We’ve all heard of absurd laws that were put on the books by just about every municipality at one time or another. Most of the time, cooler, more modern heads prevail and these little bits of foolishness get wiped off the books, or at the very least are never enforced in this modern age. Enlightenment can take several generations, but it tends to happen eventually.
Case in point, I stumbled across this photograph of a plaque that is somewhere in Houston, Texas.
It seems that the Houston City Council saw fit to pass a “Goo-Goo Eyes Ordinance” in 1905. In essence, men could be fined for leering at women on the street. The timing of this ordinance kind of makes sense. Young women were starting to get out and about in society at that time, despite the fact that they wouldn’t be allowed to vote for another 15 years. Girls were starting to work outside the home more frequently, and they were also starting to seek higher education in greater numbers.
All this female freedom was apparently getting men all in a tizzy. They didn’t know quite how to act. As in other parts of the natural world, when the prey increases, it tends to draw out the predators. And so it was that no whistles, cat calls, hoots or hollers would be tolerated by the city.
One has to wonder, in 2021, if this ordinance was passed with the intent to focus mainly on goo-gooers of color. Just another municipal way to enforce anti-miscegenation. We have to keep our white girls pure, after all.
According to this newspaper clipping, it seems that many people at the time found this ordinance just as silly as I do. Don’t get me wrong. Sexual harassment is inappropriate at all times in all places. I completely agree with that. But when you start legislating based on looks or body language or assumed thought processes, even if said actions are meant to intimidate, it’s sort of a bridge too far. (And I know my bridges.)
Women should be allowed the agency to defend themselves and say fu** off if needed. We should not be made to feel as if we are shrinking violets, utterly incapable of taking care of ourselves.
The Goo-Goo Eyes Ordinance remained on the books in Houston until the 1950’s. I did come across this article which said that the town of Tyler, Texas adopted the same ordinance, word for word, in 1918. And that one remained in place until 1978.
Arrests quickly ensued after these ordinances. After the first four were arrested in Tyler, the local paper stated, “These four people who engaged in goo-gooing should be a lesson to other goo-gooers, for goo-gooing is a pretty costly proposition at $12.85 per goo-goo.”
I have reached an age and weight where I’ve pretty much been rendered invisible, so I don’t worry about being hassled by inappropriate men anymore. I do remember what it’s like, though. It was humiliating and intimidating, and not at all done to gain my favor. It’s an act of aggression. We as a society need to step up and teach our men and boys to behave like they’re civilized. But I don’t think a Goo-Goo Eyes Ordinance is the way to go.
And lest we think that stupid laws are a humorous thing of the past, remember that legislators all over the country are discussing who should go to the bathroom where, and what health choices women are allowed to make, all while coming up with new and creative ways to suppress the vote. Future historians will laugh at our laws just as much as we laugh at laws from the turn of the last century. And as well they should.
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