Today, while walking back to work from lunch, a man on the street tried to stop me to talk to me. He was one of those guys hawking bus tours around the city. His attempt was simple. He basically got in my way while shouting, “Hi, pretty! Excuse me, pretty! Excuse me, pretty!”
I swerved around him as I said, “No thank you” because I assumed he was trying to sell me a bus tour.
This is normally enough of a maneuver to get someone to stop trying to talk to me on the street.
Undeterred, the man continued to follow me shouting, “Excuse me, pretty! One minute, pretty!” I replied forcefully, “I live here.” But he didn’t stop. A bit unnerved, I ducked into the next deli and he finally went away.
Here’s the thing: I live in New York City. People are constantly talking to you in the streets, whether they’re selling you something or just asking you to take a picture of them (“with the building in the background!”). But for some reason, this encounter made me uncomfortable.
There’s no way to say this without sounding like a douche bag, but I struggle sometimes with how to respond to stranger compliments. On one hand, sure, some people are probably genuinely just trying to be nice. But on the other, I kind of just want to walk to work without being appraised. I especially want to walk to work without being accosted.
Calling me “pretty” does not give you the right to otherwise treat me however you please. Compliments do not make it okay for you to make me feel uncomfortable or ignore my polite request to keep moving.
These thoughts were all coursing around in my head as I sat back at my desk, and then I saw this article. The author articulately captured the frustration of being a female (fat, thin, whatever –simply being some kind of woman opens you up to these kinds of annoyances and threats) and simply trying to get around.
I think the most frustrating part is that there’s nothing we womenfolk can do to make this go away completely on our own. We can start the conversations, we can bring the problem to light, but we need the people shouting at us from cars and whistling from outside of bodegas to get on board. The people cat-calling need to decide they don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable before it will ever stop.
Because, as the author of that article points out, sticking up for ourselves can often put us in worse danger.
I like to give some people the benefit of the doubt. I know men who call women “sweetie” because they genuinely view it as a term of endearment. I’ve had men comment on my appearance in a way that I know they weren’t trying to pressure me into reacting any particular way or to make me feel uncomfortable. When it comes to defining harassment, sometimes I don’t even know if I can accurately point out where the line is.
But it’s there. And the more and more we talk about it, the better I think we’ll get at defining it.