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MATTER OF FACT.

Byline: ALICIA MELVILLE-SMITH

THERE were plenty of people - men and women - who were quick to tell me that street harassment wasn't a big deal. I wrote about it in July after being wolf-whistled on the way to work then called a **** (it began with a 'c') when I didn't respond positively.

"It's not as bad as she makes out," the Facebook warriors claimed.

I was told boys would be boys and I shouldn't wear make-up, dresses or heels if I wanted to avoid attention from strangers on the street.

"Why couldn't I just take a compliment?" they asked.

But mostly I was told street harassment wasn't a real problem.

A video last week of a woman being harassed on the streets of New York City shows exactly how pervasive this problem is. In the video, produced by American Rob Bliss in association with non-profit Hollaback!, actress Shoshana Roberts walks around the city for 10 hours and is subjected to more than 100 instances of verbal street harassment. The comments she receives from strange men on the streets are confronting and unsettling.

Roberts is told "somebody's acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!" and "you don't wanna talk because I'm ugly?" She is also followed by a man who walks silently beside her looking her up and down for five straight minutes.

The video instantly resonated with me. Roberts experience the kind of comments many of my female friends, colleagues and I have dealt fairly regularly.

The words may seem innocuous but I can tell you being told to "smile" or "have a good day, beautiful" repeatedly by strange men on the street as they stare you down is anything but. The comments create an environment of fear.

They reduce women to objects and can make us feel like we exist to please men.

And they make us feel unsafe.

Depressingly, but unsurprisingly, the woman who features in the video has since been subjected to rape threats online.

Threatening women with rape online now seems the default reaction for men who don't like what they have to say.

The video has sparked much debate on Twitter and in other social media circles.

Writer Caitlin Moran commented to Twitter followers: "Pretty sure every woman watching that video is going "yep, yep, yep - that's what it's like just walking. JUST WALKING."

Hundreds of women responded to share their experiences of street harassment.

One commented: "People! Street harassment has ZERO to do with 'men trying to get a date' and has EVERYTHING to do with having power over women!" On their website Hollaback! state: "We believe that street harassment is a 'cultural' thing in the sense that it emerges from a culture of sexism and unfortunately that is everyone's culture."

For too long the frequent unwanted attention women receive in public spaces has been ignored and normalised. This video has started the conversation and I hope it continues. It's time we make it clear women has the right to use public spaces without fear.

Rachael Misstear is away | alicia.melville-smith@walesonline.co.uk

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 3, 2014
Words:513
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