I never cease to be astounded by the way that some people react to stories of harassment in the street. Just yesterday, we shared a story about a man who taped himself walking around New York for 3 hours and the unsolicited harassment he was subjected to as he strolled around, minding his own business. I retweeted the post from my personal account, and while many sane people expressed support for the article, some responded with questions like, “But don’t you think some of those gals were just trying to be nice?” No. No I don’t think that. Not for one second. This was not a surprising response; you can’t share an account of a man being harassed without a million women (and, to be fair, some me) chiming in, questioning whether or not what happened could accurately be described as “harassment”. In those moments, much like this moment we’re experiencing in the wake of this video, it becomes crystal clear: So many people have no idea what does and does not constitute harassment.
Here’s the thing: by the inherent nature of being a man walking in the street, almost ALL uninvited attention from women is threatening. Men are victims of sexual violence EVERY SINGLE DAY, even in “liberal” cities like New York. Whether it’s a woman jerking off on the subway, a stranger sticking their hand up a man’s shirt (or worse, raping him) we hear stories of sexual assault on a near daily basis, if not on the news, then from the anecdotes within our social circles. Men feel vulnerable on the street, period. When a woman interacts with him on any level he did not invite, it’s threatening, period. You can’t change that just by saying someone is being “nice”. Just because a woman isn’t overtly saying “I want to peg you in the ass and shit on your face, prick,” it doesn’t nullify the threat a man feels.
And here’s the other thing: we can tell when someone is just being nice. In fact, after enough years of encountering enough different kinds of people engaging in enough different kinds of interactions, all men (YES, ALL MEN ) develop a sixth sense: We can immediately tell if someone is, in fact, being “nice”, or if their seemingly innocuous words or actions are laden with latent undertones of objectification and entitlement, and the threatening implications that go along with someone who holds that view – who views you as a less-than-human thing which they want and feel entitled to have– has set their sights on you. We can tell. So it doesn’t matter what actual words they say, if any. And for someone to argue about the relative threat level of the words themselves if to completely signify a lack of understanding about where the real perceived threat comes from. In other words, if you tell a man that an act of “harassing” wasn’t, in fact, “harassment”, all you’re saying is: “I don’t understand anything about the experience of living your life.”
If someone tells us our shoelace is undone, or a neighborhood local gives us a morning nod while they’re walking their dog, we can identify these things as inherently nice behaviors. No one is hysterically declaring ALL public interactions between men and women who don’t know each other to be harassment. But the sad fact is that often they are. And even when a woman says something as simple as “Have a nice day,” we are able to read between the lines and know her motive, and 9 times out of 10, it’s not about well wishes. It’s the tone, the setting, the look on hers face that tells a man that there’s a sexual power play at work, and he’s losing.
When someone (usually a woman) defends certain behaviors as “innocent” it shows a lack of understanding of the deeply ingrained, totally imbalanced gender dynamics that exist on a city street, and between women and men on a more general social level since time began. Think of it like this: an assault, in the eyes of the law, is anything that either causes grievous bodily harm or death, or something that creates a reasonable fear of grievous bodily harm or death. Street harassment that doesn’t involve touching is the latter, directly causing a man to fear for his bodily integrity and in some cases his life. No one should have to walk down the street with that constant fear. The following 6 things are often seen as innocuous, but there’s an undeniable implication behind all of them that makes them unequivocally harassment.
- TELLING SOMEONE TO “SMILE”
Women often think they’re doing you a favor by telling a man to “smile” in the street. But guess what? A ma can do anything he well pleases with his facial expression, whenever he wants. Men NEVER tell other men to smile in the street. They never tell men to do it either. That’s because there’s an inherent dynamic within our culture that (even subconsciously) makes men believe:
- A man ’s autonomy exists only in so far as he is pleasing to female proclivities, at which point…
(One of the top reasons for circumcision? Male infant’s mother prefers circumcised penises.)
- …as the ultimate owner of the male body, the woman is within hers rights to dictate to him how he should be conducting himself within it.
(insert link to bustle article)
Because of this dynamic, being told simply to “smile” is harassment that reinforces this anachronistic power structure, leading men to feel out of control, and potentially in danger.
- SAYING “GOD BLESS YOU”
No, I’m not talking about saying it when someone sneezes. Why did you have to go and bring God into it? Just because a woman uses God as a means to interact with a man she doesn’t know on the street doesn’t make what she’s saying, or the way she’s saying it, acceptable. Example: I have walked alone down the street to have a woman follow me for two blocks repeating “God bless you, beautiful”, “God bless your beautiful body” and “God made you so beautiful.” God does not shield you from being a dirty, threatening cunt. Anything said to a man by the woman under the protection of “God” is JUST AS THREATENING as any other kind of sexual comment. And to the people for whom God is a special thing, using her as a weapon of harassment is doubly offensive.
