(DISCLAIMER: I know not all men harass women. I'm not an idiot, nor do I think all men are sketchy douchebags. I'll say it again, I am not accusing the entire male gender of being dicks, I DO NOT mean to insinuate that all men partake in street harassment. I know most don't. So when I say that men do it for X reason, I mean men who DO harass women, not every man alive)
Yesterday it came to me: street harassment serves many functions. Some men who harass women do it to show appreciation for women's bodies, some men do it simply as a means to get a woman's attention, and some guys do it as a joke. It's something I've noticed, mostly among younger men who harass women. They do it simply as a form of entertainment, a way to make their buddies laugh.
Examples: In an earlier post I mentioned an incident where a guy was giving me a hard time on the street- er, sidewalk. I still have no idea what he said but the gestures and facial expressions said it all, it was definitely street harassment. This guy wasn't alone, he was with a friend, who if my memory serves me right, was laughing his ass off at the whole thing. A year ago I was walking across a quad on campus to go to a friend's place, and this group of guys was coming towards me. As they got closer, one decided to get right in my face and make a sudden, loud noise, just to scare and intimidate me. After he did it, he and his friends howled with laughter and ran away. The joke was that they managed to scare a woman. How silly of them.
Now I'm not saying this to excuse street harassment. It's never okay no matter what the reason, and while harassing women for the sheer fun of it may seem less threatening, it's problematic in its own way. It only perpetuates this idea that violence against women is a joke. I don't mean that street harassment is the same thing as rape or beating someone up, but it's a form of verbal abuse, and no matter what its intentions, it makes (most) women feel uncomfortable and often unsafe in the public sphere. It's part of a culture that makes light of gender violence.
I'm really trying to explain this in way that will make everyone happy, trying not to make unintentional generalizations or make it sound like I think talking to a woman is "rape" (I don't know why, but a lot of people assume feminists think that, when we don't, we just think it's a problem when a man acts as though he's entitled to a woman's company for whatever reason). No matter what I say someone's going to say I'm making a big deal of nothing, that I'm humorless and can't take a joke, that I just don't understand some forms of humor, that this is somehow pro-censorship. I'm not trying to ban this way of joking around, I just think it goes against human decency when someone's idea of a "joke" is to make intimidate a woman and make her feel unsafe in public.