Why, Thank You, Sir. I Do Have Great Tits.

I was walking along the side of a road in rural Maine, on a hot July day. A rusty pickup truck, its rattle announcing its presence before the man in the driver’s seat became visible, slowed as it approached.

“Hey, big ol’ titties!”

I stood there, shocked, as the car sputtered off into the distance. Not because of what had been said. Because I had spent years living in a big city and it suddenly occurred to me that this was the first time in weeks that something like this had happened.

I moved to Philadelphia in 2008, having bounced from small sheltered hometown to larger, sheltered college town to, finally, a real live city. Philadelphia, a place known for belligerent sports fans and down-to-earth bluntness, was also a place – at least, for me, at this time in my life – that felt incomparably magical and full of promise. I moved into a tiny studio apartment near Broad Street. Within weeks, the Phillies won the world series, Obama was elected the first black president of the United States, and I woke up naked on my twenty-third birthday next to the remnants of a half-eaten cheesesteak. It was gonna be a good year.

The comments felt like part of all that, at first. I mean, sure, I’d dealt with some weird shit before. The creepy old man who hung out near the public library in my hometown. The diner waiter who sometimes got a little too friendly. The customer who asked me, when I was fourteen years old, if I’d blow his son in the back room of the hospital coffeeshop where I worked as a candy striper. At the time, I didn’t even know what a blowjob was.

This felt different, somehow. My walk to work in the morning would take me past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages. At first, dudes yelling at me felt like simply a part of the atmosphere, no different from the annoyance of tourists taking pictures. I would smile back, even when it made me uncomfortable, which it almost always did. I needed to preserve that fairytale for myself. I told myself that being hollered at on the street by strangers was simply one of those things that you learned to navigate when you moved to a city, like learning how the subway worked, or discerning which homeless people needed genuine help and which were scam artists.  After awhile, I started walking to work with headphones, even if the batteries had died and there was no music playing. It was just easier that way.

Recently I wrote a piece on my blog in which I cited two specific examples of street harassment that had happened to me within the past 24 hours. These examples were almost incidental to the point I was trying to make, which is why I was surprised when this appeared in the comment section:

So what is your specific objection to the behaviour of those men in the car and what has it got to do with feminism – as opposed to just ‘the behaviour of people in general’? I mean, it’s not as if men are immune from having annoying things shouted at them by women (and men) – including compliments/ ridicule about their physical appearance / sexual attractiveness. However annoying these men might have been, they were still paying you a compliment (of sorts!) and they were hardly harassing you.

My knee-jerk reaction was anger. Hot flashes of anger. Fuck you. Of course it’s a feminist issue. I don’t even want to bother explaining why. Or why that kind of shit simply isn’t a compliment, and never will be. Go fuck yourself.

Then I waited a few days. I thought about it some more.

Then I decided to figure out if maybe the jackass didn’t have a point.

I posted this on my facebook page:

Informal Poll. WOMEN: Can you cite the last time you were harassed on the street, or your physical appearance was commented upon by a stranger? How often would you say this happens in your daily life? MEN: Can you cite the last time you were harassed on the street, or your physical appearance was commented upon by a stranger? How often would you say this happens in your daily life?  I’m not trying to inflame or provoke with this question, and this is (not yet) a place for discussion. I’m trying to informally collect data. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Okay. So. If you’re on your way to work or have something else going on today, just stop here. This one’s long. I’m sorry. Come back to it later. Or pause and make a snack now. Brew some coffee. Ready? Okay.

I received responses, either directly on that thread or emailed to me privately, from 75 women and 35 men. I was at work that day, my phone vibrating in my purse for hours. I wasn’t expecting the sudden outpouring of comments that occurred, but it felt like floodgates had been opened. There were a lot of stories to tell.

Now, look. I know this is all anecdotal. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a sociologist. I’m just some writer with a blog and a facebook account. There is real data on this out there, and entire organizations that deal with this specific problem. (The fine folks at Hollaback Philly, for starters).

But within this tiny microcosm of that informal facebook poll, the data surprised me.  I think it’s worth talking about.

So let’s start with the ladies.

Of those 75 women, the majority of them were in the age range of 20 – 35, and the majority of those women live in major metropolitan areas. Of the women in those two demographics, the vast majority had replies that included phrases like, “today,” “yesterday,” “just now,” or “this week.”

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The women over the age of forty who replied had different answers. They all remembered experiencing this throughout their lives, it just simply wasn’t an issue for them anymore. “Surprise, surprise, our culture is sexist and ageist!” one woman wrote.

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Of those ladies in the 20-35 age demographic, they are beautiful women of all shapes and sizes.

They all had stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes really horrifying stories. The stories told by my smokin’ hot go-go dancer friend are not dissimilar from the stories told by my friend with giant hips or my friend with giant boobs or my friend who is overweight. Their data is the same on paper. Their appearance is commented upon in a sexual and uncomfortable way, by men who are strangers. Routinely.

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Here’s how I can boil down the body type thing: Skinny? You’ll get harassed about it. Big tits? You’ll get harassed about it. Fat ass? You’ll get harassed about it. Overweight? You’ll get harassed about it.

Is some of it disguised as a compliment? Hell, yeah, it is. That’s what makes this so complicated.

Is it possible that some of those comments were genuinely meant to be taken AS compliments? Yup. It is.

Isn’t it also true that there’s a fine line between a catcall, a genuine compliment and a fat joke? Yeah. That’s also true.

And, okay, oh boy. So — what happens if you’re a lady between the ages of twenty and thirty-five who lives in a major metropolitan area and has skin that isn’t white?

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It’s worth mentioning here that my white lady friends occasionally brought up race, but only if they were framing it within a certain context. I.e. “I get called ‘hey, white girl’, but I live in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.”

So: if you’re a skinny lady: you’ll get hollered at (and sometimes it’s about your weight). If you’re a fat lady, you’ll get hollered at (and sometimes it’s about your weight). If you’re a lady of any race, you’ll get hollered at (and sometimes it’s about your race).

But, I mean, come on. I bet we’re all doing something to attract that kind of attention. We’re probably giving off some signals. Right?

Oh. Wait. Shit.

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If you smile: you’re encouraging it. If you’re neutral: you’re told to smile. If you’re frowning: you’re a bitch.

From a friend, “I get “gimme a smile sweetheart” a LOT. Which confirms that i walk around with a perma bitch face, something i developed a long time ago to ward off unwanted advances, but clearly it does the opposite.”

Honestly, though: Is that surprising information to you?

It wasn’t for me. Not really. It felt nice to know I wasn’t alone. But it all backs up my own worldview, up until this point. Some stuff made me sad. Stuff like “I feel naked without a backpack on. I need the weight as my security blanket.” 

And some shit is really complicated. Stuff like, “The ‘you’re beautiful’ comments – they’re kind of nice.”

Because, you know. They are. A genuine, non-creepy, compliment like that: I’ll glow all day.

Which is impossible to quantify. And I have no idea how to articulate the difference between a genuine compliment and a creepy and threatening comment, except to say that: we know. We know it when we hear it.

You still with me? Okay. I’m sorry. I warned you. I’d get another cup of coffee now, if I were you.

Back? Alright! Here we go.

Let’s meet the men.

Now, I realize that receiving 35 responses from men isn’t ideal. In a perfect world, there would be an equal sample of male and female respondents. But you know, again: not a perfect world, not a real survey, etc. So here we go.

Let’s look at body type:

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Interesting. So if you’re a overweight guy and a stranger comments on your appearance, it’s probably about your weight.

Let’s look at race:

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So if you’re a guy who happens to be a different race, and you get hollered at, it’s probably about your race.

Let’s look at sexuality.

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Oh, shit. Let’s look at race AND sexuality:

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Oh, balls. (No pun intended).

Okay, so: If you’re a dude who is gay or perceived gay, and someone makes a comment, it’s probably about your sexuality.

Which brings me to the tricky stuff. The dudes who don’t fall into any of those categories. The straight dudes of average build. The guys we’re probably assuming to be part of the problem.

Huh. They have some crazy shit said to them, too.

