The Sexist

But How Do I Know If I’m A Street Harasser?

Whenever the problem of street harassment arises on the Sexist, one complaint will invariably be raised: How are men supposed to know the difference between friendliness and harassment? A recent thread on cat-calling produced this series of questions from commenter kza:

"How else do you get a number of a girl walking past you on the street?"

"How do you know who gives out their number and who doesn’t?"

"But how would you know that someone feels? I can’t read minds."

"If I approach a woman for directions am I threatening?"

There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what exact words or actions might be perceived as threatening. Women are individuals, and our responses to men-on-the-street are as varied as so many unique snowflakes. What may strike one woman as an honest compliment may strike another as a possible prelude to stalking. When we establish strict rules about what men can and cannot say to women on the street, we set up street harassment as the woman's responsibility—as long as the man follows the established script, it's up to the woman to fail to feel threatened by his approach, no matter how threatening his subtext.

But that's not to say that harassers should be given free reign to indiscriminately come on to strange women, hoping to find the one snowflake that responds positively to the random ass compliment. So I'd like to propose one really simple guideline for approaching women you don't know: Treat them like people, not objects. When you're considering approaching a woman, ask yourself:

* When I hang outside my car door and yell at a woman about her physical features, am I treating her like a person who is busy commuting to work, or an object who is out on the street to aid in my arousal?

* When I approach a woman and ask for her phone number without ever having interacted with her previously, am I treating her like a person who will likely be wary of complete strangers attempting to gain her personal information, or like an object that's happened to catch my eye and that I'd like to be able to look at regularly?

* When a woman shows no interest in my advances but I push the interaction anyway, am I treating her like a person with a subjective experience, or an object whose feelings are unimportant to my actions?

* When a woman informs me that I am harassing her, and I become angry that she would ever interpret my comments that way, am I treating her like a person whose attitude is informed by her own unique experiences, or an object who must respond in the manner that I expect of her?

I bet that following the person-not-object rule will help to reduce most harassing behavior. But well-meaning men who treat women like people are still capable or scaring, threatening, or offending strange women they approach on the street. Because we're individuals. So for men who are truly uncertain about when their behavior crosses the line, his behavior following the perceived harassment is just as important as the approach itself. A recent post on Holla Back D.C. illustrates one ideal scenario:

I walk from the bus stop to get to my job this morning, and a homeless man was sitting outside of Starbucks on M near Wisconsin. He shakes his cup at people walking by, but with me it’s “Hey, gorgeous” and “Hey, mami.”

I walk up to him and tell him that he shouldn’t call women he doesn’t know “gorgeous” and “mami” and that he needs to refer to them as “miss” or “ma’am.” He immediately apologized, said he meant “no disrespect,” and told me to have a nice day. I wished him a nice day as well.

I rarely get apologies from harassers. Usually when they get called out on their behavior they get irate, start throwing insults and get violent. But this guy was genuinely apologetic and I appreciated that.

I wish more harassers would follow his lead.

When a woman is obviously uncomfortable by your advances, do you back off immediately? Do you apologize for the slight? Do you learn from this experience that not all women respond positively to the way you interact with them? Or do you project your expectations of correct female behavior on her, and call her a bitch for failing to take a compliment?

  • groggette

    Saurs & Adrienne, y'all are hurting my poor little lady brain with all that "logic" and "personal autonomy" and nonsense so I'll just share a little anecdote about the one time someone telling me to smile actually had a happy ending.
    I had just gotten to a pool hall and was waiting for a boyfriend to show up so I sat down at the bar to order something. Guy a few stools down say something to the effect of me needing to smile so I look at him, give him the ugliest sneer I can manage, and go back to waiting for the bartender. Next thing I know the bartender is telling me my drink's been paid for by that guy so I say thank you, resume waiting, and that guy doesn't try at all to make any further contact with me. I wish all commands to smile ended with a free drink... I might actually smile more for strangers then.

  • SuchIsLife

    What y'all biyatches just ain't getting, even are refusing to get, is that it is the hypocrisy that you epitomize, that is described above in great detail and with much anger and resentment, that is catching you between the short hairs.

    In life, you don't get a free pass to treat people like shit because they have done something that upsets you. Aggravates you, annoys you, even scares you. You just perpetuating the cycle...making the situation even worse.

    Why not, instead of responding in a rude, obnoxious and elitist way, which if a guy did it you would be happy to call him a jerk, instead of being a female jerk (i.e. "biyatch") why not just explain, in a polite, respectful even patient way, what your problem is, to the person who is offending your delicate sensibilities?

    Instead of slamming the bitch-ass alarm and going off like a fruitcake?

    Just an idea. Of course you can respond like a bunch of haters if you want.

    But you say that wearing short skirts and running around drunk and hopping into a guys' bed doesn't mean that you are asking to get raped. Why would you think that a guy who walks up to you and talks to you when you are "busy" and "enjoying your own space" is asking to get bitch-slapped, metaphorically-speaking?

    Cease with the hypocrisy. At least. If you can't do that then well by your own logic you deserve what comes your way in response.

