Holly Kearl wrote her Master’s thesis on street harassment. Its title is Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Spaces Safe and Welcoming for Women. In this work, she points out that street harassment disrupts the ability of a woman to be safe in public spaces. The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Brittany Shoot, an American writer living in Denmark.
In answer to a question about the lack of a definition for street harassment, Kearl replied that it is difficult to talk about the problem and how to end it, precisely because there is no solid definition for such harassment. Kearl said that one of the first steps is to decide on a definition, so that things such as research, policy making, laws and education can follow.
Shoot asked about what are some of the messages that are ignored in the mainstream media about street harassment. Kearl replied that the media does not realize that street harassment has an impact on women of all ages, races, classes and orientations. She went on to say, “The mainstream media rarely places street harassment in a context of gender violence to show its seriousness or the pervasiveness of gender violence in every aspect of society.”
Kearl said that street harassment is often considered to be funny or meaningless. She pointed out that there are women who are fearful of leaving their home alone, and that that is not funny.
Shoot asked a question concerning legal remedies for this harassment, citing First Amendment concerns and the fact that looking at other people should not be considered a crime. Kearl responded that it wouldn’t be easy to create a law against street harassment, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. She said there are laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, and so that could be a starting point.
A question was asked about how to teach girls to be safe without instilling fear in them, and how to teach boys not to harass women. Kearl said that it is important to teach girls how to empower themselves so they can lead less fearful lives. She believes it is essential to teach boys to be kind and respectful.