Granted, with different rules. For example, not a one of them used a phrase like “daily” “on average,” or “routinely.” (Although one did have a story that began with “today.”) Their stories used words like “this one time,” “rarely,” or “last summer.” There were some common themes, though: being challenged, either directly or indirectly, to fight. Being solicited by prostitutes or by johns outside a massage parlor. Their stories tended to use specific places as reference:

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A few of the respondents were nice, non-threatening nerdy guys, the kind I always want to date. Their responses were hilarious, and honest. “Only when I wear my Zelda t-shirt.” “I’ve had girls tell me my dog is cute when I’m walking her. That means they’re into me, right? Otherwise no, never.”

Just one of the male respondents had a story about being the guy doing the harassing. This is an older man whom I have watched play with tiny children, teaching them to blow bubbles with soap and laughing at their jokes. If I could adopt another uncle or grandfather, he’d be the guy. I can’t imagine a more gentle soul.

“When I was a young man I was walking in a park with a friend. A young woman ran past us. I made a comment to her. I don’t recall ever having done such a thing before. It was not of an explicit nature – I thought I was being clever. I remember the moment very vividly. I thought it entirely likely that she would take my comment as a compliment. She did not. She went nuts! She stopped dead in her tracks, turned, approached me and fearlessly screamed into my face. I honestly thought she was going to beat the tar out if me. Instead, having made her point, she walked away. I was shaken. I had the distinct feeling of having ruined both of our days. I clumsily muttered an apology. I don’t know if she heard it. If she did, she didn’t acknowledge it. For me, it was truly a moment of clarity.

I love this story, and I hate this story at the same time. I love it because of the lesson. I hate it because in all the years that shit has been said to me, very rarely have I said anything back. Very rarely have I attempted to turn it into a teachable moment, instead of simply walking away.

*

Of the 75 women who replied to my question, some used humor in their storytelling, but all took the question seriously. Of the 35 men, several gave replies like “happens all the time, it’s hard for me to be so beautiful, lol.” I’m not accusing here, just quietly stating the facts. All of the women acknowledged the issue. I can’t say the same for the men.

This makes me sad because I love men. This makes me sad because my treasured male friendships are so insanely precious and dear. This makes me sad because it feels insane that I have to include this kind of disclaimer, lest my point be misinterpreted as some kind of angry man-hating feminist rant.

I love men. Always have. Always will. I’m so grateful to the ones in my life for being the beautiful assortment of weirdos, scholars, dancers, lovers, freaks, and jackasses you are. And if you’re reading this, and you’ve made it this far, you know I’m not talking about you. I’m not here to say I’m angry with men, in general. I’m here to say that the specific men who are perpetuating this bullshit are the ones I’m furious with.

I love men. Just to clear that up.
But there some bad eggs in the bunch, and those are the ones stinking up the place.

*

When women are harassed: it’s relentless and upsetting. And it’s a problem.
When men are harassed: it’s sporadic and upsetting. And it’s still a problem.

To answer that guy from the beginning of the article:

Is this a feminist issue? Yeah. I think it is.

Is this also a humanist issue? Yeah. I think it’s that, too.

When a stranger gives me a genuine compliment, it feels great. I feel awesome. The complimenter feels awesome. We all leave feeling awesome. In this fucked-up and scary world, a bit of peace, kindness, and goodwill can go a long way. Telling a stranger that they look nice, or that you like their shoes — when meant in a genuine and loving way — is the kind of community goodwill that makes me glad I live here. It makes me a little bit happier to simply be alive.

When it’s a power thing, it’s not okay. When it’s about making me feel shitty and powerless simply for being a woman, it’s not okay. When you say something creepy to me, and I say nothing in return, for fear of retribution or escalation, that’s not okay. When you say something creepy to me and retaliate in the middle of the street, that’s not okay either. That doesn’t make me feel great. It’s deeply upsetting. And I’m tired of feeling that upset feeling, every day, while walking around a city that I love.

It’s a complicated issue. If you’re still reading this far in, you’ve figured that much out by now. There aren’t easy answers, but there are some people out there who are doing beautiful things to fight back. I want to believe it will work. I want to believe that, one person at a time, it’s a learned behavior that, slowly, maybe we can all collectively try to un-learn.

Thank you for reading.

(And, hey. I mean this, in a really genuine and loving way, so please don’t take it the wrong way, but:
You’re beautiful).

 

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93 thoughts on “Why, Thank You, Sir. I Do Have Great Tits.

  1. I have climbed that mountain and come sliding all the way down the other side. It is a relief to be invisible to strangers on the street; my reflection in the mirror is less pleasing. I wonder why cat calling ever became acceptable let alone considered funny by some. I only ever found it embarrassing and intimidating. Interesting post.

  2. I honestly had more people shout at me while I was walking when I lived in a small town community. Sure, I was definitely what you would call “different” in high school, but if I were to go home now and be walking around in the afternoon, I’d be shouted at, probably from jackass high school kids.

    I’ve since moved to much larger cities and the only time I can remember being shouted at was when I was jogging one day. Some rando in a car shouted, “Your titties are bouncing!” I honestly just laughed because he was plainly stating the obvious. It didn’t feel like he was attacking me or trying to compliment me but just decided to let me know what I already knew. Hey, a sports bra can only do so much.

    I now live in a very large city and while I’ve only lived here for four months, I’ve never been approached or shouted at. The place that wins for most times I’ve been shouted at is Small Town, Indiana. I guess people can be jerks no matter how big the city is.

  3. Great post, I love how you approached it with nuance and understanding of the complexity of the situation. I also have trouble pinpointing the difference between a statement that feels like harassment and a statement that feels like a compliment (and no, it’s not because the guy giving the compliment is attractive, sorry SNL writers). Of course, sometimes it’s really obvious. Like, I don’t think there will ever be a time when “TITTIES!” from a speeding car will ever feel like a compliment.

    Something that has happened to me that I don’t think happens to a lot of women is that I’ve been harassed while walking with men. In one instance, I was a teenage girl walking with my dad, and in another instance I was with my now-husband. Both my dad and my now-husband became incredibly angry with the catcallers – like, my dad actually chased the car with the catcallers down the street – and I remember being surprised by that because I had just gotten so used to this happening that I almost couldn’t get angry about it anymore. I became resigned to it as a fact of life early on, which in retrospect is kind of sad.

  4. I’ve been publicly ridiculed for my weight countless times. I live in a college town, so the population and maturity level of males in this town never changes. I don’t know how their mothers raised them to believe that yelling “Shamu!” or “Learn to drive fatty!” at a woman was ever okay, but apparently they did. I was severely morbidly obese… did they think I didn’t notice? I get it! You don’t need to publicly shame me – or do you to make yourself feel better?

    This has stopped… (thank god) after losing 200 lbs. I’m in a place where I’m not harassed for being heavy, but I guess I’m just overweight enough to not attract the “positive” attention. What a relief!

  5. I often get stared at and commented on…but mostly it is when I am wearing morris kit and bells…this is to be expected and nearly always positive

    I sometimes get stared at when I am in the gym because I am not typically gym shaped but I still work out a lot…this is more annoying but noone has actually said anything but it makes me feel awkward.

    I once had a man com up to me in the supermarket and start trying to chat me up…his opening gambit was “i like curvy women” which was creepy and then he got angry because i was married but not wearing a ring.

  6. I think you’d really dig “The Macho Paradox” by Jackson Katz – he compellingly frames violence against women as a men’s issue. I’ll try a nutshell: Men who behave well are resentful of being grouped with men who behave poorly, and they defend themselves as men, rather than as men who behave well. For example, I’ve had conversations with male friends (read: men who behave well) about rape. My friend will feel defensive and threatened – as though a conversation about men who rape women implicates him as a rapist. He then defends his “maleness” (I’m a man and I don’t rape women therefore men don’t rape women) instead of his “not rapey-ness” (rape is bad and some men rape women). They personalize the attack and the argument shifts from one about a problem (men who rape women) to an argument about their individual and personal character. Defenses go up, arms are thrown in the air, and the conversation stops. And so women are the ones talking about the problem of violence against women, taking self-defense classes, and carrying mace in their purses. We are reactive. Men are not talking about the problem of violence against women, and so the culture of maleness subtly allows such violence to continue, regardless of how much each good guy wants that shit to stop. Not doing Katz justice here – my apologies. 🙂

  7. I spent most of my young life trying to ignore or laugh off these sort of uncomfortable, unsolicited ‘compliments’. I still get them, but at fifty far less frequently. I was just thinking to myself the other day how nice it is to become ‘invisible’ to that sort of attention.
    Rarely is this sort of attention, shouted out by a stranger, truly a compliment. It’s word-rape (or assault, if you prefer) and about power. It’s one person objectifying another and using words to show dominance and/or control.