  • heidrun

    it is certainly difficult to discuss this not face-to-face, i clearly see that now. because finding people who talk to you on the street sympathetic or nice or funny or disgusting of course relates to how they approach you, how they look, how they talk.
    i can't be positive you would find my talking to you on the street offensive, but i don't think you would (not because i think i'm so wonderful but just because that isn't the response i get, ever), especially not in the mentioned "german context", as it really seems to be quite different.
    and i certainly didn't want to insult anyone, i write as i would talk, and often get misunderstood on the net. i'm sorry.
    obviously i was getting a little OT while this thread is still on harassing. no need to be angry, saurs.
    i don't expect anyone to be an actor (or actress, in that case) if i'm in a really bad mood, i find it stupid when someone tells me to smile, too. though (depending on the tone, of course) i probably wouldn't consider that sexist or objectifyng or anything like that. mind you, i don't talk especially abot women here, but people. i certainly did not want to imply that only women should be open to anything.
    of course you never know what mood others are in. but is that a reason for not smiling at anyone, not talking to anyone on the street and always minding your own business? that's a thing that i really disliked in n.y. when i went there - everyone minding ONLY his/her own business.i actually find that very frightening and lonely, although of course, no one should ever be obligated to be friendly, but it certainly makes the athmosphere nicer.
    and no, smiling is not necessarily silly or stopping to use your brain but maybe turning it on to think about your situation and see that you're maybe not the self-pitying, poor, stressed-out person that you thought you are (like it often happens to ME, no insult to anyone special) and that your life is actually pretty ok as it is. but if you think it isn't, you can certainly claim your right to be worried all the time and show it all the time. it's not forbidden.
    and you really totally misunderstood me, saurs, and i think i didn't say that right.
    i wanted to say that if you happen to have lots of nice conversations on the street, as i often do, the PERCENTAGE of not-so-good encounters decreases. and by "amazing response" i meant mostly non-sexually connoted chats or talks or smiles or whatever, not necessarily from men or whatever gender i might be interested in.
    english isn't my mother tongue, and i tend to write comments a little too fast. sorry again. i hope i made myself clear. if not, then be it.
    and regarding compliments: i only mean general compliments like "you look nice", "you are sympathetic", "nice sweater", stuff like that. i never would comment on a stranger's body, hell no. that really is crossing a line.
    and, BTW, having worked as a waitress and having been harassed quite a bit in that job, i totally agree with what you said about people at the work place, too.

  • heidrun

    i would really like to see you, such is life, in the sin of a somewhat attractive woman walking down a street in, say, italy, and explaining very politely, friendly and patiently to every second man why you don't want to respond to his remarks regarding your tits, your legs, your hair, you name it, or demanding that you talk to them. (mind you, studies have shown that even women wearing a hijab get comments like that) that would be a real show!

  • heidrun

    oops. i meant "skin of a somewhat..."

  • heidrun

    and @ adrienne: "But isn’t this statement: “but i am certainly not treating anyone as object by trying to make their day a little nicer” exactly the excuse a lot of men who give unwanted compliments use to justify their actions? There are ways to try to make someone’s day nicer without asking them to adopt a particular facial expression, or asking them why they don’t already have that facial expression. Can you say, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” or something similar."
    you're right. i certainly wouldn't shout SMILE! at random people on the street. and usually i'd rather say what you suggested, or something like "why don't you smile, it's such a pretty day" or the like. but i wouldn't stare at them until they do what i want. i think that was a misunderstanding.

  • Toysoldier


    Is it really that difficult to simply be polite? I find it hard to believe that any man interested in a woman cannot manage basic civility when trying to get her attention and express his interest in her. If she reacts responds in a rude, obnoxious and elitist way, i.e. like a jerk, that should have no bearing on how a man responds, whether he remains interested or decides to move on.

    You cannot control other people's responses, but you can control your own. So if you approached a woman and she responded rudely, for whatever reason, that does not mean you have to respond the same way, even if that response were common among women. Even if there is hypocrisy at play, I fail to see how or why that should have any impact on one's own politeness towards women, especially those one wishes to know better. Even someone such as myself with no sexual interest in women can understand this, and this should be patently obvious to anyone who wants intimate relationships with women.

  • Adrienne


    In many instances, it doesn't matter whether we respond politely or get bitchy. My best friend was walking down the street the other week when a guy with a group of friends said, "Damn girl you got a fine ass." She responded with "Please don't make comments about my body." I've been with her when she has said this line to many many men- she says it in a totally neutral, even tone, no hint of bitchiness (even if it's totally deserved, in my opinion). Sometimes the guy will leave her alone, but this time the three guys followed her for over a block screaming "Fucking bitch! You got a hot body but your face is fucking ugly!" And so on. Had she said something really bitchy, or screamed at them, would their reaction have been any different? Probably not, but it shows that being polite in response to rudeness doesn't magically fix the problem and make those men stop treating us like objects, or worse.

