Want to show people you’re a jerk real quick? Yell an unwanted sexual comment at a woman on the street and see what happens. But nasty glares and a plummet in respectability is often not enough of a deterrent for some men, so France is looking into banning street harassment. Soon, offenders could be slapped with a hefty fine for their unwanted sexual advances.
France’s secretary for gender equality, Marlene Schiappa, who’s working on the new law, gave an example of what could be labeled as punishable behavior in an interview with NPR: “You are a woman in an underground train. I am a man. I follow you. You get off the train. I get off. You get on another train. I get on, too. I ask you for your telephone number. I ask again. I ask a third time. You feel oppressed. That is street harassment.”
The difference between harassment and innocent flirtation, however, can be a fine line to walk. And distinguishing between the two will be one of the biggest challenges the new legislation will have to overcome. But Schiappa makes it clear that something must be done to end the country’s macho culture, which she decried for allowing men to think they’re entitled to yell comments about women’s bodies.
The punishment for such behavior has yet to be determined, though Schiappa said in the interview that she thinks an on-the-spot fine upwards of thousands of dollars would be reasonable.
While that number might sound high, the law France is looking at passing isn’t unique. In America, Newsweek reports, street harassment is illegal in some states. In Minnesota verbal harassment is against the law, as is taking “up-skirt” photos; In New York, street harassment is punishable by a $250 fine, although it’s not clear how often these laws are actually enforced. Other nations have taken more drastic approaches. Vendors in China, for instance, have been selling “anti-pervert” flame throwers to women.
By Reegan Von Wildenradt