How Can I Change Harassment to Community Building?
November 3, 2015 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Over the past month I’ve had what is essentially elaborate, well-intentioned street harassment situations that I can’t quite figure out how to respond to.

I am a well-dressed middle-aged (late middle aged?) white woman. I try to keep myself put together when I am in public and keep up on trends.
These experiences happened in the Upper Midwest of the US, where the majority white culture is mostly of the don’t talk to strangers variety.

A few weeks ago I was going to court to support a friend. I was dressed for court, certainly nothing revealing or even interesting. I think it was all black, in fact. As I was in the elevator, another man got on with me for the long ride down to the lobby. We were alone in the elevator. My impression of him was that he was a great person, someone I would like a lot if I met him at a party. He was about 10 years older than me, worked in the courthouse, with lots of energy and maybe Cuban. As soon as he got on the elevator with me he spent the entire (long) ride telling me how beautiful I looked, he guessed that I was a judge or attorney, and how just seeing me had made his day. I was not afraid, or uncomfortable, and his compliments were well-intended and kind. But, I feel like the root of this kind of behavior is in street harassment, of commenting on a strange woman’s appearance rather than talking to her about any other topic.

A few days later I am at a grocery store in a pretty poor neighborhood. A black man 10 or so years younger than me came up to me and went straight to – you are beautiful – are you single? – in a very kind way. This was not typical street harassment either, but more of the way you would pick someone up very kindly in a bar. But again, rooted in approaching a strange woman about her appearance.

And then the following week I was at the big carwash on a chaotic busy day and the first man to greet me while I was still in my car was a white man in his 20s who started the conversation with “My day just got a lot brighter now that you’re here.” UGH.

All three of these men were kind, polite, and trying to give me a compliment. I don’t need constant compliments from strangers. None of them made me feel fearful or even uncomfortable like the street harassment that I have no problem verbally objecting to.

These are all well-meaning men of three races, different generations and middle to low incomes that had no idea that what they were doing is reinforcing gender roles and treats me like an object and not a human. They were trying to be nice. I absolutely support and appreciate talking to strangers, I think it makes our world richer and community stronger. I would like to continue to talk to kind, strange men, but how can I simply explain to these men, in a gracious, well-dressed white lady way, that what they are doing is a part of a problem in our society? I don’t want these men to stop taking to middle aged well-dressed white ladies either, I want all citizens to be comfortable talking to all other citizens. I want to kindly educate them but these quick interactions don’t seem to have enough time for me to start with suffrage and end with Hollaback.

I would like to communicate that I appreciate a stranger reaching out to another human, but I want them to see that it’s not appropriate to start conversations with strange women about their appearance. I don’t want to make them feel bad about what was intended to be a kind interaction, and I don’t want them to hesitate to talk to strangers appropriately in the future. And this message needs to be communicated in a few lines in a few seconds. The history of feminism and my identity as a human first, I am more than my hosiery!
posted by littlewater to Human Relations (34 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think a lot of the answer you are looking for could be cobbled out of your own well-spoken words. For example, you could really politely respond to any of your three examples with something along the lines of:

"Thanks, your comments are flattering, but at the same time I don't feel it is entirely appropriate to start conversations with strange women about their appearance. I understand that you meant no harm, yet I feel that your approach reinforces gender roles and treats me like an object and not a human. It makes me uncomfortable, which I'm sure wasn't what you were intending?"

You might start an interesting conversation if these men really are the kind, polite men you envision them to be. You might also find that some of them are not - for which I offer an apology on behalf of my gender.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

My response to this sort of thing from a coastal elite perspective is to ignore. A comment couched as a generous compliment rather than crass or harassing behavior is incrementally less terrible, but it's still not how we initiate conversations with strangers in polite society. So you ignore and disengage.

