50 Shades of Street Harassment
July 16, 2014 8:51 PM   Subscribe

My question is primarily about how best to deal with street harassment with the caveat that just ignoring it is not my preferable solution.

I've been "just ignoring it" for years now, and it's making me an increasingly bitter, angry person. When someone yells at me, "Hey cutie, like that booty!" and I continue to walk down the street, I spend the rest of my day feeling awful for having let someone else speak to me in that way without standing up for myself.

I've been having this internal debate for quite awhile, trying to figure out the best way to respond to people on the street making inappropriate comments about my body. This happens at least once a week, usually more often. Today was the first time that I actually spoke back to the person, and it escalated in a way that worried me. I was waiting for my train when a man came up to me, looked me up and down, and said, "I want you to know I think you're very sexy." I looked back at him and said, "I didn't ask for your opinion." I then stood up and got onto my train. He started banging on the train doors, screaming that he'd find me and make me suck his dick.

This was in broad daylight with close to a hundred onlookers. I'm afraid to think what could have happened under different circumstances.

So, boiled down to the essentials, my question is this: Is there a way to respond to street harassment (other than just ignoring it) that doesn't put me at increased risk of physical violence? If not, and if ignoring it is really my only safe option, how can I keep this from gnawing away at me and making me feel so helpless and demeaned?

BONUS QUESTION: I work at a courthouse, and hear this sort of stuff all the time from people in the hallways as I'm working. Are the rules different while I'm at work in terms of how best to respond? It makes me doubly frustrated feeling like I can't even DO MY JOB without being openly and aggressively objectified, and feeling like I can't do anything about it.
posted by frizzle to Human Relations (52 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
By giving attention to the harassers, you are giving them what they want: attention. Negative attention is still attention. Is it possible for you to see ignoring them as an incredibly powerful move? I personally find it powerful - they want to get something out of you, and ignoring them gives them none of what they want.
posted by sockermom at 8:59 PM on July 16, 2014 [20 favorites]

I think the answer to your first question is, unfortunately, no. Anything but ignoring it is going to put you at an increased risk of violence. Whether you still want to go ahead is up to you, I wouldn't judge your choice either way.

But the most important question you asked is, to me, actually what you label a BONUS QUESTION. The answer is YES, absolutely, you should not and do not have to put up with that at work! Report them to security (which at a courthouse should be omnipresent) and say you feel unsafe and harassed. If security doesn't take it seriously escalate the matter. You have the right to a safe and non-hostile workspace.
posted by Justinian at 8:59 PM on July 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

The few times my sister asked a man if what he had just said to a woman had ever worked for him, she was told, "Fuck off, dyke" and worse. I think you need to be careful.
posted by mlis at 9:00 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Once I said tiredly and sadly, "Oh, it's so early in the morning for that kind of thing. Please don't," and the construction worker who'd been harassing me apologized. Nothing else has ever worked.
posted by pineappleheart at 9:13 PM on July 16, 2014 [23 favorites]

Can you change your commute to be in a group or at least partnered with someone you trust? A lone woman responding is vulnerable but if you have another woman or two on the same travel route that has agreed to back you up, then you can can respond as a pair - "hey Margery, this guy is harassing me." and "Stop talking to Jenny."
posted by viggorlijah at 9:14 PM on July 16, 2014

Ugh, that sounds awful. But it is also nothing to do with you and is a reflection on the men in your community. Is there any chance of moving somewhere else? Because a lot of places do not accept that behaviour as normal, especially at work (n'thing you call security and look into labour laws around hostile workplaces).
posted by saucysault at 9:16 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've yelled back "stop harassing women! " Nthing reporting it to security when it happens in your workplace and to the transit police when it happens there. Several women on Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment have described good results when they've reported harassment by employees to their bosses.
posted by brujita at 9:20 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also I have not been street harassed for years but my teenage girls did gent it at one point and we don't look alike so guys would make mild but creepy advances not realizing their mom was nearby. I would come over and do this indignant strict schoolmarm voice and be "what did you say to my daughter? excuse me how is that polite?" I hate confrontation in public so having a mental persona, a granny waving a cane angrily, made me feel capable and the outraged Miss Manners made them withdraw. But I live in a super safe place where I'm unlikely to get hurt for shouting at an ass. When that was a safety issue overseas, I would cry loudly and dramatically which embarrassed the hell out of the people harassing me and made other people protective.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:22 PM on July 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I completely disagree with the responses thus far. If you are in a situation where you feel safe to respond, I'd encourage you to do so. It is not okay, and staying silent doesn't empower you or alert them that their behavior will not be tolerated.

