Three cheers for Buenos Aires!
This week the city council decided to do something about the harassment of women. Those obnoxious cat-callers who think it’s fun to yell out comments about women’s bodies are now subject to a $60 fine. The mentality of these idiots is hard to fathom. The goal is apparently to get the woman’s attention, maybe see her blush, or yell something back in anger. It’s fun! It’s a game! But what’s the woman’s role in the game? If it were basketball, she’d be the backboard, constantly struck by the players on the court as they try to score. And it’s not just the words that make this cat-calling so frightening, it’s the real danger that women face from aggressive, domineering men who think women owe them something.
Argentina is not that different than many other places in the world. Women walking down the streets are harassed all the time. Men make lewd remarks about their bodies, they follow them through the streets, they touch them, they grab at them, assault them, and even kill them. This would include husbands and wives. One estimate in Argentina is that a woman is killed every 30 hours simply because she is a woman.
A $60 fine isn’t much perhaps, but it sends a message and will get a lot of news coverage. You can just imagine the men who like to engage in this sort of puerile activity laughing at this statute, which will be difficult to enforce. Nevertheless it’s a step in the right direction. But only a step. If we were to ask ourselves what would it take to really end the kind of culture that makes women the target of so much unwanted attention, what would we want to do?
1) Pass some laws that criminalize the kinds of behavior we don’t want (that’s been done to some extent)
2) Begin a massive education campaign to make the adult population aware of the problem. Many clearly don’t see anything wrong with yelling a few words at a passing woman and don’t realize how frightening it can be.
3) Begin a massive education campaign for children to stigmatize the kinds of behaviors we don’t want. This is the key. If we want a sea change in the culture, we have to fight the tides that come from the home and the neighborhood. This is only possible in the schools. That’s the one place where children have to go—not churches, not community centers, though any institution can play a part in this campaign. It has to be the schools, and it has to start early and be revisited consistently. This is much more important than factoring polynomials or memorizing Avogadro’s number. Until we step up to the plate and attack this problem full on, our daughters, sisters, and mothers will continue to walk the streets in fear.