If you’ve ever been through the uncomfortable experience of street harassment, you’ll know that one of the most frustrating things you can hear is, “Take it as a compliment.” It’s just victim-blaming dressed up in nice clothes. Any type of women in any style of dress can be harassed on the street, so calling it a compliment is akin to saying, “You could have prevented this,” and therefore puts the responsibility for cat-calling onto the victim.
New Jersey’s MarketFair Mall decided to do just that with this billboard that they hung explaining their construction: “We apologize for the whistling construction workers, but man you look good!” (Avid About-Face readers might notice that this is not the only recent advertisement that actually harasses the viewer.) As Jezebel’s Katie Baker sarcastically put it, “Because every company has the right to effectively encourage its employees to harass passerby.”
The sign has already been taken down due to outrage, but it says a lot that the mall thought it was okay to put up in the first place. At Jezebel, there’s some discussion in the comments about whether or not construction workers actually harass women more than any other group of people. I don’t know if they do or not, but if they do, it’s because of things like this.
The “whistling construction worker” is a stereotype in our culture, and because it’s so prevalent, it gives actual construction workers the freedom to act on those impulses. If someone is walking down the street and sees a woman, they might think something crude, but know that they shouldn’t say it out loud. But a man working at a construction site has no incentive to keep comments to himself, because after all, everyone already thinks all construction workers are harassers. This is unfair to construction workers who don’t harass, and it’s also going easy on construction workers who do.
The MarketFair billboard isn’t just victim-blaming; it’s also perpetuating the culture that allows harassment to happen. Someone working on the site where that billboard was hung has no reason at all to restrain his catcalls, because the mall has already predicted that he’ll act that way and apologized for it. It’s insulting and harmful to hold blue-collar workers to such a low standard, and it means that the harassment that women face from construction workers is seen as normal and acceptable. If we expect people to behave better, we need to hold them to a higher standard than this.
This is a great piece, Magdalena! I wholeheartedly agree about the “construction worker trope”, it socially sanctions these sort of cat calls. I saw this ad when it first garnered attention and was ridiculously offended and aghast that some uber-imaginative (heavy on the sarcasm) idiot would think this was an appropriate way to say “please excuse our mess”. Street harassment is one of my favorite topics that I feel really passionate about, so I love that this piece exposes these offensive media mishaps. The “Assorted inconveniences” are the implicit innuendos the message makes and the harmful harassment it reinforces. Even if it doesnâ€™tâ€™ cause someone to actually act on it, it seemingly adds another layer of justification to objectifying females â€“ that bodies are for others viewing pleasure. I also love your point about how it is insulting and that those who engage in this, as construction workers are really disrespecting themselves and doing a disservice to the work them perform and their value to the company’s they represent.
Thanks for giving this a voice and for this awesome piece!!
I’d already seen a post somewhere about the effect this billboard has on women, but I love that your post also looks at the effect that it has on construction workers (have you noticed that this billboard also assumes that all construction workers are male?). I think the world needs waking up to how sexism actually cripples men who don’t want to fit into the sexist box offered to them by society, and pointing out that a billboard like this is harming MEN is a great way of doing that 🙂
Harassment in any form is harassment and therefore NOT okay.
MarketFair? In Princeton? Really? We DO still have a long way to go. Good work pointing out some of the milestones we all need to be aware of and strive to reach. Thank you, Magdalena.
@Contrary Kiwi – EXACTLY! Great point, here about the blanket assumption of all construction workers being male (although, in this particular industry, the US specifically, statistically males do make up the largest proportinate), but the ad itself reinforces negative stereotypes about construction workers, sexism and gender. I also think it sort of creates this circular reinforcement, where indivdiuals working in these fields feel a sense of community when they catcall – that this is sanctioned by the type of work them perform and at the same time reinforced by it.
I like that you mention that we need higher standards. With racism, the word that often pops up is “tolerance”. I find that “tolerance” is similar to “harassment”. it allows white people to feel hatred or disdain of the black person, as long as they act with tolerance. Likewise, to not harass allows men to think the crude thoughts as long as they don’t whistle or comment. I would like to see men elevate themselves to dignified human beings where they will not even look at women as sex objects. I know it’s possible because I know men who do that (my husband being one of them). At the same time, if women believe they are dignified human beings too, then we will spread a lot of respect around. I think the problem is deep routed and needs to be cured at the roots. Once men and women respect women, (some women don’t respect themselves as having inner value, as they focus on their external value only). I love this quote: “…among the teachings of BahÃ¡â€™uâ€™llÃ¡h is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wingsâ€”one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. ” ~ Baha’i Writings.
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