street scene

14 misconceptions about street harassment that need to die forever so women can feel safe

 

Warning: this is an angry post. I don’t normally write angry posts on this blog, but recent events have reminded me of my righteous rage at what some men see as an acceptable way to act when wanting to get women’s attention. This post is directed at these men, so if you’re a man, you may find it uncomfortable reading.  Still, if you want to know why women are so angry, maybe you should read it anyway. It’s also long. Feel free to scroll down if you just want to read the part about the misconceptions, which is also long. TL;DR: street harassment sucks. don’t do it.


In spite of its many faults, The #metoo meme has done well. The point of the exercise, in case you don’t know (and apparently quite a few men and some women don’t) was to show how prevalent and systemic sexual harassment and sexual assault are in the lives of women. I’m afraid I was one of those unwelcoming females who didn’t want men to pipe up about their own sexual assault and harassment stories. This is not because I don’t believe they are important and need to be heard, but because we’re talking about women’s lives now.

Allow me to demonstrate. If we were talking about the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, for example, I wouldn’t feel the need to join the discussion and start talking about the stranger who exposed himself to me when I was 9 years old and on my way back from school (oh yeah, #metoo and all that, yo). Why? Isn’t my story just as important? Aren’t children being targeted by street paedophines important too? Sure, but that’s not the discussion we’re having. There are similarities, of course, and if I’d spent many years holding in my story waiting for the day when I could finally share it with others, I may have jumped at this opportunity to tell it. At this point, a survivor of child abuse in the Catholic church would be within his rights to tell me this was not my moment after all, because we’re talking about something else and we need to stay on point right now.

But we are not talking about the Catholic church. We are talking about what it’s like for women to live in a world where men consistently think we owe them our attentions, our time and our bodies. Let’s stick with this issue for now.

In a brilliant article I read recently (which I can’t for the life of me find now, please do point me at it so I can credit it), a woman recounted an exercise she opens her workshops with. She draws a line in the middle of a whiteboard and writes “men” above one half and “women” above the other. Then she asks men what steps they take on a daily basis to prevent themselves from being the victim of sexual assault. As expected, she’s found that men never come up with anything, apart from the occasional joke. When it comes to women, though, hands are raised at the speed of light, with women listing everything from dressing differently to keeping a large dog or a gun, avoiding lifts or train cars with a single man or a group of men and holding your keys in your hand for protection. This is the difference between sexual harassment and assault as experienced by men to that which is experienced by women. This is the reason why I wholeheartedly believe men should sit this one out, unless they want to talk about what steps they themselves can take to make us women feel safe in this world.

And now, to the other difference, which is the main topic of this post – street harassment, something else that’s experienced almost exclusively by women.

YouGov have recently polled people about what constitutes sexual harassment.  They broke their results down by sex and age group. The results are quite enlightening and really very clear, spawning, predictably, the backlash from men (and some women) who are obviously still living in the past. I’ll be using some information from this poll to illustrate my points below.

Here are 12 incredibly annoying misconceptions about street harassment:

 

1. Women Actually Enjoy The Attention

“Women love it really!” men tell me. “Wouldn’t you feel worse if men didn’t chat you up or whistle at you on the street?” Well, I’m a woman and I can wholeheartedly say I don’t. I could live without the wolf whistles, I could live without the strange animal noises men think is a legitimate way of getting my attention and I could certainly live without annoying, sleazy guys following me down the street and trying to talk to me while I’m trying to go about my business. I’m perfectly willing to give up the hope that among one of those unappealing, impolite and sleazy guys hides my one true love. You may not believe me, and I mean, why would you? It’s only me telling you my experience and preferences, so you may well know better about how I feel, right? Nonetheless, that’s indeed the case. But hey, I’m just one woman, right? Luckily we have the YouGov poll to tell us how a whole load of other women feel about this! Let’s take a look!

The YouGov poll is interesting, because it shows the generational difference when it comes to sexual harassment. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s look at the percentage of women who actually find wolf whistles flattering. Women who are 55 or older are the ones most likely to find this flattering – an astounding 27%, just under 1 in 3. Is it because they grew up in a different time, when slapping your secretary’s arse or complimenting her on the shape of her boobs was also seen as acceptable? Could be. One of the coping mechanisms women employ when they are made to feel powerless is telling yourself that the violation you just experienced is not a big deal. Of course, it could be that as women we are conditioned to judge ourselves by a superficial attractiveness that diminishes with age and would therefore welcome any indication that we are still perceived as young and attractive, even if it comes from complete strangers leering at us on the street. I don’t know. What I do know is that you are far less likely to get wolf whistled at the older you get. Make of that what you will (and also see the next point on my list).

