I’m a long-time subscriber to the Christian publication Relevant magazine, and got my first start in the world of internet interaction as a commenter on their message boards back in high school. I receive their email newsletter, and when it popped up in my inbox this afternoon, I clicked through to read a piece on modesty that was billed with the following: “Ed Gungor says the key to modesty lies in our hearts—not necessarily our dress.” I was immediately relieved, thinking this would not be yet another piece telling women it’s our job to hide our shameful bodies to keep men from “lusting.”
As I read the beginning of the piece, I was even more relieved, as the writer described a time he had been upset by what he thought was immodesty on the part of some teenage girls, only to later realize the real problem was with him and his own history and issues, causing him to perceive their dress as immodest and use it as an excuse for his own sinful thoughts.
However, later, the piece took a turn for the worse as the author suggested that there is something about people’s souls that causes them to be “hit on,” in public– “hit on” being a nice phrase for street harassment, the kind of thing I’ve written about, and something I actually experience fairly regularly. The author writes:
I have spoken to many men and women who told me they were frequently “hit on” as they traveled and went out into public. Though some of them were exceptionally nice-looking and fashionably dressed, many were not. On the other hand, I have spoken to both men and women who were attractive by anyone’s standard—even some who dressed more revealingly than I was comfortable with—but they were seldom “hit on” or ogled by others. Why? What was the difference? It wasn’t their clothing; it was their souls. It has just as much (or more) to do with the person they wanted to present and their own struggles with lust as with what they wore.
Ah! So it’s my SOUL that causes men to scream at me from their trucks as they drive past me while I walk down the sidewalk on my way to the bus stop. Clearly, my soul cries out, “Please! Call me sugar tits!”
I could make a whole defense, posting pictures of myself in my usual summer clothes, which tend to be jersey dresses from J.Crew and skirts paired with form fitting crewneck tees. But the thing is, with so many experiences of street harassment, or “being hit on,” I’ve come to realize something: when I am harassed on the street, it has nothing to do with me. It’s not about what I’m wearing. It’s not about my soul. It’s about the men doing the yelling, and their desire to intimidate me, to make themselves feel like big burly men, to prove their own patriarchal power to themselves.
And the only thing that is going to stop this behavior from street harassers is for us to call it what it is. It’s harassment. It’s inappropriate. It’s designed for intimidation. And it’s not about me, or what I’m wearing, or my “soul” which may or may not be visible from a pickup truck going 35 miles per hour down Calhoun Street, anyway. It’s about despicable people who get off on intimidating and humiliating women who dare to be female and in public. Articles like this one posted on Relevant may be well-intentioned, but ultimately they give harassers excuses– this time, instead of “she was asking for it in that skirt,” it’s “but you should have seen her SOUL!”