Feminist blogs such as Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment, have encouraged people to take action when they see street harassment, or as we know it by a more innocent moniker, “catcalling.”
More specifically, men have been asked to stand up for women, with the idea that they would have more credibility with other men, and thus, a greater capacity to shame creeps.
Three days ago, 18 year-old Anthony Sacco, did what so many feminists have advocated, as he walked down a quiet street in Upstate New York.
He was leaving a house party at 11:30 p.m., as were a group of young women and three men. The three men started talking to the women walking in front of them.
The men started asking questions such as, “Do you have boyfriends?” and “Girls, where are you going?”
One of the women told Anthony that the three men were creeping them out.
Anthony approached the men and offered a handshake, but they weren’t interested in talking. He told the men they should “just keep walking.”
By one witness' account, the three college students spit on and beat Sacco before leaving him in a parking lot. His face was bleeding profusely when cops arrived.
People should try to stop street harassment whenever possible, but only when they feel safe enough to do so. And we shouldn’t encourage men to prevent harassment or violence against women by relying on the very same gender assumptions that allow some men to feel entitled to comment on and touch strangers’ bodies.
Instead of implying that men who don’t intervene are cowardly or complicit, we should call the men who do intervene “brave.”
On sites like Stop Street Harassment, women talk about feeling afraid to walk to the bar alone or leave the bar alone. We talk about how we feel intimidated when a stranger makes passing comments. Sometimes the feeling of not owning an equal share of the public space, often the public sidewalk, makes us forget that men also fear other men.
But when some feminists ask men to intervene first, unconditionally, I don’t think there is always an understanding of what is being asked. Even on a busy corner, in the middle of the day, you risk pulling the grenade off of some stranger’s temper, whose capacity for intimidation and violence you can’t be sure of.
There are techniques men can use to reduce the risk of an altercation. Offer your presence by walking near the woman being harassed or ask her if everything is okay to let the man/men know you are there and aware of what is happening but avoid speaking to them directly. Unfortunately, none of this is helpful if you feel too threatened or vulnerable to intervene, in which case calling the police may be the best option.
I think Anthony Sacco should be extremely proud of what he did. I hope he is sent so many flowers and gifts that he doesn’t have enough room for them all. But I also cringe when I think of the violence he suffered. If he hadn’t intervened, I know I couldn’t blame him.