But of course, this risk reduction is merely an imaginative trope that believes in an ideal world, in which women and queer folks are not harassed, followed home or assault in public spaces.

How do we remedy this, friends? I’m not sure yet. Perhaps constructing spaces wherein we are safe, and safe to explore the world and ourselves are important places of departure for our journey in creating a world free of street harassment. Questioning why our reality is what it is, and where it is what it is, is a pretty damn good place to start.

3 Comments

  1. getoveryourself
    June 28, 2013

    “Shit, I hope he doesn’t have a gun.”
    Why on earth, on Bloor Street near Christie Pits, would that thought even enter your head?? That is a completely unreasonable and ultimately paranoid reaction to a situation that simply has someone raising their voice in frustration after failed engagement… that has happened for centuries, all over the world, and NOT ended in gunplay or any other type of assault… sometimes it has, as has cycling ended in death, but it NOT a deadly activity … I think you need to revisit and rethink this one. It scares me the level of first world self  entitlement, unfriendliness and lack of empathy that goes on this city… SO many people from out of town (NYC, EU, Latin America) have labelled this as the coldest city they’ve EVER visited, and this is an example of the source of this… sorry, I’m not buying your victim story in this situation. 
    And NOT ALL men are insensitive muscle bound, testosterone douche bags… maybe this stereotype of all men is the source of your paranoia? Just saying…

    Just a Guy

  2. mb26
    August 6, 2013

    The dismissive nature of the the comment by “Just a Guy” shows that HE
    doesn’t have any idea of what it’s actually like to walk on a street (at
    any time of day) as a woman. He dismisses the author’s feelings as
    “paranoid” (pointing to and perpetuating the cliche of the “hysterical”
    woman, diminishing the power of her voice by labeling her thoughts as
    “crazy”). I’ll answer his question: “Why on earth on Bloor near Christie
    Pits would that thought even enter your head??” well, because as women
    we are conditioned to see ourselves as potential victims, expect the
    worst and protect ourselves in these kinds of situations (hence the
    author carrying pepper spray and taking self-defense classes). That’s
    why – which is exactly part of what her article is getting at. 
    If it was me, I
    probably would have thought the same thing, or something like “I hope he
    doesn’t follow us” or “I hope he doesn’t have a knife” or any other
    version of that, which would have made me walk away a little faster.

  3. PrimaFeminista
    August 7, 2013

    mb26 … not to mention the Christie Pitts rapist… that was ONLY like last year. thanks for your support and words mb26

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