Street Harassment FAQs: an imaginary conversation

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Sorry, what was that?

Hello, gorgeous.

Yes I thought so. Would you like the middle finger with accompanying eyeroll, or a clumsy expletive? I’m might have a more eloquent speech jotted down somewhere in my bag if you can hang on a minute?

But it’s a compliment!

Is it, though? Is it actually? As @Blonde_M excellently put it in this post, a true compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good – not the giver feel powerful. Did you say it with my feelings in mind?

Honestly, it was meant as a compliment

Ok, fine. But what made you think you should pay it in the first place? You don’t know me. I’m not in a pageant. I’m not being officially presented at the Ambassador’s Ball. I’m just on the Northern Line, biting a hangnail. I’ve got a bit of lunch down my top. Did I look like I was fishing for compliments?

Well, you’re a girl…

Ah, of course! I’m a girl. I’d stupidly forgotten for a minute. But yep, there they are – the steady throb of my baby-hungry ovaries, the whirring cogs of the part of my brain still trying to figure out the offside rule, and, most importantly, my urgent gnawing need to be evaluated and approved by every male I have the good fortune to pass on the street.

Are you being sarcastic?

Maybe.

So you’re saying you DON’T want us to compliment you?

Most of the time, honestly, no I don’t. I have friends for that. And family. And a talking Ken doll from the mid-90s. If it means not having to feel like I’m being scrutinised and rated out of 10 every time I leave the house, I’ll happily forgo the odd stranger telling me I look hot, thanks.

But isn’t it nice to get a surprise compliment from a stranger?

Well, yes – this is a tricky one, because it can be lovely. A lady at a bus stop once told me I had incredible skin, and I walked around like one big beaming epidermis for the rest of the day. But I think that’s because, like all truly great compliments, it was no-strings. She didn’t expect anything in return (or at least, she didn’t hang around leering, so I assumed she didn’t). She just wanted to say a nice thing.

But what if, y’know… it isn’t no-strings?

What’s that? You mean, if you see a comely lady and want to tell her she’s purdy in the hope she might agree to kiss you on the mouth?

Something like that

Well, first I feel it’s only fair to warn you that the chances of successfully pulling anyone you meet on the street are minimal. Teeny. Like your-

ALRIGHT

It’s true though. You can be a perfectly appealing guy, not drooling down your t-shirt or wearing a dirty overcoat or anything, and we’re still likely to back away when you try to hit on us in public. Partly, because it sets off a security alarm in our heads. And partly because, like any ill-judged social interaction, it just makes us cringe.

Sure, everyone likes the idea of meeting the love of their life after they’ve groped your bum outside a corner shop in Kilburn – but life isn’t a fairytale. Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge the odds.

But what CAN we say then?

Well. I’m about the employ a massive cliché here, so brace yourself. Ahem. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s the way you say it.

Or at least, that’s partially true. If what you want to say is “Hey baby, suck this” then no amount of warm smiling and non-threatening body language is going to stop us wanting to thwack you in the delicates.

But when you’re treading the fine line between a friendly approach and a sleazy come-on, you just need to make it clear that you’ll retreat without fuss if we want you to. Start small, with a smile. Not a creepy one. See if she smiles back. Learn the signals. If they make a fake phone call to a friend, they’re not interested. If they frown nervously and shuffle away, that’s your cue to quit.

It really isn’t that different from any person who strikes up a chat with any other person at the bus stop, and then won’t piss off when they want to get back to their book – except we have the added fear that you’ll follow us down a dark alleyway and we’ll have to jab our keys in your eye. Nobody likes being harangued.

That’s true. I gave a guy the time once and he ended up sitting with me the whole way from Piccadilly to Cockfosters talking about which waterfowl are native to Britain. It was bloody annoying.

Now imagine he also wanted to have sex with you. Maybe he did want to have sex with you.

That’s a point.

Also good to note: there’s a big difference between complimenting us on something we’ve chosen, like our shoes, and being ‘complimented’ on an intrinsic part of our physicality. Like our arses. “Hey, great hat!” says, “You have brilliant taste. You chose an excellent hat. Congratulations*”, while (and forgive me if there’s a GNVQ out there I haven’t heard of), there’s no expertise involved in growing a nice pair of tits.

Rather than feeling proud, it makes you feel like a piece of meat laid out for inspection. And even if we’ve been classified as prime fillet today, what if we’re scrag end of neck tomorrow? It establishes a system in which we feel we have to look hot all the time. Every day. Just in case there’s a bloke looking.

(*Actually that’s a lie. “Great hat!” usually means “Whoah there! Hat. You’ve got a hat on.”)

So, if in doubt…

Say nothing at all. Yep, ’fraid so. And I hate to break it to you, but nothing catastrophic is going to happen if you DON’T toot your horn at that girl in the sundress. Her day will carry on perfectly well without you shouting ‘Awright sexayyy’ out of the window. If anything it will probably be better.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we could just tell women we think they’re beautiful without them feeling scared or objectified or pissed off?

Yes, Men. Yes it would.


(Thanks to @ashleyfryer and the brilliant ladies of AWOT for their inspiration, opinions and lols on this topic.)