Here are a few things to try:

- In a loud voice yell "This man is sexually harassing me." Or "Stop harassing me or I will call the police." This enlists the help of others and usually works.

- Inform the person that he is harassing you and that you are going to take their photo for the police.

Of course, if you are alone and feel unsafe, ignoring is the best option.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:27 PM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Lately I've been saying "don't be rude!" Not sure it's particularly effective, but it gives me something to say back (I feel you on the need to respond) that doesn't seem to engender the usual threats or aggression back.

Most of the time, though, I opt for ignoring it/pretending it. And seething.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:36 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

The advice on that Hollaback site looks good (and includes viggorlijah's suggestion).

Though I suspect/hope I'm edging out of harassers' target market, when they do start, I like to make myself feel physically bigger. I do that by standing taller, opening up my shoulders, letting my arms hang a bit further away from my body, and taking bigger, wider strides. (Not so it's very obviously the habitus of one of those 'evil' wrestlers from the 80s, but that is essentially the model in my head.) I force myself to look straight ahead, and fight any impulse to flinch, dodge or bow.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:40 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

For safety's sake, I would just keep ignoring it. Things could take a violent turn, especially if you're alone. Having to keep everything in really sucks, but being followed is even worse.

If this happens, say, during a commute... could you try another route to see if that commute involves less street harassment?

It really seems to be weighing on you, and understandably so, so maybe finding a friend or two to commiserate with could help.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:42 PM on July 16, 2014

Is there a way to respond to street harassment (other than just ignoring it) that doesn't put me at increased risk of physical violence?

On the street, I don't think so. As you know, assholes are gonna asshole, there's no way to predict that. The safest thing is to ignore it. See below.
At work, "Excuse me, that's highly inappropriate" and escalating with whatever channels you have available is definitely called for.

If not, and if ignoring it is really my only safe option, how can I keep this from gnawing away at me and making me feel so helpless and demeaned?
I don't get harassed a lot, but I hear rude remarks on the street sometimes. I think to myself "I know that person isn't referring to me that way, because that's not what I respond to. Must be someone else." and go back to whatever I was thinking about.
posted by bleep at 9:44 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have 3 strategies. The first and best is to get them in trouble with an authority figure asap. At work I'd request a sit down meeting with your boss and the head of security and basically lay out that you feel you are in an unsafe/ hostile work environment and that you need them to take care of it. Accept no solutions that involve you changing your manner, clothing or work schedule- basically make it their problem. Request a radio or something for immediate security response. Tell them you're going to be documenting all instances. If you're a public employee and belong to a union, bring the union rep in. I'd give them the benefit of the doubt as far as realizing this is such a problem but I'd also expect them to try their best to stop it and, if they can't because criminals are gonna criminal, for there to be real consequences for the perpetrators. Some kind of official policy of charging them with harassing an officer of the court for example. This also works on the street if someone is working when they harrass you. I can't tell you how many construction companies, taxi companies etc I've called and complained to but it's quite a few.

The second I learned as a waitress in college and it's the most effective way to deal with run of the mill idiots. Basically it's a raised eyebrow combined with a weary shrug and a mildly funny but demeaning/go fuck yourself comeback. A lot of times just a "seriously?" delivered in the appropriate tone and with the look your mom gave you when you decided to grow dreadlocks gets you an apology or some kind of fumbling "I'm just trying to be nice... I thought you'd like a compliment" whiny backing off move. Not as satisfying as abject groveling but still you win.

The third is pure unbridled aggression. Honestly, if you've made it to adulthood without going off on someone you probably are too nice/ well-socialized/ non-violent to pull this off convincingly so don't bother. Just call the cops and report it. Also a certain percentage of the population are actual hardened psychos. Not very many but you never know.

