I AM A WOMAN NOT A TRAFFIC JAM
December 11, 2013 6:51 AM   Subscribe

 
You know, these are funny enough that I don't really care whether or not they are genuine or l'esprit d'escalier.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:04 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Agreed! I saw these elsewhere this morning and they are awesome.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:11 AM on December 11, 2013


Bloke: 'you're a bit too thin for me'.
Me: 'that's lucky because you're a bit too thick for me'.


Unfortunately, here in the US, that would be taken as a compliment.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:24 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Him: "Look darlin, I don't mean to hassle you but…" Me: "WELL THEN DON'T HASSLE ME."

This is pretty great and could be re-purposed for other situations.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:32 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was trying to get out of the Tube last year and my way was blocked by a man with a large rucksack - the size of a small person. As I approached, people knocked into him, and he responded with rude comments. I'm dyspraxic, and rucksacks make me nervous as I can't really judge how much space there is around people when I'm trying to get past, so inevitably I knocked him slightly as I went past.

"Watch where you're going, you fat cow!"
"I know I'm fat, mate, I buy my own knickers!"

Tosser. I would have ignored, but a) I hate the way that 'fat' is considered the most cutting of all insults when it comes to women, and it's bollocks for about a million reasons b) that people who are inclined to insult strangers in the street do so by pointing out things of which the stranger is already aware, just in case they were wondering why the label in their pants or the colour of their hair looked the wya they did.
posted by mippy at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2013 [23 favorites]


Also! Friend of a friend, on the bus next to one of those men who likes to sit with his legs at right angles, because his penis is clearly so big that he needs almost another seat to accommodate it:

'Please close your legs, it's making the teeth in my vagina grind.'
posted by mippy at 7:46 AM on December 11, 2013 [53 favorites]


Many moons ago, I worked customer service for a cellular phone company. On the later shift, after 9 pm, the folks who got their phone service turned off would be automatically routed to customer service rather than collections who got to go home at 9. One night I overheard the following exchange from my cube mate:
"___ Mobility, how can I help you?"
"Sir, I'm sorry about that. It seems that your service has been disconnected for non-payment."
"Sir. Sir. I understand you're upset. Sir."
"Now sir, there's no need for that kind of language and you're mistaken I have one, I am not one. But if you've never seen one, I can see how you could be confused."
"Thank you for using ___ Mobility. Please pay your bill."
posted by teleri025 at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2013 [51 favorites]


I like that there are some from men replying to women. Nice! Men get unwanted advances too so good to see it represented.
posted by sio42 at 8:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


My favourite thing to yell at shouty men in cars/alleyways/outside pubs is "PATRIARCHY HURTS EVERYONE", which isn't really cutting or personally incisive or anything but just makes me laugh and laugh, at least if I've had a few drinks (and I only really get shouty men if I'm out late, so there's a reasonable chance I will have).
posted by severalbees at 8:06 AM on December 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


I've always had good luck in bars with, "Wait, I'm sorry, are we supposed to be impressed?" or "Is that supposed to be attractive?" Works equally well for folks bragging about how many beers they can chug at once, how big their penises are, how much the want to screw you, etc. They usually slink off when you point out that their pickup strategy is laughably stupid.

A sarcastically-deployed, "Oh, yes, nothing's more attractive to a woman than a man who says 'nice tits' in casual conversation with a stranger," also works wonders, but if they're too drunk or not from a sarcasm culture, sometimes they think you're serious.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everything I've seen online leads me to believe that responding with banter, no matter how witty, to sexist statements perpetuates and does not reduce said sexist comments.

I don't know what the right answer is, but I think that social policing, combined with authority, is one method.

I'm not saying that this stuff isn't all well and good! It's good for us to blow off steam and poke fun at the things that bother us.

But at the same time, responding to sexist commentary with things that essentially seek to demasculinize the perpetrators (e.g. "you have not had sex," "you are not attractive," etc) seems to be responding in kind, perpetuating the sexism and using it as a weapon, instead of combatting the sexism inherent in the system.
posted by rebent at 8:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


A few years back I decided that my default response to repeated iterations of "smiiiiile, baaaaaby" would be "you first, cupcake."
posted by like_a_friend at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


These were by and large witty and hilarious, and I'd love to whip 'em out at the right moment and walk away with head high. Sadly, I have seen exchanges turn nasty when people feel threatened or sense they've been publicly humiliated.

One friend a few years back slung a snappy retort at a guy hitting on her in a bar, causing all present to laugh at the guy until he had to leave the premises; he waited outside when the bar closed with obvious malicious intent. Thankfully my friend had the sense to ask a bouncer to escort her to her car; she related that the offended party screamed at her as she drove away.

The dignified stare followed by indifference works well for most situations. Sometimes it's better to be safe than to be funny.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


"responding to sexist commentary with things that essentially seek to demasculinize the perpetrators... seems to be responding in kind"

Right. It's really disappointing when such an obvious point is missed by self-styled enemies of sexism.
posted by dgaicun at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I once got "I don't date tall women" from a dude in real life when I arrived at a coffee date we'd set on OkC (which I no longer use because argh).

Naturally I smiled with a sigh of relief, picked up my purse and replied, "that's good, I don't date assholes," and left him standing amongst a chorus of snickering coffee-shop goers.
posted by fraula at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [35 favorites]


Hah! On reading to the end I realize I've also done this:

Asshole: You have huge tits!
Me: What!? OH MY GOD, where did they come from?! AAAAAAAAAAAA
posted by like_a_friend at 9:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [24 favorites]


I thought the universal best comeback to sexist comments was simply, "go fuck yourself"?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really care whether or not they are genuine or l'esprit d'escalier.

MeFi's own.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sometimes it's better to be safe than to be funny.
Yep. A broken nose or shove down the stairs just is not worth it. From someone who's been there.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:26 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus people. These aren't smart and they aren't even funny. There are really only two appropriate responses: Ignore it, or document and report it. Anything else puts you at risk and gives the creep what he wants, a visible reaction. Anything near a building site will have subcontractors contact details posted.
posted by fingerbang at 9:35 AM on December 11, 2013


There are really only two appropriate responses: Ignore it, or document and report it.

"Officer, I want to report that some old man I've never seen before told me on the street that I have two (2) large tits"

I'm sure that'll show them.

Or I could go the FUCK YOUUUUUU route, which at least is more satisfying for me.
posted by sukeban at 9:41 AM on December 11, 2013 [31 favorites]


I travel a lot for work and was in a hotel a couple months ago, heading for the elevator when I noticed two big middle-aged guys were getting on ahead of me. They saw me coming and said "Are you sure you feel safe riding with us, honey?" I smiled sweetly as I stepped into the elevator and said, "Are you feel safe riding with me?"

They laughed their asses off, asked if I worked in sales, and then asked for my business card.

Not a major victory over the patriarchy, but I was quite pleased with myself for managing to change the tone of the conversation.
posted by olinerd at 9:41 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sorry, how do I 'document and report' someone harrassing me on the street? Can you give me the appropriate agency? Do I need to tell them myself, or would it help my case if I had a mansplanation too?
posted by mippy at 9:42 AM on December 11, 2013 [33 favorites]


Fingerbang, we have "just ignored it" for millennia. Hasn't worked.
posted by brujita at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2013 [40 favorites]


My understanding is that women who are sexually harassed on the street (which is a bit different from women who are harassed in other situations, or men who are harassed by women, though those things happen too of course) are kind of put in a no-win situation. If they don't respond they will likely have to endure continued harassment until they are out of earshot of the perpetrator (unless that perpetrator decides to follow her down the street) and if they do then there's a good chance that the harassment will escalate to aggression.

What I've heard is that there are a number of tactics that can be deployed depending on one's read of the situation, but that none of them are really satisfactory and often the only thing to do is to hunch one's shoulders and keep walking. Women don't have a lot of control over the situation in the moment that it's happening – once it begins, it's almost always going to suck pretty bad until it's over.

To me that makes this one of those situations where male allies have an opportunity to take the lead in some real feminist work. One of the most effective ways to deal with problems like this is to police one's peers and make it clear that harassing women on the street is extremely uncool. Since the men who do that kind of thing tend to be the kind of men who can't really see women as peers, that leaves the work for other men.

If you, a man, find yourself talking to a friend or relation or coworker and the topic of street harassment comes up, it's important to make it crystal clear just how disgusting and pathetic you think it is. Assert your position like it's a law of nature that men who call out women that way are unattractive scumbag assholes. Don't let them squirm out of it if they get defensive, don't let them save face if they are trying to defend that kind of behavior. Make them uncomfortable, make them see that you think less of people who do that kind of thing.

Maybe you don't know very many people who would behave that way, but all feminist men (and all feminists in general, though I still maintain that men likely have the most opportunity to create change here) should be on the lookout for opportunities to police this kind of behavior regardless. This kind of thing has a ripple effect, and once a critical mass of society can be counted on to disparage a behavior it becomes much less acceptable in general to do it. Take every opportunity you can find to spread the message that street harassment is vile and gross. If enough of us can keep it up for long enough, we can beat this problem.
posted by Scientist at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2013 [43 favorites]


instead of combatting the sexism inherent in the system

Oh shit, why didn't anyone think of that?
posted by spaltavian at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm going to contradict myself: most of these didn't seem that funny to me, because they felt like Chuck Lorre sitcom responses. That said, the one that made me laugh hard also very much could've been a sitcom response:


Male colleague: "Don't mind her, she's on her period."
Me: "If I had to bleed to find you annoying, I'd be anemic."
posted by MoxieProxy at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


There are really only two appropriate responses: Ignore it, or document and report it.

I'm trying not to be predictably fiesty here, particularly in response to a dude who has chosen fingerbang as his moniker, so I'm just gonna say: It is not at all helpful, informative, or enlightening when men attempt to inform women what our "appropriate responses" are limited to, in this or any other instance. Men have been telling women how to respond to harassment for millennia, and can I just say? Your suggestions have not worked out for us very well. As innumerable MeFi threads and reality have indicated to me, since I often dare to walk in the world while visibly female, I can attest that there is no such thing as an "appropriate response" to harassment.

Ignoring it does not do anything except make the harasser believe that you have not heard him. In fact, ignoring harassment has led to the following actual experiences in my life: being followed into businesses, being followed to my home in a car and on foot, being chased, having a man scream that he was going to rape me to death if I tried to run away, and being threatened so loudly that bystanders chose to intervene as I took off at full speed.

In the case of street harassment that does not occur near a building site, to whom are we providing our documentation and reports? The local police precinct? It's been suggested on this very site that women would do well to ensure additional witnesses are willing to confirm their harassment before it can even be reported in the first place, so please believe me when I say that the reality on the ground differs greatly from your perception of it.
posted by divined by radio at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [110 favorites]


So, I'm a person that responds to harrassment directly and generally in a very public and shaming manner. I am usually careful about it because obviously I don't want things to escalate, but generally speaking if I am in a public place and I am in a group I will absolutely say something nasty back.

And here's why: if someone says something incredibly vile to me and I don't say anything, I will carry that bullshit for the rest of the day. I will feel like someone has punched me and I didn't punch back, or like I saw a dog being kicked and didn't say anything. I will feel helpless, powerless, victimized, sometimes I will actually go home and just cry because I am so tired of living in a society where I have to be afraid for my safety and let these assholes get away with whatever they want.

