The difference between “is” and “should be”

I’m in sexual harassment survey mode (if you have a chance, please do take a moment to respond to it). We’re working in partnership with Hollaback!, a great organization responds to street harassment through the innovative use of technology.

What I like about Hollaback! is that they concentrate on what “should be” as opposed to what “is” when it comes to sexual harassment. So often, we get stuck on the “is”. I observed this back in the day when I co-facilitated peer workshops with Respect in Action (ReAct), METRAC’s youth violence prevention program.

Youth participants of all genders would say things like, “If girls wear tight clothes, they shouldn’t be shocked when they get sexually harassed.” And we’d answer along the lines of, “But it shouldn’t be like that. No one should be harassed. And it seems like you’re never safe from harassment, regardless of your dress.” And they’d inevitably answer, “Yeah, I know. I got harassed yesterday and I was wearing a parka. But that’s just the way that it is.” We’d say, “But it’s not cool”. And they’d say, “Yeah. But you can’t get surprised by it”.

Sometimes, it would go on like that for long periods of time.

I realized that we all struggle with the difference between “is” and “should be”. Yes, women get harassed (short leather skirt or chaste mom jeans, they get harassed). It’s not terrible to acknowledge that. But never let us stop there. At the very least, it’s just too defeating to stop there. We have to insist on “the should”. Maybe they’d say we’re foolish to do so. But what are these things – movements, coalitions, organizations, advocacy, community action, justice, activism, social change – without it?

Could we ever survive without “the should”?

Take a look at this testimony, published on the Hollaback! website. It was written by a young woman in grade 11. She gets the difference between “is” and “should be”. I think we could all learn something from her.

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METRAC staff
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