The cops most everywhere will and do collect statistics on this kind of thing and step up policing where its consistently reported. If you see another woman being harassed approach her and let her know to report it too. We made a concerted effort to address a corner by my old house near a liquor store and a mens shelter that was like walking a gauntlet of fuckwits, reporting each case and there was a cop parked there for months I swear. They worked with the liquor store and the shelter. Harassment decreased 95%. It was great!!
posted by fshgrl at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2014 [24 favorites]

Take their picture and post it or start a Flickr group. Record them and ask their names. Shame them.
Responding verbally isn't going get you into a fist-fight but you're going to be stuck engaging them which means your spending time and energy on them, which seems like too much trouble to me.
The guy in the train station is probably mentally unhinged. Call a cop.
If the people in the hallways are there to go to court, get the security guards.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:59 PM on July 16, 2014

I agree with others that if you're alone it, unfortunately, is probably best just to ignore it for safety's sake, or escalate in a non-visible way (like calling employers). Maybe you can plaster up some posters around the neighborhood clandestinely to make yourself feel better (and remind other people that women are people too?)

I am speaking only from my own experience here, but I will say that my experience in pushing back on street harassment, raised eyebrows and snide comments do only escalate, because they're not enough of a challenge to really be problematic for the harrasser but neither are they quiet compliance. The only way I've ever de-escalated a situation is by being 200% scarier than they are prepared to deal with. I mean full out, no-bullshit, crazypants screaming "WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME YOU FUCKING CREEP? FUCK YOU GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE" or "DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE GRAB MY ASS GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME "or whatever is necessary, complete with aggressive body language. I have, on occasion, chased people's cars (not with the intention of catching them, but absolutely yelling my goddamn head off.) Basically, I am the guy who was banging on the bus doors and screaming at you, only I'm on the opposite side of it.

If you are in public (and I highly recommend being in public with this), this is extremely visible and will make sure no one forgets what just happened. It has also severed me well in terms of de-escalating because no one wants to deal with what they'd probably call a "psycho bitch".

Note that I have only done this in situations where the man harrassing me can retreat. If I backed someone into a literal or metaphorical corner with this, I would expect a physical altercation. But if they have a clear exit, I've never had anyone not take it after getting a faceful of screaming woman who is fully ready to rip their genitals off in front of multiple witnesses.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:05 PM on July 16, 2014 [31 favorites]

Also I wouldn't recommend taking up my technique with person you see every day near your house. It does seem like the type of thing that would cause harrassers to consider retaliation if it was readily available to them. But for random drivebys, it's great.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:07 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh frizzle, it is a difficult problem, one I have faced for many years and was just speaking with friends tonight of my strategies.

I gather the motivation of my harassers is more about race and class than actual sexual desire. I divide them up into classes - those that are dangerous and those that may possibly be good people that need to understand I am a fellow human.

The dangerous ones are identified by that prickly feeling and I immediately ignore and get to the safest possible place. Do not take chances with your safety.

The non-dangerous ones I will engage in friendly conversation if I have time. They often leave laughing and smiling and I am hoping I have broken a little more of the race and class barriers. I sometimes feel guilty for engaging with a man that was so disrespectful to me, but by the end of the conversation their view of me has changed.

I'll never be inside these minds to know if my methods work to humanize women, but I can hope.

Do not tolerate any of this at work. Report ALL of it.
posted by littlewater at 10:17 PM on July 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only way I've really gotten through to a dude harassing me is to go full-out crazy person on them, exactly the way WidgetAlley describes.

It's exhausting, I don't recommend doing it if you're all alone with some creep or if you're already feeling low-energy and not up to throwing a massive tantrum in public, and it will get you crazy looks and judgement from passersby. But fuck 'em. If they don't want to help me, they can deal with me solving my own problem.

This actually was presented to me as a self-defense tip so that I don't "get myself raped" -- the guy who suggested it was like, "Trust me, there is not a dude on the planet who's going to try anything on a woman screaming bloody murder and flailing around like she's having a fit." I don't know how true that is, nor have I had to use it to prevent an actual assault (knock on wood), but it has made a couple of creeps leave me alone, so there you go.
posted by palomar at 10:18 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

As satisfying as it is to tell street harassers to fuck off, I've found it's 50/50 on whether it results in escalation. My current method is to troll them, for lack of a better term.

Things I've done off the top of my head:
- Saying "What?" over and over again until they get tired of repeating themselves
- Hock a loogie or blow a snot rocket on the street
- Turn to face them, look them dead in the eye, and pick my nose
- Floss (works better in situations where you're caught in a small space with the guy, like on public transit)
- Make a ridiculous (not disgusted, just ridiculous) face (see here for examples of what I'm talking about). Distorted smiles are preferable.
- Do my best impression of Kermit the Frog's excited noises and arm flail

Realistically, this will probably not stop these guys from harassing women in the future (though I don't think telling them to fuck off does, either). What it DOES do is bring me a lot of enjoyment when they inevitably react with disgust or confusion.
posted by schroedinger at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2014 [40 favorites]

Just reading your question makes me angry, what assholes! But honestly, ignoring is always the best course of action here. They are not worth your time or your life.