    On the other hand, if I feel like a guy is invading my space or saying something inappropriate, but not being a total ass, a curt response (a look that says "why are you talking to me?" or a one-syllable response followed by turning away) will often suffice to make him leave me alone. Someone might think that these responses count as being a total bitch, but I think that indicates their expectations of women's behavior and their desire to have me behave a certain way more than an accurate reflection of the behavior itself.

    If I am polite or sweet in response to unwanted attention, they will usually take that as an invitation to keep on coming. The friend I mentioned above has had good, constructive conversations with men who made an extremely inappropriate comment about her body, and gotten apologies from them, but this is the exception rather than the norm, from everything I've heard.

    If a woman wants to be a total bitch to every guy who talks to her, I don't blame her, frankly. If she wants to be sweet and polite to each one, she's free to give it a shot, but if she lives in any of the places I've lived (all in the U.S.), I expect she'd get pretty tired of it and start being mean to some of them.

  • Adrienne

    Thanks for the clarification, Heidrun. I also get the feeling there's something lost in the cultural divide, though your English seems quite good. Everything we're talking about absolutely depends on context, and that varies so much from country to country or town to town that it's hard to get it all straight sometimes.

    You seem like a really easygoing person, and it seems like it works well for you. In some areas of my life I'm like that too, but I just have had so many negative experiences with random guys that it makes it hard to have that attitude with new ones who give me unwanted attention. I bet if I moved somewhere that had a different culture around this, my attitudes and behaviors would gradually change. I also dislike the general mind-your-own-business attitude of NYC (at least that's the impression I've gotten when I've been there) and have been a big proponent of general friendliness (flawed as it is, since in many places you only get it if you look white and hetero etc) I've found in the South, where I'm from. Part of the difficulty in this discussion is definitely due to these regional differences, I think.

  • groggette

    I find it shocking (Shocking!) that in SuchIsLife's view men can act however the hell they want but women are expected to always be polite and respectful.

  • Saurs

    grogette, I especially like SuchIsLife's warning against sounding "elitist"! Oh no! Elitist! Telling narcissistic ponces to piss off is acting elitist now! I'm the toff-nosed WASP I never wanted to be!

  • Saurs

    I spelled your name wrong there, groggette. Sorry.

  • k

    So, so many lengthy diatribes to rationalize the fact that you can't deal with rejection.

    Honestly, dude. Reread that thing you wrote about it being better to find out a woman isn't going to do everything you want her to when you approach her on the street, than when the two of you are living together in your apartment and hanging out with your friends.

    Do you not see that that is extremely weird? It's like the 7th grade girls who have already figured out what color they want to paint their house and what they want to name their children. Now, all they need is some random boy to become their husband!

    The way you think about and talk to and about women, it just doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to me.

  • YouLookingAtMe

    "In many instances, it doesn’t matter whether we respond politely or get bitchy."

    No, it always matters.

    Look, the problem here is that you are more interested in arguing than in resolving this issue. You are just trolling. You may not be trolling either intentionally or even consciously, but trust me that's what you're doing.

    Stop arguing so much and just take what people say to you and realize that they are either ignorant, or just plain stupid...or right. There comes a point in any discussion where it's no longer a matter of clearing-up ignorance or exposing logical fallacies. It's a simple matter of people who refuse to accept the facts that are in front of their faces.

    We've reached that point here.

    Let it be said that we have a difference of opinion...and you can live with yours, and I'll live with mine. I won't tell you that you have a phat ass...and you won't tell me what I should or should not say about your body...and at least between you and me, we can both be happy...

    Now you just have to worry about the other guys out there.

    I suppose that in general this is a matter of etiquette as much as anything else. You may be right in that a guy walking down the street commenting on your body is offensive and rude. But for you to tell him that is also offensive and rude. Even if you feel that you are being polite and even considerate in telling him that. A guy with his friends, getting a dressing-down like this in public from a girl, he almost has to come back in response. Of course if he was a decent guy with decent friends then he wouldn't come out with some half-assed comment like that in the first place, but he would have said *something* to you...if he thought that you were worth the trouble, the risk of getting shot-down in front of his friends.

    And sure there are guys out there who are doing that right now just for "sport", with women, just to see them get upset and yell...either because they are dicks or because thats what they do where they come from or both.

    The main thing is, don't give them anything to work with, and then they can't blame you for the whole situation. It's the same thing with guy is an ass to another, the 2nd guy gets offended and says something smart or cocky back to the first, next thing you know they are fighting because each has too much of his ego tied up into it to back down. Both of them have to show the other how to act. That's what you get into by "lecturing" guys ont he street. It's best to just not talk to such guys, if that's really what you think, and the more that you make it clear that you want noting to do with them the less that you can get blamed by an observer for anything that happens next.

    But note the difference between "making it clear that you want nothing to do with them" and being rude and disrespectful to them in return, just in a different way than they were rude and/or disrespectful to you in the first place.

    So yeah it always does matter whether you were rude, or polite, or neutral. It's just a question of how it matters. You're focusing on just one thing: getting these guys to leave you alone. But there's a lot more to it than that, and even if you're right and 99 times out of 100 it "works" for you, that 100th time is going to be a real pain in your ass.