If I holler back, I have reclaimed the interaction. I feel better about it. I let someone know that they can't expect everyone to sit down and take it. That they are going to get called out. I have taken my power back, in a very noticeable way, from someone who was trying to take it away from me by remind me my body is property for public consumption. I can let go of it and get on with my day. That is sometimes worth the risk of escalation, especially if I can't just go home and eat ice cream and hide in my house and watch happy TV shows all day, which is honest to God the response I now have after so many years accumulated exposure to being frightened all the fucking time.

And if you think me telling a guy he probably has a small dick in response to receiving unsolicited sexual suggestions about what I can do with my body on the metro is the same as his feeling-- no, knowing-- that he is safe and secure and has the right to publicly comment on my body or sexuality, then you are missing the point by several orders of magnitude. It's not about the words, it's about the fact that he actually believes he has a god-given right to press his attentions on others that way and guess what society backs him up on that.

If you're having trouble understanding the difference, I would suggest reading some of the other threads on street harrassment we've had before, because we've covered this quite a few times.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2013 [106 favorites]


Also, I really do sometimes question the whole "ignoring it is safer" thing. I've kept quiet in some situations and think that was right at the time, but I also feel like that my direct and aggressive actions have kept me safe as well, by indicating that I wasn't a target that would go quietly if he decided to try something.

Really, divined by radio has it: there is not an appropriate way to respond that leads to "good outcomes" reliably, so all we can do here is trust the intuitions of the person getting harrassed and let them make the call. And then not grill them adversarially about it afterward or act as though they didn't follow the correct "script".
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


There are really only two appropriate responses: Ignore it, or document and report it.

Ignore it: no, this solves nothing, makes me feel slighted and taken advantage of, and tacitly tells the guy "yeah, woo! no consequences for you being a dick! go for it!"

Document and report it: hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha ha hahahahahaha hahahah haha ha ha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Officer, the three men in that primer-colored chevy corsica just honked at me and stuck their tongues in between their V'd fingers while looking at me lasciviously. I would like to report this crime, as I'm sure you will take it seriously and in no way dismiss me or my agency as a person."

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
posted by phunniemee at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [62 favorites]


I have taken to being tedious and literal.

"Hey, baby!"
"Not for many years!"

"Hey, princess!"
"Not as far as I'm aware!"

"Hey, sugar!"
"Nope, that's a molecule!"

I can't think on my feet fast enough for a really good one-liner -- but it's useful to have something to use, as I'm walking quickly past to wherever I'm going, that doesn't leave me feeling like I just (as WidgetAlley said) have to carry it with me all day.
posted by Jeanne at 10:10 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Fingerbang, c'mere a minute. (ushers you to corner)

Can I just ask you something? Do you trust the women on Metafilter?

I'm serious. Do you trust that I, and other women on Metafilter, have the ability to learn from prior experience, apply that knowledge to a new situation, and respond accordingly based on prior experience and information? Do you trust that we are smart enough to size up situations and judge what proper behavior in a given situation would be? Do you also trust that maybe the prior experience of these women is perhaps leading them to divine solutions to a problem that you may not have otherwise thought of?

If you do - then, can I ask why you'd question our ability to do it in these specific instances? Yes, you're seeing a lot of women talking about sassy comebacks to street harassers, but if you trust us women, can I ask why you don't trust that it's a given that the women making these sassy comebacks have enough prior knowledge to assess whether it actually may be an appropriate response for the specific situation they're referring to?

Can you explain what it is about this specific discussion that's caused you to forget that human beings have lived experience which leads them to react to different ways in different situations? Is it because it's women having these discussions about women's issues, and you're not a woman? Can you explain why you forgot that women are human beings with brains in this instance? Or is it because it has to do with sexual harassment? If that's the case, can you explain why you find sexual harassment to be something handled in any other way other than "basing your response on your past lived experience"?

Finally - would it surprise you to learn that some women actually have a lot of success responding to harassers not by ignoring it or reporting it, but by handling it much the way I've done here - by asking them a series of questions which calls them on their bullshit and maybe gets them to realize all by their own selves that they just did something that was prompted by a really silly line of thinking?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on December 11, 2013 [55 favorites]


I fantasize sometimes about an pocket airhom.

"Hey baby! Nice ti-"
BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

"Fuck you bit-"
BLAAHHHH! BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! BLAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

In my fantasy, I would also use it on bicyclists riding on the sidewalk.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [43 favorites]


"a guy kept harrassing me for my phone number so I gave him the number of another sexist, figured they'd have a lot in common"

This is reminiscent of something physics professors used to do with the impressive amount of mail they would get from cranks with ridiculous theories. Fighting the cranks would only result in more mail, at best, and shit that needs dealing with at worst, ignoring the cranks would similarly also just end up with more mail and angrier cranks. The brilliant solution was to keep their contact information and forward their mail to each other, introducing them as experts better able to understand the complex theories involved. Both situations I think also have a lot more in common than might be intuitive as they both result from a sort of frustrated privilege.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2013 [23 favorites]


Recently I had this exchange with a guy, who came up to me and started walking next to me, matching my pace:

GUY: "Do I have to repeat myself?"
ME: "What?" (i hadn't heard him say anything, just suddenly noticed him there)
GUY: " I SAID, Lady in Red (I was wearing a red coat) Where are you going without me?"
ME: "I'm confused."
GUY: "You're confused?" ( He is still matching me step for step. It's scary. I don't know him and it's dark.)
ME: "Well, I'm going to the grocery store without you. But I'm confused because I don't know you at all and am not sure why you need to know where I'm going."
GUY: "And that confuses you? YIKES."
ME: "Yeah, guess I'm pretty stupid."
GUY: (mutters something about me being racist, and then): "Can I call you Lady in Red?"
ME: "Yeah, sure, bye."

I was just feeling safe for whatever reason in that moment.
posted by sweetkid at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


>One of the most effective ways to deal with problems like this is to police one's peers and make it clear that harassing women on the street is extremely uncool.

I'm totally behind this. Unfortunately I become almost hopelessly inarticulate in the face of confrontation—the best I've managed is when accompanying female friends to a bar and they're giving me a sign that the dude that's grinding up on them is being a little too aggressive, and could I maybe help out, and so I put a gentle but firm hand on the dude's shoulder and look him in the eye and shake my head, which thankfully has so far defused the situation and not escalated it.

Are there any examples of men effectively responding to street harassment?
posted by onwords at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Him: "Look darlin, I don't mean to hassle you but…" Me: "WELL THEN DON'T HASSLE ME."
This is pretty great and could be re-purposed for other situations.

"I'm not a racist, but..." "THEN DON'T SAY SOMETHING RACIST!"
posted by straight at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I put a gentle but firm hand on the dude's shoulder and look him in the eye and shake my head, which thankfully has so far defused the situation and not escalated it.

That's an excellent thing to do! Good for you, you're doing fine.
posted by sweetkid at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2013


Empress has it right. There is no one guaranteed right way to act in a harassment situation, and instead of policing how victims of harassment react, it is much more fair to understand that whether the harasser slinks off or escalates, the victim is not in any way responsible for their actions.

In other words, it ain't my sassy comebacks, or my silence, how I'm dressed, my body language, or the expression on my face that makes someone try to beat me up or rape me; it's the fact that they are a violent thug/rapist.

Let's keep the blame where it belongs: with the assholes.
posted by emjaybee at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2013 [24 favorites]


There are really only two appropriate responses: Ignore it, or document and report it. Anything else puts you at risk and gives the creep what he wants, a visible reaction. Anything near a building site will have subcontractors contact details posted.

There are so many things wrong with this comment, but especially the fact that you feel the need to explain to women 1) What the "correct" response is, 2) What happens if "incorrect" responses are used 3) Something about contact details on building sites which we are supposedly not meant to have been able to think of ourselves.
posted by sweetkid at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok. So Ill ignore the 'hahahahhaha' and the smart arse comments and leave you with this:

If you engage with someone on the street you offer them an escalation route. They can respond to your response and next thing you know the tone has changed and they are now very different. Would you really suggest someone engage with an abuser late at night when on their own? Is that wise? Why not? Not smart right?

As to reporting them: OK so I presented one example, a building site and someone dismissively suggested people in a vehicle as another non-viable example.

In both those cases their is a clear way to identify the people carrying out the verbal assault and while I CANNOT know what the policy of the police in your location might be I can assure you that for most of the people on this site the response will not be "hahahahaha" as one of the posters above assured me would be the case.

Finally, to say "we've been ignoring them for millenia therefore blah blah" is to miss two other points that I can think of:

Societies attitude to these people has changed. Just as attitudes have changed to racism and drink driving and spousal assault, attitudes have changed to verbal assault. If you ignore that shift by insisting that nothing has changed therefore nothing can change then you miss the chance to involve people and groups who will help you.

There is also a different logic failure here: To insist that X has not worked therefore Y is the answer is not true.

Ultimately if you want to subject me to abuse for suggesting you take down someones licence or site address and report them to the police go ahead. Clearly by suggesting you do this instead of engaging in a risky abusive confontation I am trying to opress you or something, I can't think of any other reason why you would talk to me like that.
posted by fingerbang at 10:44 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In both those cases their is a clear way to identify the people carrying out the verbal assault and while I CANNOT know what the policy of the police in your location might be I can assure you that for most of the people on this site the response will not be "hahahahaha" as one of the posters above assured me would be the case.

On what basis can you make that assurance?
posted by KathrynT at 10:46 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


If you engage with someone on the street you offer them an escalation route

It's really cute that you think that not responding won't lead to escalation.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2013 [56 favorites]


fingerbang, you seem to be under the delusion that figures of authority will give a shit about people shouting slurs at others.

Keep in mind that most women here are absolutely certain that the most likely response from a figure of authority, in the unlikely event we decided to report street harassment, would be "he must have thought it was a compliment, you should feel flattered."
posted by sukeban at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


In both those cases their is a clear way to identify the people carrying out the verbal assault and while I CANNOT know what the policy of the police in your location might be I can assure you that for most of the people on this site the response will not be "hahahahaha" as one of the posters above assured me would be the case.

Please give us a single instance where someone has complained about someone at a work site catcalling women on the sidewalk and there has been any negative consequence for the catcaller that was not trumped significantly by negative consequences for the victim.
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


In both those cases their is a clear way to identify the people carrying out the verbal assault and while I CANNOT know what the policy of the police in your location might be I can assure you that for most of the people on this site the response will not be "hahahahaha" as one of the posters above assured me would be the case.

I'm glad we have a nice smart man to tell us that we're wrong about our life experiences.
posted by winna at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [57 favorites]


Another data point for the "all you can do is ignore or report it" folks: I was in booked into a notoriously difficult inner city jail once, very late at night, having been taken in on an ancient warrant from my teenaged miscreant years -- one I didn't even know existed until they were putting me face-down onto the snowy ground and cuffing my hand behind my back.

So I'm like 22 years old, a hundred pounds soaking wet, and I'm in jail alone. It's around 3 AM on a Saturday in the dead of winter, so basically peak crazy/drunk tank time. And for whatever reason, I'm the only woman in central booking, while there are probably 20 or 30 men. The booking area is theoretically separated by gender, but only a single horizontal pole splits up the corral that surrounds us all -- not a barricade, not a wall, just one metal bar about three feet off the ground.