I've tried engaging people like this (or really any well meaning dude who does something shitty towards women veiled in "kindness"), and it doesn't really work. They think they are being nice because they think women are only decorative and set all our self-worth in being decorative. Teachable moments are not going to penetrate such a deeply set worldview.

If they were doing normal "stranger reaching out to another human" like saying hi or making gender neutral small talk ("great weather we're having", "how 'bout that World Series game?", "Big Halloween plans?" etc), that would be one thing, but they're leading with inappropriate behavior that shouldn't be rewarded. Reframing inappropriate behavior as appropriate just because, like, you've been trained to appease male feelings or whatever, is not a great plan.

At best, I would redirect to more appropriate non-sexual small talk. But even then... why? Do you lack for friends or social interaction or something?
posted by Sara C. at 10:57 AM on November 3, 2015 [25 favorites]

In my experience, you can't. Responding with anything short of flirty, placating banter and their "well-meaning" "compliments" will, 9 times out of 10, dissolve into misogynistic vitriol. In my experience, men who make these comments will only listen to other men.

The best approach is an eye roll and ignore. If enough women do that, maybe these "well-meaning" men will stop invading our time and space.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:59 AM on November 3, 2015 [16 favorites]

I think you could try allkindsoftime's approach, which is indeed nicely phrased. I suspect you will quickly find that hostility often lies directly beneath that veneer of politeness, which may make you more comfortable with a less polite response over time. But it's probably worth the learning experience, and it's always possible that I'm wrong in my assumptions, anyway.
posted by jaguar at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I want to urge you to be very careful about the situations in which you might engage people in these kinds of "community building" conversations. Some men, when confronted with the idea that their behavior is based in an inherently misogynist and objectifying worldview, become defensive, aggressive, and violent. Your own safety could be at risk. Proceed with extreme caution!
posted by jesourie at 11:03 AM on November 3, 2015 [15 favorites]

It's hard to do follow up to see if your reaction has long term effects, but what I do at least makes me feel like I'm making an effort at letting people know that their behavior isn't 100% okay.

If I'm in a situation I feel comfortable engaging I ask them why they are telling me this. I tend to do this with men I have to interact with and I can say that it stops repeat behavior without damaging a working relationship. After they answer I ask follow up questions about why they feel the need to tell me this, what they are hoping to get out of it, and how it might make me feel. This seems to at least encourage some self reflection.

If it's not a situation I feel safe engaging in conversation I just act like their behavior is incredibly strange. I have no trouble giving people a "WTF is wrong with you?" look before snorting and checking my phone for messages. If they persist I then loudly tell them I am ON MY PHONE and ignore.
posted by lepus at 11:05 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

You're basically asking if there's any way you can impose the kind of conversation you want to have on these strangers, and the answer is very likely not. Your conversational goals are very different from each other and no amount of rhetorical jiu-jitsu is going to make a difference.

I would say the best you could do is follow dog training advice. Reward good behavior, and don't respond at all to bad behavior.
posted by danny the boy at 11:07 AM on November 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

Yeah my feeling is that 9 times out of 10 the politeness is gonna fall away real fast if you don't give these guys a verbal cookie for saying something superficially nice to you.

The best way to plant seeds that this is not a great way to initiate conversations with women you don't know is to talk about it to guys you do know -- younger relatives, coworkers, friends, whatever. When the guy at the grocery store walks away, shake your head and tell the cashier gosh he seemed nice but it makes me uncomfortable when strange men start talking to me about my apperance, etc. That kind of thing.

I mean, if you really want to school the specific guys who are approaching you that this isn't cool, then allkindsoftime pretty much has it: tell them the same way you explained it here. Just be prepared for it not to go well.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

There is a correct forum for education and community building. You can have the conversation in a nonspecific way with a male friend, or five male friends, for instance, to raise their consciousness. The wrong forum is in a 1:1 scenario where you're the target of unwanted behavior. You're right, there isn't any time to educate them in that setting, beginning at Suffrage and ending at Hollaback. Also, the response to a person who does this can be violent. You can find funny examples of Tinder conversations where this happens online. "Hey babe you have beautiful eyes, do you want to go out." "Thanks, I can't make it." "What do you mean thanks, what are you arrogant? You're ugly anyway. You [bleep] [bleep] [bleep]." The 1:1 setting isn't right for two reasons: it's not enough time to educate, and it puts you at risk.

