Yesterday was the Day Against Street Harassment, and The Movement of Women of the Motherland of Latin American (MuMaLá) marked it by releasing a survey revealing that which absolutely every single female reading this article already knows: 100 percent of women in the City of Buenos Aires have been the subject of street harassment. 100 percent; all of them.
The survey is part of larger campaign launched by MuMaLá called #ParemosElAcosoCallejero (#StopStreetHarassment). According to the survey, street harassment can begin as early as age nine, confirming Tina Fey’s pithy assertion that, “Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them… It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s working.”
Street harassment is defined by the organization Stop Street Harassment as “…unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
Other findings that will again come as no shock to the women of Argentina and the world are as follows: half the participants reported being subjected to sexually explicit comments, 59 percent reported obscene gestures, 47 percent had been followed by a man and 37 percent reported having a man’s genitalia exposed to them unasked. Horrifying, but I’m not finished: 87 percent reported avoiding dark or deserted streets, 63 percent won’t walk in certain areas unaccompanied and 51 percent dress in a manner that “doesn’t attract attention.”
If the enormity of these statistics has not overwhelmed you, let me put it like this: the women I know do not leave the house in the dead of summer without some sort of jacket “just in case” they find themselves in a situation in which bare arms and shoulders is considered inappropriate or simply unsafe; we know to have our keys in our hands when get to the door; our routes are plotted home ahead of time. It is second nature, we don’t even question it. And that is perhaps the most disturbing problem: these ingrained habits, a sort of secret sisterhood of which outsiders know nothing.
By even recognizing that this occurs, this study plays a small part in remedying the vicious cycle of silence and shame that goes as so:
“I was harassed, I felt unsafe. I do not have control or agency over my own body in public.”
“But surely you exaggerate, I’ve never seen it, I’ve never heard it. Calm down.”
“Well I won’t mention it then. They wouldn’t understand. People will think I’m hysterical.”
Rinse and repeat, a hydra of fear and oppression, a silent burden to bear.
Because really, how do you even address such problems if when you speak your fears, people are shocked, they act as though it’s radical information. Many men are horrified when girls are raped, murdered or missing, but when one has the courage to address the systemic elements that lead to such violent acts, you’re a so-called feminazi. As if I should just shut up and pray to white WASPy Jesus that nothing happens to me and that prayer should be a silent one.
This campaign is but a small step in a country where our own President once said, “All women like to be told compliments, even if if it’s something something rude like, ‘What a cute ass you have’… it’s all good.”
Thanks to #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) — a social media campaign last year that culminated in a 300,000-strong rally in the capital demanding government action to put an end to rampant femicide and gender-based violence — we now all know this refrain: 277 femicides were committed in 2014, or 1,808 in the last seven years in Argentina (stats provided by according to Argentine NGO Casa del Encuentro). And though minimal action has been taken — there now exists a National Femicide Registry to record incidents of gender-based violence and the government must staff a body of lawyers to “provide free legal and integral legal advice throughout the country to victims of gender violence in all its types” — those small measures are far from enough.
“There need to be statistics as well as quantitative and qualitative studies about the various forms of violence we endure,” MuMaLá national coordinator Raquel Vivanco told press.
Because in the words of Gloria Steinem, “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”