Liat Kaplan discusses how street harassment is only a symptom of a whole slew of minor forms of sexual harassment which conspire to keep women in fear and men confident in their entitlement to women’s bodies.
The big deal isn’t the words themselves, it’s the underlying message. There’s no point to a guy yelling, “Hey sexy baby” at me out of the passenger window of a car as it speeds past. Even if I was into creepy misogynists and wanted to give him my number, I couldn’t. The car didn’t even slow down. But that’s okay, because he wasn’t actually hitting on me. The point wasn’t to proposition me or chat me up. The only point was to remind me, and all women, that our bodies are his to stare at, assess, comment on, even touch. “Hey sexy baby” is the first part of a sentence that finishes, “this is your daily message from the patriarchy, reminding you that your body is public property”. This so-called “minor” sexual harassment is the tax you pay for daring to exist as a woman in public.
“Hey baby” is the cashier who touches your hand just a little too long and winks as he hands you your change. “Hey baby” is the guy who sits just the tiniest bit too close on the subway when there are plenty of empty seats available. “Hey baby” is the guy in the coffee shop who just keeps trying to start a conversation even while you’re giving one-word answers and pointedly staring at your book or phone. “Hey baby” is too subtle to complain about. If you try, guys will say that it’s not a big deal or you’re just flattering yourself or that they wish a hot chick would say “hey baby” to them.