So if it's in public, ignore completely as much as possible while keeping yourself safe. If it's in an elevator, just say, "Thank you," as politely as possible and ignore, also for your safety.

If you want to raise consciousness, it's best to do so in a nonspecific way with a friend or otherwise in your community.
posted by omg_parrots at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with those above that trying to use this as an educational moment is probably difficult. When I get faced with this type of situation, I first assess whether I am up for a confrontation or for my own mental health just need to get out of the situation (in which case I will do the weak smile and get the hell out of there as soon as possible). If I do decide I'm up for a potential confrontation, I will sometimes say something along the lines of a pointed "Excuse me??" with a sort of evil eye, people usually get the message but sometimes gets a more hostile reaction.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:14 AM on November 3, 2015

These are all well-meaning men of three races, different generations and middle to low incomes that had no idea that what they were doing is reinforcing gender roles and treats me like an object and not a human. They were trying to be nice.

I understand the impulse to want to trust these men truly had no idea what they were doing, but I believe that assumption is much too generous. Men who approach random women like this, whether they seem nice or not, don't care at all about gender or harassment or the way those things can limit women's movement in the world; they only care about the bump of whatever (ego? adrenaline?) they get after wresting your time from you in order to unilaterally unload their attraction onto you. They also know that women are frequently socialized to be demure and polite even when we're desperately uncomfortable, which is why they can do things like harass us on the street (or in a gorram ELEVATOR, ugh) without fearing that we're going to sock them in the jaw or mace them. So again, I totally get wanting to think guys who pull this stuff are just trying to be nice to strangers, but the fact that they only ever pull it on women shows they really aren't.

I would like to communicate that I appreciate a stranger reaching out to another human, but I want them to see that it's not appropriate to start conversations with strange women about their appearance. I don't want to make them feel bad about what was intended to be a kind interaction, and I don't want them to hesitate to talk to strangers appropriately in the future. And this message needs to be communicated in a few lines in a few seconds.

Benevolent sexism is still sexism, and gratuitous, uninvited comments about your body are still very much rooted in the idea that women are decorative objects rather than regular old human beings simply trying to go about our lives in peace. This observation tends to be met with a chorus of dudes moaning, "so you're saying I can never talk to anyone I don't already know ever again?!" but it's important to note that men very, very rarely (if ever) make comments like "My day just got a lot brighter now that you're here" to strangers who are men. And when you look at it that way, it becomes just another point on a continuum that habitually constricts women's ability to exist in public places while remaining free from running commentary.

So my recommended response in the front-facing benevolent street harassment situations isn't all that different from my recommended response in the front-facing hostile street harassment situations, because I don't think the behaviors are all that different in the first place: ignore, evil eye, or a furrowed brow, firm shake of the head, and "No" in a very firm voice. You don't have to wait until you feel fearful or threatened to let someone know that they're behaving inappropriately; besides, a stunning number of men will have no problem escalating if they don't feel your response was gracious enough anyway. And you don't have to waste your time trying to explain patriarchy to randos, you can just bail.

To that end, you might find Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's Stop Telling Women To Smile project empowering and useful.
posted by divined by radio at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2015 [40 favorites]

You may get some ideas (or at least satisfaction) from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's art project Stop Telling Women to Smile.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:26 AM on November 3, 2015

Yeah my feeling is that 9 times out of 10 the politeness is gonna fall away real fast if you don't give these guys a verbal cookie for saying something superficially nice to you.

This has also been my experience. The "niceness" of many of these interactions is a veneer of plausible deniability over their perception of me as a body up for public comment and consumption.

