The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: “Yo, Gorgeous” Edition

When I was an 18-year-old freshman in college, I was running around some side-streets in a hilly neighborhood when a black SUV pulled up next to me. The driver rolled down his window and started a conversation.

"Hey, how are you?" he said. Friendly enough. He was driving slowly to match my running pace. I kept focusing on what I was doing—I was out of breath, kind of busy, and didn't feel like talking—but I responded neighborly out of politeness. "I'm fine. How are you?"

"I'm doing good. So do you live in the neighborhood?" I really wasn't interested in having this conversation. But I looked over at the guy, and he was a cop, in uniform, and I felt like I was required to be extra polite. I informed him that I did live in the neighborhood. I kept a steady pace and he kept the SUV slowly rolling up next to me.

Things quickly got weird.

"You look like you work out a lot," he told me. Arm hanging out the window. SUV slowly trailing me. It was the sort of comment that made me deeply uncomfortable but that I felt I couldn't really argue with. He was big, easily 20 years older than me, in a big car, and a cop. I was 18, new to the District, and inexperienced. So I just kept my eyes on the road, hoping he'd get the hint. He didn't. I tried lose him down a side street and he turned with me. There was no one else around. "Where do you live? I work out, too. Let's work out together. You look great. You really do." And on and on and on.

At no point did I respond like I was interested. I don't hide my emotions well, and it would have been written all over my face that this man was scaring the living shit out of me. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest, my breath thinning, my face flushing with heat. What if he followed me all the way back to my dorm? What if he stopped the car? What if I tired out and couldn't run away? What was I supposed to do—call the cops?

If you're reading this story, you might have some different questions for me: Like, what if you were just overreacting? He didn't say anything explicitly threatening, did he? Why don't you learn how to take a compliment?

Last week, I wrote a post praising Hollaback DC for raising awareness about the problem of street harassment in the District. And one commenter was concerned about what behaviors constitute "harassment" these days. He pointed to a recent post on Hollaback where a woman reported the following incident:

Out of nowhere, I hear “Yo, gorgeous!” and I turn in the direction where it came from. I see these two losers in a red and yellow truck smirking at me. Gross.

The truck pulls up further in traffic, and I catch up to it and snap a photo with my phone. . . . When I told them that they needed to do their jobs and not hit on women, they didn’t care. They continued to smirk and giggle. Passers-by made a comment about me and giggled, and I don’t know if they were laughing at me getting harassed or laughing at me giving the harassers an earful, but I just didn’t care. I felt like these harassers just ruined what was a good afternoon.

Commenter Stewart is skeptical:

I understand that everyone has their limit but one of the recent entries on the HollaBackDC site has me scratching my head. A woman claims her beautiful Spring-like day was “ruined” because a couple of guys in a truck yelled “Yo, Gorgeous” at her and had the temerity to keep looking at her too?

Really? Your day was “ruined” by that? Seriously? No lewd comments, no name calling, no following. “Yo, Gorgeous” is what passes for sexual harassment now? Geesh.

LeftSidePositive counters:

Stewart, I’m glad for you that you’ve clearly never had to be treated like a piece of meat, and that your appearance is not treated like public property to be commented on and stared at by total strangers. How lucky for you that you don’t have your privacy invaded, and how fortunate that you’re insulated from common human empathy.

Stewart replies:

Think what you want but I have plenty of empathy. And I have heard some horror stories about male harassment. In my humble opinion, this isn’t one of them; it’s not even in the same universe. But like I said in my first post, everyone has their limit. I guess the women I know have thicker skins than the woman who wrote this particular piece. Not that that’s right or wrong or good or bad, it just is what it is and reasonable minds can and will disagree.

LeftSidePositive writes:

Stewart––because someone got killed today, would that make it okay for me to punch you in the face?? “It’s not even in the same universe.”

What’s more, there is a LOT of power in being continually reminded by minor slights that add up that you are perceived as less than equal or public property.

And, no, you don’t have a lot of empathy. You think you can brush aside something that was upsetting or frustrating to someone just because you don’t think it was important enough.

Amanda Hess writes:

People do have different limits, triggers, and past life experiences. These things all affect what level and type of harassment they can handle before they speak up about it. Perhaps you weren’t previously aware that some women can feel threatened by something as simple as “Yo, gorgeous” followed by aggressive staring and open laughter. I don’t have trouble understanding this reaction; I experience this all the time. But you were left scratching your head.

Well, the great thing about Holla Back D.C. is that now you know that some women are upset by this, and that they do feel harassed by it. So, instead of denying this woman’s experience by insinuating that she’s too sensitive, why not take this as an opportunity to consider why this behavior might have been perceived as threatening to this woman? Why not consider the ways in which you personally might not fully understand this specific type of threat? Why not ask yourself why your female friends don’t discuss this low-level type of harassment with you? Is it because you would dismiss them as overly sensitive?

About the severity of the harassment: I’ve heard some horror stories about harassment, too … and they usually have much more long-lasting effects than just putting a damper on one day in a person’s life. That doesn’t mean that that one day of stress isn’t significant enough for one woman to talk about her experience on a blog.