Slightly less inclined to find wolf whistles flattering are women in the 40-54 age group, at 19%. Perhaps this is also to do with the same sort of reasons mentioned above. But now we’re getting to the interesting part – the age groups who actually experience the most amount of wolf whistles and other forms of male attention on the street. Only 12% of women aged 25-39 find wolf whistles flattering. Women aged 18-24 are even less flattered – only 7% found this behaviour flattering, while an astounding 54% see wolf whistling as both inappropriate and something that makes them feel uncomfortable.

It’s recently become fashionable to actually believe women when it comes to stories of sexual assault and harassment, so perhaps this information should be taken into account next time you consider giving a woman what is blatantly unwanted, unwelcome attention.

2. Being Able to Just Walk Down The Street In Peace is A Freedom And A Privilege Both Men And Women Enjoy Equally

The vast majority of men cannot imagine what it’s like to experience street harassment. Of course, the sort of street harassment experienced in say, Cairo (where no body part is off limits for some sleazeball’s grabby hands) is far worse than what most western women experience on a daily basis, but that isn’t to say it’s our preferred way to live. As a man, you may have experienced being approached repeatedly by homeless people asking for money or chuggers asking for, well, money. Now imagine that instead of money, they’re asking for sex. Women constantly alter their plans in order to protect themselves from unwanted male attention. Our wardrobe choices are affected by this, our route to work, school or the shops is affected by this and the way we carry ourselves when we are out and about is also affected. I, for one, have a very formidable angry face I wear to deter men in problem areas. It works, but it puts me in an annoyed, angry mood for no reason apart from the fact that men don’t know how to behave around women. All of these things are coping mechanisms men simply don’t need to develop. A man can simply put on some clothes (a very minimal amount, sometimes) and leave the house, never imagining a situation where the way he dresses or acts would invite unwanted interactions along the way. Who are the men who are the exception to this rule? Gay men, of course, or men who present themselves as feminine. They often live in fear of homophobic hate crimes, which is not the same as sexual assault, of course, but is obviously a major problem in itself that straight men can’t imagine either. But I digress.

 

3. Women Who Dress Provocatively Or Outrageously Do It To Draw Attention To Themselves So They Must Love the Attention, Right?

The short answer is maybe, but probably not from you in any case. Always remember the mantra – no one’s “asking for it” because of the way they’re dressed. No one’s asking to get raped and no one’s asking for attention. Women in burkas get raped, they get molested on the street and they get catcalled. The problem is never what someone’s wearing. It’s always to do with the poor self control and problematic psychological issues of the person on the other end. But let’s talk specifically about women with outfits that stand out. There’s a huge misconception about why people in general, not just women, choose their look. I. for example, have tattoos. I got them for my own reasons, because I wanted certain things written into my skin. I was surprised to hear someone inform me once that the reason I got tattooed was to attract attention to myself. Nothing annoys me more than strangers commenting about my tattoos and asking stupid questions. It’s a price I pay for modifying my body and expressing myself to myself, but it’s not something I ever wanted or even thought about when I chose to get inked. Similarly, many women choose their outfits for their own reasons. Those reasons may or may not have anything to do with wanting to appeal to men. When they do, they may well be aimed at particular men. You as a stranger on the street are basically collateral damage.

Now, it’s true that if you’ve gone out of your way to create the perfect look, it can be nice to know that it’s working, which brings me to my next point.

 

4. Complimenting A Woman On Her Beauty Is A Nice Thing To Do

Let’s talk about different types of compliments and what giving a compliment actually means. Let’s start with the compliments themselves. If I’m wearing an awesome skirt or a perfectly colour-matched outfit, you might see me waling down the street and wish to tell me you think my outfit is cool. I’ve had people do this on occasion, both men and women. I see no problem with that. I’ve chosen items of clothing and you are telling me you approve of my choice. Cool. I thank you and we both go our opposite ways.

Or, you might want to share with me your opinion about my boobs. Yeah, we know that’s not a good one, right? Let’s keep your opinion about a woman’s secondary sexual organs out of a casual street conversation with a total stranger.

