Is there ever really a reason for you to chat up a woman on the street?

street harassment

I’ve actually been mulling over this street harassment thing for a while. I would hope that I’m more mature, and a little more grey haired in spirit (never in actuality), than I was when I wrote about it last. I’ve talked about it with women and opinions are varied. I’ve talked about it with men and theirs are less so –  the overwhelming feeling from a lot of them is that while they agree that it is unacceptable after a woman has said she is not interested in talking to you to continue to follow her, catcall, and persist in getting her attention, that there has to be a way to differentiate between harassment and ‘giving a woman a compliment’.

Granted, I don’t speak for all women. Some women actually like being approached on the street by random Jerome’s who compliment them on their anatomy, and pant after mobile phone digits like puppies in heat. Personally, I’ve watched far too many documentaries about serial killers to be in raptures at the idea of men who don’t know me soliciting my attention.

I may be exaggerating a little, but I want to be clear that it’s not even about first world problems of vague annoyance at interruption of my thought flow, or the diverting of my very precisely timed London walking speed. It’s not about the potential embarrassment of attention from random passers by when a man shouts out “Hey, pretty girl!”. It’s not even about the threat of potential interaction with halitosis.

It’s about safety. It’s about the threat of verbal aggression when I turn you down, or worse, physical aggression. It’s about the fact that when a man who I don’t know walks up to me on an otherwise deserted street , I instantly feel anxious and panicked, my fight or flight instinct kicks in, and I wonder whether I’ll look like a complete idiot if I take off running if all he wanted to know was where the 54 bus stop is.

Some men may not understand that. Some women may not understand that. And that’s ok.

I do think though, that if more men could at least empathise  with what it is like to be a woman like me, that they would be less strident in defending their “right” to approach me with a compliment.

I would be absolutely lying if I said I’d never been complimented by a random passerby and appreciated it. Not long ago, an elder Trini gentleman whispered as i walked through my local town centre ” You look beautiful…don’t tell your husband I said that”, and winked at me. Honestly, the fact that he was 70 + and could possibly be my Grandad pushed him from annoying or potentially scary, to endearing. That’s just me. There may be some women who, regardless of circumstance, don’t like being approached on the street.

So where do we go from here? I’m tempted to say, men, there is really no reason why you MUST approach random women on the street to get their attention, number or drop a compliment. So leave it out Jerome, leave it out……

But then people ask..but what about the woman I’m sitting next to on the train? Or what if I’m at a juice bar? Or what if I’m at the annual convention of Star Wars worshippers and I see a random beautiful woman dressed as Uhura across the convention hall and I want to salute her in Klingon? And what if it’s the middle of a shopping centre with loads of people around? What’s the difference? And my answers aren’t as well formulated for those questions.

What do you guys think?

4 Comments

  1. January 29, 2015 / 1:33 am

    I think men too often try to insert themselves in a woman’s life because they believe it is their right to do so. It takes very little, most times, for the veneer of pleasantry to peel back and expose aggression and anger toward women.
    Like you, I’ve had men compliment me on the street, and there’s a massive difference in the approach and tone from the men who want to give some praise or a kindness to a woman passerby, versus men who want something from me, who demand that I engage with them.
    If a man does want to compliment a woman, by all means, do so, but have no expectation or presumption that she’s required to do anything other than be who she is.

  2. January 29, 2015 / 1:58 pm

    “I really want to marry the man who whistled at me from his car” – said no woman ever.

    Two things I find interesting about this quote.

    1. This poster conforms to the notion that men should be judged according to their utility to women. A man whistling at a women is really just expressing himself in public. Whether he is sincerely paying her a compliment or trying to be an asshole (or more likely something in between the two) is irrelevant. The poster assumes he is only whistling to win her favour. This wreaks of female self-entitlement and self-centredness. (The very same negative attributes being levelled at the man).

    2. It really depends how expensive the car is. LOL As hidden camera studies have shown, there are a lot of women out there who will willingly jump into the car of a complete stranger as long as the car is expensive enough (even if the guy is acting like a slimy douche with nothing better to do than pick up strange women on the street).

    There are lots of things to complain about on the streets of London (or any city). Cyclists on pavements, annoying street artists, Scientologists, professional beggars, annoying shoppers texting in the middle of a busy pavement, umbrellas, muggers, nutters, tourists……..basically everyone else!