Take a class in self defence and while ignoring them imagine ripping his balls off with your new sweet moves.

Just stay safe, you don't want to end up wishing you chose the ignore option.
posted by Youremyworld at 10:30 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

'Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.' Margaret Atwood

I can't channel my inner crazy woman (I have heard from multiple women that it works), so if the situation feels safe I have replied to a comment such as "Look at that big booty" with "oh, my ass is fat? I can see you don't have the proper equipment to do the job." But not in a flirty way, more like a mother or schoolteacher scolding a child that is barely worth her attention and sneering while saying it. I have years of practise with that voice though, it is something you have to role-play for sure.
posted by saucysault at 10:34 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The reason why we say to ignore them is because you never know who is going to go on full "suck my dick" crazy. Some things you try may work on some guys but not on others because we just can't know who's that batshit beforehand. Heck, I don't think ignoring them is safe either at all (some men will go batshit crazy if you do that, too), but there's really no good method of ensuring your safety--we just take a guess that ignoring it is the least bad option.

I suspect going batshit crazy yourself might(?) work, but how many of us have the nerve to try it? I don't even know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:34 PM on July 16, 2014

Yeah, I meant to say -- my Dog the Bounty Hunter impression (which is only really subtle) accomplishes nothing in terms of managing the interaction, it just makes me feel better.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:49 PM on July 16, 2014

A few months ago, I was checking an email on my phone on the street and a guy creeped up really close to me. I looked up, and we were basically kissing distance away. I just yelled. Not a high-pitched screaming yell, but a guttural growl-like "FUUUUUUUCK" He went away, but I still felt really rattled and pissed off, so I'm not sure it's that much better of an option.
posted by ohisee at 11:25 PM on July 16, 2014

I've had significant success with WidgetAlley's technique in the same circumstances (being 200% scarier than they are prepared to deal with, but in populated areas only).

I've also had significant success looking straight ahead while continuing to walk by -- in a strong, confident stride -- and putting my hand up and out in a big "stop" gesture while saying "NO" loudly and clearly, just once, making zero eye contact. Zero engagement otherwise. This has also worked extremely well with very aggressive and/or threatening panhandlers, and I learned it from a Chicago cop.
posted by beanie at 11:26 PM on July 16, 2014 [16 favorites]

Any and all of these techniques could work, but honestly, you need to be really really careful because even people who you classify mentally as "non-dangerous" could end up being sociopaths. Ignoring them and maybe submitting to "Everyday Sexism" to blow off some steam is by far safest, and also has a certain dignity about it.

I only feel comfortable yelling and confronting if there is some physical distance or barrier between the harasser and myself, for example if they are in a moving vehicle while I'm walking or vice versa- though those could still be dangerous scenarios depending on where you live.

The only time I've felt 100% able to go into crazy bitch/disappointed adult authority figure mode was when a group of young tweens yelled "nice tits" at me as I was riding my bike. They got an earful alright.
posted by mymbleth at 12:45 AM on July 17, 2014

If it's construction workers, I would call the police and the construction company. Usually there is a truck or sign indicating who the contracting company is. I would call and let them know about the unseemly behavior of their employees and that their harassing behavior has been reported to the police. Also, before you call the construction company see if you can find out the name of the building's owner and let the construction company know that you'll be contacting them too. It's good if you know that it's the future home of ABC Bank or an XYZ Home Builders project.
posted by shoesietart at 12:48 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

For dudes who get increasingly in your face when you try to ignore them, I have found this tactic to be both satisfying and humanizing: a deadpan "I'm sorry, I don't speak [whatever language they were]" in a language other than the one they were speaking. Then go on doing whatever you were when you were ignoring them.

Satisfying: I've done this for 17 years (first discovered because I actually didn't speak their language that well, heh) and every single time, it gets a "...wtf..." stopped-in-tracks reaction.

Humanizing, this one's more in my idealistic head, but still: they realize, on some level, that the hunk of meat they've been trying to prod is not actually a hunk of meat, but a person about whom a fundamental assumption was totally off the mark.