I am curled up with my knees tucked into my hooded sweatshirt, shaking like a leaf and just generally overall terrified after having been told that I will stay in this jail for approximately 72 hours, at which point the police from an adjacent town will have had enough time to drive over and take me to my new jail, located in the jurisdiction that will eventually handle my court case. Scared out of my mind, is what I'm trying to convey. Totally not feeling it.

After I spend a couple of hours fearfully quivering, a man sidles up to the separating bar and whispers, "Hey! Hey little girl!" I look up to see if he's talking to someone else -- nope, I'm still the only woman there. I decide to ignore him and focus on trying to get my wits about me.
So, of course, he raises his voice: "I said, HEY LITTLE GIRL!"
I ignore him again.
"You stupid bitch, I'm talking to you!"
Ignore.
"Fine, ignore me all you like, but you know I'm gonna find you when I get out of here, and I'm gonna fuck you so hard. Gonna rape you and make you like it, little bitch!"

When you get put into booking, you get tagged with something like a hospital bracelet, and it has your full name, social security number, and last known address printed on it. And after I ignored him for the fourth time, completely bewildered but sure that an officer would step in any minute now, the man who had just told me he would rape me and make me like it loudly recited my full name and address for all of central booking to hear, then tossed out a few more threats, all of which involved varying degrees of sexualized violence. I could hear him muttering my name and address to himself for hours afterward, presumably so he could memorize it, until I finally made it out of booking and into a holding cell.

Bear in mind that I was in jail -- albeit as an ostensible criminal, but I was literally surrounded by police officers. There were at least a half-dozen cops RIGHT THERE, equipped with sidearms, easily within earshot, even within arm's length. There is absolutely no way they did not hear or see what happened. And none of them said or did a goddamned thing. No one lifted a finger, no one budged. I tried getting their attention and they ignored me outright. Nothing but stony silence in return. I slept with a kitchen knife under my pillow for weeks after I got out, and moved into a new apartment as soon as I could.

This is only one trifling anecdote, only one woman's experience, but it speaks to the intense disdain and soul-crippling disregard that law enforcement officers and other authority figures often display when you are just trying to get them to respond to harassment. As in so many cases, "go tell it to the powers that be" is absolutely not the answer.

And for those who have not yet been enlightened by these threads:
* Hi. Whatcha reading?
* Just A Smack On The Ass
* Sweetheart, please stop perpetuating the patriarchal dividend. It's SO over.
posted by divined by radio at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [144 favorites]


Would you really suggest someone engage with an abuser late at night when on their own?

Yes, yes I would. I started doing it. It makes me feel empowered and in control to speak up for myself. What makes me feel unsafe is to just let it go on not knowing how the guy is going to react. (I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times a situation has gone from "hey beautiful" [ignore ignore] to "fuck you cunt!" just like that.) If I turn around and say something, then at least the interaction is mine.


Is that wise? Why not? Not smart right?

Do you see why this statement is obnoxious? Can you see that it's obnoxious? Thank you for answering the question for me.



I can assure you that for most of the people on this site the response will not be "hahahahaha" as one of the posters above assured me would be the case.

This is based on my own actual lived experience, but hey maybe I have just by sheer coincidence interacted with the four police officers in the entire world who respond to that kind of complaint with a confused half-smirk and say, "wait, are you serious? What do you expect me to do about that?"
posted by phunniemee at 10:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


They can respond to your response and next thing you know the tone has changed and they are now very different.

No. No, the tone has not changed and they are not different. I think this is a really crucial point to make: someone catcalling is, whether they know it or not, using a tone that implies aggression and violence. If they respond to my response with actual threats of physical harm, that is a logical continuation of the dominance behavior they have already begun by catcalling, not a sudden shift in tone. Catcalls are not genuine compliments. They are vocal displays of power dynamics.

If the catcaller escalates after my response, that does nothing but strip away the wreathed layers of performance over the core of the aggressive behavior.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2013 [43 favorites]


I always ignore street harassment, but I support other people in choosing any response that they feel safe and satisfied with. Because...drumroll...I'm not them and they're not me! They know the situation, and their own self, better than I do.
posted by Ouisch at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fingerbang: first, gross name. Don't know why you think that's appropriate. Two, it's pretty crazy that you have 10+ people indivially saying "actually my experience contradicts your claim pretty thoroughly" and then your response is to try and explain that your claim is true despite your utter lack of empiracal evidence for it and the previously mentioned experiences of over 10 people providing evidence against it.
posted by Caduceus at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


fingerbang (and aren't you the gentleman for suggesting it!), can you explain how you know everything better about women's lives and experiences than women do? Is it because you are a man? Can you explain to me, like I'm a five-year-old (which: I'm a woman, so close enough) what qualifies you to know better than all the women here what is best for us? Is it something about your Y chromosome? I'm fascinated by this. Please tell me.
posted by scody at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2013 [22 favorites]


It certainly isn't abusive to point out how your response is wrong and unhelpful to anyone.
posted by agregoli at 11:22 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's really cute that you think that not responding won't lead to escalation.

Yeah, this. I'm trying not to remember too vividly all the times that ignoring street harassment led to escalations in the abusive language, often with the bonus of being followed by said spewer of abusive, violent language.

Joking aside, it's why I'm kinda intrigued by the air horn idea. Like a personal car alarm - the harasser might be made more cautious due to the noise attracting the attention of other people.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Squeak Attack: Those exist in various forms.
posted by HermitDog at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other day I was walking home from the gym- so, sweaty and gross and getting rained on and just so ready to be at home- and some guy had pulled his truck up all the way into a crosswalk. As I walked around him I was visibly annoyed, and he leaned out the window and yelled at me "Hey you're in a bad mood! What's the matter, sweetheart?"

Somehow it felt like him sticking his big-ass truck in the crosswalk and him hollering at me were part of the same general attitude- people might need to use that crosswalk but what does that matter to him? He wants to pull up, so he's gonna pull up, and who cares if some pedestrian had to walk in the road to get around him? And who cares if women don't want to hear him call them 'sweetheart'?

So I yelled back "I'm not your goddamn sweetheart" and walked away. Could I have just kept my mouth shut? Sure. But, you know, on the other hand, fuck that fucking guy. Maybe, just maybe- though I doubt it very, very much- he actually had a tiny moment of realization that maybe I didn't care to be addressed in such a way by a perfect stranger while I was clearly already in a bad mood.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've had to "rescue" friends who were cornered by aggressive guys who just wouldn't take a hint. It's kind of shameful that I couldn't think of a better solution that didn't use my status as a tall slightly worrying man to deal with it, but you can't easily use wit against someone who doesn't have two neurons to bang together. I've been fake boyfriend and even husband, and the cavemen respond to another man's "ownership" far more readily than they do to a woman's desire to be left the hell alone.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Can be heard up to one mile away"!

I'm just not sure how actually using one would play out. (For someone other than me - I personally don't get harassed in public anymore due to being old and mostly out with my husband.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:38 AM on December 11, 2013


Also, I have had police catcall me. So.
posted by sweetkid at 11:45 AM on December 11, 2013 [33 favorites]


I'd think that even just having an air horn in a bag or pocket and reaching in and hitting the button would help. It wouldn't be as aggressive as pointing it at someone and would avoid potential hearing damage to all parties, but would still be startling and draw attention.
posted by HermitDog at 11:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It's really cute that you think "

"you seem to be under the delusion "

"I'm glad we have a nice smart man to tell us that we're wrong about our life experiences."

"Do you see why this statement is obnoxious? Can you see that it's obnoxious? Thank you for answering the question for me. "

"come back into the corner, I have some more questions for you."

"can you explain how you know everything better about women's lives and experiences than women do? Is it because you are a man? Can you explain to me, like I'm a five-year-old (which: I'm a woman, so close enough) what qualifies you to know better than all the women here what is best for us? Is it something about your Y chromosome? I'm fascinated by this. Please tell me."




And all this for carefully and politely *suggesting* that you call the police or ignore the abuser rather than put yourself at personal risk by engaging them.


I feel that some of these reactions are inappropriate. I feel upset and surprised because I do not understand what I have done to trigger this.

I think a lot of this is cheap and nasty argumentative stuff: For example "can you explain how you know everything better about women's lives and experiences than women do?/what qualifies you to know better than all the women here what is best for us" when this is not something I ever said.

I look back on the tone of my posts and compare it with the tone of these above and I think there's something very odd going on. In any case, based on some of these reactions, I don't believe I'm going to get a fair hearing and I don't want to listen to more of this weird crap so I'm off.
posted by fingerbang at 11:49 AM on December 11, 2013



I'd think that even just having an air horn in a bag or pocket and reaching in and hitting the button would help

Sometimes there are a lot of comments. A lot. In pretty crowded places where other people would get annoyed if you're blasting an airhorn.
posted by sweetkid at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2013


Well obviously it'd depend on situation, I'm just saying in the "I wish I had an air horn" situations, having one is feasible.
posted by HermitDog at 11:52 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


And all this for carefully and politely *suggesting* that you call the police or ignore the abuser rather than put yourself at personal risk by engaging them.

"Jesus people" is not "carefully and politely". "There are really only two appropriate responses" is not "*suggesting*".

I feel upset and surprised because I do not understand what I have done to trigger this.

And now you have the slightest scintilla of how it feels to walk down a street and have someone you've never met before in your life compliment your tits.
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [56 favorites]


I feel upset and surprised because I do not understand what I have done to trigger this.

It's a post about women sharing their experiences with harassment. You came in to say it was all dumb and we should do X and Y. It's a clumsy, arrogant response, especially coming from someone with apparently no personal experience of this type of thing. People don't react kindly to that, and we've been through a lot of this before.
posted by sweetkid at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


I think a lot of this is cheap and nasty argumentative stuff: For example "can you explain how you know everything better about women's lives and experiences than women do?/what qualifies you to know better than all the women here what is best for us" when this is not something I ever said.

"Hey ladies, I know what to do! Why not try [things that 100% of women know would never work in a million years]? Bet none of you broads every thought of THAT before, huh?"
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


What's odd is you're surprised at the reaction you got, fingerbang. Your username combined with a glib comment about how its so simple, and there are only two "appropriate" responses - one of which might not be possible safely (ignoring, which many women here had already said didn't work) and the other being so out of touch with real life (reporting street harassment? Women can't even report RAPE and be taken seriously) that it was taken harshly, cause, yeah...it was tonedeaf. I am sympathetic to you being surprised at the strong reaction,but if you come back later and read this, I hope you take the time to read the responses and try to understand why your comments were taken the way they were.
posted by agregoli at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh no some people reacted with an irritated tone to suggestions that they A) ignore harassment or B) report it, as if this has never occurred to those of us on the receiving end of street harassment and we have never tried those things and gosh aren't we weird for never having considered those options. Oh no. What shall we do.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


[fingerbang, other folks, please just go ahead and mutually disengage on this stuff a bit at this point, maybe folks can go back to talking about the actual link content and such instead of having this same old argument again.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:01 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another argument against ignoring it:

Shortly after I moved into my neighborhood I was walking home from the train and two guys around the corner from me were sitting on their stoop. One made that chin-up-kissy-noise at me and said "hello there, beautiful."

