How can I explain why street harassment is wrong?
October 30, 2014 4:59 PM   Subscribe

My friend does not understand what is wrong with street harassment and I am looking for some resources to direct him towards that may help enlighten him.

I'm not so up on this dimension of feminism. I'm also a man, and I feel like on this particular issue we are SO oblivious because there's simply no lived experience that we can relate to (for the most part).

My friend has commented beneath a post of mine. To save energy, I'll just reproduce it in full here:

I know this comment will no doubt blow up in my face, but I don't see anything wrong here. All I see is flirting. Just because she isn't interested doesn't inherently make it bad. No one is grabbing her or touching her. Yes the guy walking next to her for 5mins is creepy, but she could just say 'go away'. There's no rule that says you can't flirt with people in a public place and have to save it for clubs and bars. Just because they suck at flirting doesn't mean it's harassment. If a guy she thought was hot flirted with her in a way that she liked, all of a sudden it would become 'romantic' and 'spontaneous' rather than 'street harassment'. There's your double standards.

I am not going to try to explain this myself (because I don't feel qualified enough) or get sucked into a lengthy debate. What I would like, please, is some resource(s) I can direct him to - everything from academic literature to popular blogs - to do that job for me.

He's a thoughtful guy and a good friend, and (without seeming condescending) I feel as though this perhaps a bit of a blind spot for him. I'm not trying to convert him. I want him to make up his own mind. I would, however, like to give him every chance to see this issue the way I see it.

Thanks a lot :-)
posted by fishingforthewhale to Human Relations (39 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As recently asked for in MetaTalk, this amazing comment by decathecting (ignore the actual question) is a great analogy.
posted by brainmouse at 5:02 PM on October 30, 2014 [25 favorites]

Another analogy, from Reddit.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:07 PM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Where is he located? As someone who lives in a fairly small town, I could see where one might interpret some (but, sheesh, certainly not all!) of those uninvited conversations as friendly -- if (as where I live) going out in town is kind of like being at a casual, social party, where people mostly know each other, and others will strike up conversations with each other. But in a city, you can't have your privacy interrupted like that constantly. As the woman in the video explains here, she's intruded on so much that she can't think! So maybe that link will get the feeling across, if his issue is simply provincialism.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:14 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

To build on Brainmouse's comment, how does he feel about panhandlers? Does he stop and give all of them the time of day, and get a warm glow from how disinterestedly friendly all these beggars are to him? I'm guessing not.

(Again if he's in some tiny village maybe he hasn't experienced this, but where I live nobody needs "random people accosting you in the street is annoying" explaining).
posted by tinkletown at 5:16 PM on October 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

Is this on Facebook? Does he respond to Pokes? Every one? Does he have email notifications turned on for poke requests? Does he have phone notifications for them?

And yes, "panhandling for attention" is a valid metaphor, too, though without even the survival aspects of actual panhandling.
posted by rhizome at 5:18 PM on October 30, 2014

It sounds like your friend's logic is that women claim to not like this behavior, but then act as though they do when the man in question is attractive, and therefore any objection to this behavior is actually an expression of discrimination against men who aren't X enough (fill in the blank).

In other words, I think he is perfectly capable of understanding why getting hassled on the street kind of sucks. Where he is falling short is understanding why women are allowed to have preferences and to react differently in different scenarios. Moreover, women don't owe a debt of tolerance to every male stranger, and "withholding approval" of unwanted advances is not discriminating against men who fall short, it's exercising basic human autonomy.
posted by telegraph at 5:24 PM on October 30, 2014 [33 favorites]

I've actually linked several people to the FPP about that video, and just told them to read the comments. Assuming they were receptive the idea of it being an issue and had read or had explained to them something like decathecting's comment(which there were plenty of women around to explain to them, if this was a social media exchange) it usually end with a "hmm... let me read this for a while" and an eventual response even if it was just later clicking like on my comment or whatever.
posted by emptythought at 5:28 PM on October 30, 2014

Street harassment and flirting aren't the same thing, like, at all. If you can make your friend understand that catcalling isn't "failed flirting", it should be pretty easy to make him understand why it's shit behavior.