    You want the success rate to be somewhere north of 99%. The way to do that is to defuse the situation. First and foremost. Then remove the explosive. Then you don't have to worry about it going off later for a different reason, when you're not watching. A guy says that to you on the street, just put distance between him and you, with no further comment. And if you are going somewhere where there are plenty of guys like that out on the street? Put distance between yourself and that place. Don't hang out in places where there are a lot of assholes on the street and then act as if they shouldn't be assholes. You're just going to run into one asshole who's going to lecture you about being a prude.

  • BesidesThat

    ...besides that the next thing you know you'll be passive when you need to be active, because now it's too late for you to run or call for help.

    Then the next thing that you know you'll end up in the bushes with the guy and he's getting busy with you and you're too afraid to say a word because you're afraid that he's going to hurt you.

    When you pin yourself into a corner with what you do or say, you just need to be wrong just once about what you think the effect of your actions will be. Just once. And then you're screwed. We're always wrong from time to time, that's the nature of life. But a smart person leaves themselves a good "out" when they make a bet like this. Never be wrong in a way that puts you in a hole, that puts your ass on the line, strung out and helpless. That's a very-good way to get screwed.

    Not to mention the fact that you don't have to actually be wrong about the bet. You just need to have someone change the bet on you.

  • groggette

    According to this dumbass troll here, men can't control their emotions and women need to walk on eggshells around them or else those men will have to go around attacking and raping women. And yet he calls us the man haters.

  • Adrienne

    Wow. I've never been called a troll before. I'm kinda speechless about that.

    Moving on, multiple-name-person, you seem to think I care about the opinion of a guy who's harassing me? That I care if he "blames me"? And that I care about the opinion of an observer? Just to be clear, I don't.

    In a situation in which I feel threatened, or even very irritated, you are right that my primary concern is getting the jerk to leave me alone. My secondary concern is potentially impressing on him that he should not behave this way toward other women in the future. I wonder why you are so sure that ignoring every guy every time will solve the problem for me. Do you have a lot of experience with this yourself? Have you tried out a lot of methods, and found this to be the best one? If so, please share. If not, please take my word that I have tried everything I can think of, including ignoring, and have settled on my current strategy because it gets the best results for me. I ignore a lot of comments, sure. Sometimes it seems like the best option. But it sure doesn't do anything in terms of my secondary objective, which is trying to discourage the guy from doing it to anyone else. Sometimes a calm explanation will do that. I bet being a bitch works sometimes. Embarrassment surely does it for some.

    But shutting up and taking it, which you insist I do in this conversation and on the street, will do nothing. I take my safety very seriously, and I don't need you to tell me how to take care of myself. Do you think ignoring rapists will make them go away?

    I don't argue for the sake of arguing. I don't bitch at guys because I like to. I do what's necessary to protect myself and, hopefully, make the world a little better for other people too.

    I find it completely unsurprising that on a post about how men can tell if they are harassing women, some men feel the need to tell women how they should act after they have been harassed.

    I want people to be able to chat with each other and hit on each other without all this other bullshit. That's why I think the original conversation is an important one to have: some guys (and women and others) are totally clueless about how to talk to women they are interested in without coming across as a creep. I don't want to discourage them from trying, when appropriate, and with the least likelihood that they will make the woman feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Social skills are learned and a lot of people are (clearly) not in touch with what daily life is like for a lot of women, so they don't know how to navigate those conversations effectively. If people who are interested in women want to have that conversation, I'd love to participate.

  • Saurs

    heidrun, I appreciate your lengthy response and clarification to some of your other comments. I feel we're probably simpatico about this issue on many levels.

    I'm completely open to casual friendliness and courtesy amongst strangers, particularly in busy urban neighborhoods where everyone walks to do their shopping, go the bank, post a letter, and so forth. Where this becomes political is when I am expected to happily accept critiques about my physical person delivered unsolicited and by strangers, especially men. When I said I'm not an actor, I mean that I don't live my life awaiting "responses" to my every action and choice; I don't garner reviews because it's not my profession to do so, and I'm never going to accept an admonition to smile or look happy with anything other than anger, disgust, and bewilderment. I accept that men and women are "visual creatures," as the evolutionary psychology retards like to remind us. I'm regularly turned on by random dudes and dudettes. I never think its appropriate to vocalize my appreciation and try to humiliate the other person by telling them how sexy I think they are, or by offering (well-intentioned but completely inappropriate) advice.

    You're correct that there are times when we can all lighten up, and that sometimes other people can give us respite from our problems. At the same time, however, I'm not interested in being rescued by anyone, and sometimes my problems can be worked out by THINKING about them, and sometimes, yeah, I do that in public and I'm probably wearing an ugly expression when I do it. Too bad, I suppose.

    By the by, I don't give lectures to men who harass me. I try desperately to ignore them, or I perform storms of expletive-laden screaming. But I don't care to educate anyone. I'm neither a teacher nor a mommy, and I'm definitely not Miss Manners. I think, however, this goes beyond common courtesy and is, as this comment thread demonstrates, an issue about male misogyny and male entitlement.

