"Smashing the Masher: The Response to Street Harassment in Progressive Era America" a Lecture by Estelle Freedman
This illustrated talk explores the revolt against unwanted sexual advances on city streets during the Progressive Era, when the urban press, suffragists, and local women’s clubs identified the “masher” as a threat to both working and middle-class women’s safety. While the image of ogling white men who pressed unwanted attentions on women originated in the late nineteenth century, the emphasis of press coverage of these “pests” shifted over time from male protection to a valorization of female self-defense, including suffragist demands for expanded public authority in the form of police women. After World War I however, a greater acceptance of public “flirting” and female sexual agency coincided with a revival of humor, rather than admiration, in response to mashers. The notable exception was in the northern black press, which increasingly condemned white men who cruised black neighborhoods in their cars, trying to pick up African American women.
Estelle Freedman is the Robinson Profess or United States History and a founder of the Program in Feminist Studies at Stanford University.