No, Doree Lewak. Just No.

20 Aug

I.

It was about 2:30 in the morning on a Wednesday and I was covering a shift at my local bar.  My customer’s glasses were all filled so I decided to take a quick walk across the street to read the handwritten sign left on the front door of my (now-shuttered) favorite coffee shop.  I walked down the ramp, eyes glued on my destination, when it happened.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about my shorts, my boots, my legs, my hair, my body, my face, my value.  I looked over and saw the driver of a garbage truck looking at me with a foul little sneer on his face.  Before I even had time to think the expletives started exploding from my mouth.  I was in the middle of the avenue in the middle of the night, arm outstretched, finger pointing, telling him whatever the hell it was that traveled quickest from my brain to my vocal chords and out of my mouth.  I can’t imagine it is much worth repeating.  I took out my phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and went back to work.

II.

My friend and I decided to go for a walk.  As we made our way down 5th Avenue we were forced onto the street by some sidewalk construction.  While walking past an especially freaky-looking piece of heavy machinery we heard it from just above our heads.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about our shorts, our boots, our legs, our hair, our bodies, our faces, our value.  As we walked past the cab of the truck, another wave of bullshit washed over us.  My friend took out her phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and we went back to our walk.

III.

I went on the internet yesterday and came across this article, written by Doree Lewak of the New York Post titled “Hey ladies – catcalls are flattering! Deal with it!”  I would like to just say two things here before we get going.  (1) I am not a reader of The Post, I just clicked on the link this one time because I am a sucker and (2) the Wikipedia page about Doree Lewak that I linked describes her as a humorist, something I wholeheartedly disagree with.  Now, let us carry on.

In Lewak’s article, she talks about what summer means to her:

“…heat, hemlines and hard hats.  It’s the time of year when I can parade around in a skimpy dress with strategic cutouts that would make my mom wince.”

But Lewak doesn’t just dress this way for herself, no ma’am.  She looks forward to the opportunity to

“brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and ‘Hey, mama!’ catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!”

Do you want to experience that feeling of validation?  Well, just follow Lewak’s advice.

“Walking confidently past a mass of men, making eye contact and flashing a smile shows you as you are: self-possessed and playful. The wolf whistles that follow will send your ego soaring.”

And how!  Maybe buried underneath all the rage and disempowerment I felt at being objectified by complete strangers in the middle of the night, and in the middle of the afternoon, was my rising confidence.  Oh wait, no, on second thought I am pretty sure it was actually just fear.  Fear that responding to these men might send them over the edge or that not responding to them might cause them to hurl their own version of hateful vitriol in my direction.  There is no blueprint for how this goes.  Each circumstance is different.  And, sad as this is to say, I almost consider myself a professional at handling street harassment.  I think I could practically put it on my resume.  I assess my environment — are there people around, is it light out, are there easy exits, is there a business I can walk into, do I know the neighborhood — before I decide whether or not to respond.  If it seems unsafe, I scowl and walk on.  But if I am about 90% certain everything will be okay, I take the risk and speak my mind or I whip out my phone and take a photograph.  Ms. Lewak is correct when she says that “feminism is” (at least in part) “about self-empowerment,” but I think she needs to do a little bit of reading and figure out what the word “empowerment” actually means before she starts throwing it around and aligning herself with the feminist movement.  There is nothing empowering about being yelled at from the cab of a garbage truck or a piece of heavy machinery or anything else for that matter.

Oh, and about that.  Belle Knox?  Really?  Belle Knox is an incredible young woman and I have the utmost respect for her.  I think she is having a huge impact on the way we see, and talk about, pornography and the sex industry at large and that is incredibly important and long fucking overdue.  But there is a serious difference between a woman on a street and a woman in a professional working environment.  Belle Knox is, when adult films work the way they are supposed to, in control of her environment.  There are safety protocols.  She knows what is going to happen and, perhaps most importantly for this particular argument, she is consenting to the activities she is engaging in and if she becomes uncomfortable, she can say stop.  And that matters.  When I, any of my friends, and yes, Miriam Weeks (AKA Belle Knox), walk down the street and we get hollered at, we are not consenting to that.  If we become uncomfortable, we cannot necessarily make it stop.  We are not safe.  We have to assess our environments to make sure that our response to harassment does not put us in a physically dangerous situation.

I am sorry that Ms. Lewak thinks all the rest of us somehow got it wrong.  That what many of us see as hurtful, demeaning, frightening and dehumanizing is actually something we should embrace and, yes, even court.  You know what?  Fine.  Doree Lewak is welcome to go about her life, finding her worth in the “primal” utterances of strangers on the streets.  But perhaps she shouldn’t tell the rest of us how to feel.  Or maybe she should read the comments on her own article.  Maybe she should read Diana’s comment:

“But telling other women to “get over it” and respond to catcalls (i.e. street harassment) like you do is deeply inappropriate. For some women—particularly women of colour and women living in poor neighbourhoods, who are at a higher risk of catcalls turning into actual physical violence—street harassment is an issue of safety, not preference. There are tons of blogs by WoC documenting this exact phenomenon. I can’t imagine that they appreciate you giving permission on their behalf to the catcallers who make their streets unsafe.”

Or Astoria Grey’s,

“That’s really great that you have had such a positive experience and enjoy the street harassment you receive. Maybe it has something to do with being 20 years old when you received your first ‘cat call.’ You were probably in a much better space for receiving attention about your body than I was when it started happening to me. Growing up in NYC, my street harassment began at a much younger age. Men telling me to look at them with my beautiful eyes, or to smile more, or commenting on the length of my shorts. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable and not in control of my own body. I still cringe at how these remarks made me feel and can still make me feel nearly 15 years after they began.”

Or Nicole Leigh’s,

“I was 11. My friend and I used to walk by the highway the boarded our neighborhood and we’d count how many men would scream at us from their cars on our walk to meet each other. And we BOTH looked 11. None of us developed early or anything. “

Maybe then she will realize that what she sees as empowering is actually dangerous and damaging for the majority of us.  So, Doree, next time you go for a run and some guy starts running “with” you for 5 blocks because he thinks you’re hot, let me know how empowered, flattered and safe you feel.  Because that happens and it is scary as fuck.

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