A Guide to Approaching Women On the Street
Our society is having a hard time defining the word “harassment.”
Many feminists have told me that they don’t want men to talk to them on the street, not once, ever. They say that even one unwanted comment — “Hey beautiful!” “You look good today,” etc. — is street harassment.
But is it? Most laws define harassment as repeated unwanted behavior. That means that in order for an action to constitute harassment, you have to have clearly defined a boundary first. If the action is repeated, then you have a harassment case.
So no, one unwanted comment directed at you on the street is not harassment. But women may be right to protest the content of the comments often directed at them. It’s no secret men often say disgusting, sexual things to women on the street.
It is possible to have respectful street interactions — men just have to learn how to distinguish street disrespect from street respect.
1. Saying (or yelling or shouting) sexually aggressive comments. Some examples from stories women have submitted to Stop Street Harassment’s blog:
- “Show me your tits!”
- “Hi babe, would you like to touch my dick?”
- “Have you got hair on it yet, love?” (said to a 15-year-old)
- “That’s what I like, a woman on her knees.”
- “Take off your top!”
- “Wanna fuck?”
2. Making sexual gestures/disrespecting personal space:
- Kissy noises
- Following via car, bike or foot
- Blocking someone’s path
- Taking photos up someone’s skirt or dress
- Masturbating in public
If you genuinely are interested in speaking to someone who piques your interest on the street, you can absolutely go about it in a respectful way.
1. Give neutral, not sexual, compliments.
- “Great dress!”
- “I love the color of your shoes.”
- “Your outfit just brightened my day.”
2. Find common ground by asking questions.
- “I’ve read that book and really liked it. Are you enjoying it?”
- “Have you visited the diner on 11th St.? I might go there for lunch and would love to hear your opinion.”
- “I used to have a beagle just like yours. Is he friendly?”
- “Can you recommend any good cafés nearby?”
3. Read body language. Take the following gestures to indicate someone is not interested in talking:
- Headphones in
- Walking briskly
- Head down
- Lack of eye contact
- One-word answers
It’s true that many people are tired of being sexualized and approached aggressively in public. But it’s absolutely possible to foster respectful street interactions.
Instead of determining that even one unwanted comment on the street is harassment, we can help men to understand what constitutes street respect and how to exhibit genuine interest in and respect for those around them — not resort to harassing and intimidating others.