The Sexist

Woman Shot After Refusing Stranger’s Advances: The Harassee’s Dilemma

A local college student was shot in the ankle over the weekend after she refused to give her phone number to a guy on the street. The student was leaving a party with a group of friends on early Sunday morning when the man shot her for rebuffing his sexual harassment. As she told Fox 5:

He told my cousin that he was gonna shoot at us if i didn't give him my number, and then he started shooting . . . I thought somebody kicked me in my leg, like, it was a lot of us running, so I thought somebody kicked me. I didn't know it was a gunshot.

The bullet is still lodged in her ankle.

Women who are harassed on the street have two options:

1. Be nice. Do what they want. Laugh nervously at their jokes. Surrender your phone number. Endure an increasing amount of sexual harassment. Get labeled a tease when you eventually turn down a date / refuse sex / don't answer the phone call / otherwise fail to please the stranger who is harassing you.

2. Be dismissive. Ignore the stranger's advances. Refuse to surrender your phone number. Tell him you're not interested. Endure an increasing amount of vitriol for turning the guy down. Get labeled a bitch immediately.

Which path do you choose? The college student chose to be dismissive; she got shot. But remember what can happen to you when you choose to be nice: After being stalked and then cornered in an empty Metro parking garage early in the morning, Emily Ruskowski eventually agreed to give the man her phone number. Then he groped her breast and attempted to enter her car.

The bitch-or-tease decision is made necessary by the pervasiveness of casual street harassment that can quickly escalate into a serious threat. I would talk about how easily unwanted sexual advances can turn into angry, violent advances, but in reality, the two scenarios are often indistinguishable from one another. When a man demands the phone number of a woman who is obviously uninterested in him, or when he propositions a lesbian couple that is obviously uninterested in him, or when he reaches out to grope a woman who is obviously uninterested in him, he is just as threatening as the man who intimidates a person into surrendering her wallet, or screams homophobic slurs at a lesbian couple, or exerts physical violence over his victim.

The difference is that the first category of advances is explained away as innocent consequences of a runaway libido and the victims' mixed messages; the second category is recognized as unacceptable violence. Sexual harassment is harassment; sexual assault is assault. If you don't want to contribute to a culture of street harassment the moves a man to shoot a woman who won't go out with him, then don't cat-call, don't ogle, don't ask for a number, don't grab, and don't follow. Stop tasking women with the potentially dangerous decision of how to let a guy down easy.

  • Nuala

    You raise some important questions that illuminate how complicated negotiating street harassment can be. Many of us have internalized this and chalked it up to something we just have to 'deal with.' I made a film Walking Home about this very issue.. Please feel free to share.

    Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2Qpi-fW6jA&feature=player_embedded

    WALKING HOME: This is an experimental piece about women ritually facing street harassment as they walk home. Shot in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, it mixes 16mm film, video, poetry and music in an effort to honor and reclaim our voice, name and humanity in the public sphere. This is for the walkers, talkers and those who say nothing.

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  • Michael Hatfield

    "If you don’t want to contribute to a culture of street harassment the moves a man to shoot a woman who won’t go out with him, then don’t cat-call, don’t ogle, don’t ask for a number, don’t grab, and don’t follow. Stop tasking women with the potentially dangerous decision of how to let a guy down easy."

    How is asking a woman you meet for her number in any way shape or form similar to shooting a woman who rejects you?

  • squirrely girl

    Michael,

    Personally, I think it REALLY depends on context. I've given out my number before in social settings where I'm talking to a friend of a friend or casual acquaintance. But not to total strangers and not to random jerks that yell, "gimme your number" and crap like that.

    I think the hardest part of this for a lot of men to understand is that there ARE assholes who are verbally abusive and stalkerific to random women and it DOES ruin it for the good guys. :(

  • queen of carrot flowers

    Perhaps this will help all of the people who think being justifiably wary of a stranger's advances (read: harassment) is unfair!

    http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

  • Michael Hatfield

    I am not one of the people who denies that street harassment is a problem. I've seen guys do it, so I know it happens. What I've also seen is girls flip out just because some guy approached them, that is also wrong. So I see both sides of the coin, there are guys who are jerks/harassers and there are chicks who have a diva attitude.....

  • petpluto

    "What I’ve also seen is girls flip out just because some guy approached them, that is also wrong."

    Here's my question: why should I automatically be polite to guys who come up to me on the street?

    I don't have to be. Guys don't have the right to my attention. I could be thinking about something else. I could have just dealt with someone harassing me two blocks earlier. I could be worried the guy in front of me is going to become someone who will harass me two seconds after talking to me. All of those things are plausible. All of those things should be taken into account.

