Advanced Essay #4: Seventeen

For me this essay was a chance to explore street harassment, learn more about it, and address it through a different lens. I've always found dress coding interesting and after reading more about street harassment, I saw similarities in the way students acted and how punishment worked. I wanted to use this essay to draw parallels and bring to light something that I don't think is addressed enough. I definitely learned a lot myself and was shocked by some of the statistics I saw. I really hope that this essay shows people who don't know much how societal sexism can affect young bodies and be very detrimental as a woman grows up in this environment. Overall, I think this essay turned out well. I had a few bumps in the road trying to figure out what I wanted to write about and trying to smooth out kinks in the essay, but fairly smooth overall.

Seventeen. The age at which a majority of women have experienced some form of street harassment ( The age at which women learned to walk faster when they see a group of men. The age where they learned to always pack pepper spray. The age where they learned to always have 911 on call before they stepped outside. At 17 girls learn that their bodies are for your viewing pleasure and they hear from those very same men that the advances were their fault or to not take it so harshly or to just chill out or to enjoy it, adding one more pane to the glass ceiling that prevents gender equality. 

This glass ceiling, built from panes of lewd comments, lusty stares, dumb blonde jokes, and condescension comes included in the box set women are given at birth. Even before 17 girls learn to be pretty, fragile, and quiet, their minds suppressed in favor of highlighting their bodies. Even rules like dress codes, designed to protect them and their peers, are biased against them. Dress codes are the precursor to street harassment, the demo version before you unlock the real thing. In a similar way to street harassment, girls are taught that their outfits invite sexualization. They’re taught that their short shorts or cut tops are permission for their bodies and minds to be reduced to a distraction. Even worse, when a girl is dress coded for showing bra straps or wearing short shorts, she’s taught that enjoying her body in the way she chooses is inappropriate. Improper dress coding like this tells boys they don’t have to control themselves or stop from sexualizing women's bodies and tells women they are the one who have to change to prevent this sexualization. Dress codes fortify the already sexist environment women are growing up in and make catcalling seem ok and even natural for men to do.

As they grow, it only worsens and intensifies. Hair pulling and name calling in school upgrades to groping and wolf whistles. Yet, despite the violence worsening, it’s still not addressed seriously. Senator Malcolm Roberts corroborated this in his interview with ABC Radio, stating, “Some girls think that that is wonderful, they, you know, they smile…Is a wolf-whistle harassment? It depends upon the person…” Maybe it does depend on the person, but if the person you’re asking is one of the millions who have been violated at any point in their life, I’m sure their opinion would differ. Men effortlessly devalue street harassment as compliments or small infractions, only acknowledging it if it becomes physical. “Unless it turns physical or violent, the guy was “just giving you a compliment”, so it kind of becomes your fault for not being chill about it,” say Barine Barud, a Mexican woman and frequent victim of street harassment. Comments like that or people who say women are asking for it, are a born from improper dress codes. As women are taught certain attire is sexual and distracting, men learn that when women choose to wear that they’re asking to be catcalled or ‘complemented’. 

The victims of dress coding as young girls and street harassment as young women are the victim of a larger overarching issue: societal sexism. It’s a systemic issue, present in a system built and filled with men. Men effortlessly devalue street harassment, dress codes, and the glass ceiling itself, jumping from excuse to excuse, anything but actually addressing the issue. As a result of that, not much has progressed systemically, so in order for us to truly move forward we need take a new approach. In order to progress we need to destroy the roots, burn down the tree that that grows into societal sexism until nothing is left but the ashes of what was. At 17 most women have experienced street harassment, but every year before that girls and boys are reinforced with the ideas that build up to street harassment. If we really want to fix societal sexism, the answer isn’t attempting to fix the wage gap right now or telling fifty year old men not to be discriminatory to women, it’s building up boys and girls as powerful equals. 

Hopefully some day soon 17 will be defined by women scientists, educators, and artists, not victims. 

Darvall, Kate. "Senator Claims Some Women like Being Wolf-whistled at." Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>. 

Santhan am, Laura. "Why Street Harassment Happens, and Why Most People Just Ignore It." PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>. 

"Statistics - The Prevalence of Street Harassment." Stop Street Harassment. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>. 

Warren, Rossalyn, Marie Kirschen, Lane Sainty, Jina Moore, Rachel Wilkerson Miller, Hannah Giorgis, Bibine Barud, and Nirali Shah. "Here's What Street Harassment Is Like In Eight Countries Around The World." BuzzFeed News. Buzzfeed, 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. <>.