  8. First of all, thank you for writing this openly and so well.

    I deal with being harassed on the street all the time. It used to be worse because I lived in a decidedly Not Great Neighborhood in DC, but even last week on my way to work in an Okay Neighborhood, a guy followed me for a block creepily whispering things he wanted to do to me. For the first time ever, I considered turning around and yelling back (because that’s just disgusting) but he looked real serial killery so I just hurried on to work.

    You’re right – it’s a humanist issue and one that I don’t think we’ll be able to solve until some men (the few stinking eggs in the pile of good ones) recognize that it’s not a joke.

  9. 🙂 As a straight guy, I’ve been catcalled once … as I was jogging, some young girl driving by shouted out that I had a nice ass. That’s the sort of afterglow I’ll hang on to … as in 40 years … once.

    So I fall into the straight-guy standard, with “rarely” or “once”. A coworker once called me “window dressing”. [happy sigh] That was years ago, and it still makes me feel good. 😉 I once had my ass swatted by an older female coworker — odd, but … [shrug] … I had a guy do that to me in the club at a period when I had long hair. When I turned around, he was SUPER apologetic. ^_^ A couple of gay guys tried to pick me up … and once a straight girl actually did too. (she and I ended up dating for the next year — when someone offers to buy me a drink, even I’m not oblivious enough to miss the hint.)

    So, girls … guys tend to be over-looked when it comes to flattery or compliments, and what annoys/offends you may be what they are starved to hear, period. For what it’s worth…

  10. Great post. I subscribed to your blog when I read your millennial post. I love your insight and how you express it. Thank you. You get me thinking.

  11. I really appreciated this post, especially because it was so contemplative and not a rant. Thank you for that.

    Now that I’m a parent, I can’t help but see the whole world and its issues through parent-colored glasses. To me, this has everything to do with upbringing. The people who offer a genuine compliment to a stranger are well brought up. And those that harass, accuse, condemn, and belittle are products of bad parenting. And that’s a problem that perpetuates itself.

  12. Very well written, I think you side stepped the things that usually make people defensive brilliantly. I have changed outfits before going out before because I’m too tired to deal with catcalls, I’ve been followed home twice (both ended with tears and calls to the police, I live in a safe country, I was 14 the first time and 20 the second), I have recently moved to Italy and here I have had numerous (about 4 in 2 months) men either on public transport or just in the street stop me and ask where I’m from and then if they can have my number – before even names have been exchanged, twice they’ve tried to give me their cards. I have yelled back at men for yelling at me, and once had a drink thrown at me from a car window for doing so. I hate that I respond with aggression but it makes me feel so angry. I am 21 and have been getting yelled at on the street on a regular basis (weekly at least I’d estimate) for 7 years, at no point has it stopped making me angry. At no point have I ever felt complimented by this. I have felt complimented by strangers in stores, or on buses, women and men, who said genuine things. I have never felt positive about anything called from a car window. Sorry this is ranty, I just agree a lot with what you’re saying and thought I’d add another anecdote.

  13. You say it’s hard to tell the difference between harassment and a compliment, but I think there’s one rule that would cut out a big chunk of what’s out there:
    Just don’t pursue people in order to compliment them. If you have to follow someone or shout at them in order to make your comments heard, you’re doing it wrong. Your thoughts on another person’s sexiness are really not that important, and insisting that they are is more than a little entitled. Debate over what exact words, phrases, topics, and tones aside, there’s never a time when it’s appropriate to follow a woman down the street in order to tell her that her ANYTHING looks nice today.

  14. Your blogs are always beyond brilliant, I read and re-read them whenever I start to panic that it seems that everyone else has the whole running through the corn field with the white scarf thing sorted out, while I’m running in circles with a white hanky shouting I surrender.
    This one was especially wonderful because of the lack of strident anger that always put paid to a calmer more insightful look at the situation.
    If I may put in my two pennyworth, I was bought up in London then moved to LA some years ago, and I have found some differences in the way street harassment happens and the way women deal with it.
    Starting back in 80’s London when I was a penniless art student living in an Anarchist squat,I was harassed pretty much daily from cat calls to open hostility, but in retrospect it was coupled with fact that I was a woman and I looked weird. Wearing a lot of handmade clothes (think less Julie Andrews/Sound of Music/clothes made from posh curtains and more Souixsie Banshee and old dyed sheet).
    I joined a Separatist Feminist group, their solution was to shout back at men things like “hope you get cancer”. I thought “Blimey, that’s a bit strong”, maybe a tad over reactive to the actual situation. I left the group feeling I couldn’t take them seriously on learning, they all refused to own a male cats or dogs, or have a mailMAN or a milkMAN deliver to their houses.
    What I’ve noticed since then, in London at least, it becomes more of a banter between the man and woman. The women usually throw a comment back, not nasty, but cheeky. Situation diffused, woman has last word. Walking by a building site with a bunch of wolf whistling workmen has in itself become a self parody, both aware of the absurdity of it all but playing it out anyway.
    I think it’s happened because since the 70’s/80’s women have become more confident, more ballsy, have more voice. Women’s voices began to be heard, first angry then strident then confident and now seemingly giving as good as they get.
    Again this is just my experience.
    Fast forward to present day Los Angeles. Obviously a lot older. I think my experience here is probably not the norm. I’m just about the only person in LA that doesn’t drive and sometimes have the whole sidewalk to myself. So being a car culture, I get a lot of horn beeping, calling out from car windows etc. Mostly its of the “you’re looking good, nice ass” variety. I work in a gym and usually am dressed in old workout clothes, so I expect it’s more because I just a woman walking alone on the street rather than any real comment on my body shape. I can’t take it seriously, I just laugh. But yesterday I wore a dress and heels (shocking in LA ! land of LuLu yoga pants flip flops) ,all day I got a lot of the “you look nice”, elevator looks followed by nice compliment from random blokes. I’ll take that, I don’t care, it actually makes me feel good. Like the other comment said you can tell the difference between a genuine complement and creepy sleazy comment. Women are attuned to that, we have to be for our survival. Anyway, sorry for banging on.

  15. I had a guy (early 20’s) in a beat up pick up truck stare at me, then as he was past me, whistled. I haven’t had that happen to me in a while, and I wanted to give him the finger. But, I didn’t, of course.

    And then yesterday, as I was walking past a barber shop, I had an older man, talking to the owner, completely cut off the conversation with the owner, just to start talking to me as I walked down the hall. From quite a ways away. Then he made some kind of excuse about not letting in too much cold air, so that he could follow me down the stairs and imply that I should hold the door for him. it doesn’t even have to be a catcall, sometimes all it is is a “heyyyy, how are youuuu?” that creeps me out.

    Interesting survey – I hope I’ve never ‘complimented’ a man in a creepy way 🙂

  16. I work for an organization that helps Veterans. Some are old.. some are young. Either way, I get all different kinds of cat calls. I’ve had a man ask me where I bought my dress… and when I told him he said, “Oh I know that place.. good.. My daughter is fat too… she’ll look good in it.” Ouch. I’ve had very good looking men in uniform ask me if I’d like a drink after work. I’ve had everything from my red hair, the fact that I’m 6 feet tall, to my rosy checks commented on. I guess something needs to be given to how thick your skin is. How much you’re willing to let go b/c “men will be men.” Or “is it even worth the thought?” I’m not saying to give men a free pass to just say what they want… but at what point do you let the their comments become water off a ducks back? (<-sorry… family saying.)

  17. I love your blog. You are sacred and irreverent and always thoughtful. Thank you. In March I shaved my head and kept it shaved in solidarity with a friend going through chemo. I expected some rejection for looking weird. It’s been an unexpected gift that hardly a week has gone by without a stranger, man or woman, coming up to me and saying, “You look so beautiful.” Real compliments. Sometimes I think I look sort of exotic, and sometimes I think I look just odd. But I do think those people sense what’s behind it and are responding with love and compassion. So this is one of the good stories.

    I’ve had the creepy ones too, including salacious comments from a guy at a nursing home where I volunteer with my dog Emma. He can go find his own damned dawg…. neither of us bitches will go near him ever again.

