THIS week, video footage of a man hitting a woman in the face in central Paris after she told him to "shut up" for harassing her in the street went viral.

Writing about her experience Marie Laguerre said: "It happens every day, everywhere and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a similar story. I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now."

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Street harassment is not a compliment. There is a reason why it is overwhelmingly experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It is rooted in power and serves to further erode the freedom of women to utilise public spaces without fear or discomfort.

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No relationship has ever begun by a man shouting explicit sexual observations at a woman from a moving vehicle. Regardless of whether"it’s just a compliment" is the excuse given, that doesn’t disprove the reality of the experiences of women and girls; or their legitimate feelings and fears.

We enter the land of double-speak and gobble-de-gook when we accept the narrative that lone women being shouted at by one or more men is just a misjudged attempt at flirting. Men evolved along with women – they understand body language, social cues, and what can reasonably be described as a "compliment" just as well as us.

The National:

If you genuinely believe that shouting at a woman in the street is flirting, then answer this: would you do it at work?

Would you scream obscenities at a co-worker from across a busy office? Would you mimic a sex-act at a woman you genuinely fancied and wanted to get to know better? Would you be surprised if she didn’t respond positively?

No. Because there is a world of difference between flirting and what happens in public spaces to women from anonymous men. When women’s concerns, frustration and yes – anger – about street harassment is dismissed as paranoid over-sensitivity, the point is proven beyond doubt. If it truly was well-intentioned flirting, then the failure rate alone would be enough to encourage men to stop.

But of course, it doesn’t.

Street harassment is a depressingly universal part of the female experience. Speak to your friends and family and they will likely tell you that they were first shouted at by men when they were in school uniform, not even old enough to fully understand the power-dynamics at play.

Women will tell you of occasions when they shouted back or asked the harasser to stop. Some will have been verbally abused for their boldness, others followed and intimidated or – like Marie Laguerre – assaulted.

Silence in the face of street harassment does not signify acceptance or enjoyment – but fear. It is the social conditioning that we learn without even realising. Of minimisation, not provocation: of subconsciously assessing risk, understanding how unfair it is that we are forced to live this way, yet doing it anyway.

Sexism is expecting women to change their way of life: their routes home, whether they jog through a park alone at night, how much they drink and who they are friendly to, and then blaming them – either partly or fully – for any harassment or abuse that follows.

Sexism is tone-deaf opinion pieces from male commentators who poke fun at the fears of women and centre themselves as the victim when women tell them their actions make them scared and uncomfortable. It’s in telling women – one in four who have experienced male violence in their lives – that their discomfort makes "flirting" more difficult for men. It’s in pretending that "you can’t even talk to a woman anymore" when women are just asking to be spoken to and treated with respect.

There is a stale predictability of commentary whenever issues around street harassment are raised. There’s the phone-ins about "making wolf-whistling a crime" and the regurgitated opinion pieces claiming that it’s so hard being a man these days because good-natured flirting has become outlawed.

The voices of women – the experts when it comes to the lived-reality of street harassment – are drowned out in a sea of what-about-the-men, derision and derailing.

The case of Marie Laguerre went viral because it was one of the rare occasions when de-bunking the myth of "it’s a compliment" was caught on film.

The existence and commonality of the practice is rooted in misogyny and entitlement. Those that perpetrate it may fool themselves into thinking otherwise, but they are wrong. Street harassment serves to remind women that when they occupy public space, they become public property.

For women our options are, as they always have been. To shrink ourselves, politely acquiesce in fear of violence or speak up and risk being the target of it.

A society that forces that choice on women, rather than tackling the sexism that underpins it is one that is failing women.