Anecdata and all, but to be honest I've never even noticed the attractiveness level of any dude who's ever catcalled me. It is seriously not even remotely about whether I like the guy or not. Approaching me in that way is an automatic run/cross the street/reach for the pepper spray for me.

I'll also say that the vast majority of street harassment I've experience is not flirty or complimentary at all, and often is downright aggressive, even featuring rape threats or demands for certain types of behavior.
posted by Sara C. at 5:32 PM on October 30, 2014 [16 favorites]

I know you asked for literature and blogs, and maybe that would be helpful, but honestly, I think it would be the best thing for this situation if you, as a man, told this friend why his view is wrong - and it would make you a hero in the eyes of your female friends watching the conversation.

People who believe things like this don't care about blogs and articles, because they just find some way to discount the views there, like "that's just another whiny feminist ignoring actual serious issues to complain about people just being friendly." But if you, a respected friend, say the same…. perhaps he might reflect on that.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:48 PM on October 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yes the guy walking next to her for 5mins is creepy, but she could just say 'go away'.

Ask him "what if the last time she said 'go away', the guy beat her up?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on October 30, 2014 [25 favorites]

Imagine if panhandlers were seven feet tall and muscular, able to start and win a fistfight with little physical risk to themselves. In other words -- what if panhandlers were physically larger than the average man in the same way the average man is physically larger than the average woman? In this situation your male friend would probably worry a lot about not angering panhandlers while also being more disgusted with them. As a guy for a long time I honestly didn't realize that not making other people angry was a safety concern for many people.

As others have said, it's a lot like panhandlers who say "have a good day, sir". They hate my guts for looking like part of "the system keeping them down" but pretend to be nice because they want my money.

Continuing the panhandler analogy, I wouldn't mind if someone with at least as much earning power as me offered me a business deal, but the odds of that happening randomly on the sidewalk are tiny. There are better channels for that. If you're hiring for a job, you post an ad or work your contacts. You don't ask every successful-looking passerby if they want to work for you. Panhandlers obviously just want my time and money and have nothing to offer me, not even the satisfaction of meaningfully helping them. If a panhandler asked for help finding mental health care or education so they could stop panhandling, I would take them seriously. Asking for "spare change" is just abusing the First Amendment and wasting everyone's time. It seems the same with street harassment -- the guys trying to get her attention are obviously less desirable than her. A quality guy would find a "meet cute" moment or more likely would be too busy dating people he met through his existing social circle to notice a random jogger.
posted by sninctown at 6:01 PM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Flirting happens in conversations. Street harassment is not up to the level of conversation, it's in "stranger danger" territory. Strangers are an unknown, and the unknown (especially for a woman) can be dangerous. We don't know how strangers will react, so saying "no thanks" is a risky move. Saying "no thanks" to a friend of a friend who is unwanted ly flirting at a party is a much less risky move because friends are around both of you and theoretically would be protective.

Also, street harassment is generally vulgar and rude. I'm waking down the street minding my own business and some guy yells "hey sugar" at me. I don't feel like I'm getting a compliment. I feel like my personal space is getting invaded and I can't do anything about it. When I'm at a party (and single) and some cute guy wants to talk - well, my personal barriers are already down because of the social setting.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:07 PM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Have he ever been to an airport/train station/touristry place in a foreign country and gotten hassled by all the people hawking souvenirs and unlicensed cab drivers running after you?

It's sort of like that. Except with a heightened element of fear because 1 out of 100 or 1000 of these guys trying to get you into the cab without a meter is going to flip his shit if you ignore him and walk on. And he's a lot bigger than you and this one time you had to run away from a cab driver who chased after you in his car yelling obscenities at you.