  18. Thank you for posting this! I have thought about this issue a lot over the years and I feel like there are three types of sources for the compliments/harassment:

    1. Guys* who are with their friends. Comments from guys in this category are usually shouted from somewhere, such as a group at a pub, a guy eating lunch with his buddies on a job site, guys shouting from a car, etc. I have never known what such men expect to accomplish with this shouting (surely they are not expecting us to immediately rip off our clothes or beg for a date) but I suspect it has nothing to do with the woman, but rather a desire to look all testosterone-y for their buddies. I really dislike it—it makes me feel exposed, dirty, and sometimes scared. I guess I fall into the bitch category because I refuse to smile. Definitely harassment and never a real compliment–but I feel like if guys understood this they might not do it so much.

    2. Guys who are seriously creepy. These are the ones who lurk in doorways, stare at us on buses or trains, or sit next to us in restaurants or clubs and immediately start the body part critique. Any comment from these guys, even a “you’re so beautiful” comment, is not a compliment.

    3. Men who genuinely want to give a woman a compliment. These guys don’t shout and they don’t leer and they don’t do it when all of their buddies are listening so they can get a high five later. It’s still uncomfortable when it comes from a stranger, but I try to be polite and smile and thank them. (I feel bad about your story about the uncle or grandfather character above, because I might have reacted the same way to him…kind of like a puffier fish puffing up–if you get scary you might not have to be afraid yourself anymore).

    *I say “guys” in this comment because that’s my own experience–I’m not trying to be sexist or male-bashing.

  19. I enjoyed your post. It’s nice to read about an issue like this without it devolving into a rant, and that you looked at both sides of the problem was a welcome change. That said, I think I have a very different time with sexual harassment than the men you talked to.

    I get sexually harassed pretty much everyday. Part of my job has me going to people’s homes, and the majority of them are elderly women, though there are some a bit younger (usually the youngest are in their 50s). If I make it through a day without being stared at to the point of feeling uncomfortable it’s a banner day. I get a lot of inappropriate comments as well. One in particular came from a woman in her late 50s who spends most of our time together looking directly at my crotch (I’ve now started sitting down to avoid this). While she was staring straight at it, she said, “I like your jeans. They fit you just right.” Normally, a comment on my pants would be fine, but the fact that she stared at my crotch while saying it seems akin to a man staring at a woman’s breasts while telling her they really like her shirt. I also have a few customers that openly stare at my ass. When I catch them looking, they just smile at me as if there’s nothing wrong with doing so.

    When there’s more than a few of them together, they feel the need to one up the last person’s compliment by making it a little more uncomfortable for me. It’s an odd experience having every inch of you discussed among a small group while having no choice but to stand there and smile. The sexual innuendo, if veiled at all, is usually done so in the thinnest manner possible. When I become physically uncomfortable, it’s usually said “Oh, look, the poor thing’s blushing” or something to that effect. I would very much like to say in response, “I’m not blushing because you’re flattering me, I’m getting red because I’m extremely uncomfortable and wish the lot of you would stop eye-fucking me so I can go about my day.” Can’t say anything like that, though. Ours is a very customer satisfaction oriented business.

    It gets to the point that I dread going into some people’s homes. I know what’s coming, and I know how shitty I’m going to feel afterwards.

    Just to put this out there: I am no Adonis. My face is not all that displeasing to look at, but you’ll never see me in a fashion ad. And my body…well, it’s not a complete shambles, but I’m 31 now and my metabolism has long since stopped being a friend of mine. And I’m not much for flirting with people, so these comments aren’t in response to something I’ve said to them. I’ve never liked the idea of calling women “sweetheart” or “baby” unless they are in fact the person I’m dating, and then it’s actually a term of endearment, and not my being creepy. I had friends who saw no problem with talking to women this way, and I always made a point to tell them that they were crossing a line. I never liked being called sweetheart or baby by complete strangers, either.

    This isn’t to say that I think I have it worse than women, because I don’t feel that way at all. I am more than willing to admit that I have it easier. Mine, at least, is confined to a nine hour period a day, five days a week. My weekends are generally free of this kind of nonsense. I’ve never felt threatened by this attention (and I do feel bad that most women have to deal with that kind of situation), just reduced to an object. I understand that I’m more of an exception than the rule. Just thought I’d add my part to the conversation.

    • No need to be sorry for the length. I love this comment. I mean, not the content so much as that this is the kind of male perspective I felt the piece lacked. It’s equally as fucked as what women deal with routinely, and in fascinating and different (but, ultimately, not so different) ways. I’m sorry you have to deal with this shit. Thank you for writing, and contributing to the discussion. It’s so valued.

  20. Very thought-provoking indeed! I will add this to the mix as this happened to my daughter this week when her boy friend broke up with her. One of her guy friends told her “I had thought about f*cking you before you started dating Phillip” I think he was trying to make her feel better but I’m not sure how that could ever be a compliment?

  21. Fritzy, great article.

    Re: the difference between a genuine compliment and a catcall (I’ll use this to encompass all non-genuine compliments and insults), I was just talking about this topic the other day… I think what it boils down to is the need to generate a reaction. A genuine compliment is given expecting nothing from the other person, good or bad. I think a catcaller is genuinely trying to get the catcallee to respond. Whether positive or negative, they want the validation of the power their comments have.

    Maybe I’m generalizing, having never catcalled and only rarely been commented at, but that seems like a decent basic categorization.

    • I completely agree. If you are paying someone a compliment, and they don’t hear it or respond, you can simply shrug and move on, because you simply wanted to get your honest respects out there, while in a cat call, you want to get them to respond, so you will pushily repeat yourself. I have had both happen to me for a variety of reasons, though not often.

      One of the big differences I feel is that compliment givers will look me in the eye and honestly simle, while catcallers will look at my body in general and leer.

  22. Hi K,

    Thanks for this post. You’re a really good writer! I’m probably going to echo the kind of comments a lot of people have already made… I honestly haven’t read all of them yet. Some, but not all.

    I LOVE this post, especially the age and comment frequency graph. You’re right. I live in Canada’s capital and I, too, came here as a small town girl. It’s almost like the creepy guys (yes, they ARE out there) can smell naivite or something. I guess I agree with what Brenda said, but too many of my experiences seem to have been with the Type 2 (“Seriously Creepy”) guys. In my late teens and early twenties, I got LOTS of weirdos feeling free to comment on me. There was this one memorable time I got a little man get off at my bus stop (campus!) and actually FOLLOW ME AROUND THE UNIVERSITY. WTF??? He propositioned me while I was walking around with my books. I RAN.

    Btw, I think he was East Indian (mostly the perps, which is what they are, are white men). The whole thing was extremely strange.

    As a student, I regarded my backpack as some sort of security blanket: a badge identifying what I was NOT. A potential weapon to knock someone over as I ran.

    A few times I sprinted down my street because something so SCARY happened on the way home. Example: being asked directions by a guy who, it turns out, was actually JERKING OFF in his car. Another time it was a guy doing THE SAME THING and giving me creepy looks from the “privacy” of his bus seat across from me (the bus driver called that one in – the guy jumped off the bus and ran when I ratted him out. Cat calls (a lesser offence, but conveying roughly the same threatening meaning) happened often. I also sometimes got comments on my facial responses to these (“How far down does that blush go, sweetheart?”). Often, the men doing the menacing were old enough to be my dad.

    Then there were the profs. A whole separate category. Those guys really had NO excuse – they knew I was a student, not a hooker. There was the older (married) one who leaned in WAY too close and invited me for a private consult in his office to give me “extra help” (I never went. “No shit?” you say.). The drama prof told me, with no irony, that I would make a good prositute for the play (the ONLY part he ever offered me, btw). Yuck. The same prof also expressed amazement that someone “so BLONDE” did so well in midterms…

    I honestly don’t believe I was “giving off signals” to these guys. I didn’t (and still don’t) think like that (To be blunt, sex is interesting, but it’s not THAT interesting. I have other things to do too.. Serial killers, btw, need not apply.). I think that blaming the woman is a convenient excuse and that predators use such vague accusations to dis-arm the victims of their abuse. You’ll be so busy defending YOURSELF that you’ll forget that it’s THEIR behaviour that we should be questioning. Not ours’. “It’s her own fault – look at her!” It’s pretty hard to defend yourself against that kind of vague crap. Nice excuses, guys.

