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Yesterday, I was in a meeting where the topic of street harassment came up. The only man in the meeting asked me (sincerely and without being an asshole) the difference between someone who is genuinely trying to compliment a woman and someone who is actively engaging in harassment-like behavior.
A basic “what not to do” list is what I came up with.
1.) I am at work and you think it’s perfectly appropriate to comment on (any part of) my body, my tattoos, or my clothing. I used to be a waitress and one of the worst things – besides having a serve screaming toddlers – was having to deal with men who thought that because I was bringing their sandwich to their table, I wanted to be a part of their sandwich.
I do not want to be part of your sandwich. I smiled at you BECAUSE IT IS MY FUCKING JOB AND I AM BEING PAID TO BE NICE TO PEOPLE.
Generally, your waitress does not find it attractive when you lean in and make a comment about her “really, really, really nice hands” while your wife is in the bathroom (true story); when you put your phone number on the check (this screams that you’re terrified of me and/or you realize that you being a dick); when you ask if I want to sit down and have a drink (I’m at work, you tool); or when you decide to ask me really probing questions about various aspects of my physical appearance: “Is that hair real?” No, it’s fake and I reattach it every morning. “What does your tattoo mean?” Fuck off – in Dutch.
2.) You are at work and you think it’s appropriate to comment on (any part of) my body, my tattoos, or my clothing: When I’m in line getting my coffee in the morning; when I’m walking by your construction site; when I’m going to a meeting at your place of employment; when I am walking on the sidewalk and you lean out of the restaurant where you’re some sort of middle management to tell me that you would tap my ass; or really anyplace where I can call your boss and say, “Hey, Employee Douchebag is, well, being a douchebag on work time, and I’m not so sure that’s what you’re paying him to do,” is probably when you don’t want to engage in sexually harassing me. I will call you on that shit.
3.) I am walking my dog and you are driving by. I have a few reasons why I walk my dog. They are pretty simple. She has to pee/poop/needs exercise or it’s a nice day. That’s really about it. I’m not walking my dog because I feel like listening to your asshole comments about my breasts, because I enjoy hearing you yell “I want you to suck my dick!!!” out of your car window, or because I want you to ask me how old my dog is as a roundabout way of talking about numbers so you can get mine (true story). Chances are, I have thrown on the clothes I wore yesterday or I’m still wearing what I wore to bed, I haven’t had coffee, and I don’t want to talk to you. I want to scoop the dog’s poop and go back home. Don’t pull up next to me to talk to me unless you’re asking for directions. Fran will go Cujo on your shit. Really.
4.) At the gym. I hate going to the gym with a strong, burning passion that rivals little else. So, first of all, I’m not in a good mood when I’m there. Second of all, I want to leave as quickly as possible. I’m not there for social hour. This means that I don’t want you to come over and strike up a conversation about my glutes, and I don’t want to hear you muttering comments to your friends about my…workout style. And if you’re one of those guys who walks around the gym talking on his cell phone, that goes double for you.
5.) Really, anywhere. I have a right to be anywhere I need/want to be without having to listen to individual men or groups of men comment on anything about me – my hands, my hair, my glasses, my tattoos, my breasts, and my ass. I have a nice ass, I have awesome hair. I know that. I don’t need you to tell me.
The answer to the question, “How do I make sure that a woman knows that I’m making a genuinely nice comment and not being a street-harassing jerk?” is actually a simple one. If you think that you might be overstepping a boundary, you probably are. If you are taken aback by a woman who responds “negatively” to you when you were “just trying to be nice”, remember that she has a right to respond to you however she chooses and chances are, she has just had enough with comments directed at her physical appearance. Take it from me – it gets exhausting and actually makes me feel unsafe when there are multiple comments directed at my business.
*Cross-posted from quarter.life.crisis.
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