That being said, sometimes it is extremely satisfying to strip off this sad attempt at covering their tracks by calling them out on it. It doesn't have to be especially loud or especially vehement, but sometimes just a, "Excuse me, I prefer not to have my appearance commented on by strangers," is enough to take all that civility away and see what lies underneath. It's weirdly satisfying-- like ripping off a scab or squeezing a zit, somehow. It might be because if they're really really nice about their inappropriateness, it's hard to overcome the cultural conditioning of giving them the benefit of a doubt. But if you call them out on it and all that nastiness bubbles up to the surface (I bet 8 times out of 10 you're a "bitch" within the very next three sentences), it's validating, 'cause it's like, "Oh, right, I was right to be wary." The people who do deserve the benefit of the doubt will listen to you and apologize and no harm done.

So I don't think you can turn this into community-building. You might be able to make yourself feel better by calling it out, though, and you can also unmask the interaction to bystanders (if there are any), by provoking a reaction through an "I see what you're doing here" move. None of that addresses the safety or comfort of doing so, which of course are calls you have to make for yourself. But if you think it's valuable to confirm to yourself that you were right to be angry, that is totally an option.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:29 AM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would like to communicate that I appreciate a stranger reaching out to another human, but I want them to see that it’s not appropriate to start conversations with strange women about their appearance. I don’t want to make them feel bad about what was intended to be a kind interaction, and I don’t want them to hesitate to talk to strangers appropriately in the future.

As others are pointing out, this isn't "a stranger reaching out to another human" that's "intended to be a kind interaction". It's the first step in a man conquering a sexual object. Even if they don't think of it in exactly those terms, that's what it is, because that's the culture we live in today. If you confront every man who does this to you, you will be physically assaulted at some point, no matter how gently or intellectually or carefully you craft such a confrontation.
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

There is a way to tell these men in a sassy, flirty way that their comments are unnecessary/inappropriate. I grew up in this environment and I've said, "You wouldn't be saying that just because I'm a woman, now would you?"

If you don't want to be sassy/flirty, your options are limited! But most of the time in these situations I think it's OK to respond with the sort of rom-com, gentle version of "hmmm, so you noticed I'm female, eh?"

Just an option. I use it when I'm in a mood where I don't want to be confrontational but I also don't have the energy to pretend to feel flattered. I do it in a nice, bantering way.
posted by easter queen at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

"I'm a stranger, and that is inappropriate and unwelcome."

Don't soft peddle it, do not apologise, do not thank them, do not worry about their feelings.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:41 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I don't feel threatened, my standard response is to pull my mouth into a straight line (like a smile, but firm and not smiling), and give a firm, small nod.

The weak smile says, "ugh" and the small firm nod says "I acknowledge you." No verbal response. Move away as soon as able.

If they persist, say "I'm sorry - taken." You don't owe them any more than that.

I also always wear a cloche hat outside, so I use that to get my eyes out of their vision, and their eyes out of my vision. GAME CHANGER.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:42 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also always wear a cloche hat outside, so I use that to get my eyes out of their vision, and their eyes out of my vision. - Dressed to Kill

Eponysterical. Also, I am sad that you have to actually arm yourself with an article of clothing just to go outside. Although I'm sure you look rad as fuck.

These are all well-meaning men of three races, different generations and middle to low incomes that had no idea that what they were doing is reinforcing gender roles and treats me like an object and not a human. Stop telling yourself this. They totally DO have an idea of what they're doing. They're treating you like a sexual, decorative object who exists for their delight. Would they compliment a man on his suit and tell him their day just got a little bit brighter because of him? No, they wouldn't. An eyeroll and ignore is totally appropriate.
posted by the webmistress at 12:02 PM on November 3, 2015 [24 favorites]

When the crocodile shows his teeth, he isn't smiling. These men are seeking to intimidate you.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:14 PM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