    Things definitely have changed with time. In my forties now, the world seems a safer place, at least for me. But I guess I have turned into a bit of a Tiger Mom. Anyone messing my son or daughter is going to face my instant fury, right there on the sidewalk. For myself the comments have pretty much stopped. Now it’s being calling “Mrs….” or “Ma’am” in a similarly patronizing manner that pisses me off. So, yeah, age-ist as well as sexist.

    Like it or not, we stil seem to live in an ignorant and sexist Man’s world.

    Nice tits, by the way.

    Buterfly

    P.S. I must also admit, though, I agree with Mumbles. Women seem to think they can get away with SAYING anything sometimes. Perhaps because we are women and assume that the talking itself does not convey a threat of violence. Also, I am sure some of his older ladies feel they are paying him a compliment. Mumbles isn’t expecting to get raped by someone during his workday. But it IS making him uncomfortable. And that’s not nice. “Control yourselves, girls.”

    Maybe there is more than one issue here… I think the perceived POWER of the person passing the inappropriate remarks is a huge factor.

    Thanks for letting me rant 🙂

  23. This extends well beyond gender. We have a long history of excluding the other. That is any body or mind that is profoundly different. I think back to the ugly laws that so few people have heard of when it was illegal for “defective” human beings to be seen in public. These laws were not over turned until the mid 1970s. We institutionalize the mentally ill and those with profound cognitive disabilities. We emptied out these institutions to save money under the guise of civil rights. Now we have group homes, mimi institutions. So here I am 23 years post ADA and as a disabled man face bigotry everywhere I go. In fact just this week a stranger accosted me and told me I was to blame for Obama Care and that I would be better off dead. I was a drain on the economy. Gee thanks for sharing.

  24. There’s an older woman who I work with that always makes lewd comments or tells me I look sickly thin (I have crohn’s disease). One time she stuck her hand between my legs from the front to reach something on a low shelf behind me. No reason why she couldn’t just ask me to step aside. Anyway, I told her that if she continued that I would have to talk to the HR rep about it. That solved the issue for a while. Sometimes she still tries to flirt, but I have to choose my battles on this one. As long as the harrassment isn’t physical… and I sound like an idiot.

    Otherwise, as a tall, thin, nerdy male, my friends and I have received plenty of criticisms from women who think we’re repulsive basement-dwellers who only go to the mall to buy clothes at Hot Topic. The truth is that couldn’t be farther from the truth, but as a non-athletic type, or even just a brainy type you definitely incur the wrath of some vain, shallow women at bars, malls, school, etc.

    Having grown up in Philadelphia, I’ve been challenged to fight by men when I’m in the “wrong neighborhood”. Usually they say, “you in the wrong neighborhood.” One time I locked eyes with a basehead who told me to “watch them eyeballs before you lose them.” The secret is to be friendly and warm when you’re in the safe place, and stare at the ground and keep a stiff upper lip in the hood. Just my experience, but I can tell anyone reading that my brother felt that my strategy was unnecessary until he was mugged twice in the summer of 2012. I tell him, “you look at the wrong person, you’re inviting harrassment” be it physical or verbal. Again, you have to pick your battles until we can educate the country. Until there is better education, fair opportunity, dispersal of wealth, and a focus on social welfare there will be people who act this way. It’s all they know, it’s how they grew up. And even if all of that stuff comes to fruition, that stuff will still exist.

    tl;dr: this is definitely as much a feminism issue as it is a social issue.

  25. Pingback: HOLLA Worthy Link Round-Up | Hollaback! Boston

  26. I have to say that part of this post troubles me – namely, the line about how you instinctively “know” when you are receiving a genuine compliment as opposed to a creepy comment. I think the comments both women and men receive are interpreted based on who’s delivering the comment in question. And a lot of times that interpretation weighs heavily on the age, class, perceived attractiveness, etc. of the person giving the compliment/harassment.

    I remember a really awful story my grandmother told me about how when she was young, she used to get “complimented” on her appearance by WWII soldiers passing through her hometown. In that situation, because she admired the soldiers, my grandmother interpreted what they said as complimentary. My grandmother then proceeded to tell me that later in her life, she lived in a “rougher neighborhood,” and one time a black man hollered at her while she was walking down the street. This time, she interpreted the comment as a form of sexual harassment, and subsequently moved to a different part of town.

    Just another angle to think about these things.

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  28. I made the original comment which the above quote was taken from and I feel I should put it in some kind of context – as my original (and quite lengthy) comment did. I would encourage anyone reading this to refer back to the other post and read my comment(s) below it in full, and the questions I posed.

    First of all, when I said, “However annoying these men might have been, they were still paying you a compliment (of sorts!) and they were hardly harassing you.” I meant relative to the harassment of being overtly threatened or violently assaulted. I made this clear later on in my comment. The phrase in question was “Hey, girl, you got a great set of fenders.” which is a lot less threatening than “I’m going to cut you” etc etc. And it’s very, very minor harassment compared to actually BEING assaulted or murdered.

    Of course, taken out of context it does sound like I was being unsympathetic. I don’t doubt the ‘compliment’ felt creepy and intimidating…. nobody yells those kinds of ‘compliments’ without some degree of malice (it’s always a kind of power game). But nevertheless, I still maintain it’s small fry compared to the kinds of harassment it’s possible to endure in public – up to and including assault, murder etc.

    And I still question why harassment in public qualifies as a ‘feminist issue’, rather than a broad ‘social issue’ (ie an issue which affects both men AND women).

    If we rate ‘harassment in public’ on a scale that starts out with harmless idiotic comments and wisecracks…… leads on to insults and threats …… and goes all the way up to actual physical attacks and even murder then it is clear that men suffer much more harassment in public than women because men suffer far more violent attacks in public than women do.

    And given the choice of enduring verbal attacks or physical attacks I’d rather have to endure verbal attacks …. sure, they’re annoying but at least I can get on with my day and my safety, my career and my life is not put at risk. Anyone who agrees with me must also agree that men have it worse because they’re much more likely (statistically speaking) to end up as victims of physical harassment in public (ie violence), and not just verbal harassment.

    This is why in the original post I questioned why the author’s personal experiences of relatively minor verbal harassment qualified as a ‘feminist issue’. It’s clear that for me to even question and challenge this idea that females are somehow more victims than males has enraged most of the readers (including Katherine, the blog author).

    I would argue that for this to qualify as a ‘feminist issue’ (rather than just a broad ‘social issue’ which affects both men AND women) you must clearly establish that women are subjected to a more (and more serious) harassment in public than men, and on account of them being women. Or to put it another way, you must prove that women are singled out and victimised on account of them being women.

    But the evidence is clear that this is SIMPLY NOT TRUE. In fact men are by far the most victimised group when it comes to harassment in public – that is IF you view violent harassment as worse than verbal harassment (which I do).

    Not only are more men violently attacked in public than women, far more of society’s resources (both state funded AND charities) are allocated towards helping protect women and helping female victims cope with trauma etc than is allocated towards protecting men or help male victims of harassment. The very idea of ‘male victims’ of public harassment seems absurd, even though they are by far the more victimised group, statistically speaking.

    And so I ask you again, how can it possibly be a ‘feminist issue’ when men are the more victimised group and women get the most help and sympathy? I am NOT belittling what it FEELS like to be harassed (even in a minor way), I am questioning the claim that such harassment is women-specific (and therefore a feminist issue), or that it is somehow worse when it happens to women – as if women were somehow inferior to men at enduring such harassment, or that men are somehow better able to cope – BOTH of which are of course sexist claims by definition.

    Here is your latest answer to my question.

    “….My knee-jerk reaction was anger. Hot flashes of anger. Fuck you. Of course it’s a feminist issue. I don’t even want to bother explaining why. Or why that kind of shit simply isn’t a compliment, and never will be. Go fuck yourself….”

    So now you are telling me telling me to “fuck you” and “go fuck yourself”. What makes YOUR verbal attacks on me any different to that of any other jerk out there? How can you write blog posts criticising jerks for verbally abusing other people when you behave in the same way yourself? …. Or does the feminist ‘victim narrative’ give you a free ticket to verbally attack other people in public, and somehow that’s OK? … after all, society’s victims can’t be society’s abusers right?

    If feminism is really about achieving equality then that should mean EVERYBODY gets treated equally, which means men and women BOTH get to be labelled a jerk if they verbally attack someone else. Do you agree?

    Or do you believe it’s OK for a woman to repeatedly tell someone to go fuck themselves just for making a few points and asking some pertinent questions in a civilised manner?