  • Saurs

    Also, like groggette says, there is no greater man-hater alive than an angry man out to edumacate the ladiez about how they're all going to be raped (and how they all deserve to be raped) if they don't watch themselves and placate Random Dude Egos. Priceless.

  • valmont

    great post, now what if a man is unconfortable with how a women dresses? really , I swear one time I was working at the bookstore and this women came in dressed in a very revealing top, so revealing that you can't help but look at it...I told a female employee to serve her because I couldn't stop starring, it was as if a man walked in with a very visible hard on...there should be rules on how people should dress be it men or women.

  • Saurs

    For the record, dude with a thousand names: this is why the evil feminists call rape a political weapon. 'Cos of dudes like you, and there are countless numbers of you, who threaten to wield your mighty penis sword every time some evil woman wounds your fragile self-esteem. You cowardly prick of an asshole.

  • ToWit

    "In a situation in which I feel threatened, or even very irritated, you are right that my primary concern is getting the jerk to leave me alone. My secondary concern is potentially impressing on him that he should not behave this way toward other women in the future..."


    You know why they give SAT tests to aspiring college-students?

    To see if they have the aptitude to succeed in college.

    Because, you know, some of them try to bite off a lot more than they can chew. Sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through sheer stubbornness. And sometimes because their ego is a bit big for their britches...and they're simply suicidal.

    In your case it sounds like a bit of all three.

    But if it helps you to get past this, I'm not "arguing" with you, it's just my opinion. Feel free to take it or leave it :)

  • PleaseStop

    "According to this dumbass troll here, men can’t control their emotions and women need to walk on eggshells around them or else those men will have to go around attacking and raping women. And yet he calls us the man haters."

    I came to the conclusion a long while ago that one of the biggest problems with people who experience extreme emotion is that they project their own worst tendencies onto others. You can never reason with them because they are always assuming the worst, and they have so much experience with "the worst" in their own personal history that they can hardly avoid it. Give them an iota of factual evidence to support their fears, and they will run 26 miles with it on the resulting surge of adrenaline. They are irrational, thus afraid, thus illogical, thus even more's a cycle of fear and stupidity and mistrust and self-hate that only stops when they can no longer run. And they won't stop running until they have damaged themselves so badly that they can't move anymore.

    Until then they will destroy everything in their path, in a fit of obsessive-compulsive destructiveness.

    You really don't need me to explain why you shouldn't give even more incentive to a strange guy who has just harassed you on the street. Just imagine it yourself, that will be more than enough.

    Oh and call me whatever you like. Just remember it's not my pants that he's trying to get into.

    Good luck with all that!

  • groggette

    Let me break it down real nice and simple for you sweetheart since you can't even keep your own argument straight (1st you say we need to politely tell a man what he's doing wrong, then you say that doing so is rude itself and we should expect violence in return and that what we really need to do is ignore it all together which will magically solve the problem... still no word on what's expected of men):

    When a man hollas at a woman, whether he's being intentionally intimidating or not, she basically has 3 responses. She can ignore it entirely, politely explain how what he is doing is not cool, or go off on how much of an idiot he's being. In return a guy now has 3 responses himself, he can apologize and move on, say something along the lines of "whatever bitch" and move on, or he can start getting really aggressive and follow the woman around screaming at her and maybe even move up to doing violence to her.

    It doesn't matter what response a woman initially gives. There is no script here. A man can react on any of his 3 ways to whichever way a woman responds to his initial advances (to wit, just last week I choose the ignore response and ended up with a guy following me in his car screaming about how he wanted to rape me). And here's the kicker, WE DON'T KNOW WHICH MAN WILL RESPOND WHAT WAY! So maybe instead of telling women we need to do respond the same way to a script that's always changing, we should be telling men not to act like entitled assholes and respect it when a woman says/shows she's not interested.

    Oh hey wait,that was the point of this post in the first place.

  • noodlez



    “How else do you get a number of a girl walking past you on the street?”



    “If I approach a woman for directions am I threatening?”


  • Adrienne

    Anyone else get the impression that the person with multiple names is the one who wrote the emails featured in another recent post? Am I right?


    I disagree that there should be standards (at least any more than there already are by law) for how anyone should dress or how much skin they should show. The idea that men as a group simply cannot control themselves in the presense of visible female flesh is ludicrous and pretty man-hating (I'm not saying that you hate men). I think we can give the cast majority of men more credit than that.

    That said, I think you're on the right track with your behavior. You knew that you personally would have been unable to serve this customer without being disrespectful, so you removed yourself from the situation. Bravo. Look, I like women's bodies. I see women everywhere that I am attracted to and wouldn't mind gazing at. If I can check them out in a way that is not intrusive (they don't know i'm doing it, or they do so I keep it quick and flirty) I will do so. I don't think there's anything wrong with appreciating the way someone looks or is dressed as long as it doesn't intrude upon them. I apply the same rule when I check out people who aren't women.