As these things go, that one was on the innocuous side of really fucking annoying. I didn't want it to turn into A Thing since they're neighbors and I see them all the time, but I also didn't want them to think it was an acceptable thing to do because I see them all the time and didn't want it to happen again.

So I said, "I don't know you, so that's kind of inappropriate," as I continued to walk by. Guy started incoherently blubbering and then shouted "sorry!" after me when I was about 30' away.

The next time I passed them the guy said sorry again and I was all "thanks for apologizing, we're cool." Now we just sort of acknowledge each other's existence like regular human beings and it ain't no thang.
posted by phunniemee at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


Yes, there are situations I can imagine when I think it's best to run or ignore rather than respond. I, however, do not assume my imagination is a better decision maker than people who are actually in real, rather than hypothetical, situations.
posted by spaltavian at 12:20 PM on December 11, 2013


I think the "What?" response several times over is the best. Makes it awkward in a way framed entirely outside of their comment and rubs their nose in it best while also being the least confrontational.
posted by sourwookie at 12:21 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the air horn idea is awesome, and I believe it would work.

I was getting offensive crank calls as a teenager once, where I did my best not to engage--just kept hanging up--but this was back in the day when phones had dials and you couldn't ID the person on the other end, so I never knew when I answered if it was going to be creepy guy, making explicit sexual comments on the other end.

My sister had a whistle--not sure why--and it was in the junk drawer in the kitchen where everything seemed to end up, so I grabbed that thing and put it near the phone and the next time the guy called I took a deep breath and blew it, as loud and as long as I had breath in my lungs, into the receiver. I heard the click on the other end before I even ran out of breath.

No more obscene phone calls!
posted by misha at 12:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


God misha I wish I'd thought of that when I went through my fun scary obscene caller phase at 17.
posted by Ouisch at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I CANNOT know what the policy of the police in your location might be

Chicago. So torturing a false confession to a capital offense out of a victim of harrasment and getting away with it is not off the table.
posted by srboisvert at 12:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Telling women how to respond (or how not to respond) does not prevent men from engaging in this behavior in the future. It is akin to our current rape culture model of asking women to not go out alone after dark, don't get "too" drunk, watch your drink very carefully as someone might dose it, don't hang out with strange men, keep an eye on your other lady friends, be sure to actually say no and fight back. The message isntead ought to be "don't have sex with people who aren't enthusiastically consenting to your sexing!" And the same for harrassment culture. Let's make the message "men, don't say offensive things to women," instead of focusing on how women ought to respond to offensive statements or requests.

For men who are really interested in helping us curb (or better yet, eradicate) this behavior among your less enlightened male counterparts....talk to all the men you know.

Don't wait to witness them catcalling or otherwise harrassing women. Because odds are, they don't do that in front of other men. The vaaaaaast majority of this stuff that I encounter comes from men who think that other men either can't hear them or won't interfere. This means that I am not in the presence of a man who appears to be invested in me (this carries some racial baggage. As a white woman, if I'm sitting next to a black man, I appear to be fair game, because I get harrassed in that mileu...by men of every color. But if I'm in proximity to white men...almost never do I get harrassed.)

So anyway. Bring this up in casual conversation. Forward this link to EVERY dude you know. Whether you think they're an ally or not. Heck, forward the metafilter thread with it. Mention that you're in support of the women speaking out against fingerbang's comments. You'd be surprised who corners us in bars or spits in our faces in front of the courthouse. Public transportation gropers abound. And you know what the number one response is when we tell the friends and acquaintances what their dude bro buddies are up to? But he's such a nice guy! Maybe you misunderstood? or...He's just socially inept.

No. He's not a nice guy if he's harrassing women. The two are mutually exclusive. Yes, he is socially inept. But that doesn't excuse this behavior.

I have almost never had a guy say "That's outrageous, and I don't want to be friends with a guy who behaves that way." It seems easier to disparage my grasp of reality than it is to police inappropriate men.

If you wait until you see men doing this behavior, you will either wait a long time, or find yourself in for a real fight, because you're no longer on neutral territory. Maybe both. If you get this out in the air, and point men to rational women speaking from a safe place about how these interactions actually feel, these men might be more willing to listen and actually digest the information.
posted by bilabial at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2013 [23 favorites]


And you know what the number one response is when we tell the friends and acquaintances what their dude bro buddies are up to? "But he's such a nice guy! Maybe you misunderstood?" or..."He's just socially inept."

One of the many, many reasons I love one of my best friends is because he's A Guy Who Gets It. The last time I told him a story about getting creepily accosted by a guy in a bar, he sympathized - and then told me a story about having been creepily accosted himself. Not to one-up me, but more like "so yeah, I agree, being creepily accosted sucks, doesn't it?" Trying to write off someone's creepiness as "but he's just socially inept" would NEVER enter his mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're like me, now you're all angry/sad thinking about the times you've been harassed on the street (not to mention the shitty comments popping up on this thread). And if you're like me, this will make you giggle and feel a little better: Suggestions For Street Harassment
posted by pizzaslut at 1:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Hee! That reminds me of John Scalzi's Kitten Setting for troll comments.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Street Harassment sucks.

I think part of the issue is that there are plenty of men who just don't understand how catcalls and comments make women feel. In their heads, they would love it if women scoped out their packages, and made sexual comments about them regularly. I know a bunch of guys who've I had "feelings" type conversations with (and the younger me included) who were secretly jealous of the attention women get from their male peers, and felt that if only the roles were reversed that life, dating, and meeting partners would be easier.

To that, I don't think it's so much a "women think differently than men" thing as it is simple misunderstanding of how not being able to choose who approaches you, how they approach you, and when they approach you mistranslates in the shift from fantasy to reality.

I try to tell guys who "don't see the harm" in a few comments, whistles, or whatever, two things:

1. Any person who responds positively to such an stupid introduction, likely has some serious issues, and is not a person you will want to spend much time with in any case.

2. Catcalling a woman is equal to driving 20 under on the Interstate. Yes, people do it... but do you really want to be that asshole?

That said, from personal experience, while I'm not going to tell anyone how they should feel or exactly how they should respond to being catcalled, please try to make sure you're actually retaliating against the person who was catcalling you and not a random person, and certainly don't spit on anyone unless you want to have the riot act read to you.
And then don't put on the "I'm just a helpless gurl against the bad man!" during said reading of the riot act
posted by Debaser626 at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish I were better at snappy comebacks. Lately, I've just been telling men to fuck off.

In casual conversation, one thing I ask men who really believe that this is flattering is (and this approach IS problematic, because it invokes not just the physical size differences most people associate between genders, but also homophobia) is this:

"How would you feel if a man who outweighed you by 50/100/150 pounds said that to you while standing over your shoulder?"

Usually, a guy will blanch at the suggestion. I drive it home by reminding whoever I'm talking to that nearly every man I have ever met outweighs me by at least 50 pounds. I don't lift. I don't take any sort of martial arts classes. All I have is my wits and the hopeless hope that a bystander will come to my "rescue" which if it happens is usually white knight type shit with the implicit or explicit expectation that now I "owe him one."

The other thing I ask men is "would you offer such a compliment to a man?"

I continue, because this line of questioning is uncomfortable.
"Seriously, would you comment that a man's legs were looking good? No? Why not, if it's just a compliment?"

You'll notice an absense of the expected "how would you feel if someone said this to your mother/sister/daughter?" Largely, because it's not effective. But also because it implies that women are somehow different than men. My preferred approach is to make men feel the discomfort, and also that we are the same as men in that this type of attention is generally not welcome from strangers.
posted by bilabial at 1:46 PM on December 11, 2013 [32 favorites]


I think part of the issue is that there are plenty of men who just don't understand how catcalls and comments make women feel.

Really? Huh.

Because I think making women feel shitty and intimidated is *exactly* the point of most street harassment. It's a power trip, schoolyard bully thing where the harasser gets off on pushing around someone weaker.

Actual pick-up attempts in bars and so on don't probably fall into that category, but it's definitely the vibe I've gotten off most street stuff.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


" flashed at on a bus when I was 19. Snorted and said I'd seen more meat on a butcher's apron."

Excellent.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Caring about what the other party feels would require some measure of emotional intelligence/empathy. It's much more efficient to put faceless others in their place and focus on how that makes you feel.

Speaking as someone who had a relavatory creeper experience, you have to walk outside your comfort zone and realize that even though we're all equal as human beings, our experiences are not alike.
posted by mikurski at 2:03 PM on December 11, 2013


I am really terrified for the day that I witness somebody harass my girlfriend, or really any woman I am around. I know people yell things at her, especially in the summertime when she rides her bike a lot more often and wears dresses, but I think I'd end up in jail if I ever witnessed it myself.
posted by gucci mane at 2:13 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


gucci mane, you probably don't have to worry -- it very, very rarely happens when the woman's male SO is around.
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I know a bunch of guys who've I had "feelings" type conversations with (and the younger me included) who were secretly jealous of the attention women get from their male peers, and felt that if only the roles were reversed that life, dating, and meeting partners would be easier.

and

"How would you feel if a man who outweighed you by 50/100/150 pounds said that to you while standing over your shoulder?"

Along these same lines, many years ago I lived near a very popular coffee house that was a big part of the gay scene in that area at the time. I frequented this place a lot: great coffee, music, ambiance, (mostly) cool people, etc. I would fairly frequently get hit on by guys there, and almost always politely declining was all it took to keep things pleasant. However there were a couple of times when I had guys refuse to take 'no' for an answer, and both times all I could think was, I sort of wished this would happen to every straight guy (minus any homophobia said guy might have). The two things it made me acutely aware of were: 1) just what it was like to have someone "hit on you" when there was no possible way it could/would go anywhere (and yes I realize that being hit on/flirted with is very different than being harassed, it was also clear in these cases however that these guys weren't being flirty with me because they thought I was handsome or charming or fun at parties). 2) I had the privilege/luxury of also being a guy which meant that any possible threat I faced was significantly less on both physical AND social levels.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 2:31 PM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, this. I'm trying not to remember too vividly all the times that ignoring street harassment led to escalations in the abusive language, often with the bonus of being followed by said spewer of abusive, violent language.

I do not know what it's like to be a woman being harassed on the street, but I do know what it's like being a smaller-than-average-sized minority teen being harassed on the street. If you try to ignore certain kinds of harassers, it will embolden them, and they will start throwing rocks, etc. Regardless of whether or not you say anything, actually looking at them is a huge deterrent. They know they're not going to get away with something completely unchallenged. You don't have to smile, look them in the eye, or look mean. Just look at them like they are animals, and you are prepared to do things if they get aggressive.

End maybe partially applicable anecdata.
posted by ignignokt at 2:31 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Tally me in for one more "Fuuuuuuck off"

Just now. I'm standing outside a grocery store having a phone conversation. Guy looks down as I'm turning to pace and says 'yeeeeeeah' in an extra low tone. I reply 'fuuuuuck off!' And he asks 'what?'

The person I'm on the phone with starts flipping out.

I tell the guy in front of me what he just did 'looking at my ass, saying 'oh yeeeeeah'" and HE says 'no, no. I was looking at your legs!'

And because I am so over this shit I shouted 'and that makes it better?!'

He looked me up and down in my busy business lady clothes and said 'oh yeeeeeah' again. So I told him to fuck off. Again.