    I’m sorry but this blatant double standard only helps to depict feminism as a ‘mob’ movement which tries to claim a monopoly on victimisation in order to get all the special treatment, sympathy and ‘free stuff’ awarded to (perceived) victims of society….. and to grant feminists an excuse to behave badly without being held accountable for their actions (because they’re the victims). It’s the ultimate in passive-aggression.

    All I did was point out that men are also harassed in public, which means it cannot logically be a feminist issue (because women clearly aren’t being victimised here) and you tell me to “go fuck yourself”.

    What if it was the other way around?

    What if it was men who mostly suffered verbal harassment in public, whereas the women bore the brunt of physical violence in public? What if it was the men who got the most sympathy, and the most resources from society to help them – even though the victims of the majority of violent attacks were women?

    And what if you (as a man) wrote a blog post about being verbally harassed as a man (“Hey man, nice set of biceps!”) and you wrote about how this makes you feel (nothing wrong with that, of course)…. but then you went on to claim harassment in public is a ‘men’s right issue’ – would that be fair? Now imagine in the comments section I pointed out that – statistically speaking – women suffer more violent attacks in public than men, and violence is a lot worse than minor verbal harassment in the form of a snarky complement. I go on to ask how ‘harassment in public’ can logically be a ‘men’s rights issue’ if the statistics show that women end up as victims of violent harassment more often than men. I also point out that there are ‘men’s shelters’ all over the place but very little in the way of help (or sympathy) for women.

    And what if I immediately get labelled a ‘man hater’ for bringing up these facts and asking these pertinent questions? And you (as a man, remember) then go on to quote me out of context, followed by…

    “….My knee-jerk reaction was anger. Hot flashes of anger. Fuck you. Of course it’s a men’s rights issue. I don’t even want to bother explaining why. Or why that kind of shit simply isn’t a compliment, and never will be. Go fuck yourself….”

    Now……. if (as a feminist) you truly believe men and women are equal, then you should view each scenario equally. They are, after all, the same – only the genders have been switched. So do you think the ‘man version’ of you has the right to claim public harassment is a men’s rights issue? Does he have the right to tell me to “go fuck yourself” for challenging him with civilised questions, while simultaneously writing about how awful verbal harassment is?

    If feminist claims and feminist verbal abuse look monstrous when we reverse the genders – what does that tell us about feminism?

    I believe I would be absolutely right to challenge any male rights activist who tried to define a broad social issue like public harassment (which affects both men and women) in terms of a ‘men’s rights issue’. And the same is true of a woman trying to define it as a feminist issue, too. They are the same claim. And neither claim is valid.

    I make this point because I actually DO treat men and women equally. And by that I mean if a woman or a man is presenting a flawed argument, or promoting a distorted view of the world then they deserve EQUAL RESPECT. To let a woman get away with making a flawed argument or behaving like a hypocrite – just because she is a woman – is totally disrespectful to ALL women.

    To be clear, I’m NOT suggesting feminists need to care about the rights or the needs of any other group of victims in society other than themselves. I’m just suggesting they be more HONEST about which victims they DO care about (ie women) and which victims they do NOT care about (ie men and children).

    I’m also pointing out that *everyone* in society is a victim of harassment in public, which means it cannot logically be a feminist issue. That’s as absurd as vegetarians claiming street muggings are a ‘vegetarian issue’, even though street muggings obviously affect everyone.

    I’m not claiming to be right either. I’d love nothing more than for you to explain to me WHY you think the issue of harassment in public is a ‘feminist issue’ (rather than a social issue which affects men AND women). As I’ve said already, if I’m wrong then please put me right 🙂

    But to be told how it makes your blood boil to have your world view challenged, before telling me to fuck off is kind of …well ….. I hate to say it but…. it’s kind of ‘patriarchal’. You might as well say “How dare you question my authority in this matter!!!!!” Aren’t we supposed to have moved on from that kind of authoritarian attitude? What happened to civilised discussion, empathy and compassion?

    Here is – I believe – a more fair and balanced take on this issue…. and why it is not a feminist issue.

    1. In society there are plenty of jerks – but they are equally divided among men and women (so not a feminist issue).

    2. There is a small minority of psychopaths out there too – again equally divided among men and women (so not a feminist issue).

    3. Out of this group of (male and female) ‘psychos’ it is the men who tend to be the ones who are a threat in *public* spaces (due to their physical advantage) but they tend to be a more of a threat to other men than to women as the statistics show. In other words men and women are BOTH victims of this small group of psychos who like to wreak havoc in public spaces (so again, not a feminist issue).

    4. To claim this is a feminist issue implies women are being victimised, which in turn implies men cannot be victims, which results in male victims becoming largely ‘invisible’ within society, which in turn makes them even more vulnerable to victimisation by psychos.

    5. Men are less likely to report (or even acknowledge) any public harassment or victimisation because for a man to identify openly as a victim does not generally get him any advantages (sympathy, resources, protection etc) – at least not as much as it does for a woman …. in fact for a man to identify openly as a victim (in public) may even bring EVEN MORE negative consequences onto himself – such as INCREASED victimisation, social ostracism, and rejection by women (as a potential mate) due to him being ‘a wimp’ etc rather than ‘a manly protector’. This is not to say women are forcing men to be ‘manly protectors’, many men love to play this role. But it must be taken into consideration, just as we accept that many women put up with abuse to save a relationship, or because they feel it is their duty to ‘hold the household together’.

    6. Historically, men have always been dissuaded from thinking of themselves as victims, and to think of their male victimisation (such as being sent to their deaths in wars) as part of what defines them as ‘valiant, honourable, heroic men’. Of course women have also had their own fair share of conditioning placed on them historically, so that they will put up with their lot in life too. A huge part of our socialisation (for men AND women) comes from mothers – who are (obviously) women. If it appears that men are not victims of public harassment (and often violence) in spite of the statistics that they are, then this is because men are trained to not talk make a big deal about it. This is something we all experience – if a man gets beaten up in the street, or victimised in the workplace, he will usually tend to shrug it off in public (or even deny it). People generally DON’T want to hear about how vulnerable and traumatised he is feeling. Yes, it’s true that this attitude is starting to change a bit now…. slowly.

    7. The perpetrators of serious harassment in public (threats, violence, murder etc) tend to target men more so than women. One of the reasons for this is that men have been socialised to NOT think of themselves as victims and to not seek help as victims. And society generally does not regard male victims as so important as female victims, therefore victimising men carries less of a risk for the perpetrator than victimising women.

    For example punching a girl or a woman in the face in the street (or school yard) is more likely to get the perpetrator landed in jail than punching a boy or a man in the face. For a start, if the victim is a woman, it’s more likely to get onto the news, people will be more outraged, people are more likely to give the perpetrator’s name to the police etc. If the victim is a man people (including the police) are much more likely to question if the victim brought the attack on himself.

    8. When feminists define public harassment as a ‘feminist issue’ (ie claim it’s about female victimisation), they are helping to ensure public sympathy and public resources are kept AWAY from all the victims who happen to also be men/ boys. This withholding of sympathy and resources (together with centuries of socialisation) helps to keep millions of men/ boys in a state of ’emotional lock down’ because all their experiences of victimisation (from the school yard right through life) are never recognised, or treated as important by society. This expresses itself as emotional unavailability and is one of the many things feminists often complain about (and ridicule in) men. Just goes to show you can’t have your cake and eat it.

    • …………….. except that if you read the rest of the piece, you’ll notice that I explained WHY my knee-jerk, ‘fuck you’ reaction wasn’t helpful, and spent the next two thousand words unpacking your initial comment and ultimately attempting to take into consideration the multifaceted complexity of the issue. I didn’t end my piece with ‘fuck you.’ I ended it with “maybe he has a point.”

      “I’d love nothing more than for you to explain to me WHY you think the issue of harassment in public is a ‘feminist issue’ (rather than a social issue which affects men AND women). As I’ve said already, if I’m wrong then please put me right :)”

      I spent the entire piece attempting to do just that. And I ultimately land, kinda, on your side. It is both a feminist issue AND a social issue. It affects men as well as women, in different ways. We might not agree on a lot of things, but on this particular item, it IS a social issue. We land on the same team.

      Don’t agree with me? Totally fine! We’re all entitled to our opinions. I’m just sad that you seem to be perceiving an attack where there is none intended.

