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?