Like most of the internet-using population, this week I watched a video of a woman walking around in New York City for 10 hours, and the 100+ instances of street harassment she encountered.
[Note: I am choosing not to link to the video because I find it suspect that “for whatever reason,” to quote the creator, nearly all the white street harassers were edited out. Instead watch this Daily Show clip where the always-awesome Jessica Williams discusses the same topic.
Like most women, even before I watched the video, I knew what I would hear. “Hey, beautiful,” “Smile,” “You don’t wanna talk?” “Bitch.”
I’ve heard these things before. I’ve heard them in big cities and small towns; when I’ve looked my best and when I’ve looked my worst; at night on a near-empty street and during the day in a crowd; with friends and when I’m by myself; by nicely-dressed guys and guys who look like they’ve never showered; in English, Spanish, and a sort of animalistic grunting; in voices that are pretending to be nice and voices that aren’t even trying.
I don’t think I get harassed any more than the average woman—and that’s what worries me. And I don’t think I have anything to say that couldn’t be said by most other women, and that’s why it needs to be said once more.
If you’re a woman, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe nobody’s ever wolf whistled at you when you were 15, and maybe nobody’s ever said “Ooh, I like that” out their car window when you were stressed out and caught in the rain, maybe you’re really lucky, but it has probably happened to your friend or your roommate or your sister.
If you’re a guy, maybe you know what I’m talking about, too. Maybe someone’s said something to your girlfriend or a female friend when you were out with her. Maybe you heard someone say something to a random woman. Maybe one of your friends said it. Maybe you said it.
Or maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, I’ve said hi to women on the street and said they looked pretty, but that’s not harassment. That’s just being friendly.”
Here’s the thing: it’s not friendly. It’s not nice. I’m not saying that you don’t intend it to be nice. If you’re saying “Hey, you’re beautiful” and not, like, “I want to cum on your tits,” you’re probably just trying to give a compliment and be on your way. But maybe you’re not the first stranger who has spoken to that woman today. Maybe a few minutes before you came along, a stranger passed her on the street and told her he wanted to have sex with her. Maybe an hour before you wanted to compliment her, a stranger on the bus told her to smile and then called her a cunt when she didn’t.
Maybe you’re the latest in a long line of strangers interrupting her as she just tries to go about her day to make unsolicited comments, polite and otherwise, on her appearance, her demeanour, her overall self. Maybe she gets these comments day after day—and I’m not just talking about attractive women; the ugliest woman you know probably has at least one story about a time when some guy shouted at her on the street.
It’s not your fault that you were trying to be friendly, but it’s definitely not her fault that she doesn’t see it that way.
The other conversation that this video has put into overdrive is “Well, if I can’t talk to women in the street, where do I approach them?” Um, where do you meet everyone else? How many friends have you made by randomly talking to people in the street, and why would meeting a woman be any different? I have been on exactly one date with someone I met randomly on the street; I had to be talked into going, and it was the worst date I’ve ever been on. So there’s that.
Think about it in a non-romantic context: imagine you were on your way to work or running errands and some guy came up to you and said “Hey bro, what’s up?” and then wouldn’t leave you alone. And then later another guy did it. And another. Over and over.
In the right time and place, women as a collective are not against being approached at all. Walk up to a woman in a bar or at an event or anywhere that you have something in common beyond “happen to be on the same street.” Anywhere that you can make some sort of conversation for some sort of reason beyond “You’re hot.” I promise you’ll have better luck. Hey, walk up to me. I’m not single so you’re not going to get anywhere, but I’m not going to get mad, or upset, or be anything but flattered. And that’s all you were going for with the whole street-compliments thing, right?