—yelled the middle-aged man from the driver’s seat of his car. Masking her discomfort, the young woman on the receiving end of the “compliment” continued to mind her own business.
Catcalling, unwanted compliments, excessive staring…a.k.a. the average experience of a young woman out in the world.
Now, we can study statistics and social experiments and research findings to figure out how often this really occurs—or, we can use the quicker and almost equally as accurate method: talking to a woman. There are very few women in the world who can truthfully say they’ve never fallen victim to some sort of harassment, and the reality is that 99% of the time, when asked this question in a simple yes/no format, a woman’s answer will be a definitive “yes”.
How many times have we heard that one? (Hint: too many). Seems like a harmless enough bit of commentary… But is it? (Hint: it’s not).
Gents, when you say this, you’re basically saying, “As a male in society, I demand that you, oh attractive member of the opposite—and lesser—sex, look attractive and approachable, and show appreciation and gratitude when I throw unwanted comments your way and harass you.” This underlying ideology is toxic—and frankly disgusting.
“But it’s innocent!”
If it’s so goose-darn innocent, why don’t you tell men to smile?
Now, I want to take a step back and talk about the oblivious little youngin’ that I was in my teenage years. I mean, I was completely and utterly ignorant to the concepts of sexism and harassment. I would go out in the world and not actually understand that I was being harassed. I simply, truly, and completely believed people were just being nice. My youthful optimism failed me in recognizing how gendered and sexually suggestive the comments were.
I think it’s fair to say I spent those years wandering around with some deeply rose-tinted sunglasses.
“But like…why don’t you just stand up for yourself?!
Because it’s not nearly that simple!
It’s not nearly that black and white—a man harasses you on the street, you yell back at him… Then what? He apologizes for his ignorance and gross act of verbal harassment, and vows to never show such disrespect for women as a collective ever again? And then the two of you go your separate ways, continuing with your wonderful lives filled with promising careers and meaningful relationships, and never again does a woman experience harassment at the hands of that man you encountered that one time long ago?
The sunglasses have come off and it is time to get real: I really do hate having to admit this, but this most certainly is not the world we live in.
As a community, we women know that it’s probably in our best interests to simply not respond in these situations.
One, because it’s not productive.
This person is not going to change their ways simply because you turned around and expressed your discomfort. The very fact that they’re harassing you in the first place is proof they don’t care about your comfort. The idea that a man is going to turn around and thank you for changing his philosophy on life is ridiculous and we’d be silly to expect it.
Two, because it’s dangerous.
We can walk away from it, or we can risk it resulting in assault, rape, or even murder. We could just be taking a bad situation and making it fatal.
To sign off… To the men: stop harassing women on the streets. It’s not cute, it’s not fun, and y’all are jerks if you do it.
Besides, when has a story ever gone like this:
“So, how did you meet your husband?”
“Oh, it was lovely! He shouted something sexually aggressive at me as I was walking by, and I thought ‘That must be my prince charming!’”