Sneaky Street Harassment… what would you do?

February 28, 2009 § 9 Comments

As a seventeen year old living in New York City, I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of street harassment. Men have said obscene things to me, made gestures, whistled, the works. Though I am by no means happy to be treated this way, I’ve perfected my “death glare,” which is pretty satisfying. What I find worse than the blatantly obscene comments, however, are the faux polite compliments.

I used to frequent an awesome little cafe in my neighborhood called Carrot Top. The coffee was wonderful, the management was super friendly and it was right outside my door. The only problem was that a man who happened to get his coffee at the same time as me every morning felt entitled to assess my appearance, ask me my age, command me to “keep smiling” and, my personal favorite, propose that we run away together.

I’m sure many of you have been in a similar situation. When this man talks to me, he doesn’t say gross enough things for me to call him out on his behavior. He sees everything he does as perfectly chivalrous. Mostly, he puts me in a position where it would be considered rude of me not to thank him for making me feel uncomfortable. I probably should call him out on it one day. Mostly, I just wish I didn’t have to!

No form of street harassment is OK in any situation, but I personally hate the type that makes the object of the harassment feel bad about reacting honestly to the “compliments” he or she receives. I’m writing this post because I really don’t know what to do about the situation. Today I went to Carrot Top and saw him across the street, and that familiar sense of dread came over me for the first time in a long time. It’s really not OK that a stranger can have that affect on me. I go to Carrot Top much less frequently than I used to (in part because of this guy), but next time I’d like a badass plan of action. Any suggestions?

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§ 9 Responses to Sneaky Street Harassment… what would you do?

  • Steph89 says:

    That’s a tough one…I live in a big city too (Toronto) and I’ve gotten my fair share of obscenities and backhanded compliments (and I *always* get told to smile more by old men…like who rides the subway with a big grin on their face the whole time??). I would try deflecting this guy’s rudeness with passive-aggressiveness. If you wanted to go all out, the next time he tells you to smile you could be like “my cousin just died” or something really bad and I doubt he would say that again. Or if he asks you to run away with him you could say “oh thanks for the offer, but I already have a grandfather who takes me on trips!” really sincerely. Stuff like that.

  • Lysergic Asset says:

    Firstly, I’m sorry you have to deal with this all-too-common form of harrassment.

    My serious suggestion (it worked for me) is to take a self-defense or martial arts class. I studied aikido, which is a non-force martial art that teaches you how to use your opponent’s aggression against him/her.

    It changed my whole manner of being; I gained not only a skill but the unshakable confidence to stand in my strength and defend myself without engaging in hostility.

  • Lysergic Asset says:

    I commented on this article yesterday, but it never posted. I am wondering, was my comment objectionable related to this article?

  • mirandanyc says:

    Lysergic Asset: the way we approve comments is that each writer moderates the comments on their own posts. Since we’re all super busy (re: high school), it can sometimes take us a while to approve comments. There wasn’t anything wrong with your comment, it just so happened that Ruth hadn’t checked the comment board yet.

    Ruth, I broke our rule by approving these comments for you, hope you don’t mind dear.

  • Phoebe says:

    Oh haha, I just emailed Lysergic Asset, saying the exact same thing.

  • ruthelizabeth says:

    word. I’m actually having an issue approving comments (I need to figure out how to do it) so no, nothing was offensive.

    Lysergic Asset, I actually HAVE taken a self defense class, only one, but it was great. Thanks for the support y’all.

  • Lysergic Asset says:

    I am blown away that you ladies are in high school. I thought grad/post-grad level at least, from the writing on this blog. Wow. (I’m 41, and don’t worry, I do not feel old!)

  • […] or Not? By administrator Ruth at Women’s Glib recently wrote about sneaky street harassment – the kind where men pay you “compliments” that are not blatantly out of line so you […]

  • Golden Silence says:

    I’m impressed with your maturity too. Here in DC, there aren’t too many girls with your level of depth. Kudos to you.

    In your situation, if it makes you uncomfortable, speak up. I am constantly dealing with lame men and their corny compliments, and I let them know that I don’t like being complimented from some random man I don’t know. Be strong, and don’t let these nuts intimidate you.

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