The street as a place ruled by men

by Sefana Boucherit on January 20, 2015 - 10:13am

A young director named Sophie Peters made a documentary filmed in Belgium called «Woman of the street », in which she walks Sophie Peters walks in a very popular area of Brussels a French-speaking environment, and wipes very derogatory remarks because she is wearing a dress and boots.

She also questioned, neighbors, friends, and men who have been accustomed to call women on the street with insults like "whore", "slut", "come with me to the hostel" just because she was wearing a dress. This video was controversial shock in the Francophone world and particularly in France, and awakened consciences.

Street harassment is now a commonplace and widespread. In fact nearly 70% to 90% of women in France and around the world have already suffered a verbal assault (whistle, insults, inquiry) or physical (pushing, hand buttocks) because of their physical and because they were a women and not a man.

Nevertheless, Members of « Osez le féminisme »,one of the largest feminist organization in France, wishes to distinguish seduction from harassment. Seduction refers to a reciprocal relationship and is not intimidating or insisting in case of refusal for instance. Harassment refers to a relationship of domination and humiliation. Thisdistinction allows us to understand that the street as a public space that is to say a place that is freely accessible to all, remains a space where men rule by their control, their laws. Women are submitted to these laws and are constantly referred to their seduction role, to their dominated status. This phenomenon relies on the idea that our society is still patriarchal and women's bodies are subject to men.  Street harassment appears to be the behavior of men in the most visible public space. However men don’t only dominate the street. An other public space such as the French political landscape remains largely sexist and hostile to the emancipation of women, and they are often assaulted in this public space. We can for instance quote the example of Cécile Duflot, former Minister of Ecology, wipes whistles and remarks from male members present within the Assemblée just because she was wearing a dress with spring patterns during a session of questions to the government.

We understand that the role of women in public urban environment is a topic that is raging right now in France. Efforts are being made but much remains to be done. How? By law, which creates a normative even if this is not enough, for the training of police officers and justice and, not least through education to equality and to freedom from an early age. 


I really enjoyed reading your post. It was both very well written and interesting. I think that the subject you chose is very relevant in today’s society and I believe that this issue is problematic for many women. In fact, I can clearly relate to this conundrum because when I either run or walk outside in downtown Montreal or even on the south shore of Montreal I constantly get tormented by men either whistling or making disturbing comments. This leaves me nervous and intimated every time I want to go out for a run. I truly believe that this is an issue that needs to be changed so that women can feel comfortable and safe to walk alone on the streets.

I have also written about this subject , I find it's a really current topic. Your article is pleasant to read , it would have just been better with your sources.
I think we all (as a woman) find ourselves in your article. Indeed , personally, because of the street harassment, I came to change my behavior : I try not to wear shorts or skirt if I have to take public transport , in the street I hurry and I look down , I do not answer if a man approaches me or if he insults me, sometimes it is unbearable to wait in some places (I think for instance about the court of the Gare du Nord in Paris). But this is unacceptable . We are not in a jungle or male await their prey. I think the phenomenon is serious and we really need to remedy this situation because we are regressing about the status of women . For that, we need more work for gender equality in practice but especially in mentalities. For that, I think it would be good to speak more about gender equality in school, and as from a young age.

About the author

My name is Sefana, I'm a student in a French selective school called "Sciences Po" where I study sciences politics, marketing/management and history. I come from Paris and I'm doing Erasmus during one year at the University of Potsdam.