Works best with genuinely deadpan confidence, no fear, no clue given that you have understood what the dipweed has said. You do NOT want the dude to know he's being fucked with. (this is also immensely satisfying once you've pulled it off.)
posted by fraula at 1:10 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

BONUS QUESTION: I work at a courthouse, and hear this sort of stuff all the time from people in the hallways as I'm working. Are the rules different while I'm at work in terms of how best to respond? It makes me doubly frustrated feeling like I can't even DO MY JOB without being openly and aggressively objectified, and feeling like I can't do anything about it.

Is this coworkers, or something like prisoners on the way to arraignment?
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:17 AM on July 17, 2014

Over the weekend I got some coaching from actor friends on doing a demon voice like this woman used on a random groper. "Start with a deep gargle sound in the back of your throat," they said. I sounded like a Walking Dead zombie. I think even just the zombie gargle might be sufficiently off-putting, for up-close harassers, anyway. I haven't tried it out yet as I don't get harassed all that often, but I think it's got the same element of CUH-RAY-ZEE / loogiehorking that WidgetAlley and palomar and schroedinger etc talk about. Once I've tried it out a few times for real, I'll report back in this or future street harassment threads.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:46 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I usually ignore people and pretend that I didn't hear/see them. But sometimes I don't want to so when people street harass me (most recently ranging from a car of men slowly driving by and asking "what's a girl like you doing walking around so late?" to a guy drive-by complimenting my dress) I yell back at them "Please stop street harassing me." or "Please stop harassing women on the street." or "It is not appropriate for you to be street harassing me. Stop." and then continue walking.

For me this works because I really don't want to act crazy or yell something condescending back at them, nor do I want to engage in an interaction where I would be further placed at risk.

re: Your bonus question. One response is saying "that's inappropriate" to them.
posted by aaanastasia at 3:15 AM on July 17, 2014

A couple of positive outcomes as they are sadly so rare...

A friend getting flashed at on a train - who turned to him and said in a flat tone "I'm a nurse. I've been looking at those all day. Put it away". He did you know!

Years ago.. me.. out at a club with a really fkd up/damaged friend, twice been in extreme clinches on the middle of the dance floor (men up her skirt when the lights went on, her into it). We walked out me, her, the last guy she had 'pulled' that night (or vice versa) and his young friend. The clueless friend grabbed my ass.. no excuses but bear in mind he was maybe 17 and had just seen this display.

For some reason I had the moivation to attempt to reason with him. It went something like this "I know what you have just seen was probably pretty confusing. Most women are not going to remotely appreciate that kind of behaviour. You are young, you're nice looking - you could meet women in decent, respectful way's please don't maul women". Or something like that. His response "Thanks for telling me, I'm really sorry".

I know these are going to be exceptions to the norm, so many of these blokes are just mindless fuckwits. I wouldn't recommend taking a photo.. if they happen to be anti-social this could get very nasty.

I have a friend who gets very aggressive/physical with them, it has become a source of tension in a lot of her friendships. I can understand the force of the sentiment.. but it's a very hit or miss strategy.

Harrassment is very bad where I am - the police and local Uni have linked up and are now co-ordinating a response re: reporting people and taking number plates etc. I guess this is a result of public pressure. Isn't it shit that we still have such a level of casual sexism?

Must make it hard too for decent men who want to approach women in a non seedy way.

Btw - just last week I had two teens casually say I looked like some porn star or other. I was gobsmacked. The mind just can't catch up quickly enough sometimes eh?
posted by tanktop at 3:24 AM on July 17, 2014

In the type of situation where I was walking down a street and it was the construction-worker catcall, I always had success with stopping, turning to face them and saying, "Dude, don't do that," then continuing on my way.

Person on the train platform/bus stop/street I would ignore and move away. Because yikes.

Person at my place of work? I'd report that. Because HELL NO.
posted by kinetic at 3:33 AM on July 17, 2014

Is this coworkers, or something like prisoners on the way to arraignment?

Yes, this was the thing that stood out the most to me as well. If it's the former then you need to complain to a supervisor like, yesterday. This is a toxic work environment that is begging for a lawsuit.

If it's the latter, unfortunately, the only thing you CAN do is ignore it, really. It's the most professional thing to do.
posted by elizardbits at 4:14 AM on July 17, 2014

I've found that listening to music while walking helps (I.e in-ear headphones w/ spotify loud enough to block out most outside noise). I can't hear whether they say something or not; they could be harassers or could be inanimate objects. I don't have to ignore anything because I have no evidence that anything was said. I don't react to them just as I don't react to traffic cones or mailboxes. If it's not a dog, it's not getting a reaction from me on the street.