    The guy who randomly approaches me in the street? He's not a known entity to me. I'm not a known entity to him. And because of that, if my instinct is to be cold or even mean, or if the last couple of guys I've dealt with have decimated my patience, that's what I'm going to do. Because I've dealt with many other guys like him before. And I don't owe him the benefit of the "not a harasser" doubt. He hasn't earned it. And frankly, he can't earn it. Because in order to earn it, I would have to give him that benefit first.

    Unfair to him? Maybe. More unfair to me to put me in the situation where I have to worry about whether or not this guy who's standing in front of me is suddenly going to show me his dick? I would say so.

    Which is where we come back to DanceDreaming's point:

    "To the majority of men, who -aren’t- crazy violent psychopaths, specifically to the sizable subset of same who are ’sexually assertive’, who think approaching a woman stranger in a sexual fashion in public is OK, please stop it. You are creating the tall grass in which the crazies hide. You are threatening. You are upsetting. You are demeaning."

    Because that is the world I operate in. And in order to tell the guys who are going to make me feel like crap or make me feel frightened or small or pathetic from the genuinely nice guys looking to meet a girl, then their starting points are going to have to be radically different. And right now, it isn't.

  • Michael Hatfield

    "Here’s my question: why should I automatically be polite to guys who come up to me on the street?"

    Take sex out of the equation. Your sitting at a park bench and eating a sandwich a random woman walks up and starts making conversation, you don't feel like talking why do you owe her politeness? Because respect is a two way street you can't be a bitch for no good reason and then get upset if a guy throws it back in your face, if you want respect you have to give it.

    I would go even further, maintaining a double standard for women were you hold men to a higher standard of politeness is misogynistic. Basically your saying women aren't capable enough to be held to the same standards as women.

  • Michael Hatfield

    With that said if a guy will not take a hint you have every right to be an asshole. Politeness is a two way street and bothering someone when they clearly want to be left alone is fucking rude, so go ahead be as rude as you want.

  • petpluto

    "Take sex out of the equation. Your sitting at a park bench and eating a sandwich a random woman walks up and starts making conversation, you don’t feel like talking why do you owe her politeness?"

    I don't. But to take sex out of the equation, or the possibility of HARASSMENT out of the equation, is to take out the very reason I may be extraordinarily impolite instead of only moderately so.

    "Because respect is a two way street you can’t be a bitch for no good reason and then get upset if a guy throws it back in your face, if you want respect you have to give it."

    Also, you're ignoring the fact that the respect I want is the acknowledgement that when I'm on the street, I'm not automatically there to talk to, to flirt with, or anything else. The respect I want most often is to be respectfully left alone. I'm going from point A to point B, and although you may be a very nice gentleman, I don't need to meet you now, nor do I necessarily want to. The respect I give is that I don't walk up to guys (or girls) I don't know and "Hey Baby" them, nor do I ask for their number, flash them, or follow them once they've ignored me. That? Is the respect I'd like back.

    "I would go even further, maintaining a double standard for women were you hold men to a higher standard of politeness is misogynistic. Basically your saying women aren’t capable enough to be held to the same standards as women."

    Nope, it is just acknowledging that the woman on the bench is not likely to suddenly flash me or grab at my boobs. Could happen, sure. But in my experience, not as likely. And you're presupposing I'll be all buddy-buddy with a woman who approaches me, and I'm not really buddy-buddy with anyone who randomly sits down and tries to chat.

  • Tom Seaview

    Great article... way more than other so-called "news" sites would have provided.
    I believe in (and practice) concealed carry. I wish she, or someone, had been able to shoot back.

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  • queen of carrot flowers

    Here's the thing. You CAN'T take gender (I'm assuming that's what you meant) out of the equation. Women are more likely to be harassed by men than men are by women, and women are MUCH more likely to feel threatened when a strange man approaches them. Really, read the article I posted upthread. I'm not really talking about politeness here, I'm talking about personal safety.

    Yeah, I'm generalizing. You know why? No woman's ever yelled something about my tits or pussy. No woman's ever approached me for my number stumbling and reeking of weed. No woman's ever purposely stood much, much too close to me on the bus. But men have. Not all men, but only men. So I'll go ahead and generalize for my own personal safety, and men can go ahead and take it personally if they want to.

    "Would you like a step-ladder to assist you in getting over yourself?"

  • Michael Hatfield

    "I don’t. But to take sex out of the equation, or the possibility of HARASSMENT out of the equation, is to take out the very reason I may be extraordinarily impolite instead of only moderately so. "

    Sexual harassment is a type of harassment, sexual in this case is just an adverb/adjective describing the type of harassment. When I say take the issue of sex out of the question what I mean is, "if the person was saying or doing was not sexual would you be offended?"

    And that is the heart of the matter for something to be sexual harassment it has to be harassment, the other person has to be harassing you.