I think for me it's the worse when I've had a really bad day and maybe I have no food in the house so I have to go out and get something and the last thing I want to do is smile politely at some guy who is "just paying me a compliment," but I know I have to because acquiescence is in fact the overwhelmingly easiest way to end the encounter quickly and without incident. And I hate it because as a feminist I want to tell him to go away and leave me alone and no I'm not going to smile, but as a woman alone on the street and as an introvert who finds interacting with strangers already exhausting as it is, I just want the easiest way out. And the easiest way out is smiling politely and/or quickly answering his question, thanking him for the compliment, whatever.

On a larger scale, it is the just constant reminder that as a woman, at the end of the day your value lies primarily in your appearance. And there is nothing complimentary about being entirely reduced to your physical attributes by total strangers. That constant message slowly eats at you.

Approaching a women in a relatively safe public space that has been widely agreed to be an acceptable space to approach strangers, i.e. a bar, is night and day from the street. I choose whether I go into a bar. I can't choose not to walk on the street. I have to walk on the street to get to work. To get some coffee. To get home. If I don't feel like being hit on tonight, I just don't go to the bar. Also, if I'm in the bar and I decide I've had enough of random men approaching me for the night, I can just leave the bar. You can opt out of the bar scene, you can't opt out the street if you live in a city. I don't at all resent any guy, even if I don't find him attractive in the slightest, respectfully approaching me in a bar and engaging me in polite chit chat.

Also, swear to god, more random men approach me on the street when I'm alone, tired and cranky than ever do when I'm out at a bar with a couple of my friends trying to meet guys. Because I think at it's core, street harassment has absolutely nothing to do with flirting or dating or anything, but is about a certain kind of man needing to exert his dominance over women.
posted by whoaali at 6:10 PM on October 30, 2014 [41 favorites]

Because women have the right to choose when and where they receive romantic and sexual attention from men.

Because women have the right to go about their business without being interrupted by yet another man thinking he has any rights to her body or time.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:15 PM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Because commenting on other people's appearance is incredibly rude? Can he at least understand that?
posted by fshgrl at 6:16 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ask him to explain, if these examples are not, in his view "harassment," what he thinks the definition of harassment is and to give some examples of what would constitute harassment in the context of that video.

Then ask him to explain, in as great of detail as possible, what the meaningful differences are between these examples and his definition of harassment.

For example, in his opinion, is something only "harassment" if the harassor touches the harassee without consent? If so, ask him to explain to you the difference between his definition of harassment and the actual legal definition of battery, which is (in most jurisdictions) any intentional offensive touching without consent.

Then ask him if he is actually saying that "battery" and "harassment" mean exactly the same thing. Then ask him what the difference is.

If he concedes that there need not be an unwanted touching for something to constitute "harassment," but insists that "harassment" occurs only where there is a threat of bodily harm and an apparent, present ability to cause the harm, then remind him that that is the legal definition of "assault" in most jurisdictions and go through the above exercise with that. Does he really believe that assault (both a crime and a tort) is exactly the same thing as harassment?

The best way to get someone to re-think their position on something is to ask them to explain it in excruciating detail and then listen very respectfully.
posted by The World Famous at 6:20 PM on October 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Other people are addressing other aspects of this better than I can but this part pisses me off:

she could just say 'go away'

Ask your friend if he seriously thinks this would work. Does he honestly think telling some creeper who will silently follow a random woman for five minutes if saying "go away" will work?? Geez, why didn't all the women who have been ever assaulted ever in the entire world think of this? "Go away, please Mr. Lunatic Rapist with a knife." Seriously? Your friend has a blind spot because his head is up his ass.

Say she is walking to work, or more importantly, walking home. She can't take her normal route that takes her down quiet streets. She needs to stay where other people are. Now she reaches her work or her home. She can't go in because then he'll know where she works or lives. This person has proven he doesn't give a shit about her preferences so who knows where he will draw the line. Will he leave and never come back? Will he wait outside and follow her around all the time? Will he break in and assault her? Who knows?

And that's my main issue with street harassment. I don't know when things are innocent and I don't know when things will get ugly or violent or even lethal. For my own safety, I have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

There is a certain personality type that thinks they are entitled to chat a woman up and that she is supposed to stop whatever she is doing and give him a fair shake. And if she doesn't share this thinking, there is something wrong with her.