    I think a quick glance is okay if you're passing someone. Maybe 2 seconds, max? It's hard to quantify. In the case you mentioned, where one is just very distracted and drawn to a particular body part, I think it's absolutely crucial to be able to exercise self-control and remove oneself from the situation, as you did.

  • Toysoldier

    When a man hollas at a woman, whether he’s being intentionally intimidating or not, she basically has 3 responses.

    No, a woman has a host of responses. The three you pointed out are simply the script as feminists see it. Likewise, a man has a host of responses. He is not limited to becoming a tool or wallowing in guilt. Can someone know what response they will get? No, and as a result it is best to be polite until it becomes necessary to do something else.

    So when some random woman who feels entitled to touch, kiss or hug my 10-year-old godson attempts to do so, I simply move my godson to my other side and keep walking. Of course, I run the risk of the woman making a scene, accusing of me kidnap, accusing me of child rape, calling me a pedophile or using homophobic slurs (all of which happened), but my desire to protect my godson trumps any of that. Yet, I am not rude about it. I also understand that in many instances the women (as it is always women) who try to touch him are not predators. Their intention may not be to frighten or hurt him, so that tempers the way I respond, primarily because as a man I have been on the receiving end of people, always women, presuming I am a threat to children.

    So maybe instead of telling women we need to do respond the same way to a script that’s always changing, we should be telling men not to act like entitled assholes and respect it when a woman says/shows she’s not interested.

    At the same time, we should tell women also not to act like entitled assholes and understand that every man who compliments their appearance is not harassing them. You would want the same in the reverse. Women tend to touch people without permission and do so in very personal and intimate ways that I find uncomfortable. Yet, when asked not to touch me, most women I have encountered become extremely offended and insulted because they meant no harm. So while I am more than entitled to set my own boundaries for my protection, I do not have to be rude about it, although I admittedly could not care less whether women are offended if I tell them to keep their body parts to themselves.

  • k

    Toysoldier, you seem like a decent dude but it is honestly very strange to me how you talk about "feminists" and women as if we are all some kind of hive mind.

    Look at the posts above you and you will find women recommending myriad approaches to talking to people on the street, talking about how fun it is to strike up a conversation, insisting that they want to be left alone at all times or else, and talking about the personal methods they use to demonstrate whether or not they would like to have a chitchat at a café or on a train.

    So why are you elevating groggette's post to "the feminist script" for social encounters? Seems to me that there are a ton of different scripts floating around here.

    Also, since you are talking about being touched without your consent, I wanted to let you know that I would never touch a stranger, and certainly NOT a young child. That is unacceptable as heck and I am sorry you have to deal with that crap!

  • Adrienne

    I just this minute had a very positive experience with a man who struck up a conversation with me (i'm in a coffee shop). As I was sitting down, he asked me if I knew what the weather was supposed to be like for the next few days. I looked it up and told him, and we ended up chatting for maybe 10 minutes about different cities in the US, and the weather and cultural scenes in each. In the end I wrapped it up politely and turned back to my work. He then stood up, told me to have a nice day, and left. I admittedly had my creepdar up the whole time (because this coffeeshop has a higher than average number of creeps generally and ive had a number of disappointing experiences here) but never had to extricate myself.

    A few factors for why this was a pleasant, not creepy interaction: he did not try to engage me when I was already working, his initial question could be answered with "I don't know", he did not ask any personal questions, it is a public place, he looked at my face not my body, and perhaps most importantly, I felt that I could leave the conversation at any moment without repercussions. I felt no pressure from him one way or the other.

    @toysoldier, i'm sorry you've had those negative experiences with women. I also feel uncomfortable when random people touch me and wish more people would either keep their hands to themselves or at the very least be understanding when someone asks them to stop. I think it shows, like those guys who pay unwanted compliments, that we could probably all stand to be a little more thoughtful before we come into someone's space (verbally or physically).

  • heidrun

    @ saurs & adrienne: glad we could straighten that out. cheers with a virtual beer (saturday night here...)!

  • groggette

    1) You're experience with your godson doesn't contradict what I said at all. You reacted to unwanted attention with the way you thought best to keep your godson safe and the people showing that unwanted attention responded with increases aggression. Where did I say that doesn't happen? I didn't.

    2) You're doing some classic derailing here. "We can't talk about X, the point of this post, because I want to talk about Y."

  • Pingback: Weekly Round Up March 28, 2010 « Stop Street Harassment!

  • Schopenhauerian

    Someone wrote:

    "i myself have told people (women and men) to please smile, and their reaction was never bad.
    i’m sorry, but you must be pretty bitter, if you consider that harassing. it may be stupid, ok, but that’s that. most of the time i find it pretty uplifting."

    Sometimes it's not stupid, it's insensitive and tactless. Why? Essentially, you have no idea what's going on in another human being's head. For instance, some random dumbass once told me to smile right after my grandmother died of kidney failure in a nursing home. Are you fine with that? What if I'm frowning because I found out my best friend has HIV? What if I just lost my job and am trying to figure out how not to get evicted? What if my landlord kicked my cat and I'm thinking of whether or not I can afford to take her in for an x-ray? In any of those cases, in what sense is you waltzing up and telling me "smile" acceptable behavior?

