I don’t mean to brag, boast or sound awfully egocentric, but ever since I have been studying abroad here in Ecuador this semester, I can’t walk five feet without being complimented, from head to toe – literally. I mean, I know I am attractive, but this just seems excessive. Most of the time the compliments are somewhat unintelligible: random hand gestures, hissing sounds, loud laughter, attempts to charm my ass in broken English. And as flattering as it sounds, I think I would actually prefer to walk to school every morning without having to hear about the curvature of my ass.

When I share my discontent with other peers, I receive a variety of answers. Usually they tell me that I am overreacting; I need to calm down and accept the culture in which I chose to study for a semester. Besides, it’s nice to know that someone finds you attractive.

But that’s precisely the problem: the aim of sexual harassment in the streets is not the appreciation of the imminent beauty of the female form. If these men really wanted to show their profound appreciation for my body, they could write me poetry, paint a picture or simply respond with a coherent sentence when I ask them why they were making masturbatory motions at me – instead of laughing and slapping their buddies’ backs.

Why don’t women bark at the men they pass in the streets? How come we don’t whistle, make loud hissing sounds or compliment the symmetry of some guy’s butt? Because it is not a coincidence that millions of women are victims of sexual violence and rape perpetrated by men every year, and even more are sexually harassed by men as they walk through the streets. Sexual harassment in the streets is merely an extension of an institutionalized violence against women in a patriarchal society.

I don’t mean to make it sound like sexual harassment is worse in Ecuador than anywhere else in the world; it is simply much more obvious. Here men harass women to their faces, while in countries such as the United States, sexual harassment is much more insidious – embedded in the government’s policies, three-piece suit corporate conferences and the overwhelmingly powerful media. Yet the result is the same.

Women are taught from early on that they are not in control of their bodies. Their bodies are objects that serve important functions. The female body sells products and services in a capitalist economy, helping huge corporations make more profits and increase a nation’s GDP. The female body is an object that brings men entertainment and sexual pleasure. Additionally, through sexual violence and sexual harassment, men can use the female body in order to exert their patriarchal power and gain more control in their own lives. Sexual harassment may seem harmless when not analyzed to its very roots, but when placed in the context of a society in which sexual violence that is built upon an entrenched ideology that women are not the owners of their bodies – sexual harassment is one of the most nefarious and seething problems our world faces today.

Today we live in a world where the majority of persons living in poverty are women – a world where women labor for poverty wages while also laboring to raise the world’s children and maintain the world’s homes (without receiving any sort of compensation), a world where women suffer the violence of institutionalized militaries, governments and the men in their own families. At the foundation of all of this lies a society in which it is commonplace for men to sexually harass women in the streets. For the sake of all women, and the men whose lives depend on them, it is time to put an end to sexual harassment.

Now when I walk down the streets in Ecuador, the United States or anywhere else in the world and a man makes a crude gesture, noise or comment, I show him a part of my body he has yet to compliment: my erect middle finger. I don’t see the waving of my middle finger as the solution to this colossal, complicated and far-reaching problem. Instead, the solution lies in the hands of all individuals of whom our society consists. The day sexually harassing a woman in the streets is considered more inappropriate than criticizing a president’s war is the day we can begin to deconstruct the established sexual violence against women that permeates every sector of our society. I am anxiously awaiting that day. Until then, I will be waving my middle finger gaily at all those gentlemen who wish to compliment my fine figure.

Mary Nagle is a junior in the College and is currently studying abroad in Ecuador.

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