    I'm sympathetic to those who are concerned about personal safety, very sympathetic. But being rude to someone of the opposite sex because they might be interested in you in a sexual way doesn't make you safer, it just makes you look like a jerk.

    "Also, you’re ignoring the fact that the respect I want is the acknowledgement that when I’m on the street, I’m not automatically there to talk to, to flirt with, or anything else."

    Nobody should feel like they have to talk to strangers who come up to them, for whatever reason. Everyone has a right to be left to their own thoughts. But you can have your privacy and your personal space without being rude. If someone won't leave you alone and you've asked them too, and you swear at them your not being rude, the person who isn't leaving you alone is the one being rude.

    "Yeah, I’m generalizing. You know why? No woman’s ever yelled something about my tits or pussy. No woman’s ever approached me for my number stumbling and reeking of weed. No woman’s ever purposely stood much, much too close to me on the bus. But men have. Not all men, but only men. So I’ll go ahead and generalize for my own personal safety, and men can go ahead and take it personally if they want to."

    Not everything which is unpleasant is a violation of your rights, one of the costs of living in a free society is dealing with unpleasant people. If someone says "go home with me or else," that is a threat and violates your rights. If some drunk/high/rolling person says, "OMFG you are sooooo hot, please come home with me, I want to *insert vulgar discription of sex act*" That person is acting like an intoxicated idiot, and being annoying but not violating your rights.

  • Michael Hatfield

    One more thing: Queen of carrots I did read your link, it's interesting, can't say I agree with it but none the less good stuff.

  • marcos

    Why did the article not say what happened to the man who shot the woman? This guy needs to be put in jail and the key needs to be thrown away, because he is mentally ill and violent, to say the least.

  • M

    The article isn't there for you to agree with. It's there to explain to you how it is for a lot of women.

    I think you're forgetting that we're not talking about approaching women with which you are in some kind of mutual social milieu. We're talking about random women on the street, who are minding their own business and would like that same courtesy returned.

    To frame it in a more aggressive manner: Why do you feel entitled to the time and attention of these women, just because you are attracted to them? Why do you feel they owe you politeness when you are interrupting their daily lives, which have likely been recently interrupted by people like or worse than you, multiple times?

    Since you seem to be at least willing to read things and are coming from the perspective of "but I'm a nice person!" here is another post about why, if you really ARE a nice guy, it is important to leave women on the street alone:

    http://kateharding.net/2007/05/07/gratitude/

  • Alex_P

    "In the old days, women would give a man a fake phone number. I agree that this isn’t a solution to the problem, but it is a option."

    This is such a bad idea, last year I got harassed for about three weeks by a guy after someone gave a fake number (which was mine).

    It started pretty normal. Just "hey had a great night, I was glad to have met you, call me" at 2am. I sent a message back saying I think he had the number wrong as I didn't know who he was. He became pressing and started to be sexually explicit about how he could "remind" me who he was. I politely re-iterated that he had the wrong number I had been home all night and that he must have been given a wrong number. He then preceded to call me a "f****** Wh***" and that he knew it was me. I did what I thought was the best and said that I was a guy so that he would be convinced, straight away he rang the phone so I got my BF to answer. He was abusive to him saying he must be my house mate and where was "that bitch". He carried on sending abusive texts about what he would do when he found me and ringing the phone to check a man answered (I got friends, workmates and my OH to answer every time).

    So please NEVER give out incorrect numbers as you just transfer the aggression.

  • EmilyBites

    Would some people stop approaching this issue as if every separate case of street harassment is an individual, unique, discrete interaction between two people (one of whom happens to be male, and one of whom female)!!
    A strange man walks up to me and says 'Hi baby.'
    I spin round, yell 'Fuck off and DIE, arsehole!' and possibly mace him.

    Gosh, looks like the crazy bitch overreacted, right?
    Guys says hello v. crazy bitch screams and maces him.

    Perhaps this man should take into account the years of intimidation and abuse the crazy bitch (aka Angry Lady) has been subjected to? Groping, following, catcalling, frottage, leers, stares, whistles...oh yeah, and a culture in which the female body is so sexualised and so appropriated by men that the Angry Lady's body doesn't even belong to herself! She can't even get dressed without worrying about who will harass her today, who will impose on her sexually, who will call her a slut!
    Maybe it's the daily grind of the lack of respect for her humanity that makes THIS ONE ISOLATED INCIDENT such a powder keg. This is the dominant culture we're talking about, not a series of isolated incidents.

    'a free society'? Michael, your privilege is showing. You may want to do something about that.

  • Mrs. D

    Tasha, it's interesting how you say that those who argue that, under your views, women could only go out under an invisibility cloak (points for creativity) are taking this debate to the extreme, while simultaneously using the rather extreme example of women walking around topless as an example that is supposed to undermine our argument that the onus is on men to not harass women. How, exactly, does that reconcile in your little world? While I empathize with the unfairness inherent in women's pectoral region being sexualized and men's not, it's not the extreme example of women walking around topless that we begin our argument from, but the woman walking around fully and conservatively clothed, because, since that's not even safe, nothing "beyond" that can be.