One guy says "[Why you don't want to talk to me] Is it because I'm ugly?" No. It's because I don't fucking know you. Or because I'm walking home thinking about other things. Or walking to a job interview. Or just lost family member. Or just got told I have cancer. But mostly it's because I don't fucking want to. But I just have to walk along and take all of this in all the time wondering if things are about to go south.

Ask your friend what he thinks that guy would have done if she'd turned to him and said "Yeah, you are ugly. Go away." What would happen if his buddies would hear her say that? Does your friend honestly think that guy would just walk away? The point is she has no way of knowing and has to assume things will get violent. Not because they often get violent. But because they have ever gotten violent.

Women have been assaulted and will continue to be assaulted. It's my best plan to assume that it can happen to me and be prepared for it.
posted by Beti at 6:23 PM on October 30, 2014 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Vox: Yes, unsolicited compliments are street harassment (hat-tip to phearlez).

The now-classic Schrödinger's Rapist: or a guy's guide to approaching strange women without being maced. You should include the full title, because I suspect someone taking your friend's position is gonna balk at the word "rapist" and refuse to read the article, but I think the full title makes it clear that there's more going on in this essay. If you've never read it yourself, it's not so much directly about street harassment, but makes it very clear (in a kind and humorous way) that ordinary average women out in public find it necessary to view the world through an entirely different lens than men do.

The Everyday Sexism Project

Can I Buy You a Coffee?

On Men Who Think Street Harassment Would Be Awesome

No, I Will Not "Deal" With Street Harassment

Why You Shouldn't Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She's Hot

For many of these he should ignore the Standard Internet Rule of, "Don't Read the Comments." He should read the comments, because 1) hopefully it will be made obvious to him that everything he's saying has already been raised and debunked many times before, often in these comment sections; and 2) the sheer overwhelming number of women posting some version of, "HOLY FUCK, YES YOU ARE EXACTLY RIGHT HARASSMENT HAPPENS TO ME ALL THE TIME JUST LIKE THIS AND THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT" should make him step back and consider that his perspective is skewed, that it does not match up with how many many many many women experience their lives.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:35 PM on October 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

This might be a little too cerebral and maybe not exactly on-point but Julian Sanchez has an article up: Harrassment, Racism, & “Harmless Torturers”
posted by mhum at 6:36 PM on October 30, 2014

I have forgotten who and where, but someone else posted an excellent analogy similar to this: You are sitting at home and the phone rings. You answer it and the person catcalls you. You hang up. Another person calls and does the same thing. And another. And another. All freakin' day long.

Each person doesn't understand what the big deal is: "I only called once!"

But it is the collective impact these calls have over time on an individual that many people don't think of.

Scientific research is showing that the strain from catcalling can lead to PTSD because the mind and body are always in defense mode. It's EXHAUSTING.
posted by harrietthespy at 6:36 PM on October 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

It might not be that effective to compare it to something else. For instance, homeless people might seem very sympathetic, and unlicensed cabs could seem like a boring regulatory issue that's primarily of interest to government agencies and economists.

I agree with another commenter who said the most effective thing, rather than collecting a bunch of links to feminist blog post, might be to talk to him man-to-man. (Nothing against blog-post links, but that kind of thing is likely to go unread.)

If I were explaining it to someone, I'd skip all the creative analogies and just give a real-life example. A few years ago, I was walking down the street of a big, unfamiliar city at night with my girlfriend-at-the-time, when a few men standing nearby called out: "nice [body part]." I don't even feel able to write it on the internet because I'm still disturbed by the incident, but you can use your imagination. In no way was it just innocent but awkward flirting. In no way was it appropriate. She obviously, immediately felt uncomfortable and icky. It put a damper on what would have otherwise been a pleasant walk around town. That's something that directly affected me as a man: my experience with my girlfriend was less enjoyable than it would have been if those folks had been decent human beings. If this kind of thing is irritating even for a man who isn't being directly subjected to it, then it goes without saying that women have a right to complain about it.