I appreciate a stranger reaching out to another human

Nth-ing the view that this is precisely what they're not doing. They would doubtless insist that they are (some of them might even believe it) and you can of course engage with and challenge them on that basis if you choose, but you don't need to accept their bad faith in order to respond appropriately. The problem is that most men who do this will see any engagement as a reward - they'll either read it as appeasement or confrontation, and either tends to perpetuate the harassment.
posted by howfar at 12:20 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

You know, I'm half inclined to ask a mod to remove my answer above, but it probably serves me best that it stays, and instead I offer an apology for trying to answer your question, given that A) I'm a dude, and B) I've never experienced what all of these very bright not-dudes have had the misfortune of experiencing.

So, OP and esteemed fellow answer-ers: please forgive my foot-in-mouth in my first answer. It was of good intentions but poorly informed. If anything, I've learned from your chorus of responses here, so - thank you.

Sometimes the right answer to the question isn't an answer to the question exactly, and this seems one of those times.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:03 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I mean, being alone in an elevator with someone is the very definition of being trapped.

My take is this: great that you want to "build community." But why in this way? Why is it your job to educate these men - who know what they're doing - that they shouldn't be doing it?

I would suggest that your impulse is borne out of social conditioning as a woman. We are taught to be kind and to give the benefit of the doubt and to guide and teach and help and we are taught this from a young age and it greatly benefits men for us to take on this role.

Don't give them anything. They can be taught by someone else. This does not have to be your job.

If you want to build community, try volunteering, perhaps at a shelter for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
posted by sockermom at 2:03 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I can 100% guarantee they know exactly what they're doing because I am transgender and this kind of behavior stopped instantly when I started dressing exclusively as male. I mean record-scratching-instantly, even though I live in the same (middle class, racially integrated) neighborhood and see a lot of the same guys. Men barely talk to me at all anymore beyond the occasional "hey." If they were kind and polite and just wanted to have human interaction, they'd make small talk with men too. They do not.
posted by desjardins at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2015 [48 favorites]

Even without lived experience presenting as both genders, I have to say that, as a woman:

1. I have never ever heard any (straight) man say this sort of thing to another (straight) man. Shit, I was out with guy friends last night, I complimented one dude's sweet sneakers, and both other guys in the conversation kind of quietly muttered "umm yeah sweet kicks bro" and then the subject changed rather quickly. Which gives the lie to the notion that this sort of "you are a gorgeous breath of fresh air, milady" behavior is anyone attempting to establish platonic friendships.

2. I have never said anything like this to a man I didn't have explicit romantic intentions toward, and have neither seen with my own eyes or heard tell of any other woman doing likewise.

We all know that this is basically only something that hetero men do to (presumed hetero?) women. It's not a gender neutral "community building" small talk interaction.
posted by Sara C. at 2:21 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

While this is not everyone's cup of tea, I've found that cultivating my resting bitch face and a more aggressive body language has cut down somewhat on how much of this I get. While not close to being eliminated, physical cues that are uninviting can help.

I do not consider men feeling entitled to talk to women they don't know about their appearance or asking if women are single (sexually available) to be kind or polite. Not at all. In fact, for many women, the interaction can be terrifying. If you feel like you want to educate men about this, talk to your male friends and family about it, especially if you catch them doing it. I find that many men remain blissfully unaware of casual misogyny - both in general and their own.
posted by quince at 2:58 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a woman. Personally, I would wrinkle my nose and say, "Oh man, I always feel awkward when people comment on my appearance."

"But I just meant to be nice!"

"I know. It just makes me feel awkward though."

Some may find this approach overly apologetic. Maybe, but in my view, it's enough to give someone pause without sending them into a "suppress the upstart feminazis!!" angry tailspin, which benefits no one in the long run.
posted by delight at 3:40 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What a rhetorical shitshow.