Julia writes:

Agreed, having someone yell “hey gorgeous” out their car window doesn’t seem like a big deal. And if it happened to you, you might still not think it was a big deal. But I can’t even count the number of times a stranger has yelled out a comment like that AND THEN FOLLOWED ME. Usually when I am alone, in a big city, often at night. So when you hear “hey gorgeous” you might think, ‘oh a complement’. but when I hear the same line, I think, “oh I hope I don’t get followed home today.” And trust me, it happens on a quasi-regular basis, even after I explicitly tell the man to stop.

Exactly. When I got followed by the cop in the SUV, he didn't start by saying anything half as explicit as "yo, gorgeous!" He eased in, got me talking, and because I responded to him, he refused to let go. So he followed me. In his car. On an empty street. I eventually lost the guy by steering toward a pedestrian-only footpath and running for my life. Every time a guy hollers out a "compliment" to me on the street, I have to weigh whether responding politely is going to get me a new stalker. So don't tell me that I'm overreacting.

As for the woman who responded impolitely to the call of "Yo, gorgeous"—at least someone is taking her concerns seriously. On Hollaback, a commenter suggested that the woman call the name of the company listed on the side of the truck and report the employees. She did, and the company's general manager responded positively to her concerns. "He said that he’s 99.9% sure of who the offenders were by the description I gave, and that 'extreme action' will be taken against them," she writes. "He apologized profusely for their actions."

Photo via _STANGSTA_, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Melanie

    I was in store, a year ago, by myself. A guy a few years younger than me (i was 26 then) started following me around. At first I thought I was over reacting but after 30 minutes I was so nervous I called my husband to come walk me to my car because the stores only cashier said she couldn't leave cashregister and I was afraid he would follow me to my car.

    Chances are he was a perfectly nice guy who wanted to give me his number and couldn't get up the nerve, but I felt ittimidated. It's the same with catcalls. Maybe the guy is just trying to flirt and means no harm, maybe he's a creep. 99% of the time men are bigger and stronger than women so IF they mean trouble......

  • Pay2Play

    "So, instead of denying this woman’s experience by insinuating that she’s too sensitive, why not take this as an opportunity to consider why this behavior might have been perceived as threatening to this woman?"

    Maybe he has done that, and you're just taking this as an opportunity to be passive-aggressive and attempting to undercut his opinion. Why don't you see how this is threatening to men?

    If a man can't talk to a woman, can't even approach a woman without being seen as a "threat" based on what he might do, then what does that mean?

    Ultimately it comes down to any man who expresses sexual interest or even the desire to communicate with a woman (let's not quite equate the two yet) is a "threat"..especially if they are "bigger and stronger" but of course they don't need to be to be physically intimidating to be a "threat" to a woman.

    It comes down to this, Amanada. A woman can declare any man who she doesn't want to deal with to be "a threat" to her, which is a criminal act: menacing. Of course if she *does* want to deal with him, even wants to get intimate with him, he could still be "a threat" to her but she would deal with that risk to get in his pants. Not to mention declare other men to be a threat to her to impress this one guy that she wants to sleep with.

    And then we have men who are happy to take women up on this in order to get in THEIR pants.

    That's what you women are turning the world into.

  • Pay2Play

    ...we men can't allow ourselves to be defined by a womans' fears or nightmares not to mention her fantasies anymore than women can allow men to define them that way. We can't allow the fact that you are afraid of what we might do or the fact that we are bigger and taller and have penises and want to have sex with you or even just to talk to you or look at you to let you turn us into criminals simply because we exist or do things that you don't like. It's that simple.

    And that is what this entire blog is about. Criminalizing the aspects of contemporary society that women don't like, trying to force men into accepting the opinions of women, regardless of how nonsensical they are, if for no other reason than the fear that they might get physically assaulted or feel mentally harassed. I'm sorry that you feel that way about life, or parts of life. But life sucks that way sometimes, and sometimes you just have to deal with it. We do not get to go through life complaining and whining and accusing everyone of ethical violations or criminal acts simply because they do and say things that make us unhappy or make us feel unloved, disrespected or afraid, directly or indirectly! And I'm *very* sorry that you're 5'4 and 120 pounds and live in a world full of socially and sexually aggressive guys who are over 6' and 200 pounds plus. That's Darwinisim for ya!

    Maybe we should make that illegal too?

  • Pay2Play

    Honestly I read these messages from women in in this blog and all I can really take away from this is that women are barely able to function in contemporary society when men are involved. They either want to fuck them, they want something from them, or they want nothing to do with them, and all they can do is rationalize their choices. Your rationalizations are complete bullshit. Your actions speak for you just like our actions speak for us.

    Of course there's always the "potential" for more, but that's another story. Of course we can always evaluate women based on what they "might" do, but that's just another factor to consider, isn't it.

    But when it comes to you women accusing men of crimes based on what we *MIGHT* do, not to mention, what you women think that we might do? This bullshit needs to stop. Now.

    Goddamm but you all need to get your overeducated feminine heads out of your sanctified feminine asses for the good of our entire species. And just deal with people head on.