  29. Interesting read – I appreciate your survey results & analysis. As a girl who has been victim to countless catcalls, I feel that this uncomfortable issue usually gets swept under the rug with a “welp that’s just the way things are, nothing I can do to make a difference” attitude. But raising awareness is the first step in making a positive change, so thank you for that!

    A few hours after reading your post, I happened to stumble across this article about a female photographer who snaps pics of guys after they catcall her & thought I’d share. She even lives up in your neck of the woods in Philly, too!

    http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-10-15/photographer-takes-portraits-of-men-moments-after-they-catcall-her-the-results-are-mesmerizing/

    Unfortunately her website doesn’t seem to be working, but BuzzFeed posted some of the portraits here – http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/incredible-photo-series-street-harassment

    PS I came across your blog via a friend who shared your “12 Habits of Healthy, Happy People Who Don’t Give A Sh*t About Your Inner Peace” post and immediately knew I’d found a blog well worth following! Love your informed yet candid writing style. Keep it up 🙂

    xo Katy

  30. As a man who likes women but who spent most of his youth and much of his adulthood not knowing how to approach or interact with them, this is a subject that interests me. I think in many cases the catcall and similar behavior is a form of peacocking and the triumph of hope over experience: a man sees a desirable woman, hopes that she finds him equally desirable and tries to get her attention to find out. He knows deep down that it doesn’t work, but if he doesn’t try something he’ll lose the opportunity forever. I mean, sure, probably some men making catcalls are trying to objectify women, they may even form a slim majority, but I think there are a lot of guys out there like your older friend who are just doing the best they can to get something they want. The same thing goes for pickup lines – nobody expects a woman to say, “Why yes, I’d love to come back to your place for pizza and sex!” – but it’s a way to get her attention at least until she hears the punchline.

    As a part of this, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a society that fetishized intellectual attributes instead of physical ones. While I’ve never had the guts to turn the tables completely and yell at a stranger, “Hey Brainiac! Show me some knowledge!” I have learned that women get really pissed if they figure out you’re only talking to them to figure out if they’re smart enough for you.

  31. Thank you for the post! I thought it was only the shy me, who felt this way.
    It happens all the time since I moved to the States. I wish I had my perfect tell-off answer to these ugly comments. Unfortunately, I still can’t employ my English vocabulary to express all the fury and shame I feel at such moments. And when the furious me shouts at a harasser, it always sounds awkward..
    Strange, but in the country where Im coming from (Russia) guys very rarely presume to do such things.. Only in Moscow and St. Petersburg guys from the Caucasus mountains say smth like that, but still in a nicer way.

    • Interesting, Victoria. I’m am American who has lived in Russian (Yaroslavl) and now in the Caucasus (Tbilisi). I have never once experienced any kind of street harassment (or even acknowledgement in the streets) from men here in Georgia. It did happen a few times in Russia, but only from very drunk men.

      I contrast this with Latin America, where I also lived in various countries, and the comments and catcalls were CONSTANT. If a man did not say something to me as I passed him in the street, I began to think I looked ugly and old that day. However, the comments were almost never lewd They were usually something like “beautiful eyes!” or “princess!” or “precious!”.

      This is, in large part, a cultural thing. In some countries, it is acceptable to comment on women’s appearances in public. In others it is simply not. Here in Georgia, if a man said a word to me on the street, I think five other men would intercede (in dramatic Causasian fashion) to rescue me.

  32. you rock.Keep up the good work.And if you ever want to come visit me on a tropical island,I wouldn’t even say anything about your nice tits.At least not right away.
    Mahalo
    Aloha
    Scott Keefe Keefe( I use my maiden name )

  33. Hmmm the screaming at the guy story is sad to me mostly cause it kinda seems to be a “good” way to react. I’ve heard a LOT of shit in my life and usually just walk away feeling shitty as you’ve said. The only time a guy apologised and seemed to really regret making a disgusting sexual comment was the time, years and years ago, when I was in a bad mood and completely flipped at him as well…. Sigh.

    Really like your writing =)

  34. Hi there,

    This is an excellent, excellent post, in amongst many excellent posts…. but…. something in me kind of curls up in to a ball inside and feels like something isn’t being heard in all of this. Maybe this is where I kind of agree with your original critic who felt that this was no a ‘feminist issue’ but rather than a broader ‘social issue’ (ie an issue which affects both men AND women). However, I would not cite the issue of violence against men as he does, though for the record I have been beaten up in public within metres of my house once when I had the temerity to bleach my hair (presumably they thought I was gay – I never spoke a single word to them nor gave a reason for the gang of boys to follow me home that day). Obviously the attackers in that respect will always more likely be other men. I’ve also been regularly hit on by gay guys when in Soho district in London, or when I used to date a fag hag and ended up in gay clubs with her. I’ve also been hit on by other fag hags when in said gay clubs on a crazy night out – and very aggressively hit on, I might add. It seems that for some reason when you are in a gay club, once the girls know that you are straight, there is generally a view that they are allowed to behave in pretty much any way they want towards you, which can either be friendly or way way over the top and in your face, in a way that I know would not be appreciated if the show were on the other foot.

    However, today I am more interested in female behavior towards men, whether conscious or otherwise. A couple of things:

    1. Confession time: One thing that I am sensitive about is that I am quite slim in build. I used to be *super* sensitive about this in fact, however I am mid-30s now and with time and age and a slowing metabolism, my shape has got more to my liking. However, I have had girls in my office, girls that are friends (never guys in either context) openly comment about my physique. For some reason they think it’s ok to say things to me, even after I’ve told them that I don’t appreciate their saying it and that they should realize that their comments can be (and are) taken badly in that respect. On a bad day it can make me incredibly self-conscious. I think that girls see it as OK to comment on my build where the same girls wouldn’t if their comment were about my being fat. Perhaps it is just that being thin is something that is considered more socially desirable and hence less taboo to comment on, or perhaps the fact that I am considered a ‘pretty boy’ means that they think it’s OK to comment on my body in this way i.e. “It’s ok for you because you’re not ugly, so therefore I can comment on bits of your body and it won’t hurt your feelings when I do just that”. Then again maybe it’s part of the “It’s ok you’re a boy and boy’s don’t have feelings in the same way as girls do so I can say this more honestly to you and directly without repercussion, right?”. I have no idea. However, overall I think a point should be made that I believe that many comments made to men are not necessarily designed to be criticism, however they end up being taken that way. Whereas it appears that the majority of comments to women are (often extremely poorly delivered but still at the same time) meant to be some form of flattery, or at least “peacocking”. I think nearly the whole world knows by now that you don’t criticize a woman’s weight or appearance. I feel that isn’t quite the case with men. And because of the type of people that make these comments – absent minded friends and coworkers, not builders on a building site or drunk frat boys passing in a car – what they are saying actually has a more direct effect on your psyche. We can all disassociate harassment by idiots, but when it is someone that is close enough to know better? I would be interested to know the stat difference on this i.e. what % of women that you mentioned said they had had criticism about their appearance from people in their social circle vs. the % of men.

    2. This article talks about this scenario as if the only loser is the woman that is being cat-called but fails to look at the repercussions that follow that in regards of the female reaction to all men subsequent to this behavior occuring. Whilst I wouldn’t deny that they are not exactly ‘winning’ anything from this unwanted experience and it’s clearly not nice to be subjected to harassment from idiots on a daily basis, they are after all complete idiots and a level of objectivity can surely be used when digesting comments from such people, even when it happens on such a consistent basis. I have people come up to me in the street and beg for money. I don’t tend to like giving money on the street because I never know where it’s really going. However I do not therefore immediately assume that every person that is approaching me on the street is going to ask for money from me. They may well just want to ask for directions. But this objectivity or disassociation of the worst element’ of some men’s behavior does not seem to happen in practice in the minds of women after everyone’s favourite douche bag yells “Nice titties!” at her. Because the other loser in this, that I don’t think has been stated as clearly, is what must be termed ‘the good guys’. How are we (if I may be allowed to classify myself as such a guy) supposed to meet women nowadays? If we approach a girl in the street then the initial position the woman takes in her posture and attitude towards us is that we are harassing her. You are swimming upstream from the first second that you engage in conversation. If we approach in a bar or nightclub, well, I’m sorry but the girl has most probably already overdosed on approaches by drunkards that night. You’re just another face in the crowd of boozed up idiots. I think pretty much every night that I have gone out to a club and tried to talk to girls I don’t just get a bitch face, I will get a bitch response, whether it be a “fuck off”, a loud and abrupt “NO!!!” or a scowl and shake of the head (that often isn’t even raised in the first place)…. And all I’ve probably said is “Hi! Having a good night?” or something similarly mundane but friendly that shouldn’t really cause much in the way of grief. So neither in a socially approved zone, nor outside of it appears to be ok for meeting girls outside of your social circle. I would be interested to know what the solution to this is, as would countless other guys. Maybe girls have a catch 22 in how they deal with unwanted approaches (smile/ freeze/ frown) but for guys the catch is that nowhere feels like an appropriate place in which to pay a compliment to a girl that you’ve never met before. It all sucks.