“But hey,” I hear you ask, “why take it all the way there? What about just telling a woman she’s beautiful, or has nice eyes? What’s wrong with that?” I’m glad you asked!  Your opinion and assessment of my physical appearance is judgement. You are being judgmental by looking me over and expressing your opinion. You may expect me to value your opinion because it’s a positive one, but to be honest, I don’t really care and could live without it. You are a stranger, you don’t know me and we just happen to share space momentarily as we go about our business. It’s arrogant and presumptuous of you to assume I want you to share your opinion with me. I’m walking down the street, not down the catwalk.

But, you know, if it’s not too sleazy, sometimes it’s nice to get a compliment. As long as that’s all you’re doing. But is that all you were doing? Giving a compliment?

In the majority of cases, when a man gives a woman a compliment on the street, it doesn’t end there. When men compliment me in a non-sleazy way, I usually say “thank you” and keep on walking. 9 times out of 10, the man follows me and tries to start a conversation. That’s not giving, dude. That’s you wanting something from me and trying to get it by giving me a compliment. That’s you wanting to get laid or wanting validation that you are also attractive. Frankly, I’m getting tired of being nice to guys who supposedly “only wanted to give me a compliment” only to find out I now suddenly owe them my time and attentions. If you are so wowed by a woman that you have to tell her she’s beautiful, say it and walk away. Don’t expect anything in return. If you expect anything in return, you’re not being nice. You’re being self-serving.

5. Initiating A Conversation With A Strange Woman On The Street Is “Just Being Friendly”

Sure, if you’re just as willing to start the same conversation with a guy. Otherwise you’re not being friendly. You’re trying to get the woman to give you something (validation, attention, time, phone number, date, sex, etc.), bonding with your man friends like a monkey with small balls and just generally being a pest.  If you’re sauntering around your small coastal village and greeting every passerby with a friendly hello, then we’re good. If, on the other hand, there are 50 guys around and the only person you’ve chosen to say your friendly hello to is me, then it’s a bit telling.

And as the only way to make men behave around women is to ask them whether they’d like a strange man to act in the same way towards their sister, their mother or their female child, feel free to imagine this scenario if you need some extra help understanding this concept. You can also imagine your emotional response to a scenario where a big, hairy man sparked up the same sort of conversation with you on the street (see point 10 below).

6. If You’re Attempting To Start A Conversation With A Woman On The Street, She Is A Stuck Up Bitch If She Ignores You Or Gets Angry

Women are people. We don’t exist for you. We don’t hang out on the street for you. We have places to go and other people to see. Sometimes, just sometimes (read: most times) we’d like to just be left alone so we don’t have to deal with having to reject weird men on the street. Also, many women find this behaviour incredibly threatening. Every time you approach a woman on the street, you are imposing. So don’t expect to get the reaction you desire. Nobody owes you their time or attention just because you want them.

7. It’s Your Business Whether A Woman Is Smiling Or Not

Nothing pisses women off more than being told to smile by a stranger. I don’t work for you, so don’t tell me how to feel or present myself in public. For all you know, my grandma just died. Here’s a tip: if you want a woman to smile, you don’t need to say anything. Just give her your best genuine non-creepy smile. She might smile back. Note: smiling back doesn’t necessarily mean she’s interested in you. We can sometimes be polite or friendly without wanting to fuck you. The reason many women won’t smile back is because men see this as an invitation for something more, so it’s safer just to look grumpy and mean.

 8. Any Woman Walking Down The Street Is Fair Game If You’re Looking For A Date

See point 6 above. Also, some women are not even into men, some women are attached (the only valid excuse for saying no to a man’s advances, as we well know, because you wouldn’t want to threaten a man’s authority over his property now, would you?) and some women may not find you attractive at all. You know absolutely nothing about women you see on the street apart from what your penis is telling you. For many women, having to turn down a stranger is not a welcome activity. Please leave us in peace and stick to dating sites and singles’ events to find women.

