Some weeks ago, a letter to the editor appeared in my local newspaper from a man who complained that the city had taken away a bench downtown where a homeless man used to hang out. The man writing the letter called the city heartless and uncivil. The letter writer contended that although this homeless man was known to yell sexist things at women passing by, he still had a right to sit there. The city decided to solve this problem by removing the bench.
So here’s another moral dilemma for you: does one social ill (homelessness) trump another social ill (sexism)?
Perhaps it’s not fair to phrase it like that, but I must say that I was disconcerted by how blithely the letter dismissed the sexism that was going on. As a man, he probably hasn’t experienced other men yelling at him based on what he looks like. As most women will attest – being yelled at is bad enough, but being critiqued on what you look like is threatening and intensely uncomfortable. And it certainly doesn’t come just from homeless men. But should a homeless man be excused for this behavior because he is homeless?
I recently learned from a friend that a very high percentage of homeless people have had severe head injuries/trauma at some point in their lives. I think most people know that the homeless disproportionately suffer from mental illness. Can they then be held responsible for their actions, including yelling at women? I don’t know. Maybe it depends on the nature of their mental illness.
Besides, the homeless man probably just moved to another bench (albeit perhaps somewhere out of the way) and is still screaming at women. Neither problem has been solved. And I certainly agree with my friend that we shouldn’t just be able to make the less desirable elements of our society disappear. But neither should women be forced to deal with this kind of abuse.
I suppose it’s too easy for me (or anyone) to say that we need to tackle both issues by going to the root(s). The closing of mental institutions, the inability to get a job if you’ve got a record, the cost of therapy and medication – yes, all problems to solve. Educating men (and women) about sexism when they are still in school, holding companies and workplaces accountable for such behavior – yes, maybe plausible. Countless other things we can do.
But still. As it stands now, we’ve got one less bench. One less place for the homeless to sit. And I still don’t feel any better.
I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on the matter, dear readers. If you are having trouble commenting on my blog, you can send your comments to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be sure to include them in my next post.
Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/44345361@N06/4469243936/”>VinothChandar</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>