To tell her that she shouldn't be bothered by this would be simply oblivious. It can't seriously be likened to complimenting a friend for looking nice in that new sweater or jewelry or whatever. Well, isn't it unfair of her to not be especially attracted to and interested in them?! Only in the sense that we're all unfair by choosing who we want to have as friends and partners. If you don't know me and you start following me around for no apparent reason, guess what — I'm going to be creeped out by you! Deal with it. I don't have to explain why I have no problem with an actual friend walking by my side, yet I didn't instantly want to be friends with you when you showed up out of nowhere. Anyone who's having trouble with that distinction seems to be missing something fundamental about socializing.

And to top that all off, when this kind of behavior is explicitly, systematically directed at women's bodies (or body parts), it sends an unmistakable message that women — random women walking around in society — exist for the pleasure of men, rather than being people in their own right. You don't need to subscribe to some radical critique of "objectification" — you can still think objectification is OK if it's in a movie or in porn or a strip club or a burlesque show. Those are situations where the people being objectified have chosen to serve that role in exchange for compensation. I think reasonable people can disagree about how much of a problem that is. But I don't think there should be any disagreement about the fact that anyone, regardless of who they are, should be able to walk out the door and walk around outside with a reasonable amount of peace.

And that's all based on my plain, first-hand observation as a man. I didn't need to read any feminist blogs or articles to understand it — it isn't that hard to understand.
posted by John Cohen at 6:39 PM on October 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

Because it's not flirting. It's just not. It's a man telling a woman what to do, and a man telling a woman that her only fucking purpose on this earth is to look pretty and do what he wants her to do. Thirteen years ago, in the middle of a weekday, I was walking 6 blocks home from work to my apartment as fast as I could. A man old enough to be my father told me to smile as I passed and then said that it couldn't be THAT bad. I turned toward him and screamed MY GRANDFATHER JUST DIED. He immediately averted his eyes and walked away.

So there's a reason for your friend. How fucking dare you assume that you know better than the person you are harassing? How fucking dare you think that your needs and wants are more important than those of the stranger you are demanding please you? And even if my grandpa hadn't just died and I was merely walking down the street because I felt like it, how fucking dare you assume that I exist merely for your amusement.

Street harassment is a pervasive, disgusting thing. I wish any man that tried to explain it or excuse it could be forced to feel what women feel when they're subjected to it. It is a horrible, degrading, defenseless feeling that most men could never understand.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:42 PM on October 30, 2014 [29 favorites]

Maybe he'd like to hear it from another dude? Someone recently brought my attention to this video representing one guy's take. (Tagline: "It's okay to find people sexy, but it's not okay to act like that's the reason they exist").
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:58 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Question for your friend: The woman in the video is clearly walking at a good clip. She's facing straight ahead and appears to be on her way to go do something. How is that an invitation for "flirting"? She's not standing relaxed in a social place like a coffeeshop, looking for people to talk to. Why do these men think it's OK to interrupt a complete stranger? Does your friend think that she will literally put her business on hold to go and chat with them? If not, then what's the purpose of "flirting" with her?
posted by cadge at 7:38 PM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

This Robot Hugs comic is awesome.

Thank you taking on this project.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:43 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

As a woman, it makes me feel threatened that I am just walking down the street, going about my day and random men think I am an object on display that they can just yell at. I am obviously walking somewhere, probably to work -- why do they think they can yell at things at me? I doubt they think I will stop what I am doing and say "Hey, here's my phone number." Instead it's a sense of entitlement and objectification -- I am there to look at for their enjoyment -- and I'm not even a person -- they can just bark things at me. Even if you want to believe it's flirting, isn't it a bit rude to just call something at at a stranger who isn't talking to you? The women in these cases almost never invite it in any way.

I wonder how men would like to feel like this: you are being watched and followed everywhere you walk by strange men that you wish would just leave you alone?