    If you must intrude on people's lives, why not ask them what's wrong and see if you can help and/or cheer them instead of telling them to change their expression to please you? I'm an attractive woman who's done everything from calling 911 for a man who was just beaten up and mugged, giving a cab ride to a woman who was just attacked by her boyfriend, to asking what's wrong and offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on to people of all genders on the subway who were in distress for a variety of reasons...almost all of which were accepted gratefully.

    Cheerfully demanding that any of these people "smile" instead would have been intrusive, insensitive, shallow and completely fucking stupid.

    TL/DR: When you see an unhappy person, try to contribute something constructive, or fuck off and mind your own goddamned business.

  • Diane K

    Saurs, do you have a blog of some sort? You are amazing and I'd love to continue reading your comments :)

  • bel_esprit

    What these men (or man posting under several names) don't seem to get is the inherent threat posed by unwanted male attention. You, the strange man approaching us, could be a nice guy. But you could just as easily be a rapist or a stalker or someone who gets physically violent or has anger issues. While most men aren't like that, we have no way of knowing if you, a stranger, are a threat or not. And insisting that a woman responds to you the way YOU want, rather than doing what makes her feel safe, is not really a great way of proving that you're one of the good ones.

    A woman's right to feel safe - in other words to not be raped, stalked, killed, or otherwise harmed - trumps your right to not have your ego bruised.

  • Sarah

    Meh. Menfolk, when trying to start conversations with the womenfolk, should try what womenfolk have been taught to do for years: Act self-deprecating and incompetent, then ask for help, and possibly feign interest in nail polish and hair straighteners.

  • BradMillersHero

    Let's see... I say, if you wouldn't say it to male stranger, then don't say it to a female one. If you are afraid it will get you punched in one situation, its likely to be taken just as offensively in the other.

  • heidrun

    hey Schopenhauerian,
    obviously you havent read what i wrote afterwards. (telling someone to fuck off without any interest in what she could have meant is obviously much more sensitive than telling someone to smile.)
    i have never told someone to smile like i yelled "SMILE" at them, no matter what their facial expression or general impression, i rather have used some more other words or asked them what's wrong - yes, you're obviously not the only one that has helped people on the streets, i with my insensitive and tactless personality have done that, too, believe it or not.
    and also, i already said it might be stupid. but i do not think (and it seems you do neither) that it's what you'd usually call harassing.
    you know what? even after my mom died (which she recently did) and through the months we had to deal with her sickness, i probably wouldn't have given a shit if someone would have asked me to smile on the street. honestly, i don't even remember if that happened. i certainly wouldn't have taken my time to think about how insensitive he or she was or what it was exactly i wasn't giving a shit about.
    it might also well have been that i was already smiling on some days, because it was a good day with my mom, i had hope, something funny had happened or whatever.
    because yes, there are many other reasons to smile than to please men, and it might be that there are some men out there who know that.
    i once asked a guy why he wasn't dancing on a party (because he was the only one who didn't), and he said "you know what? my girlfriend's in the hospital and i'm not in the mood." i said sorry, bought him a beer and left. no hard feelings there, it was a friendly conversation, and obviously people can't read each other's minds, which is fine, as long as they follow normal rules of politeness and the "people not objects" rule.
    i just really don't see the word "smile" in the same range as "hot ass, babe" or stuff like that. but still, no one has ever said it to me in an aggressive way, so maybe i just don't know. that hand between my thighs on the bus or men not stopping to talk to me although i turn and walk away is still a completely different thing in my book.

  • makomk

    groggette: the thing is that often, the way X is being talked about erases the fact that Y happens entirely - and in the case where Y is something that gets far less attention than X in general, I'd argue that claims of "derailing" are in fact a silencing tactic in themselves. (Just one that's aimed at an "acceptable" target.)

  • oldfeminist

    heidrun, your "don't let it bother you" approach is great when you have that option.

    Is "smile!" the same as grabbing my crotch? No. Is it offensive? Yes, even when the person who says it isn't trying to be. I don't have to be raped or physically wounded to be offended. The troll with a thousand names thinks it's okay to be offended when a woman doesn't let him down easy, so surely it's okay to be offended by a stranger's demand to look nice for him.

    BradMillersHero, you have a good point. One of the most interesting things about men's interaction with other men is they rarely look a strange man in the eye for more than a fleeting moment. It's aggressive.

    Most men have no such compunction about staring women in the eye. As a woman I've overcome the urge to look away -- that's a submissive move. If a man gives me a look, I look right back. The reactions include surprise, annoyance, embarrassment, even anger ("what are you looking at?").

    In a crowded place, watch how often men move out of the way for women and vice versa. Men think they're so chivalrous, but they rarely move out of the way when women are coming through.

    If you're a woman, try walking without ducking around men walking and see just how close you get to being knocked over and how surprised the men are that you don't just get out of their way.

