Naw, Hairy Legs Won't Stop Street Harassment

Here's why that viral image of hairy stockings steers us in the wrong direction.

June 19, 2013, 11:08 AM

June 19, 2013— -- This photo of "hairy" stockings, posted to the popular Chinese social networking site Sina Weibo, has gone viral with the quickness. "Super sexy, summertime anti-pervert full-leg-of-hair stockings," reads the image's caption. "Essential for all young girls going out." It's unclear whether the image shows actual leggings and, if so, whether these stockings are available for purchase, but either way, let's talk about the concept of pervert-thwarting clothing.

Now, it isn't inconceivable that a man looking to cat call a woman (I see you, fedora) will be put off by something socially unacceptable that renders a woman unattractive to him, be it body hair or dirty gym clothes or butch posturing a sense of self worth. But it's flawed to believe that things like street harassment or sexual assault or intimidation are contingent on how a woman dresses or grooms herself.

For every "perv," to borrow the caption's word choice, that is put off at the sight of a woman with thick body hair, there's a perv who wants to let her know he'd like to comb that body hair with his teeth, or a perv who doesn't care because all he sees is a vaguely lady shaped figure in his line of vision and that's enough.

The best way to counteract "pervs" who harass women is shame. Education, sure, but mostly shame. Some have elected to use art as a means of educating and shaming street harassers, like Brooklynite Tatyana Fazlazadeh's series of posters informing people that, among other things, "My Name Is Not Baby, Shorty, Sexy, Sweetie, Honey, Pretty, Boo, Sweetheart, Ma" and "Women Do Not Owe You Their Time Or Conversation." Others have turned to more collective efforts, like Hollaback. A non-profit movement aimed at eradicating street harassment, Hollaback is currently running in 64 cities across 22 countries, providing a platform for people to document instances of street harassment and intimidation and share these on an interactive map. It also educates people on how to be a "better bystander" when witnessing harassment in public. Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is another non-profit dedicated to "documenting and addressing and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide." SSH does this, in part, by keeping a list of companies that trivialize street harassment, documenting instances of street harassment, and working with 100+ other groups in organizing International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

So while the concept of perv-deflecting hairy stockings is a really funny one (and while there are certainly many of us who'd love to see a street harasser's self-satisfied leer slowly melt into a look of horror at the sight of these), it couldn't and wouldn't put an end to a more deeply ingrained cultural and societal problem. It also misses big on the need to shift the onus of ending harassment from those who are on the receiving end to those who perpetuate it.

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