I asked for ways to engage with others and most responses recommend I don't engage and I feel those responses come out of fear or arrogance. I am specifically asking how to engage in a conversation.

Many men are earnestly clueless and I resent that they have been painted as intentionally trying to hurt me and others. I'm not afraid of them, and I was not in danger with these particular men.
I had a great rapport with the man in the elevator, in particular, I really enjoy him. He was not trying to be hurtful but he just doesn't understand what he's doing. I know the difference; I've been actually harassed zillions of times and I have no issues confronting those men.

I'll continue trying to engage with other people that I meet, with compassion, honor and respect and not distrust and scorn. I've spent decades ignoring and it's time for me to educate and engage with my community, so we can all reach a better understanding. These are men in my community and I intend to build a bridge to as many people here as I can. I've lived too long to know being an island or ignoring problems in the community doesn't solve anything.

I've flagged about half of these answers as noise or derail.

If anyone else has suggestions of how I can engage with these men and educate with compassion I'd sincerely appreciate it.
posted by littlewater at 3:54 PM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you want to keep telling yourself that the people with whom you disagree are simply speaking out of fear, arrogance, and inexperience, that's obviously your prerogative, but believe me: Too many women have spent too many years trying to "educate with compassion" only to be met with anger, hostility, and occasional physical violence. That's why so many of us have come to the conclusion of "ignore."

If you think a man who's comfortable hitting on a random woman in an elevator is going to have some kind of magical lightbulb moment because a woman replied to his street harassment with a pithy, koan-like witticism instead of a snort and an eyeroll, I strongly suspect you're going to find yourself disappointed in short order. It has nothing to do with compassion, honor, or respect for other people and everything to do with the fact that men who behave like that are highly unlikely to listen to a woman for anything, let alone a woman who's trying to drop a sidewalk sermon about the negative effects of gender stereotyping. can I simply explain to these men, in a gracious, well-dressed white lady way, that what they are doing is a part of a problem in our society?

Coming at this from a different perspective: You're a complete stranger to these men, why would they choose to listen to you in the first place? What's your angle, where's your rhetorical authority coming from? The fact that you're gracious, well-dressed, and white? No. Sometimes people on AskMe get really upset when the answer to their "how can I...?" question is "you can't," and I think this is one of those times.

Good luck.
posted by divined by radio at 4:34 PM on November 3, 2015 [38 favorites]

Best answer: Wasn't going to respond, not too sure on how best to do this but have some thoughts (and since the other responders seem to be frustrating you somewhat...)

I suspect there's a grain of truth to what a lot of folks are saying, that if they open with a remark on physical appearance that's the center of the thought motivating them. They're remarking on appearance because it's primarily what they're thinking of. Maybe it's a reflexive thing, maybe it's a more predatory thing -- you're never going to know for sure on first approach.

Some of these men I'm certain it's possible to open dialogue with (I have a friend who used to do this, and the first time someone told him "hey, this sucks because..." he was mortified and he knocked it off -- in general he's a really cool guy like that -- only need to tell him once) but possibly some will react negatively (I know my friend is a pretty special dude in his ability to just take feedback and change). My friend probably is in the "reflexive" camp where you know, he habitually thinks of women in terms of attractiveness.

It seems like the premise here is, until a person is confirmed-shitty, try to open this dialogue. To open this dialogue will require some measure of critique of their behavior and this is where emotions can get heated and defensiveness is likely to set in. You really don't want to go down the whole suffrage to hollaback road in advance of ascertaining their receptivity.

My thinking is that this indicates a staged approach: give some initial pushback that's not conversation ending to guage where they're at, then proceed to up the intensity 'til you get where you're going and pull out of the conversation at the first sign they're getting angry or frustrated in an unproductive way or just listening because they think it'll get them somewhere.

If I were going to be doing this, I might write myself a conversation tree or something to make it easy to structure and keep track of in my head when we get to milestones where I would want to be checking "are they getting it or do I abort the mission and move on."