I can't remember the last day I didn't encounter street harassment. Really gotta work on some better responses.
posted by bilabial at 2:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


To get back to the post, I am so going to adopt barking at the harasser if things get scary. Defenses that indicate that I am both insane and aggressive have worked well for me in the past (chasing after a car howling "I WILL FUCK YOU UP" was both satisfying and extremely effective.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:41 PM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ha, I just remembered an obscene phone call when I was maybe 12. The guy was whispering and I did keep saying "What?" cause I actually could not tell what the hell he was talking about. I finally hung up. Then later I remembered one or two words and the light dawned. OH. He never called back, I don't think it was very satisfying for him.

My grandmother used to get a lot of them for some reason, until she moved her Daily Bread Bible verse-a-day box next to the phone and just started reading Bible verses to them.
posted by emjaybee at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think Google Glasses would be a great defense. Always recording.

Like that girl who took pictures of her harassers and blogged them.

Some way to anonymously tweet the actual harassment videos to an @everyday_harasser twitter account.

Just brainstorming here...
posted by surplus at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do know what it's like being a smaller-than-average-sized minority teen being harassed on the street.

posted by ignignokt


I can't even imagine what Err had to go through, he's even smaller
posted by Hoopo at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It depresses the hell out of me that it seems some men will just never get that this shit is not acceptable. For a while there back in the eighties it seemed like things were improving. Either they weren't or it was just a temporary blip in the right direction. Jesus, you have to be incredibly thick not to understand why this behaviour is crass, stupid, offensive, massively unimpressive and makes you look like a miserable fucking jerk.
posted by Decani at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


A lot of men seem to think street harassment is a compliment, and are baffled when women react to it like it's an insult or a threat. But I've been approached on the street in a genuine non-creepy way by a guy, I've been street harassed, and I've gotten the "smile, sweetheart!" type comments, and they're all very different things.

I was once approached by a guy while I was walking down the street, and he came up to me and asked if he could give me his number. I think he said something about how I looked nice. Now, I was startled and a little weirded out, but I did look nice. I was walking to my departmental graduation ceremony, so I had a nice dress on. I said something like "no thank you" and walked on, because I had to meet my family and get to my ceremony on time, and he let me go. When I thought about it, I really appreciated that he had left the ball in my court by offering me his number rather than asking for mine, and I ended up feeling mostly flattered by the interaction. I was flustered, but I didn't feel unsafe or angry.

Now, the "why don't you smile?" comments are annoying as fuck, but women don't generally perceive them as threatening. They're just an unwelcome reminder that some men want women to look pretty for them, and that they want women to always exist in a way that caters to their gaze.

Street harassment though, has made me feel unsafe and dirty, and it started when I was ten years old. I got leered and jeered at as a ten year old who was waiting for the walk light at an intersection in broad daylight in a nice neighborhood, and it's not like I was a particularly mature looking ten year old. I fucking looked ten. Since then, I've never been able to view street harassment as anything other than the threat and assertion of power that it is. It's not acceptable, and it's never going to be a compliment.

Street harassment will never be a compliment or a forgivable impulse of socially awkward men unless and until we see men roaming the streets calling out, "Ma'am, you look truly lovely today!" or "I just wanted to say you're beautiful!" or "I'm sure you are also a fully-realized human being with desires and flaws that I know nothing about, and I respect your autonomy as a person, but also that color is really nice on you and I think you look great!"
posted by yasaman at 3:17 PM on December 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


*Raises hand to join the "I have had police catcall me" club*

In addition to street harassment, I got followed a lot on the street. I lived in a big city and spent a lot of time walking along a major avenue that was lined with all kinds of little shops and kiosks, and became practiced in stopping and scanning the headlines of the papers, or making a phone call at a pay phone, or looking in a shop window. If I stopped three times, and the guy I thought was following me also stopped those exact three times, I'd hail a cab. More than once, though, I'd be too close to home, and have to argue with the cabbie about taking me for such a short ride. I'd explain that some random dude was following me and I didn't want him to know where I lived, and more than once the cabbie would say something like "of course he's following a pretty girl like yourself, I'd follow you home too." And even after hearing that, I'd have to offer the guy a big tip to take me home. Grrrr.
posted by ambrosia at 3:28 PM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


until we see men roaming the streets calling out, "Ma'am, you look truly lovely today!"I just wanted to say you're beautiful!"

I agree with everything else you posted, but I've had people do this to me and it's not nice either.

I just. want to walk. down the street. with no comments. on my appearance. whatsoever.
posted by sweetkid at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2013 [29 favorites]


Much of this ground has been covered, but regarding the 'ignore or confront' discussion: We had a representative from our local police force come in and give us a one hour presentation on personal safety and security. She was entertaining, engaging, charismatic and a lot of people felt they had gotten a lot of useful tools out of the presentation. In particulary, my girlfriend, who's lived experience is depressingly like the anecdotes and experiences that have been shared upthread, told me she found it really revelatory and eye-opening.

In particular, police officer person's first rule is to have a plan. What it is matters less than just having something. Getting flustered or paralyzed is always a net loss. But, more germane to this discussion is that she offered two different generalizations to men and women. To men, it is often better *not* to engage, *not* to make eye contact. Male-male direct engagement *often* escalates. She said this was obviously a rough and ready rule, and we should clearly modify it to circumstances.

To women, she had the exact opposite advice. She said a lot of male targetting women -- whether assault or harrassment or whatever -- *depends* on women being a bit surprised, passive, choosing 'avoiding behaviours' and being non-confrontational. To women, she advised: making eye contact, speaking forcefully or shouting, and just generally making it abundantly clear you weren't going to be an easy mark. As well as more subtle things like body posture, gait, etc.

Anyways, just thought that was relevant given the discussion of 'ignore' vs. 'confront'.
posted by bumpkin at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2013 [41 favorites]


I do wonder if part of this is due to our culture having an absence of a formalized method for people to be introduced to each other, thus allowing for a very large, very chaotic form of social interaction to overtake the many previous methods that were used to prevent the kinds of poor social interactions that seem to have become the norm, at least in observed Western society.

Of course, the only examples of previous formalized systems that I am aware of are either letters of introduction, or odd examples from fictional stories where people attended very formal social gatherings (parties, or dances, or large dinners at rich people mansions or something), and in order to even approach someone, you had to ask someone that you knew to introduce you to them. Then, if they accepted your friends introduction, it was up to them to decide to interact with you, or to dismiss you, based on whatever social criteria they felt was good enough to get away with not having to talk or interact with you any more.

I say this as someone who has always relied on getting to meet people by knowing someone that they know in common. While this does make it difficult to meet new people, all willy-nilly, and based solely upon charisma/charm/appearances, I have found that I very much prefer to meet people through a common association, rather than attempting to bridge the very difficult and hard to cross gulf of simply blurting something stupid to someone who does not know me from the next Jeffrey Dahmer.

Is it a case of our society losing a key element of "civil" interactions, where people have forgotten how to become friends or acquaintances before even attempting to engage with someone?

I guess it is a testament to just how shitty things are that women are objectified as simply objects to be oggled and treated as things to be used solely for sexual pleasure, instead of as equal human beings, with internal lives and feelings that are not so different from our own, yet different enough that it would be utterly rude to simply walk up to them and the first thing out of your mouth to be "I'm an idiot and think you are an NPC in my personal video game."

The worst part of it is knowing that on some level, in even these idiots brains, their actions are due to them wanting your attention, and wanting you to think they are worthy of you treating them as either desirable, or in some instances, worthy of fear or respect. Yet without any guidance or someone demonstrating to them that in order to be respected, you have to know what respect is, and not base your actions solely on some gut feeling that is not examined for what it is, a basic drive of almost all humans, to be social creatures, with the rewards that interacting with other social creatures affords.

Another thought just hit me. This whole movement of "your own personal brand" may have some part to do with the dissolution of social constructs as means to create a social group. Instead of choosing your interactions through your own associations, you end up just throwing out as many "leads" as you can, and see if anyone responds in a manner that will benefit you. The same goes for street harrassment and the whole "smile" bullshit. If you say it to enough women, maybe one of them will smile, or respond to it as an actual compliment, instead of as a threat.

There has to be a flip side to this. For every 100 women who are insulted or threatened by these horrible advances, is it possible that in some cultures or subcultures (or pick some categorization more fitting), these kinds of interactions are seen as "friendly" and a way to find someone who will react to it as a compliment and "flirt back", or whatever might be the case. I guess that also means that there might be a major cultural miscommunication, and this type of behavior is a selecting mechanism to determine if a person is part of your particular subgroup or possibly an affiliated social background.

It is much like the puffing and posturing of some localities. My own personal example would be the kind of "Philly toughguy" posturing and heckling that some people demonstrate in their interactions with friends. Or the "as seen in movies and other media" kinds of tough guy behavior seen in mob movies, like Goodfellas and other things, where some of the shit that they say to each other, if placed in another context, would seem quite confrontational, but as seen between people who know each other, is either a means of conveying respect, or showing a bond of friendship not seen outside of that microcosm.
posted by daq at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my early twenties I lived a couple doors down from a bar frequented by older gay men, and never had an issue. But I also had to walk by a park that was a major pickup spot, and I got a lot of stuff like "hey, turn around let's see the other side", guys who'd cruise by in cars once or twice making up their mind and then offer me a ride kind of thing. I'd ignore the first, just say a brusque 'no' to the second. Then one day I was walking and I heard a voice go "heeeey, chicky-chicky!" I turned and glared hard... and it was a (female) friend of mine driving past, her silly grin draining away when she saw my expression. I laughed and walked over and chatted with her and she said "wow, I was having fun with you, that was a brutal look... I wonder if that's what I look like when guys do that to me?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:36 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've definitely had men act like they were going to come after me for speaking up, and definitely escalating things because I talked back. I shared a story on Mefi this summer (can't find at the mo) about this happening when I was with my parents and this guy was hitting on me, and I said "have some respect, I'm with my parents" and he got super pissed and freaked out my parents and I thought he might hit my dad or something.

It's just like, you can't act perfectly in every situation. Sometimes it just makes you so. mad.

That's why the "hey ladies this is the right course of action" bit is difficult. We're just people you know?
posted by sweetkid at 3:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


For sweetkid: cause I want to favorite this comment repeatedly:
until we see men roaming the streets calling out, "Ma'am, you look truly lovely today!"I just wanted to say you're beautiful!"

I agree with everything else you posted, but I've had people do this to me and it's not nice either.

I just. want to walk. down the street. with no comments. on my appearance. whatsoever.


Women do not owe you their time or conversation from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's Stop Telling Women to Smile series.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


daq: "I do wonder if part of this is due to our culture having an absence of a formalized method for people to be introduced to each other, thus allowing for a very large, very chaotic form of social interaction to overtake the many previous methods that were used to prevent the kinds of poor social interactions that seem to have become the norm, at least in observed Western society."

My answer to that would be that those formalized systems of introduction primarily applied to the upper classes, and upper-class and professional women are still not subject to that much street harassment, as street harassment is much less about "hey baby I want to get to know you!" and much more about displays of power. Men harass women when they think they're unlikely to be punished or called out -- when the social cost of doing so is low. It is absolutely not a social interaction; it is a power interaction that lets a man puff himself up at the expense of a woman who has no power to stop him, thus demonstrating his greater power.