Just having headphones in with no sound and walking with your head up, looking straight ahead, not making any eye contact or other acknowledgement that potential harassers exist as people in your environment goes a long way toward stopping this. Some guy wants to jerk off to me walking by? Whatevs - I can't control the thoughts in his mind. But he doesn't get to have me participate in the fantasy. For many, you "nope-ing" out of participating (by not acknowledging they exist) is enough to kill the desire to harass you in the first place.

Obviously having headphones in presents its own safety issues, so use your judgment with respect to volume.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:00 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things you might want to say but probably shouldn't:

1) "You look like you play pool with a rope."
2) "I'm not a pedophile."

Speaking as a male, I agree with the many folks who suggest that you ignore it. Unless it is work then get 'em in trouble (or counseling.)

Confession time: I'm not the sort of person who does this crap on the street. But when I was a kid in my early 20s I once destroyed a friendship by being overtly sexual in a couple of letters. My intention was not evil or bad--I was just really stupid. Really, really stupid. Really bad judgement. I'll go to my grave carrying that shame, wanting forgiveness but knowing I don't deserve it.

Mary, I am so, so sorry. Had I not been such a childish little shit we would have been life-long friends. I respect you for telling me to never contact you again.
posted by CincyBlues at 5:11 AM on July 17, 2014

Asking them to repeat it in your most Miss Manners-y way -- "I BEG your pardon?" -- makes many back off because they don't want to repeat themselves. If they do, you say, "In what way do you feel that's appropriate for a public street?" still in a schoolmarm-y way. It works because you're refusing to respond to the content of what they said, just to their rudeness, and most of them don't really think quickly enough to shift gears to the new conversation.

But yeah, I probably wouldn't say that in an enclosed area or one where there weren't many onlookers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:22 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid I have to disagree with melissasaurus: please do not do something like wear earphones while playing music loud enough to block out ambient sounds --- wearing headphones in and of itself isn't the problem, it's the blocking out information about your surroundings. Always, always keep fully aware of what is happening around you!

And as so many posters say above, ignoring assholes on the street is unfortunately the best thing you can do. Take a photo if you can, to pass on to their employers; confront them only if it feels safe to do so. As for the jerks at work, if that's employees then yep: report them to HR and/or security --- and if you don't know their name, taking their picture will be much easier & safer than with a street harasser.

And isn't it a bitch that, in 2014, we're still dealing with this?!?
posted by easily confused at 5:28 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe I watch too many courthouse shows on TV, but it seems to me like that is the one place where you CAN make a big difference. You could do it yourself, but I think it would help if you got a large group of women together, then go to the highest persons in charge (judges? DA? Union rep for the court employees? I'm not sure who) and present the facts that this courthouse is hostile to women and we want it stopped. All officers (and patrons) of the court are to be treated with respect, regardless of gender or rank.

Pressure can be put on the lawyers to let their clients know that it will not be tolerated; charges for harassing an officer of the court (like fshgirl said above) can be brought. Engage the news media to put out stories in public. Have it part of the Jury Duty instructions. Each judge can mention it at the beginning of their proceedings. Word will get around that anyone showing up at your courthouse better be on their best manners.
posted by CathyG at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

please do not do something like wear earphones while playing music loud enough to block out ambient sounds. Always, always keep fully aware of what is happening around you!

As I said, use your judgment to determine what you're comfortable with. I, personally, was sick of constantly being "ready" for an assault to happen. If someone is going to assault me on my way to work, it's going to be because that's what they wanted to do, not because of anything I did or didn't do.

Story time: A few years back, a street harasser started following me home; when I continued to ignore his attempts to talk to me, he became verbally violent and blocked my entryway. I went to the police. They gave me a restraining order, but basically ignored the complaint ("I'm sure you misinterpreted it...he just wanted a date...yadda yadda...). He later went on to rape someone. Having my report in his record gave support to the rape victim's complaint; they publicized the issue and dozens of other women came forward saying he followed them home and harassed them as well (he's now in jail). I was the only one who had filed a police report prior to this - and it had been going on for years.