 9. Women Prefer Confident Men, So It’s OK To Approach Even Women Who Are Wearing Headphones / Reading / Working In Public Spaces

Some lame “pick up artists” have actually told their students to do this. Nothing annoys women more. I’ve actually gone as far as taking my headphones off once to explain to the guy who was waving his hand in front of my face like a total tool that me having my headphones on is nature’s way of signalling that I am not interested in having a conversation. I didn’t think I was being particularly rude, considering the guy interrupted my alone time on the bus because: penis. Unfortunately, it seems this honest truth was not welcome and the guy got angry and threatened to hit me. It did not end well for him. Moral of the story: if you see a woman engrossed in personal business, it’s not a challegnge. It’s a person wanting to be left alone. Move on. Don’t worry, your penis will hail the next love of your life in a few minutes, so you don’t lose out on your forever-love after all.

 

10. Men Would Love It If Women Would Give Them This Sort Of Attention In Public Places, Which Must Mean Women Love It Too

As we’ve seen in the YouGov poll above, women don’t. But you don’t need a poll to tell you this. Just listen to the women around you. I’ve had men tell me that they wouldn’t mind women catcalling, whistling or even grabbing them on the street, even if those women were ugly. They assume that when we complain about harassment, we mean feeling the same feeling a man can imagine he’d feel during such a scenario. Let’s not forget that men also enjoy the privilege of being able to walk around in peace 99% of the time. Some friendly, non-threatening attention would be a nice change every once in a while, wouldn’t it? If I try and explain that for us it’s more like the feeling they’d get if men did that to them, they don’t believe it – because we’re straight, so deep down we must love every penis in the world (well, some of us aren’t, but let’s put that aside for now). As stated above, guys, it’s time that you started listening. I know it’s hard to accept that you could potentially be as repulsive to a woman as another man would be to you if he tried to have sex with you, but sadly it’s true. In fact, I’d go as far as saying straight women are less threatened by lesbian advances than they are by male advances. Deal with it. And for the love of god, believe us. We do actually know our own feelings.

11. If Women Don’t Like Speaking To Strange Men On The Street, It’s Cool To Use Tricks To Get Them To Talk To You

I recently had a guy approach me on the street to ask for directions. I’m a nice enough person so I gave him the information he needed. It then turned out this was just a ploy for him to chat me up. This is another thing taught at pick up artist “schools” – create rapport with your “subject” (read: victim), so it’s harder for them to disengage. Luckily, I’m very good at disengaging. Please don’t do this, though. Apart from annoying women, you’re also making us less likely to speak to anyone on the street, even if they are genuinely lost.

 12. Compared To Actual Rape And Sexual Assault, Catcalling, Wolf Whistling And Approaching Women On The Street Are Harmless, So Shouldn’t Be Counted As Sexual Harassment At All. It’s Just Harmless Fun

The vast majority of women find this behaviour unwelcome. Most say it makes them uncomfortable, including an astounding 54% of the women who are targeted most (women aged 18-24) (followed by a significant number who view it as inappropriate). While not as ‘serious” as rape, it’s a constant annoying drain on our emotional resources and something that women have had to develop coping mechanisms to deal with for centuries. Some might even say it’s a way of men to intimidate women so that they “know their place” and stay at home, rather than move about outside, study, work and generally be independent. That’s certainly the case in many parts of the Arab world, for example. For women who have been raped or assaulted, it’s a constant, triggering threat. Also, while not all women experience rape or serious physical sexual assault, pretty much every single woman will have experienced street harassment at some point in her life. Some of us experience it on a daily basis. This is a real problem and one that needs to stop.

 13. It’s Impossible For Any Hot Blooded Man To Control Himself Around A Good Looking Woman So This Is Only Natural

Spare me the pathetic excuses and look around you. Not every man you’ll meet thinks this sort of behaviour is acceptable. If they can rein it in, so can you. I saw a Facebook post a while back where a woman told of her dog, whose favourite food is peanut butter. She said she can nonetheless leave a whole load of peanut butter right in front of the dog and the dog would sit quietly next to it without touching it. Why? Because she told it “no”. Please value yourself enough to consider yourself superior to a dog. Thanks.

14. If Men Couldn’t Approach Women On The Street To Try And Get Laid Whenever They Wanted, The Whole World Would End And People Would Stop Getting Together And The Human Race Would Die Out

There are countries where I feel safer walking down the street because people there seem to have more respect for women and wouldn’t dream of catcalling, whistling or accosting women. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people walking hand in hand there too, so I think the future of the free world can survive public spaces being free from unwanted interactions. You might think of it as being overly reserved or cold, but I see it as simply being respectful and treating women as equals. It seems most women agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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