  • cmb

    if a guy looks appreciative or even whistles but doesn't approach me, i don't find it offensive, i take it as a compliment. it's the expectation of interaction that i find offensive. if a guy's trying to get me to talk to him then it feels like harassment. i don't like unsolicited conversation from strangers, particularly men. if a guy signals his interest and then backs off, I can make conversation or not depending on how i feel. that seems like a pretty good rule of thumb to me.
    I've actually made a few friends this way.

  • cmb

    also, maybe it's that i live in austin (and a nice bit of austin) but i don't encounter a lot of harassment. the guys i encounter seem really courteous and don't come too close or make unwanted conversation. someone mentioned guys moving out of your way in a crowd and i've found that men and women are equally likely to yield in crowded areas.

    i think the trick here is to show men good ways to interact with women instead of telling them how not to interact. a lot of times i think guys act like jerks because they don't have an idea of what courtesy looks like. i don't want to excuse bad behavior like "oh poor him, he doesn't know any better" i'm just saying that we could do better than saying "quit being a jerk" we could say "here's how to be nice"
    what kind of attention feels comfortable to women? when is a compliment just a compliment and not harassment? how can a guy be flattering without being threatening?

  • Toysoldier

    @ k: Such is the nature of generalizations. One may find they are at times inapplicable. Perhaps this is why people should avoid making generalizations about groups of people, such as the above generalizations about men.

  • heidrun

    @ toysoldier: you're right about how some comments here generalize stuff about men (which doesn't mean that it's clever to answer with "women are like...")

    this generalization by oldfeminist (aside from the occasional subtle or not so subtle "all men are potential harassers and have to be kept in check" attitude around here) strikes me probably the most (and lets me think again, maybe germany IS really, really very different:
    "In a crowded place, watch how often men move out of the way for women and vice versa. Men think they’re so chivalrous, but they rarely move out of the way when women are coming through."
    i have been stepped on my feet by countless girls with pumps so full of coke they didn't even bother to look at me in clubs :) i never notice much difference between men and women regarding the issue of moving aside when someone else is coming. generally i would even think there are more men willing to say "sorry" when they bump into you than women.
    "Men think they’re so chivalrous" i don't know any men who really think so, and i think i'm glad about that.

    other than that, i totally agree with this part, although i find it hard sometimes not to look away when i don't want to be bothered:
    "If a man gives me a look, I look right back. The reactions include surprise, annoyance, embarrassment, even anger (”what are you looking at?”)."

  • Saurs

    Hey, thanks very much, Diane K. That's a wonderful compliment. I don't have a blog, no.

  • STX


    I did not have a chance to read all of the comments but I do have a question. I live in South TX and currently commute by bike to work everyday. I love my commute but I still wonder if there is a better response to the harassment I sometimes encounter. 2 events happened in the past couple of weeks:

    1. I stopped at a red light and the guy in the car next to me rolled his window down and asked personal information (with the tone that implies that I should pay attention to him and that I should answer his question. At first I was confused and just said "excuse me?" he (exasperated) repeated his question, I then ignored him and continued my trip (luckily the light turned green as soon as he repeated his question).
    2. Random guy in his bike saying "Goodbye" and slowing down to talk to me until I made a turn and left.

    How do I approach this situations? Should I continue to ignore them?


  • k

    Yay Toysoldier! Way to give as good as you get when it comes to stupid generalizations!

    This is clearly the best way to learn about one another and further the conversation!!

  • groggette

    Have you tried riding with head phones? You don't need to actually be listening to anything, just have the buds in your ear and then you can act as if you never heard them in the first place. I never respond to anyone in a car when I'm cycling or walking, don't even look in their direction, but I know that doesn't work for everyone. As for the other cyclist, maybe if ignoring him doesn't work you could try acting (or not) all out of breath like it's impossible for you to have a conversation with him.
    Good luck!

  • Adrienne

    STX, in the first case, maybe "why do you feel entitled to ask me that?" Hopefully it would stall the guy or confuse him long enough that the light would turn green or you'd go your separate ways. In the second case, maybe "Hey, I'm just trying to focus on my ride. Have a nice day!" and then pedal off. I also just pretend I don't hear people a lot of the time, especially if they're in a car and i'm not. That's usually because I get the impression they're trying to make me upset and I won't give them that satisfaction. The guys in your case just sound presumptuous, as I read it.

    To try to phrase advice to those who talk to women on bikes in line with cmb's request (what to do instead of what not to do):

    Before you talk to a woman, consider her situation in relation to yours. If you are in a car and she is not, think about how intimidating that imbalance might be for her. Likewise if you are, say, in a policeman's uniform or another position of power. Or, like I said above, if she's on the clock and you're not. Try to approach women when you're on equal footing. Some ladies do have the hots for cops or want to hook up while at work, so this advice could be cancelled by some serious flirtation on her part. Just, think it over first.

  • Pingback: A Woman’s Perspective: How To (or not) Approach Women On The Street « PullJoy©: The Secrets of a Pickup Artist