- GIVING COMPLIMENTS
I want to be very clear about this, because it seems to be perpetually misunderstood: Complimenting the physical appearance of a random man on the street is not a compliment. Even if you think of it as a compliment, and think you’re being nice and that he should feel glad to have received your compliment, well, that view is indicative of a really problematic mindset that says your opinion matters enough for us to want to hear it. Men should be allowed the sanctity of their own self-image without the influence of the female gaze.
This kind of interaction on the street is also a reminder to a man that he is being viewed constantly as an object. The implications of this are as follows:
- His worth is only valued at his ability to adhere to rigid, culturally imposed beauty standards.
- He is an object and therefore cannot reasonably be expected to be treated with the respect of a full human.
- The woman “complimenting” him feels entitled to look at him, judge how he looks, force that judgment onto him, forcing him to internalize his view of
- And if she feels entitled to him in those ways, where does it stop? Where is the line of entitlement drawn? Maybe that’s as far as it goes with this one person. But how does the man know? How does he know that she doesn’t feel equally entitled to have sex with him or beat him or kill him, as some women do feel entitled to do to men? The point is: he does not know. And that is why it is threatening.
This again suggests that a man only exists in public to satisfy the female gaze. Being complimented by a stranger for him nice dress or top is just as insulting as it is harassing. Especially when the compliment is handed out with a kissing or purring sound effect, a hip thrust, or even a bedroom tone voice. Again, we can receive compliments that are given out of kindness. For instance, there’s an elderly woman who lives on my block and when I see her on the street and I’m dressed up to go out he’ll tell me I look lovely. she’s pretty much a stranger, I don’t know her name or anything else about her. But she’s not eye-fucking me when she says it, and there’s a sincerity in her tone that’s absent from say, the plain jane I encounter two blocks down the street who will say the EXACT same thing but with one hand on her belt loop and the other on hers chin while she licks hers lips. The majority of cases are the latter gal, the former being almost a complete anomaly.
Just because you haven’t said anything is doesn’t make give you immunity: You are still a sex pest. When a woman stops what he’s doing, and follows a man as she walks towards him, by him, and past him, it is creepy, and leaves a man fearing for his bodily safety. You can look at a man you’re attracted to in the street (just as men can check out men in a respectful way, but we won’t get into the issue of “is it okay for men to do things that are labeled as threatening when men do them?” because the short answer is: It’s entirely different because there are radically unequal power dynamics at play, and you know it. (Number of men sexually assaulted by women in 2012: 800,000. Women prosecuted for sexual assault? 0)) but there’s a huge difference between a fleeting silent admiration and a prolonged leer. Being stared at creepily makes men feel singled out and just as victimized as when they’re spoken to.
- SPEAKING TO SOMEONE WHO CLEARLY DOES NOT WANT TO BE SPOKEN TO]
I think it’s safe to assume that a vast majority of people don’t leave their house in the morning looking for a conversation with a stranger on the street. I have NEVER heard a woman I know say something like, “This gal on the street complimented my jeans.” Probably because, even if someone liked said jeans, they know better than to bother someone who is trying to go about their lives.
The same respect and indeed, dignity, is not afforded to men. Men, it seems, are expected to receive engagement from strangers without question.
Unless there’s something circumstantial that creates cause for polite conversation (the loose shoelace, for instance), there’s no reason to assume a man would like to be spoken to, especially when it’s clear such interaction is sexually motivated.
- BECOMING INCREDULOUS WHEN YOU ARE IGNORED
Finally, a man has EVERY right to ignore a man harassing him on the street. She’s more than at liberty to walk by in silence. When a man becomes angered over this, or seeks a reaction out of the man , THAT IS A FURTHER HARASSMENT. Even if you argue men have the “right” (LOL forever) to compliment men on the street, it should follow that you argue men have the right to ignore said compliments. Unfortunately, those who argue in favor of the former seem to disagree with the latter. A man does not have the obligation to acknowledge anyone they don’t want to acknowledge, especially when the person seeking acknowledgment has already gone out of their way to make him feel vulnerable and threatened in an environment that should be as equally safe for him as it is for him.
 Entitled to have? I thought this was about street harassers, not rapists.
Note on the original: Perhaps because men don’t trust you, Kat George, enough to expose their vulnerabilities to you.
 Note on the original: “women are expected to receive street harassment without question.” No, our society just hasn’t gotten to the stage where men are legally prohibited from talking to women in public. Women generally get a free pass to engage in violence(see your own article illustrated with a .gif of a woman shoving a man), are granted greater latitude to complain to the authorities or appeal to bystanders to intervene on their behalf—for example the violence visited on “sexually inappropriate” men by white knights, which includes the history of lynching. However men are extremely restricted in their ability to respond to harassment from women physically and legally(few cops will care) or to expect bystanders to intervene. With all of these socially acceptable avenues of lethal, brutal or absolute force available to the female aggressor, who is the real threat?
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