Guys catcalling on the street truly do not think, "Hey! This is the ONE TIME I'll be successful meeting a woman in this way!" These guy do not live in male-only barracks where they have never met women. They have mothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters, female friends. They are not existing in a World Composed Solely of Men where they have no idea how to talk to women because they've never met one. They're not doing it to meet women. They're doing it because they view THOSE women, the ones they don't have a relationship with already, as objects for their enjoyment.

Those guys would frequently be the same ones who'd get pretty pissed if their sister got catcalled, because she's a PERSON with whom they have a relationship; other women are objects.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


Nthing crush: when a stranger makes comments about how appealing I am It's usually an addict trying to engage me into giving him/her money.
posted by brujita at 4:45 PM on December 11, 2013


I just. want to walk. down the street. with no comments. on my appearance. whatsoever.

Exactly! And while the more "gentlemanly" comments about my appearance are certainly less aggravating than the more vulgar ones, it still bugs me that people feel the need to advise me on my attractiveness-quotient.

When I'm looking good, I know it. I mean, duh. This outfit didn't just fly out of my closet and land on me unawares, buddy.

However, I am actually generally OK with getting remarks on my clothes, since that's not about my fuckability.

I will also add that I really, really don't like it when other women give me "compliments" about my body. I get that they are trying to be nice and make me feel good, but I resent it.
posted by nacho fries at 4:47 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]



until we see men roaming the streets calling out, "Ma'am, you look truly lovely today!"I just wanted to say you're beautiful!"

I agree with everything else you posted, but I've had people do this to me and it's not nice either.

I just. want to walk. down the street. with no comments. on my appearance. whatsoever.


Thanks for bringing this up. These kinds of situations are the deeply uncomfortable "edge cases" for me I'm never quite sure how to respond to: walking down the sidewalk or across a park or past the bus stop alone and getting the "Hey beautiful/gorgeous/mami," "You're looking fine today," etc. from someone on a bench or passing by. No vulgar content, no implied threat, not even a leer, often in a respectful tone...and in many cases, it's coming from someone who clearly wants to feel visible and acknowledged (i.e. homeless or visibly disabled), or someone who's a resident of an area I'm clearly just passing through.

I'll say hello to anyone who says hello to me on the street, or do the nod and look in the eye, etc. That's the kind of manners that can keep situations from escalating even before they start. But when I'm suddenly in a position of having to acknowledge a sexualized (or at least romanticized) comment about my body from a total stranger, even ignoring or responding with a tight, polite smile or "good morning" or "thanks," opens up an entirely new dynamic that frames my physical vulnerability, even if that wasn't what was intended.

For anyone reading this who is guilty of the above but insists they want to be able to compliment women on the street...you know what middle ground I'd like? If you have to comment my appearance, try "nice boots!", or "I like that coat!" Conjure up your inner Tim Gunn. (Or just say "good morning" instead.)
posted by blue suede stockings at 5:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


But, more germane to this discussion is that she offered two different generalizations to men and women. To men, it is often better *not* to engage, *not* to make eye contact. Male-male direct engagement *often* escalates. ...

To women, she had the exact opposite advice. She said a lot of male targetting women -- whether assault or harrassment or whatever -- *depends* on women being a bit surprised, passive, choosing 'avoiding behaviours' and being non-confrontational. To women, she advised: making eye contact, speaking forcefully or shouting, and just generally making it abundantly clear you weren't going to be an easy mark. As well as more subtle things like body posture, gait, etc..


Intuitively, or anecdotally, this makes sense to me, and suggests yet again that listening to a dude saying, "now ladies, here's what to do" is not going to provide the useful answers.

And even if the generalizations are wrong -- such that in fact, engagement will lead to escalation in both cases -- the shape and form of that escalation is going to be different, and therefore the things you need to do to be safe are going to be different.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2013


Watching at least the first minute or so of the video in this FPP, of a guy sneaking up on and scaring people in a library, is illustrative of some of the dynamics at play. Just watch the body language of the first couple of people -- the guy spins around ready to physically escalate, and the women use extremely deescalating body language.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just. want to walk. down the street. with no comments. on my appearance. whatsoever.

I didn't mean to imply or suggest that that's an invalid desire or anything, or to suggest that any degree of strangers commenting on women's appearance is acceptable. What I meant by suggesting more "gentlemanly" actual compliments is that there's a fundamental difference between what a woman would perceive as a genuine compliment and what street harassers and street harassment apologists suggest is a compliment. It seems like street harassers and street harassment apologists sometimes think women should accept catcalls on the level of "hey baby, nice tits," as if they were phrased as "you are a beautiful human being and I respect you," but since women rarely if ever hear that kind of compliment walking down the street, it's an argument that doesn't hold any weight.

Basically, what I meant was that random ass commentary on my appearance will only be defensible in the "when pigs fly" scenario of men regularly lavishing respectful and sincere compliments upon women as they walk down the street. And even then, women would have plenty of reason to still be uncomfortable with it. Since that's not the norm, and never really has been, defenses or apologia for street harassment ring hollow.
posted by yasaman at 5:21 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do wonder if part of this is due to our culture having an absence of a formalized method for people to be introduced to each other, thus allowing for a very large, very chaotic form of social interaction to overtake the many previous methods that were used to prevent the kinds of poor social interactions that seem to have become the norm, at least in observed Western society.

Bars, coffee shops, nightclubs, meetup groups, gym classes--there are lots of places where the social environment is one where approaching strangers is considered normal. Not everyone who is in one of those places wants to be approached, of course, but there's a shared expectation in that space that it's on the approached person to politely decline the offer of a drink or whatever. There's a shared protocol that everyone has implicitly agreed to by their presence.

Public spaces don't have that protocol. The protocol out on the street is that you might exchange basic greetings or small talk, but otherwise you mind your own shit unless you need help of some sort. Someone who is violating that protocol is indicating that they either don't know or don't care about basic boundaries, which is why even though the basic sequence of events and words might be the same, getting randomly complimented by a stranger while walking down the street is unsettling in a way that it wouldn't be in a bar.
posted by kagredon at 5:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not all random compliments are unsettling, though. There are lots of compliments that people can make that don't objectify the recipient- I recently got a pretty unusual-looking bicycle, and get tons of comments, but "nice bike!" and "where'd you get that bike?" and "how did you get that bike here?" aren't remotely unsettling. Neither is "that scarf is a great color!" or "cool shoes!"

When I lived in Brazil, people would often "helpfully" offer to teach me slang, and then proceed to teach me all sorts of obscenities as normal words, just for shits & giggles. I quickly learned to ask the unprompted volunteer slang coach "is this a word your grandma would use?" because just for a split second, their face would betray their shock at the suggestion that vovózinha might use such a word.

An easy corollary for street comments: if you wouldn't say it in front of your grandmother, don't.
posted by ambrosia at 5:48 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the risk of seeming like a police state advocate, I really see no solution but a strong legal crackdown. This is an extremely serious quality of life issue. It makes women avoid certain streets, adds to stress and health issues, and generally causes - in my opinion - great social harm.

It should therefore be outlawed. I can hear the screams of protest, but hear me out. If we can arrest people for making terroristic threats, then we can do the same to harassers who are actually terrorizing people.

How would this work in practice? Of course it would have to start with making this a priority for every PD in the country. Make cops aware that it is a crime. We had to go through the same educational process when it came to domestic violence.

Next, I see no other way, than extensive - extensive - undercover operations. Have women cops undercover with recorders and the arresting LEOs hidden or somewhere nearby. And arrest these assholes, and prosecute by the thousands if necessary. Make it so that no asshole can every feel safe harassing a woman, even if she seems to be walking along a dark street alone.

You may think this is overkill, but I maintain that this is nothing other than the biggest quality of life everyday issue facing a woman just based on her gender. It should not be tolerated.

Can it be effective? Well, we do know that behavior and culture can be changed. Just travel in Europe and see for yourself. Harassment exists everywhere, but there are dramatically different levels of it in different countries. Which tells us that this is not something we have no power over.

We can and should change the culture - but it's a slow process. I think making this a legal enforcement issue will raise the profile of this high enough so that it breaks into the thickest of skulls: harassment is totally, completely and permanently unacceptable. It is - or should be - a crime. Repeat offenders will get increasingly harsh sentences and mandatory education classes.

It won't solve the problem 100% - assholes will always exist - but we have to do something. It shouldn't just be on the women to come up with solutions, or be left at the mercy of "that's the way things are", this is a huge social problem, and all of society must address this.
posted by VikingSword at 6:07 PM on December 11, 2013


Usually, a guy will blanch at the suggestion. I drive it home by reminding whoever I'm talking to that nearly every man I have ever met outweighs me by at least 50 pounds. I don't lift. I don't take any sort of martial arts classes. All I have is my wits and the hopeless hope that a bystander will come to my "rescue" which if it happens is usually white knight type shit with the implicit or explicit expectation that now I "owe him one."

The other thing I ask men is "would you offer such a compliment to a man?"

I continue, because this line of questioning is uncomfortable.
"Seriously, would you comment that a man's legs were looking good? No? Why not, if it's just a compliment?"
Some anecdata similar to what bilabial offers and BigHearted guy details:

I am mixed-race and present as black to most people (few people see the Asian right off). I'm medium height (5'8") and muscular. The most muscular part of my body is my legs. They're really fucking huge. Not just that, though, my calves are ridiculous. They've been that way since I turned 15 and they've made me a 93rd percentile mid-distance runner for as long as I can remember.

I'm also an introvert.

I get "compliments" from men, women, straight, gay, whatever. When I was in my late teens to early 20s I remember feeling embarrassed and that the comments I received were inappropriate. I just didn't want people I didn't know talking to me about my legs.

One time (in my early 30s) while running, a carload of women screamed at me "Waaaahhh! LOOK AT THOSE LEEEEGGGS" and I was actually more than a little frightened. Me, 180-pounds of fairly muscular black man afraid of a car full of women. Not that a woman could not present a real danger to my person. My point is that I can only imagine what it would have been like if I were a woman and the car were full of men honking and yelling at me. Talk about suck.

It's not even the possibility that something physical might happen. The words and behavior are themselves the aggression and the people who need to know this probably don't realize the effect their assertions of power have on their victims. When these perpetrators are confronted with the negative effects of their aggressions, they become hurt and often escalate/retaliate with threats and "fuck you's".

These days, my middle age and big legs understand I have little to fear from cat-callers other than the calls themselves, and my physical privilege allows me to partially reclaim the objectification as a narcissistic salve to what I'm not sure. But there it is, reassured vanity because I don't have to worry about being overpowered or shouted down because I'm not in the mood.

I know most women do not have such "privilege" and so, yeah, cat-calling sucks and the battle needs fighting and the awareness needs raising.

On a whole 'nother note: I know more than a few unenlightened women who have argued that women should feel complimented by sexual harassment, though they would not have characterized cat-calls and shout-outs "harassment".

We all need as much help as we can get.
posted by mistersquid at 6:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


But, more germane to this discussion is that she offered two different generalizations to men and women. To men, it is often better *not* to engage, *not* to make eye contact. Male-male direct engagement *often* escalates. ...

Yeah, I'll often respond back angrily to a guy harassing me, unless I'm with a boyfriend or male friend, because I know that just his presence is likely to make my response a reason for the harasser to escalate rather than to write me off.