I feel safe walking down the streets of NYC because I choose to feel safe. I don't enjoy hearing harassing remarks (or traffic, or subway trains, or crying babies, or barking dogs, for that matter), so I block them out. If someone does more than just shout sexual remarks at you (i.e. follows you, gets in your face, throws things at you, grabs you, etc), headphones won't block that out obviously, BUT, that is when you go to the police. If you don't feel as though your safety is threatened, block it out; if you do feel unsafe or have been physically threatened, go to the police. It doesn't matter if you don't have their name, it doesn't matter if the police think you're overly sensitive. You feeling harassed is enough to warrant the complaint (it's the police's job to determine if a crime has been committed and the prosecutor's job to determine if prosecution would be fruitful).

It's 2014. I'm sick of feeling like the victim or potential victim. Harass me all you want construction worker; you don't exist in my world. But if you insert yourself in my world, you'd better believe I'm calling the cops on your ass.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:37 AM on July 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

I used to be someone who would respond with a "fuck off" when guys said something to me on the street...until I said it one day to a guy, who had said something really explicit to me, who then responded by screaming "I hope you get raped bitch" at me, down the street until I was a solid 2 blocks away. This was about 4 in the afternoon on a busy avenue in Brooklyn. I've pretty much gone with ignore ever since, which makes me feel shitty, but not quite as bad as having a man scream he hopes I get raped. I feel comforted reading that so many people agree that ignore is usually better to prevent escalation, even though it makes me feel pretty powerless. I wish I knew a great solution...I do find always wearing very dark sunglasses to avoid any eye contact with people very helpful in general, and having headphones in, even without having them on (in safe places, not alone on a dark street at night, agree you don't want to be actually unable to hear what's going on around you), is a good way to keep all sorts of crazies/people who might say something to you from being able to connect with you, which helps.
posted by PinkPoodle at 6:37 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

People are making really good points about escalation here, and what it means. Engagement is dangerous. Deescalation is better than pride—in general.

However. I don't like letting it go.

So my experience is that dealing with this stuff doesn't start with your in-the-moment response. There's preparation involved. For me, I had to reel it all the way back to self-defense classes. I'm a not terribly "manly" gay guy, and I've been beaten up, stabbed, attacked and harassed on the street quite a bit. (And I'm fairly tall and self-assured and all that, so despite my history, I can barely imagine how much more often women get this crap. (Well, I can, actually, because I've seen it, and interrupted violence against women on the street, etc.))

So I can think about and plan my responses all I want, but I had to do the work to be prepared to be engaging with (or evading! Evading can be useful!) these people. A couple of things:

* Like a lot of us, I get an anxiety/adrenaline response that's pretty strong. The problem with this is you feel out of control and unmanageable and shaky, which means you can't take care of yourself properly. I needed experience with that to master it.

* It helps to get decent at threat assessment, while recognizing that people are fairly unpredictable in general and anything could happen. (No one could have known that subway guy was going to go nutso!)

* It helps to work on your ability to be "embarrassed." Screaming "help help police this man is threatening me!" is weirdly the most difficult thing IN THE WORLD TO DO. Why is that? It's so strange. But you can actually practice this. Do it at home! Roleplay it with friends! This is another thing they often teach in self-defense class. Learning how to scream bloody murder is super super important and it is, weirdly, a skill to be learned!

* Your mileage will vary, and certainly this won't help at work, but being comfortable and trained with legal weapons is very helpful, IF that's something you're okay with. In California I was licensed by the state to carry teargas on the street and I also carried a stun gun. I also knew how to use them, and did indeed get the opportunity to do so. (Very gratifying, and confidence-building! As you can imagine!) Everyone's feelings about this will vary, and all those feelings are legitimate.

So now, although I'm not really as strong or as prepared as I'd like to be, I know what my options in response are. Often I will aggressively pursue people who street-harass me. (I have chased down people in cars and on bikes and gone fully crazed-queen on them—while being mindful of my safety.) Equally often, I will ignore it. It depends on environment, my comfort level, and my assessment of how potentially violent the assholes in question are. The point is, I feel largely prepared for the engagement and for the consequences. And I know it's not about my pride, or my hurt, but about my safety and my choices. Disentangling that response is, I think, important, if hard. I have to be making objective decisions, not emotional ones, when I can.