    3. I’m sorry to be abrupt particularly in this point but when you say, and other girls apparently concur, on here that you can tell the difference between a real approach and a sleazy one, I’m not sure that you really can. More likely what you know is the difference between an approach from a douche bag and a guy who is confident in himself and that has probably already hit on 20 girls that day and is in the swing of things and so delivers his approach elegantly. What isn’t differentiated a lot of the time from the approach of a douche bag is the guy that hasn’t approached anyone today (or perhaps even that week or month), doesn’t really know how to do it because that’s just not his style but he really did genuinely think you looked stunning in that dress and felt he had to say something to you or regret it for the rest of the day, but ends up saying something awkward and clunky that in the end gets read as sleazy by the object of his desires.

    Clearly the only winner here is the second of the three guys. So, basically, good guys need to become very adept at being players but not get caught in the act of being such a thing. Either you are duplicitous in your behavior and actions or you do not get to date anyone at the end of the day. You also need to play a numbers game because if you don’t talk to a huge number of girls then you’ll never hit that lottery ticket of a girl that is in a good mood and receptive to you in that short space of time that you happen to be walking past and happen to say something that doesn’t make you sound like a complete dingbat. That is, essentially, the outcome of all of this… just wanted to make sure you girls are well aware of that fact the next time you see a guy going around the club talking to a handful of girls and you mentally label him as being a player. There really is little choice in the matter.

    Most likely you are telling a lot of genuinely very nice guys to fuck off on a very regular basis. I know that that happens to me on so frequently that really I am at the point of giving up completely and becoming a eunuch. Overall, it does feel as if women have taken this small group of very loud and obnoxious men and taken that as their default view of what all men everywhere are like. I am not sure how to fix this but from a guy’s selfish perspective it feels to me like the saddest aspect of it all. I am 35, professional white collar worker with a good job in finance, I write music in my spare time and I love to cook. I speak fluent Spanish and am currently learning Mandarin. I am financially secure and own a house. I am generally considered to be a good looking guy and I’d love to meet a girl that would actually settle down with me… but seriously, make it a bit easier please.

    4. Girls don’t really have a catch 22 in how they react to an unwanted approach from a guy. Next time a guy says something that you don’t appreciate, either throw a witty, playful, comeback of your own over to him that cuts him down to size, or if it’s just unwanted attention as you’re walking the street but not report-to-police type stuff just smile (sarcastically if it’s really gross or nicely if he’s just stuttering a bit, being clunky or just isn’t your personal physical type) with your mouth but turn the eyes away… we’ll understand and you don’t get the ice maiden reputation in the process. If you put the bitch shield up the moment you walk out the door then you really are inviting on an exclusive basis the idiots – everyone else will stay well clear.

  35. Excellent blog. Regarding your friend’s story: “For me, it was truly a moment of clarity.” I would love to hear what that clarity was. There is a huge unknown in that he doesn’t say exactly what it was he said to the woman, so we only have his assessment that it was not explicit and was sure it would be received as a compliment. If we accept that, then the moment of clarity I’d walk away with is “wow, don’t say anything to people you don’t know, because you never know how they’ll react and I just almost got beat up”. If I was less objective, the clarity might have been “holy cow, you never know who’s going to go batsh*t crazy on you for no reason”.

    If you’re reading this thinking “he doesn’t get it”, please consider: IF we take him at his word that what he said wasn’t explicit and he meant it as a compliment, the WORST he is guilty of is misjudging what a random person would take as a compliment. If someone gave you a present and you thought it was the most hideous thing in the world, would you consider it appropriate to yell in that person’s face about it? Maybe you would. Since the odds of a perfect stranger giving you a present are small, let’s use another analogy. Suppose I’m in front of you exiting a parking garage and I decide to practice a “random act of kindness” and pay for your parking. You, however, take that as me saying that you’re poor, so you get out of your car, come up to my window and berate me for being condescending, trying to “control” you, whatever. Hopefully, that sounds ridiculous to you, but it’s the same scale of reaction.

    So, original scenario: the woman stops, turns, and calmly but firmly says “I don’t appreciate what you just said and I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t make such comments.” Whoa! Wasn’t expecting that – I’m confused, but not scared I’m about to be beaten, and I apologize (just as the friend in the story does) except the woman hears it because she hasn’t vented all over me and walked away. Understanding reached. Now my moment of clarity is “Think about what you say to a stranger before you say it and realize that they might not take it the way you intend it.” But at least i’m not deathly afraid of speaking to anyone (or even just to women).

  36. For me the key factor in all the different kinds of harassment your friends shared with you is a power imbalance. Men who yell things like “show us yer tits” (a perennial favourite in Australia) feel entitled to do so because they are in a position of power, or the harassment itself gives them a feeling of power. Similarly I have heard groups of heterosexual women harass gay men. Add race into the mix and you get further imbalances of both real and perceived power.

  37. I used to shout out my car window to joggers “lookin’ good!” to men and women alike. I thought it was a nice thing to do, since clearly they care about their physical health and it’s nice to be encouraged in your work out. But since I moved to the city where most of my free time is spent waiting for a bus, I get a lot of cat calls and horn honks that I could really do without.

    One time a drunk and shirtless guy harassed me in broad day light while waiting for the bus in front of a car dealership. A lot of the salesmen were out and just watched as this guy tried to dance with me, shirtless, and at 9 am. When I told the guy to buzz off (twice) and he finally started to make his way down the street I looked over at the salesmen to see if they had any intention of doing anything about it. They were watching but no one batted an eye. It hurt that anyone could see a girl getting harassed, especially in front of their place of business, a potential customer even, and do nothing about it. I just shouted “thanks for the help!” and continued to wait for my bus.

    Next time you see someone getting harassed, ask them if they are okay. Even if their someone tough enough to deal with the situation on their own, it’s nice to know that your community is looking out for you.

  38. Pingback: Street Harassment: Why “Cat Calls” Suck Big Hairy Balls | julietjeske

  39. Funny thing is, Im a very fit guy of standard build. My muscles show on my chest and stomach and i run without a shirt. I get yelled at on a daily basis by women and men when i am running. I just ignore them and continue to run. Most commonly i hear RUN FOREST RUN. so i do just that. I run.

  40. Once there was a female co-worker who was interested in me and she seemed decent enough. So I struck up a conversation with her and she proceeded to spin a tale of how she was driving down the street and a guy in a passing car yelled “you’re hot!” as the vehicles passed each other.

    She then told me that she did what any woman with self respect would do. She whipped the car around, chased him down, and made him pull over. Then she got his phone number.

    Knowing that women (as your story also backed up) are not fans of being serenaded by losers screaming at them from a distance; I was a bit mortified about her revelation and decided to avoid her at all cost.

    Wise move because later I was told she tried to run over her new interest with her car during a fight.

    So the men should pay attention to your blog. No outcome of “cat calling” will end in a positive way.

  41. I would like to thank you for your amazingly well thought out article. I have to admit that it opened my eyes a bit, because I have always taken comments from women about how they get harassed “daily” with a grain of salt, feeling that maybe the rude comments just stand out more due to the outrage that they generate. However, after reading this, I would say that women are more likely to suffer this kind of harassment than men, unless the men have something about them that definitively causes them to stand out.

    • I would also like to thank you for this article. It reminds me and also humours me to see someone has the same thoughts as me. Where I live it’s not uncommon to be walking on a summers day and be yelled at on the street level. It’s never flattering or wanted, unless by calling us big tits mc’gee they mean beautiful lady or sophisticated, but I highly doubt thats where they were aiming lol. Good read I look forward to your future posts!

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