    Just because one particular person has not experienced harassment, doesn't mean that it doesn't occur, or that those who experience harassment did something wrong. What did I do wrong when, at 13, a man in his 40's asked me if there was room for 2 in my shirt? What did I do wrong when, at 10, I was catcalled by a group of high school students while walking home from school IN A CATHOLIC SCHOOL UNIFORM (from a very conservative school, which meant that even though it was warm - May or June - I was wearing a sweater or sweater vest and our skirts had to go to the bottom of our kneecaps), with my BROTHER, who, while younger, was a big, big kid. Both of these events took place in quiet, middle-class suburbs, just so that your impulse that I was walking in the wrong neighborhood is soothed. What did Meghann do wrong by walking in the stairwell of her own building and expecting a guy to leave her alone when she told him to (or not harass her in the first place), and then was harassed further by said man in the presence of her boyfriend (and no, Scott, the boyfriend should not "step" to the harasser, he sounds like a stalker and that might be even more dangerous. Building management first, police second)?

    And as for Michael, if you really, really want to be able to give women a friendly greeting, then work to stop harassment. A common approach to harassment is to start with a friendly greeting and move on to harassing (e.g., "hey, how are you, can I ask you a question, what does it take to get with a hottie like you?"). For the record, most women will NOT turn and tell you to f-off at a hello, but we certainly typically roll our eyes when it goes beyond "hi, how are you today," because we know what usually follows. I actually find people greeting me in the streets to be a pleasant surprise. Like when I unintentionally made eye contact with a man on the street a few weeks ago and he smiled, but kept walking, or when a woman said happy mothers day to me yesterday in a parking lot (don't know why she thought that greeting was appropriate, nothing about me says "mother," but whatever, I returned the greeting). But you see the crucial difference is those interactions are congenial and have an air of mutual respect, which cannot be expected when, on numerous occasions, you're either greeted with "hey baby, nice rack," or the aforementioned lure in with friendly and then turn harasser. I'll admit that I jumped a little when the man smiled at me, because, even though on the surface he appeared to be a nice, clean cut, friendly guy - someone who I might even want to know - the fact that he was acknowledging me made me think something crude might be coming. If I were never or rarely harassed, or harassed only by the random crazy homeless dude who's easy to spot, I never would have thought that he meant anything other than an acknowledgment of a fellow human being on the same sidewalk.

  • http://womenshotafterrefusingtogiveoutherphonenumber linda

    Some of you'll need not too get the story twisted like u did. U might want to reread the story all over again.

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  • http://feminazi.wordpress.com m Andrea

    LOL The kettle, it is black.

    Tasha said: Why do you need to respond with totally disproportionate examples? Can we not keep it somewhat realistic here? No where did I say that women should wrap themselves in burlap and remain indoors…I used a very specific example. Inflating an argument using hysteria is usually a sign of a weak one imo.

    Um, Tasha. You are the one who compared "naked women parading down the street demanding respect" to regular ole street harassment...

    Tasha continues: What I was getting at was the dynamic between perception. The women at the march were happy to bare their breasts as long as it was for a cause, but since they could not control other people’s perceptions, they are pissed. In one scenario walking down the street topless is a socio political statement to be respected, in the other, walking the street half naked is slutty and whorish. Why? The only difference is perception. So if you know certain things elicit certain perceptions, be responsible and either don’t do those things or at least have the maturity to not go mental when the expected happens.

    First of all you're confusing funfeminists with feminists, never a good idea. Just because a prostitute into bondage porn claims to understand feminism, doesn't mean she does. When "empowerment feminism" matches patriarchal misogyny perfectly, it's not genuine feminism. Secondly, when a man chooses to make women feel uncomfortable by his own actions, that is HIS CHOICE. It is his choice how he chooses to respond. You seem to have difficulty understanding that concept...

    Tasha continues: Ive managed to go a very very long time without being harassed due to my gender or sexuality. I simply dont see this constant barrage of ill treatment that you say virtually every woman needs to fight against every day…

    Harassers tend to select their targets carefully, they don't choose the ones who look like they would be flattered by the attention. They also don't choose as targets women who look like they can "take care of themselves". I can't find the post which details my point, but this one gets at it from another angle:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/03/24/why-rape-isnt-one-big-misunderstanding/#comment-51195

  • http://feminazi.wordpress.com m Andrea

    Oh, I don't mean to pick on Tasha as those types of comments are very common -- which is why they needed to be addressed.

  • http://feminazi.wordpress.com m Andrea

    I bookmarked that one btw, it was excellent! :)

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