I think I first heard about the proposed convention costume from a link on MeFi, so some or all of you may have already seen it, but this account of a man dressed in a male version of the "Slave Leia" Star Wars costume and going to a con is worth reading:

This, then, is the major difference I found in being the objectified cosplay cabana boy rather than a similarly barely attired lady, I am not threatened by my assailants. Even when I’m the one being groped, I’m still in the position of power. So while I have the luxury of deciding exactly how flattered, annoyed, or disgusted I am with the fondling, someone smaller, weaker, and less violent than I might feel trapped, left sorting out whether they were going to get out of the situation unharmed.

So that sucks.

posted by jaguar at 8:09 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


(And the linked blog post has great comments, too, so just wanted to let you know they're safe to read!)
posted by jaguar at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2013




I fantasize sometimes about an pocket airhom.

"Hey baby! Nice ti-"
BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

"Fuck you bit-"
BLAAHHHH! BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! BLAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

In my fantasy, I would also use it on bicyclists riding on the sidewalk.


My mom really did this! She used to tell me stories about it.

When she was in her 20s, she lived in the same neighborhood i live in now. In 2013, it's mostly gentrified and anyone who doesn't work at microsoft or amazon will pushed out in the next couple years. Back then, it was essentially robocop. She played tennis at a competitive level, and regularly went to play games at a Rich Old White Dude athletic club down on the lake. This had overlap with, of course, the yacht club... So the little supply shop sold air horns for them to use on their little racing sailboats and stuff.

She rode her bike to and from the place and all over in general, and initially got the horn to honk at people driving like morons and trying to run her over. But she had it in a fanny pack or something along those lines, and regularly used it both against people yelling shit out of cars and just in general... exactly like that. Someone yells some shit at her from a window? BLAAAA. someone yells some shit from a car? mid sentence, bLAAAAAA.

I occasionally hear her wishing she still had it. I don't really think she needs it anymore though. She's developed the Stare Of Death into an art. Hootling assholes and crazy hobos cross the street to get away from her without her even saying a word. A guy tried to snatch her purse and she shoved him between two parked cars into traffic. She called me right afterwards, one of the best phone calls i've ever gotten at work. "O my god, honey, this guy just tried to rob me" "holy shit, are you ok?!?" "Yea, i'm fine. He's laying in the street crying though, a car almost crushed him... oh, yea he's running away now".

These tweets, and this thread also reminded me how big of a fan of the "Huh? what was that? HUH?" method of making people repeat stupid shit she is too.
posted by emptythought at 4:45 AM on December 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


I know a guy who hollered out a car at a woman once. This is a true story.

He'd been at an event with some friends, and he saw this woman on the other side of the stage in the crowd, and he was kind of drunk and she really seemed to be one of the loveliest people he'd ever seen. Appearance and general attitude and style of dress and whatever. And he and his friends were drinking.

When the time came to leave, he and his cohort piled into his friend's car (I was one of the people in the car), with him in the passenger seat. And they were stuck waiting for a light, and he looked up, and there she was, with her friends, ambling down the sidewalk.

Without really thinking, he leaned out the window, flush with the joy of life or whatever dumb bullshit (and alchohol) and convinced she'd been checking him out too, and yelled out, "I LOVE YOU!"

Her posture immediately became combative. She kept walking, but slowly. Her friends rolled their eyes. Her comeback was simple: "WELL, I HATE YOU!"

Our protagonist froze. It had been a stupid thing to do, and now he was that dipshit who hollers at women out of cars. He resolved on the spot that he'd never do anything like that again.

Thinking quickly, he decided to save it as best he could. Ideally, he should have left the poor lady in peace, but since that had not happened, he figured that it was better she should walk away from the experience slightly bewildered than angry about some dickhead in a car.

So, in the same loud asshole voice with which he'd yelled out the original offense, and with the upper third of his body leaning out the window, he proceeded to holler:

"I THINK IT'S A GOOD THING THAT WE'RE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE, EVEN WHEN WE'RE ANGRY AT EACH OTHER! I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I HEAR WHAT YOU'RE SAYING AND THESE ARE ISSUES I'M WILLING TO WORK ON TOGETHER!"

Her posture changed slightly. From the perspective of the people in the car, it seemed that her lizard brain had been expecting a torrent of sexual invective at that point, and was still reacting to that, and the rest of her brain was only catching up to what her ears were actually hearing.

"WELL, UH..." she said, "Uh...YOU'RE A...what?"

The light changed. Cars started moving ahead. He kept talking.

"I THINK IT'S HEALTHY TO HAVE FIGHTS SOMETIMES! IT'S STRESSFUL BUT IT'S BETTER THAN LETTING THINGS BUILD UP UNTIL THEY EXPLODE! I DON'T WANT US TO RESENT EACH OTHER, YOU KNOW? I KEEP THINKING ABOUT MY PARENTS AND I DON'T WANT US TO BE LIKE THEM!"

By this point, she'd realized what he was saying, and her friends also looked sort of puzzled. As the car began to move, some of them even looked to be cracking up a little.

The car turned a corner, his voice fading into the distance:

"LISTEN, IF YOU NEED SPACE, I UNDERSTAND! I TRUST THAT YOU KNOW WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU AND IF THAT'S WHAT YOU NEED THEN THAT'S WHAT YOU NEED AND I WOULD NEVER WANT TO"
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:09 AM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


"I THINK IT'S HEALTHY TO HAVE FIGHTS SOMETIMES! IT'S STRESSFUL BUT IT'S BETTER THAN LETTING THINGS BUILD UP UNTIL THEY EXPLODE! I DON'T WANT US TO RESENT EACH OTHER, YOU KNOW? I KEEP THINKING ABOUT MY PARENTS AND I DON'T WANT US TO BE LIKE THEM!"

Ugh.
posted by sweetkid at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ugh.

I'm with you. Not only does he holler stuff out of cars at passing women, but now he involves her in his own weird piece of pseudo-absolutionary performance art, nonconsensually?
posted by KathrynT at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also saying that they were both mad at each other? What an odd drunken time.
posted by agregoli at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2013


now he involves her in his own weird piece of pseudo-absolutionary performance art, nonconsensually?

To be fair, Improv Everywhere does seem to be pretty popular these days.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I THINK IT'S A GOOD THING THAT WE'RE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE, EVEN WHEN WE'RE ANGRY AT EACH OTHER!

Hahahaha. That he labeled that anger as mutual is so.....telling. Frustrated privilege writ large. That he thinks her (oh, wait, their) anger maps into his parents' relationship is also...weird.

I'd rather men and boys (and girls and women when they initiate these behaviors) just apologize or shut up when called out for harassment. Don't praise me for being 'sassy' or 'brave' or 'so good at communicating.' Just shut up and don't harass anyone else.

He resolved on the spot that he'd never do anything like that again.

Except for the next thirty seconds where he continues to not engage with her as an actual person, choosing instead to use her to publicly ameliorate his own shame. But I guess he does not see the similarity there.
posted by bilabial at 8:57 AM on December 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yea dudes yelling things at women in the street just needs to end full stop, unless it's like "hey, watch out for that car/pothole/etc."

Just stop.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 AM on December 12, 2013


Hahahaha. That he labeled that anger as mutual is so.....telling. Frustrated privilege writ large. That he thinks her (oh, wait, their) anger maps into his parents' relationship is also...weird.

Not that I'm trying super hard to defend what happened, but you're reading things into the exchange that weren't there. He wasn't trying to engage her in a serious conversation. The rest of it was all things he was making up on the spot. The joke, such as it was, was that he was talking as though they were people who knew each other and were having a disagreement in the context of a long-term relationship when in fact they were strangers.

I cop to having written that out quickly and it came out in a way that could be read as making it sound like he was commenting on the actual situation, and I apologize for fucking that up. I get that other people would be angry at it and that's completely a completely valid reaction to have, but in the moment, once she realized he was talking like they were in couples therapy, she and her friends appeared to be laughing about it.

Again, not saying anyone's wrong to feel whatever they feel about it, but this isn't an accurate reading of the situation.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:07 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


At the risk of semi-repeating myself, if your performance art / prank is indistinguishable from the kinds of unironic sociopathy or untreated mental illness that one actually encounters, perhaps it's time to reconsider this whole idea of treating random others as props in your schtick.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:27 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe the women laughed because they realized the guy wasn't going to start yelling slurs at them and were relieved about that.
posted by sweetkid at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And on didn't-preview, I realize that I'm probably not the first one to lose track of whether he's in the catcall or the scary compliments thread)
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2013


ha! still fits George_Spiggot.
posted by sweetkid at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2013


"I THINK IT'S A GOOD THING THAT WE'RE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE, EVEN WHEN WE'RE ANGRY AT EACH OTHER! I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I HEAR WHAT YOU'RE SAYING AND THESE ARE ISSUES I'M WILLING TO WORK ON TOGETHER!"

I think it really speaks to how clueless i am, and how much my brain just doesn't parse this sort of thing and the necessary wiring isn't in place because i'm a big, tall beardy dude that not even high as balls hobos talk to... but this seems completely harmless, and funny as shit to me. It's completely nonviolent, non aggressive, and just like.. obtuse. It strikes me as an appeal to absurdity "I LIVE IN A GIANT BUCKET" sort of "excuse me.... WHAT?!??" sort of thing.

The only negativity i can even draw from it is the sort of childish, mean spirited "you're not going to get one over on me! i'm going to have the last laugh and turn the burn you just laid down on me back around on you!" sort of thought process that could have, and seems to have plausibly created it.

I mean, it seems like something that would come entirely from the lulz center of the brain when drunk and could be done with absolutely no anger at all, but it's still engaging and not just letting it go. But hell, FM, you even acknowledge that.

I read it as snarking, not some kind of "ameliorating his own shame", but i also have no real experience with people not leaving me the fuck alone and refusing to just shut up and go away like this, and i absolutely see how it could be read in a much more negative way. I do find it extremely hard to take anything he said seriously though. It just seems so non sequitur and jokey to me. like how could someone think he thought the anger was mutual, or that there was anything serious at all behind the parents comment? it's just a silly generic argument script thing to say. Like how could you take it at all seriously after the trail off at the end? It might be an unfunny joke, but there was no seriousness lying in wait under the surface.

Whatever though, i don't get it. I kinda feel bad for thinking it's pretty funny for the reasons George_Spiggott and bilabial described though.
posted by emptythought at 2:22 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Emptythought - maybe the penny isn't dropping for you and you're seeing this as a wacky Improv Everywhere kind of thing because you're reading about this as a spectator. Imagine having been dragged into an improv street theater thing as a participant, at a time when you didn't want to do wacky street theater.