In case anyone is wondering, the comment OP is talking about what a response this this video that has been going viral.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:03 PM on October 30, 2014

Look, the first issue he needs to address is that women aren't a monolith. There are women who write to serial killers on Death Row and beg them for sex or marriage. That doesn't mean all or most or many women are just yearning to be Mrs. Bundy. Likewise, as a rule, generally women really don't consider it romantic and spontaneous when a total stranger, no matter how hot, interrupts them on the street to tell them they have a sweet rack. For the vast majority of women, it isn't flirting. It's just another tiresome hassle. Despite what the PUA guys claim, many or even most women will perceive a guy as markedly less hot if he pesters them. Context matters a lot, and the street is not a context for 'flirting' with total strangers.
posted by gingerest at 8:17 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's not about the words. It's about power. You know that there's a power imbalance because guys don't do it to each other. It's not really flirting because odds are that most of those people don't actually want to go out with the girl. They just want to comment. It's objectifying - they literally see her as a thing that should respond a certain way to their remarks. They don't care about her as a person. I haven't watched the video but I've heard a lot of guys who feel the need to tell me to smile when I walk by them. They don't care if I am having the worst day of my life, if my mom died or I lost my job. I"m just supposed to smile because they told me to and also, I should say thank you for paying attention to me, because in the absence of their attention, I could just be having a nice walk thinking to myself about whatever I want.

I've had positive experiences in some of these situations by talking about how feminism hurts women and men. In this case, when women hear weirdos comments on their bodies all the time, it's hard to take someone seriously when they're actually being genuine. It makes me shut down and try to stop listening to people around me or want to walk around with headphones - then I can't hear jerks or non-jerks. If you like seeing me in a cute dress, you should actually not comment on it constantly because that makes me self-conscious and less likely to wear it.
posted by kat518 at 8:26 PM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

This metaphor is highly problematic, but maybe it will help.

Tell him to imagine he has to wear a clown suit every single day. Fright wig, floppy shoes, red ball on his nose. The works. And every day, he has to deal with people's comments about the clown suit, positive or negative. Maybe sometimes people are delighted to see him, maybe sometimes they threaten him for being different, but he is going to hear what people think about that damn clown suit, whether he wants to or not.

If he can imagine that far, ask him to now imagine that this clown suit won't come off. It's not a suit. It's him. He has naturally frightful hair and floppy feet and a red, bulbous nose. Everybody who sees him thinks he's dressed as a clown and treats him like that, even though he isn't.

Comparing womanhood to clownhood is, as I said, highly problematic. But maybe it will help him see what it's like to stand out, and stand out in a way that strangers feel entitled to comment on. If he can imagine attracting a lot of attention in a way that he can't switch off, and knowing that attention could occasionally turn dangerous, maybe that'll make a difference.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:38 PM on October 30, 2014

I just posted this on the FPP, but it's more applicable here:

Next time someone says women aren't victims of harassment, show them this.
posted by donajo at 10:45 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to come up with a male equivalent where a guy might feel like a woman does. Let's say he was in prison and the guys huger than he was were catcalling him as he walks to his cell, or during rec time, or to the dining hall. Let's say these guys are at least a head taller than him, huge muscles, scary tattoos--basically, they could beat up your friend with a pinky finger. Your friend won't know if they want to fuck him, kill him, or both, but no matter what, if they really want to take action against him there ain't gonna be shit he can do to stop it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:54 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's a possible technique that might work if there's merely some psychological hang-up going on, not deeper-rooted misogyny:

Some of the times reasonable men get unreasonable when women call out some male behavior they don't like, it's because those guys are projecting themselves into the situation, imagining reasons why they might do the same thing, and -- since they aren't jerks themselves -- interpreting the call-out as impugning their own (innocent) motivations, the motivations they think they could have for doing those things they'd never actually do. You'd expect they should sympathize with their friend, a woman suffering this treatment, but instead they invent an empathy with the boorish man in the story. If that's what's happening here, this might help:

There's a thread on Reddit's AskWomen forum, "Was there ever a time you were approached cold on the street by a man and it WASN'T creepy?", which works as a nice inoculation to that tendency. The women therein talk about good experiences they had with unsolicited male conversations on the street, and contrast those to catcalls, harassment, and creepiness. Unless your friend really is a catcalling weasel, chances are he would imagine himself to be the polite fellows in their stories, decent un-creepy guys who still manage to express interest in a situation where it's not an intrusion. It disables the wounded ego in his initial response by giving it somewhere else to go.

