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Gender Based Harassment Pervasive in Women’s Lives

Society’s normalization of harassment influences both victims and perpetrators alike.
Photo by Elise Laharia

Motivational speaker and activist Marissa Cohen was hardly older than 10 years old the first time she was harassed.

“I was in eighth grade the first time somebody kissed me without my consent,” Cohen said. “I was younger than that the first time somebody cat-called me.”

As a grown woman, Cohen still experiences harassment solely because of her gender.

“I have people that make disgusting or lewd comments and cat calls,” Cohen said.

Cohen admits these are the mild examples. Sexual harassment, combined with years in an abusive relationship, lead Cohen to champion and assist other survivors through founding the nonprofit Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy.

Additionally, Cohen is a six-time best-selling author and host of the podcast Healing From Emotional Abuse. She inspires and empowers others by sharing her story.

Despite her expertise and career, the pervasiveness of gendered harassment is deep enough that Cohen still feels the effects.

“I still get people emailing me pictures of their genitalia,” Cohen said.

From lewd comments to being followed and photographed, what is often criminal behavior is so normalized that according to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women in the U.S. experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime.

“It still happens on a daily basis,” Cohen said. “I work with people [who experience this harassment] constantly from friends, from partners, from family members, from strangers,” Cohen said. “It’s disgusting how often it happens.”

Yet despite the frequency of harassment, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two out of three incidents of sexual assault go unreported.

“There’s a lot of reasons people don’t talk about this stuff,” Cohen said. “They could feel like it’s their fault [because] there’s a lot of shame and guilt associated with these experiences.”

Another factor that contributes to the lack of reported cases is the normalization of harassment. Because of societal perceptions of harassment, many women brush aside the severity of their experiences instead of seeking justice.

In the 2023 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct of students at Cornell College, 58% or respondents did not report harassment because they did not consider their experiences to be “serious enough.”

This normalization from society surrounds and influences both victims and perpetrators alike. Although perhaps less obvious, walking tandem to the messages young girls receive are the countermeasures that many young boys acquire: a widespread acceptance of harassment from boys and men.

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Senior Milo Grossman also believes that many of these messages are transmitted through common pieces of media.

“If you look at the media from the last 100 years, it’s very heavy on ‘the guy needs to pursue her,’ Grossman said. “And, if he doesn’t get the answer he wants [he is taught] to just keep going, keep asking.”

Far from hypothetical surmises, Grossman has seen the effect of these conceptions first hand.

“One of my friends was like,’ this guy asked me out like three times to homecoming, even though I said no, the first two times'” Grossman said. “[He wasn’t] thinking like, ‘oh, I need to harass her.’ [He’s] just like completely oblivious and thinking, ‘oh, I need to like be more persistent.'”

Sophomore Grace Lopez believes that the normalization of harassment leads to blurred lines. Even after years of managing harassment, Lopez still has trouble grappling with the finer points of the definition.

“I think just because it’s become so normalized, people think it’s funny but the line between it being a ‘funny’ joke and then actually being harassment is super thin,” Lopez said.

Even as a sophomore in high school, the possibility of harassment has made an impact on Lopez’s everyday life. She is forced to be more aware of her surroundings and communicative of her location at all times.

“I’m not really allowed to go out unless I’m with another male or if my dad knows where I’m going because [harassment has] happened so many times before,” Lopez said.

As a woman of color, Lopez also feels a percentage of her experiences were motivated by her race in addition to her gender.

“I think not being Caucasian does have an effect on whether my ethnicity piques people’s interest,” Lopez said. “The fact that people fetishize certain races, ethnicities, is gross.”

Grossman attributes much of his, and his two older brothers’, awareness and education about women’s issues to his mother, a law professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

“She’s been very adamant, for our whole childhood, making sure she raised us to be somewhat socially conscious and reinforcing good feminist ideals,” Grossman said. “I’m very grateful for her and what she does for us.”

Lopez agrees that this kind of education is vital to solving the systemic problem of gender based harassment. However, she also stresses that immediate action needs to take place simultaneously.

“I could just say educating [people is a solution] but we’ve tried,” Lopez said. “I think we need to look at ourselves as a society, be decisive on this and realize [harassment] is not okay.”

About the Contributor
Elaine Engel
Elaine Engel, Reporter
What are you looking forward to on the staff this year? I'm looking forward to the incredible community of people and the constant opportunities to work on projects I’m passionate about What are your favorite TV shows/movies? West Wing, The Trail of the Chicago Seven, and Top Gun: Maverick Where’s the next place on your travel bucket list and why? I would love to travel to Machu Picchu because of the combination of a beautiful view and interesting history