    IF YOU CAN DO THAT.

    Otherwise we will literally have to dismiss most if not everything that you say. Simply because it's a woman saying it.

  • Ldorado

    @tshirtman. As a man, I don't think cat-calling is necessarily even about getting laid, although the men doing it might want that. It serves a very real social and political purpose in keeping women off-balance. It's also about male bonding (even if the dude is alone).

    @je di. I'm not sure that when someone fails to read a woman's disinterest that they are ignorant; it's a kind of sleep-walking where men are acting out on male power and are gaining something from exercising that power. Her fear, or his successfully talking over her disinterest, may actually be a reward. Hope of a future date or relationship is at best a fantastical motivation.

    @kza. It seems to me you asked your question a few times, and people tried to give you an explanation, and you say you still don't understand. Maybe you just don't like the answer?

  • Ldorado

    @Pay2Play. From my experience we already dismiss "most if not everything" women have to say. What are you threatening for?

    I'm reading here a few people's experiences with being harassed on the street. Those experiences include fears of being attacked. Based on the numbers, those are rational fears.

    When many men first encounter women who are actively addressing the widespread violence and threats of violence against women, the men seem to go into denial and deflect mode: as in "this is not as much a problem as you say it is." and "you are ignoring this other thing." It would be refreshing to hear men in threads like this instead write things like, "i am only beginning to understand this issue."

    But, like most of us men, you are confident that they are wrong and that you have the answer. If only they would just listen to you.

  • Electrically

    I cannot recommend reading Schrödinger's Rapist enough. It explains this in a relateable and straightforward manner.

    If you are approached very often by people who could easily overpower you and who express desire to overpower you, you will be wary of other people who might potentially do the same.

    I agree that this is not fair to people who have no desire to rape, grope, beat, or otherwise assault somebody, but the idea is that women are choosing safety over potentially hurting some nice guy's feelings.

  • Amelia

    Wow, what a comment thread! It took me most of the afternoon but I made it to the end ;) I loved reading the comments written by guys the guys who listened, understood & weren't on 'fight' mode. I have 4 younger brothers. I wish that they understood how much of an impact street harrassment has on women, and how much of an issue it is. I have friends who have had terrifying experiences of it (stalking, threats of murder). Sexual harrassment has changed the way I behave, I am defensive when walking in public, and I get anxious when walking past certain guys, or groups of guys. When I was a teenager, a random guy (similar age) approached me and offered me $10 if I would kiss him - I was shocked/humiliated & I blushed. He walked back to his friends, and they looked at me and laughed. If my 16-year-old brother was in that situation, he wouldn't agree with what his friend had done, but I think he would still laugh.

    It upsets me to think that my respectful, kind brothers might treat sexual harrassment so lightly (they also accept almost any joke, even sexist jokes, unless they are completely bad-taste and misogynistic/hateful).

    I'm going to start telling my brothers & parents when I get sexually harrassed. If I don't tell them, they won't realise how much it affects me and my friends. My brothers don't know how lucky they are that they get to walk past builders, or anyone else, without their heart-beat rate increasing (and the rambling of their thoughts coming to a stop).

  • Jayla

    Honestly I read these messages from women in in this blog and all I can really take away from this is that women are barely able to function in contemporary society when men are involved.

    I am sorry but I am going to have to agree with this part of this man's post. Now let me explain myself before you jump down my throat.

    I am a young woman who is going to be past the legal age of drinking alcohol in the US soon. Over the years growing up, I have had my skirt lifted by boys, by middle schoolers at age 6. I have had my rearend grabbed and rubbed, smacked, squeezed by strange boys growing up. This made me cautious of the men and boys surrounding me.

    When you think "omg omg he's got the possibility of raping me or causing me some kind of harm because he has a penis!" constantly,or even more than you should when walking on the street: it's a problem.

    You can't just walk around in fear, you can't live in fear. You are capable of being raped or sexually harassed by women too. It's possible that the same gender might find you attractive and start behaving like a street-stalker towards you because of your appearance. Should you fear your own gender too? Or better yet why do you trust your own gender more than a man? A strange woman offered me a ride and I declined because she was a stranger.

    I just don't trust many people, so I would like to believe that I am aware anyone, regardless of gender, could approach me inappropriately.

    I know it feels like sometimes its your fault..well at least that's how it was for me. But to cast others in the same light as the offenders,even in the slightest seems rather bigoted regardless of what happened to you in the past, present, or future. How I feel about this is, not every individual poses as a threat, even if they make a cat call. As long as they are not following me, talking about what's underneath my clothes, I really am not outraged. What I have always been hurt and upset over was the actual unwanted touching, an older man trying to get me into his rape truck when I was 14, the lewd comments about my genitalia,amongst many other things. I wish that was all a guy ever did to me was just approach me and ask for my number.

    I am not trying to make light of any situations you ladies have been in, but I am saying this: please do not walk in fear. It does a disservice to the men who actually respect you and it does a disservice to yourself to stress your mind over what assholes do. I'm just tired of bastards trying to take my power away by giving me unwanted physical attention more than verbal attention.

...