The work stuff is much more difficult as that environment actually relies on you "not being crazy" (you're not being "crazy" actually no matter what you do in response to that bullshit, but, you know, workplaces!). For that stuff I would go full on icy and mean. But still, even that kind of engagement can result in someone being a total loon and stalking you or worse.

tl;dr men are insane and horrible.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:29 AM on July 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Thanks very much for the input so far-- just to clarify, the harassment I'm experiencing at work is not coming from co-workers, but from members of the public-- generally defendants waiting for court or individuals waiting to check in with their probation officers. I agree that this is a much lower-risk setting than harassment out on the street, as there is security close by. I just wonder whether it's appropriate/professional to stop in that situation and tell the person that their behavior is unacceptable.
posted by frizzle at 7:48 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wonder whether it's appropriate/professional to stop in that situation and tell the person that their behavior is unacceptable.

Don't tell the harasser; they don't care. If they have their attorney with them, scold the attorney (maybe something like "control your client or he'll be facing harassment charges too") or tell the probation officer. You have all the power in that situation. If it is a pervasive problem, you should discuss it with the relevant authorities at the courthouse (your boss, etc) - perhaps there is a different configuration for the entryway or the waiting area that would prevent this problem. If you can get a women's/citizens' group together to address it, even better. It is not professional to engage in a back-and-forth with the harasser, it is absolutely professional to refuse to tolerate harassment in the workplace. Employers can be held liable for a hostile work environment caused by unaffiliated third parties.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:58 AM on July 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

So, maybe at work "Employee of the court! You are NOT helping yourself here."

Also -- ask one of the security men or women what you can do in that situation. In addition to telling you - they might look out for you.

On the street? In my neighborhood I've been close to saying "My husband's going to beat the shit out of you. He's no joke. Back the fuck off!" Probably not advisable. But my husband would come out of the house with a shovel if he overheard me.

I'm a feminist -- but sometimes you can only pull the leavers they'll recognize and respect.

When you mentioned the guy who beat on the doors after you got on the train, I thought "Good! People need to know how much shit we put up with!" I probably would've turned to the onlookers and said "can you believe this shit!!!"

By the way, I think I am now in love with schroedinger. Floss -- brilliant.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:03 AM on July 17, 2014

Retching noises.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:39 AM on July 17, 2014

I'm going to go with "ignore" in this situation. These jerks want your attention, so I tend to be aloof with them and imagine they are giant roaches. Then, I report them to an authority figure if the situation allows (similar to calling an exterminator for roaches). If this is happening with people who are meeting their parole officers, could you report it to the parole officer? It seems to me that harassment could be grounds for punishment for these jerks.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:31 PM on July 17, 2014

At work I think it's totally acceptable and professional to respond. Not like "getting into a drawn out argument" respond, but a single stock response you've prepared beforehand. Stop dead in your tracks, look them straight in the eye, say "that's NOT ok" or "your mom and your grandma would be SO ashamed of you," turn and keep walking.
posted by MsMolly at 6:21 PM on July 17, 2014

The only effective response I've made is to yell "nice manners!" but I am a terrible smartass and have typically been harassed in very public places, so I've felt safe doing this.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2014

Be honest, be polite.

Harasser: "Dayyummm girl, I sure would like to give you some! You can get some any day!"
You: "You are harassing me with that talk sir. Please stop." (Or:) "Are you serious? Do you want your sister/daughter/granddaughter/etc. to be talked to like that by men wherever they go? You are harassing an innocent person."

And then continue along your merry way, having called them out and stood up for yourself.
posted by tenlives at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2014

OK so my tactic is very different but for whatever reason it works for me. I've found that with 95% of harassers responding like I would to any casual acquaintance works. I just smile and say hello or how's your day going and keep walking. NOT a flirty smile just very very neutral like they had said something normal instead of harassing me. For some reason this seems to flick a switch in their brain that lets them realize I'm human and the vast majority of the time they de-escalate or get incredibly embarrassed. It's almost like most of them realize "oh, yeah, I probably should have just started with hello...that might have worked..." I still ignore the more violent ones.
It makes me feel braver and it has never put me in danger. It makes them look stupid in front of others but not in a way that enrages them. In addition I carry a pocket knife with me at all times and I train to defend myself. Carry whatever you feel comfortable using (there are many cheap defense objects for women that can blend in as a keychain or whatever) and when you work out work out with a purpose - learn self defense! It gives me more confidence and makes me feel less shitty when I ignore them because in a more macro sense I am taking steps to defend myself - I just choose not to escalate at that time.
posted by Skadi at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

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