I suspect a lot of nuance would emerge in practice, and that the tactical experience of experimenting with these conversations would probably provide much clearer guidance going forward. It seems likely there will be an element of needing to experiment with a myriad of approaches, gradual and otherwise.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:40 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

You could try affirming the fact of the interaction while shutting down their intent by flipping the conversation, to e.g. the World Series or some other timely thing, as Sara C. said, or cars, or any subject they might not expect you to know about (if you have a situation-relevant one in your pocket). If it's a mechanic and you know some tiny thing about ball bearings, quiz him on that. That'll drop a smile and make them look at you differently.

If it's a random guy shot-gunning personal questions, call him on it, with a smile, a la easter queen. (This guy on the bus the other week was so ridiculous with his 20-questions shtick that I really had to laugh, and went, "What are you doing? Listen to yourself, is that a way to talk to anyone? Why am I going to tell you about my relationships? Calm down", and I guess I was lucky, but he did, and by the end of it I was giving him advice on studying (which is ironic, coming from me, but whatever).)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:57 PM on November 3, 2015

Trying to say - even though they're approaching you because you're a Lady, with whatever intent in mind, you don't have to respond the way a Lady would (in voice, tone, body language, conversational content), or conform to their expectations of how that interaction should go. You can try to undermine that role a little and surprise them. It probably won't have a lasting or general effect, but it might change surface behaviour for the duration of the interaction.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:07 PM on November 3, 2015

Meaningful conversation reinforces the undesired behavior. Asshole wants ineraction, why give it. If you feel the need to respond, I'd go with That's creepy. You're being a jerk; stop it. Harassing women is stupid and mean, that sort of short and honest comment.
posted by theora55 at 11:11 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

*ignoring the whole shitshow above... *

Men (I am one) aren't ever really taught to examine what they do, so it's easiest to meet them where they are. When I've had experiences with men (particularly when I was younger and they were much older) where they've done the whole "Hey, hot stuff" *puts hands on knee* or whatever routine, I've started with basically something like "Hey pal, slow your roll." I want to indicate (often) that I'm not averse to talking to them, but I also don't want them to be gaming me. Following that, I tend to redirect: where have you been? Where are you going? Questions that establish: What is your life like? That's following a conversational path that opens up some authenticity, that makes some connection. From there, I can say: "Hey, it's nice to chat with you. I'm glad you're not coming on so hot, it's totally overkill. Sometimes when men talk to me"—here you are talking about OTHER men, see, not them, so as not to cue their great fragility—"their whole way of talking to women backfires, you know? No woman really wants to really be talked to like she's something to be tricked into bed. Women like to be talked to as equals." Here they'll make a joke and you'll have to say "Yup, sometimes women even talk about football!!!" or something.

Conversations about male behavior are super-complicated (for the men, heh); if you establish a connection, subvert the behavior, and sidewind your way around to the topic, you have a decent shot of having a friendly and also enlightening conversation. When you need to do this more succinctly, it's harder, and the results will be more all over the map.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:39 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm really hesitating to post this but I would be so flattered and then I would return the compliment. I can't see it as a power play if both participants do it? "Well thank you so much, you're looking pretty good yourself." There is nothing about such an answer that gives away power: actually it establishes both speakers on the same level.

Whether you feel that's appropriate when speaking to younger car guy is more about status than calling out background sexism. In that instance I might have wanted to comment on how appropriate it is to speak to your elders in that way. A compliment isn't the same as a come-on (though may be the precursor to one) and for me the response is gauged differently. My response would also be different according to whether I was in UK or Nigeria, since class and status have different manifestations there, for instance, seniority is much more relevant to status in Nigeria.

Experience: Black woman, 5'0", 9 st, has no problem telling people when they're being obnoxious. Cultural differences, yo. Sometimes reading Mefi is for me like reading something from a different planet.
posted by glasseyes at 8:57 AM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

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