All this is assuming that he really isn't a harasser or asshole, not a guy who would ever "cold approach" a woman in the street, full stop -- you wouldn't even have brought it up if you knew he was, and you're really kind of baffled and annoyed that he of all people is taking this combative tack. If it really is just a psychological obstacle, then examples that contrast good approaches against catcalling can make it easier for him to give you saner responses.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:19 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another relevant comic
posted by cadge at 11:49 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to come up with a male equivalent where a guy might feel like a woman does.

Yeah, I hate to appeal to the innate sense of homophobia that most of these clueless assholes seem to have but this may be your best bet at getting him to even somewhere close to the realm of basic human understanding.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:28 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it were a man walking down the street and someone called out to him, "Looking rich buddy. Love your new kicks! Those Jordans? Niiiiiiccee. Got a good job? Looks like you've got a good job."

See how while it appears that the caller is praising and appreciating you, it's kind of a threat? How do you feel about having your stuff called out for others to have attention paid to it?

THAT'S why catcalling is unacceptable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe this SNL sketch, "Male Sexuall Harrasment", from 19-fucking-75 will help. 1975. I remember when this first aired 40 years ago. Enough.

He might also relate to the trope about the Average Guy who gets harassed by gangs or groups of neighborhood youths and lives in fear until he finally blows up. "But they're just kids!" "They're just trying to look tough in front of their friends!" "They're not actually touching him!" "A grown man afraid of 7th-graders? Pussy!" "Just ignore them!"
posted by Room 641-A at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

On "grey areas":

Two weeks ago, I was walking up the ramp at the train station near my university. This guy walking behind me speeds up so that he is next to me and says, "Hey, I like your style". I turn my head maybe 20 degrees and look at him out of the corner of my eye. He's around my age, probably younger, just a normal looking guy. Probably another student who was just on the same bus. I say nothing because I am exhausted, I'm not in the mood to talk to strangers. "Yeah, all black. Very cool", he continues. I mumble a "thanks".

I'm looking straight ahead but keeping an eye on him out of my peripheral vision, so that I know where he is. What I really want to do is tell him that I'm not interested, but how do I do this without escalating the situation? He hasn't said anything invasive or inappropriate. He hasn't made any move to touch me. But he is in my personal space and he's staying there. My heart's beating faster, I'm finding it hard to breathe properly. I'm on alert because I am so used to similar situations. Yet, I don't feel like I can ask him to leave me alone, because he hasn't broken any very obvious boundaries yet, and asking him to go away might just make it worse. Have you ever had a person go from "complimenting" you to calling you a slut, bitch or whore in two seconds flat?

We're getting to the top of the ramp and he's still next to me. He sighs. "I have a really heavy backpack today," he says. "Because I have to go all the way out to [insert outer suburb]. Where are you going? Where do you live?" And this is the point where I finally feel like it is appropriate to end this. I say, "I don't want to talk to you". And I speed up, go to the wrong platform and hide in a nook, hoping that he won't follow me, because who knows what could happen next?

This doesn't follow the usual street harassment narrative, but that doesn't make it okay.

Your friend might tell me that I should have engaged with the guy. But why do I owe some stranger that? If some random guy came up and started talking to him, and felt like it was appropriate to ask him where he lived, would he keep talking to him?
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

To add something to the mix. I had a push notification on my phone for a documentary on street harassment called War Zone and I immediately thought of this thread and the one on the blue. The female documentarian turns the camera on men on the street who were harassing her to ask them why they thought it was ok to do that to her. You can watch it online here for free.
posted by redindiaink at 8:48 AM on November 15, 2014

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