And I'm not even getting into the fact of your having had prior run-ins with Improv Everywhere. And not just with them - imagine that Improv Everywhere had a breakaway fanatical guerrila wing, and you've run into them too - a group that didn't just do street theater, but did street PORN. And you can't tell the difference between Improv Everywhere guys and Intercourse Everywhere just from first glance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on December 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


When in his twenties a male friend of mine (J) was walking back from the pub with a couple of other guys, walking in front of them were another group of guys who started shouting comments at a couple of girls on the other side of the road.
So J loudly tells them to knock it off and how would they like it if that was their sister being shouted at? The guys start shouting back about how it's none of his business and it's just a bit of fun and J disagrees equally loudly. Somebody tries to take a swing at J and everybody starts scrapping ineffectually, as luckily not one of them has any fighting skill. During the kerfuffle the original harasser makes a run for it and J pursues him, trips him and sits on top of him pinning his arms and proceeds to give him a relentless talking to.
After a few minutes the harasser's friends have also tried to make a run for it and succeeded after being pursued for a block or two, so J's friends return to find him sitting on top of this guy's chest delivering a lecture on gender equality, free speech boundaries, safe communities, manners etc. His friends are saying, come on man, can't you see he's had enough, you've made your point. J is adamant that this guy needs to understand the implications of his actions, not just on the girls in question, but on all of humanity. His friends are trying to drag him off repeating, leave it, it's not worth it, and eventually they manage to get him off the guy and tell the guy he's got off lightly because J can talk for hours.
posted by asok at 5:57 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


When in his twenties a male friend of mine (J) was walking back from the pub with a couple of other guys, walking in front of them were another group of guys who started shouting comments at a couple of girls on the other side of the road.
So J loudly tells them to knock it off and how would they like it if that was their sister being shouted at?


In a similar story, my friends and I walked out of a bar to find a guy yelling at a group of women across the street and one of them, clearly pissed off, was screaming back and flipping them off. Thinking the guy was harrassing the women, one of my friends said, "hey man, cool it, how would you like it if that was your sister?" To which the yeller turned and calmly replied, "thanks for the thought, but that was my sister. She's drunk and her friends are taking her home before she makes any more of an ass of herself in public."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:29 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm just gonna go on the record and state that for me and many other women I know, the longer the street harassment circumstances continue, regardless of whether or not it veers into "obvious" nonsense or Improv Everywhere bullshit, the more you start to feel like they're liable to whip the car around in the middle of the street or start running and come after you. They're purposely continuing to attempt to hold your attention for some reason, right? And besides, they're complete and utter strangers -- how the hell are you supposed to know that it's all a joke?

I'd also like to reiterate the fact that after years (decades) of being on the receiving end of such harassment, you do indeed start to develop a "feel" for various types of harassers as well as awful internal flow charts that help you quickly sort through your options in real time. Individual instances of harassment often involve intense psychological calculus, as you try to gain your composure to a degree that will allow you to meaningfully assess possible triggers and map out your escape route. It's obviously much more pressing when you're alone, but you still start planning automatically even if you're in a crowd.

I really can't overstate how insidious and poisonous it is to know, in your deepest heart of hearts, that you could well be assaulted, raped, or even killed if the person who is harassing you decides to try to follow or isolate you, and that you will be blamed for whatever might happen no matter what you do. The myth of the "appropriate response" is an incredibly damaging one.

If you holler back, you "offer them an escalation route."
If you ignore them, you're not doing enough to discourage them from continuing.
If you start running, you're encouraging them to chase you.
If you stand still and try to let them pass you by, you're not doing enough to avoid engagement.
If you request assistance from a bystander, you're weak, whiny, and helpless; you can't take care of yourself.
If they come at you and you try to physically defend yourself, even if they're using a weapon, you'll be castigated for not trying harder to flee the scene.
And if all you can do is curl up in a ball and use your arms to cover your face, you'll be taken to task for not sacking up and fighting back. Ask how I found out.

It's infuriating, it's exhausting, and it never goes away.
posted by divined by radio at 8:40 AM on December 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


women who are sexually harassed on the street (which is a bit different from women who are harassed in other situations, Nope, it's all of a piece. You're female, I can intimidate you in public. You're female, I can pay you less. You're female, you're more vulnerable physically, less powerful politically, and you're my easy target.

The single best response that came to me after reading a lot of these is Christ, what an asshole.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just to generally address the idea of writing down license plates, and police intervention, I'd like to tell a story.

So, back in high school, I was gorgeous in a way I will never be again. Everything in my face and body just fit together right, you know? It was like bodily harmony or something and because of my body shape I looked a lot older than I was, I guess, even though I was in a school uniform. This caused a lot of problems for me.

Let's not even get into being groped on the bus, into being shouted at, the phone numbers in lieu of actually engaging with me, the offers of coffee with the smile that said and then you'll owe me one and you know exactly what I want, the hands skimming down my back and across my chest, the tugs on my schoolbag that sent me skidding off-balance into whichever guy his friends wanted me to crash into "for fun" and I'd have to fight to stop their hands sliding down my hips, the leers when I bent down even a little over anything anywhere because every neckline ever gaped over my chest, the smacks to my ass, the gyrating hips, etc etc etc blah blah blah.

The point here is license plates, and the reporting thereof.

Particularly when I was wearing a school uniform. Keep in mind this was a thing from when I was about twelve to when I was sixteen (when I dropped out of school), and it happened every weekday. Every day.

I walked to work alone after school, a path right next to a busy road, about a kilometre stretch. Every day cars honked. Every day gestures were made and things were shouted at me. More than once I waited at an intersection along this road and the same car came back two or three times to wave at me.

As you can probably guess I got tired of this pretty quickly. So I experimented. Taking off the school uniform was the biggest reduction in harassment. Huge. I was still, you know, me, but I wasn't me in a school uniform, and it cut the harassment rate by at least half. Whatever I wore other than the school uniform, it was still about half. (I experimented with tight clothes too. Pretty clothes, ugly clothes. About the same.) Put the school uniform back on, and it soared right back up. (Interestingly, the same effect happened in town and other places. I was still harassed, but the school uniform had some sort of magical douchebag-attracting effect that made it so much worse and so much more aggressive.)

I told people about this in a joking sort of way, and I got told multiple times to take down license plates and call the police. I was suuuuper skeptical, because I'd once had a cop skim his hand down my stomach while I was being interviewed about an accident I'd witnessed at the site and his friend just watched, but for a while I did anyway. I got good at reading plates, at writing them down on the spot. Looking down to write them meant I tended to miss at least one, but I figured even a third would be something, so it was okay. Most days I had at least three plates. Some days I was slow and I wrote quickly and I managed eight. It depended on how fast I walked. Sometimes I just ran between writing down plates, because I was all out of cope.

So, anyway, it took me a while, a few weeks, to get up the courage to actually call the cops about this, to get confident in my license-reading skills and stuff like that. I didn't want to indict the wrong guys or anything, you know?

One week I got tired of dithering and when I got to work, I'd borrow a phone and I'd tell them I wanted to report street harassment, that these guys had been yelling and honking at me while I was walking past them on this busy, busy road. They told me there wasn't really anything I or they could do, but if I really wanted to report, sure, they'd take what I told them. Really dismissively, you know. I took them up on it, though. Every day. The second time I called they were kind of disbelieving, like 'come on, really?' and by the third they were just annoyed with me and told me I had to be making all this up, and what was I really getting at here, did I have a grudge or something?

On the fourth day, the cops told me to stop calling. I was wasting their time, I was attention-seeking and I needed help they couldn't give me. I didn't try again, and I stopped writing down plates.

This was year two of high school. I lasted two more years of this before general psychological breakdown forced me to pull out and stuff/medication happened that made me put on enough weight that these days I can step out of doors without reflexive cringing, but think about the relentlessness of it, please. Every time I walked to work from school, this happened. Every time. Every day. Different plates. Sometimes the same plates but most often not, and these guys thought it was ... what, cool, or fun? to harass me, individually, over and over and over.

And no-one believed me about how bad it was. Not the cops, not my friends, my family, nobody. I was so, so, so alone, and that was the worst part of it all. The worst part. I could have handled the harassment better, I think, if someone had just supported me, believed me, if someone had ever, ever hollered back beside me, had ever helped me, but they didn't and the terror and banality of these years has followed me into every area of my adult life.

I think people really, really underestimate the damage they do by ignoring it as though it's nothing, as though it's just one day, or one occurrence, nothing much, as though it's just one guy yelling out of a car just this one time. As though help is reliable or comes from authorities who just happen not to be you. As though help will come from somebody else somewhere else so it's okay to ignore or dismiss it when it happens or when people tell you about it. As though it's ever okay to say "go do this" instead of ever even bothering to think of saying "I believe you".

It's not. It's not okay. It's never okay. I tried to tell so many people and I was never told "I believe you". I was never told it was okay to be hurt and upset and terrified by this onslaught that was hurtful and upsetting and terrifying! I was never told it wasn't my fault. I was never told I didn't have to be doing something wrong for it to happen. I tried so hard to be something and someone else because there was just no help so obviously it was something wrong with me like everyone said, and I WAS SO ALONE.

In the end I had to convince myself they were just complimenting me the way everyone told me they were, I had to convince myself I was being flattered and it wasn't that bad and it was something I deserved, just so I could get through the day in anticipation of that walk. Still getting over the damage that bit of self-deception did me. Not sure I ever will entirely get over it, but the better I get about things the more I'm convinced that just one shred of belief, just one person trusting that I wasn't lying or crazy or making it up or not doing enough or doing everything wrong, one person telling me that I didn't actually deserve every bit of what was thrown at me in those years, would have made such, such a difference to my life.

Anyway, that's my 2c re: cops and plates and such. More like 50c! I'm sorry this is so long.
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


E. Whitehall, I believe you, and I'm sorry that happened to you. You didn't, and don't, deserve it.
posted by jaguar at 5:41 PM on December 14, 2013


E. Whitehall it's horrible that you went through that and did so with so little support. I believe you and and you did NOT deserve to be treated like that.
posted by leslies at 5:47 PM on December 14, 2013


E. Whitehall, i utterly believe you 100%. I don't understand when people say to call the cops about pretty much ANYTHING anymore. The cops are fucking useless. The only times i've ever gotten any help from them was when there was physically a cop right there i could yell at/flag down/knock on the window of the car/etc and even that is hit or miss.

I've been a 5 minute walk from a police station and called 911 after hearing some guy very obviously physically abusing his girlfriend endlessly out an open window and her crying, screaming, and begging him to stop. I explained the entire situation to the 911 dispatcher, what building it was, the address, what apartment it was, etc. "We'll get right on that".

When i was leaving my moms apartment on the other side of the block 20-30 minutes later there were still no cops. They never even came. I would have seen them if they did.

I could list off so many other times i've seen, or been in a situation where i went "shit, we need some police" and they were completely fucking absent and useless. I've also gotten utterly bullshit dismissive responses from them multiple times, and i'm a guy which i realize makes me less likely to be dismissed, who was reporting stuff that in theory the cops should give a fuck about even taking in to account biases etc.

I honestly think that a lot of times people say "Oh, you should report that to the police!" because the conversation is making them uncomfortable and they want to put a cap on it and it's the only thing they can think of to say. Far too many people view bringing that sort of thing up as some sort of awkward venting that you shouldn't be laying on them or as some break-fix problem you're asking for a solution to, in that same way that a lot of people do when you just want to talk about something and they're determined to offer a solution instead of just the sort of active listening response you're looking for and really need.

Not to even get in to the fact that when it's about this specific kind of stuff it's a minefield, and lots of bullshit just world fallacy kind of biases come in to play that result in you getting nearly no one outside of social justice minded circles who will even acknowledge it and go "Yes, this is a thing, and it's fucked, and it's happened to me. I believe you, it's not your fault" rather than fucking useless "have you tried bla?" kind of responses like we even saw earlier in this thread.
posted by emptythought at 6:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


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