    Women who make a big deal about being cat called – as if it were somehow 100000x worse than everything else we have to put up with in a city – are not really complaining about being sexually objectified by men. They are complaining about being sexually objectified by low status men with no money who are of no practical use.

    The difference between ‘street harassment’ and being ‘swept off your feet’ or ‘seranaded’ is how rich the guy is. Men only cat call when they know they are not rich enough or lack the social status to be considered suitable dating material by the woman in question. If the man thinks he has enough money and status to be considered worthy of her presence (if he thinks he is in with a chance) he will wolf whistle in his head only…. and then turn on the charm and offer to buy her a coffee or take her out to dinner or whatever.

    > It’s about safety. It’s about the threat of verbal aggression when I turn you down, or worse, physical aggression. It’s about the fact that when a man who I don’t know walks up to me on an otherwise deserted street , I instantly feel anxious and panicked, my fight or flight instinct kicks in, and I wonder whether I’ll look like a complete idiot if I take off running if all he wanted to know was where the 54 bus stop is.

    It’s an age old conundrum which is hard wired into the female genes. On the one hand there is the desire to make oneself appealing and alluring in public to compete with other women and attract the most decent high status male… and for millions of years finding a decent mate was necessary for survival, certainly during reproduction…..but on the other hand attracting the attention of males runs the risk of attracting the attention of an UNDESIRABLE male and stimulating his horny urges. To be raped to day is bad, but to be raped in an age before contraception, abortion and sexual health clinics was disastrous to say the least. Our bodies are still driven by the same drives and fears as they were 20,000 years ago. Our bodies do not know of contraception or abortion (or the incredibly low ‘stranger rape’ statistics for that matter). The FEELING of being vulnerable when walking past a group of builders on a construction site far outweighs the ACTUAL threat they pose. That feeling is real, but the actual chances of being assaulted or raped are tiny. It’s similar to the feeling of fear we have standing on a tall building. We feel as if we are going to be pushed off, or even that we might throw ourselves off. This is totally irrational, but the feeling is real nevertheless.

    Men are statistically far more often the victims of assault in public. And men suffer all of the same turmoil when walking down a street. If a group of lads makes a comment, they can either ignore it and risk being seen as a wuss, or answer back and risk being seen as ‘answering back’ and ‘asking for a fight’. And if he runs away he is basically making himself into prey.

    If a woman feels genuinely threatened or is actually fighting off unwelcome advances she can always cry for help and people will come to her aid. But if a man gets into a similar situation most people will not get involved. And if he defends himself they will just view him as a street brawler. A woman fighting in the street is automatically assumed to be defending herself, but a man doing the same is automatically judged as a yob.

    I’m not downplaying the experiences of women who suffer genuine harassment, or justifying casual cat calling. But I do think the whole thing is being framed in a very unfair way. Walking the streets is annoying – and potentially dangerous – for everyone. But statistically speaking the streets have never been safer than they are today. Let’s not fall into the feminist narrative and imagine men are savages lurking on every corner with an evil rape-y look in their eye…… this was EXACTLY how black people used to be portrayed and we all know what that led to….

    • February 5, 2015 / 10:53 pm

      “The difference between ‘street harassment’ and being ‘swept off your feet’ or ‘seranaded’ is how rich the guy is.” Beg to differ – I think it’s HOW it’s done, not the mans social status.

      “The poster assumes he is only whistling to win her favour. This wreaks of female self-entitlement and self-centredness. (The very same negative attributes being levelled at the man).”
      Not really, it’s quite obvious when you are just whistling or whistling AT a woman.

      “Women who make a big deal about being cat called – as if it were somehow 100000x worse than everything else we have to put up with in a city – are not really complaining about being sexually objectified by men”. WHy would you assume that? Someone shouting ‘nice butt’ at you, or whatever, as a woman, feels horrible for some women, and I don’t think that should be downplayed. You don’t know if that woman has strong emotional triggers to being catcalled. There might well be a reason why it gets to her so much…an event in the past etc. What is a blase comment to to you, may be much deeper considering the climate of sexism we’re surrounded by.
      Those are my main thoughts! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Mimi
    October 14, 2015 / 4:10 pm

    Very interesting points.

    But don’t you mean Star Trek?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *