The current furor over street harassment is hard to miss. Everything from Internet message boards to Facebook pages are littered with gender driven discussions on an issue that has become a hot-button topic the world over. There are countless voices in the mix, but sadly, many of the loudest male opinions serve to dismiss any serious consideration of street harassment’s impact on female autonomy. The result is that many women and girls continue to feel threatened when walking or participating in public places.
This discomfort is often internalized and so passively condoned, empowering the aggressors in not only continuing their harassment but justifying their behavior. Some of these rationalizations are more common than others and are often called upon to derail any conversations highlighting the issue. For that reason, I have created a comprehensive list for ladies with responses to these typical arguments posed by men who believe street harassment is a “crazy” feminist idea that really does not need to be addressed.
MANSPLANATION #1: “Women are getting all riled up about men saying ‘hi’ or calling them ‘beautiful’ in public — in other words, nothing.“
Men have a warped view of what street harassment is or simply feign ignorance to avoid confronting a problem that implicates males in behavior that society is now attempting to define as wrong. Street harassment is not simply paying a “compliment” to a woman while in public. It is an invasion of a woman’s physical and emotional space, with demands that she give attention to an individual who is sexually objectifying her. It is, for example, openly staring at a woman’s body as she passes while saying things like “damn baby,” “god bless,” “you sexy,” “when you gonna let me hit that?,” “you got a man?,” coupled with statements like “Fuck you!”, “bitch,” “you’re ugly anyways” and “don’t be stuck up” when a woman does not respond because she is not interested.
MANSPLANATION #2: “Women want men to pursue them.”
Though it is now 2014 and both men and women pursue one another (I openly and shamelessly pursued my boyfriend, as have many of the women I know), it cannot be denied that society still perpetuates the expectation that men should initiate interactions with women. However, that same society has basic social rules that have established when it is or is not appropriate to attempt to engage a stranger. For example, one of the most telling signs of mutual interest, in any social interaction, is eye contact. Anyone desperately avoiding your eye contact — like most of the women who endure street harassment — is obviously not interested in or open to your attention.
And guess what fellas: All women do not actually want to be pursued by men! There are women who simply don’t like men. There are women in relationships with the dude of their dreams. There are women who simply are not interested in conversation. And get this, there are women who simply are not interested in you — the dude chillin’ on a street corner sexually objectifying every woman who passes.
MANSPLANATION #3: “Women wear certain sexy clothes, so of course men can’t help but stare.”
I, like many women, have been street harassed while walking my dog in a muu-muu at 6 a.m.. I have also been harassed in business-casual work attire, over-sized shirts and basketball shorts, jeans with a T-shirt, mini skirts and short dresses with high-heel shoes. Regardless of a woman’s dress code, she is never safe from being sexualized and objectified by men in the streets.
And though all human beings are attracted to things and people that are visually pleasing or stimulating, we also taught from an early age not to stare. A sideways glance or appreciative look is not what is in question here. Blatant and even disrespectful ogling — which happens to never be socially acceptable under any circumstance — is.
MANSPLANATION #4: “If women didn’t get all of that attention, they wouldn’t have so much confidence.”
Believe it or not, many women are bold, hard-working, intelligent, multifaceted human beings with different talents and interests, who have loving families, teachers, employers and mentors to validate their sense of self-worth. Self-confidence is built by those individuals who are a part of our everyday lives, helping us to understand all of our positive attributes, while working on and minimizing our flaws — not by random people in the street objectifying your person.
MANSPLANATION #5: “I wish I got a bunch of women checking me out everyday.”
What about men checking you out? Men who make this argument have already lumped all women together as heterosexual in order to justify approaching and catcalling women indiscriminately, regardless of what their sexual orientation might be. So these men should be open to both warranted and unwarranted sexual advances — including those not only from straight women but also from gay men. Fellas, would you enjoy both men and women making public statements about your body or the things they would like to do with it?
MANSPLANATION #6: “If the men talking to women on the street looked like Johnny Depp or [insert sexy/fashionable celebrity], then women wouldn’t be mad.”
As already established, all women are not sexually interested in men (even if they happen to look amazing), but that aside, whether a woman is physically attracted to a man is not the issue. As previously discussed, there are basic social rules that even Brad Pitt would have to follow that would make his approach to a stranger acceptable or unacceptable. Since some men seem to not understand such basic rules that guide social interaction, allow me to briefly outline them. Here is a list of things a woman would most likely be doing if she is NOT interested in being approached by you, strange man (attractive or not) on the street:
A. Non-Verbal Communication:
a. Eye contact: Are her eyes lowered? Is she completely avoiding eye contact?
b. Body Language: Are her arms crossed? Is she walking briskly past you? Is she frowning? Does she not look welcoming/happy or inviting?
c. Space: Is she trying to physically escape your presence? Is she crossing the street? Are you closing the spatial gap that she has attempted to create by getting closer to her?
B. Verbal Communication:
a. Has she expressed that she is not interested?
b. Has she responded to an inquiry like “How are you?” without enthusiasm?
c. Has she made NO attempt at all to verbally communicate with you, despite your many attempts?
If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, a woman is more than likely NOT interested in your advances. If you continue to engage a woman that is NOT interested (this includes you, Johnny Depp) publicly on the streets, that is considered street harassment.
Men, if it is too difficult for you to understand these simple rules that guide all human interactions between individuals who do not know one another, refrain from approaching women on the street. Try online dating. Or get set up by a friend. Anything is better than making yourself look like a douche and having someone else feel diminished.
MANSPLANATION #7: “It’s a slippery slope to tell men who they can and can’t talk to on the street. What’s next? Men can get arrested for publicly telling a woman ‘hello’?”
Once again, simple greetings are not what women refer to as street harassment (refer to point number one). With regard to the “slippery slope” argument, society has long been on one. Since there is currently little to no deterrence to stop men from screaming obscenities at woman or incessantly invading their private space in public, women find it increasingly difficult to ask for help when put in situations that can become very dangerous very quickly. I have heard and read countless accounts from women who have been groped while riding public transportation or fondled while waiting outside at a bus stop, and in some instances these interactions have turned into full-on assaults. I have personally been touched by strangers, had a man play with his penis while he sat smiling at me on the train, and I have been propositioned for sex numerous times in front of public audiences who did absolutely nothing. This “boys will be boys,” “men will be men” societal attitude endangers not only the emotional well-being of women and girls, but also our physical well-being.