Don't tell me to 'take it as a compliment.'
April 11, 2007 11:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with cat-calling from construction workers outside my office?

I am a young female living in NYC for 5 years. For 5 years, I have endured relentless, daily cat-calling from men of all walks of life, pretty much every time I go outside. I hate it 100% of the time, ignore it 99%, and blow up at someone every once in a while. As you might have guessed, I just blew up.

"They" are building a school next door to my office. Whenever I want to go out to the bank, to get lunch, to run errands, whatever, I have to walk by the construction site. Every time I do, there is a particular guy (and his buddy, if he's there) who harasses me. He gets really dirty with it, too. It makes me sick, but, not knowing what to do, I never really do anything. Coming back from lunch today I finally walked over and said as calmly as possible that I don't want him to talk to me anymore, and that it really bothers me. Of course his response was that he loves it when I get mad. I told him to 'fuck off' and he started screaming 'ooh, i love it when you say fuck, say it again!'

I'm now in tears. Obviously, I don't have thick skin. Please don't tell me to be less sensitive. I am very, very bothered by this. Is there anything I can do in this situation besides put up with it?
posted by infinityjinx to Human Relations (94 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Those guys are employees at work doing this kind of crap. Look for some kind of sign saying who's building the project and contact them. Explain the whole thing and describe the guys in question.
posted by GaelFC at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Document it scrupulously. Get pictures, audio recordings, witnesses. Talk to a lawyer and sue the fuck out of the contractor.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even contruction companies have HR departments. Tell him that if you ever hear his voice again he can feed his children by washing windshields. Tell him his boss probably doesn't want to get sued because he can't keep his big pie hole shut.

It doesn't matter if any of this is true, you just have to make him believe it.
posted by Megafly at 11:10 AM on April 11, 2007

Ditto above. Have a friend record it as you walk by. Multiple times. Contact the contractor, say you've asked him to stop, you have proof of his harassment, and if he does it one more time, you're going to sue the living crap out of him.

Guaranteed that guy will be gone or assigned to the depths of the building.

You don't have to take this. At ALL
posted by aacheson at 11:11 AM on April 11, 2007

I agree, you need to go to some sort of management, or when you walk by have a note pad and write down the number as the guy is watching so he knows you mean business.
posted by brinkzilla at 11:12 AM on April 11, 2007

GaelFC has the right idea- figure out where he works and contact them. This guy is an idiot for harassing you while he's at work; I can't imagine his company includes harassing women as part of his job responsibilities. Contact them and let them know what is happening. Don't threaten the low-life like Megafly suggests; he's made it clear he could care less about you, so you're done dealing with him. Now you take it to his company.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are they building a public school? Call up the local school district office, and tell them what happened. Ditto on calling the contractor, and I would also suggest putting the complaint in writing and mailing it to them via certified mail.

Also, I can think of some specific techniques that bring Lorena Bobbit to mind, but perhaps you should take the high road here.

Good luck, and for what it's worth, I'm sorry that some of the members of my gender can be such petulant assholes.
posted by dbiedny at 11:15 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take his picture, ask him to repeat what he just said for your recorder, and then post on Holla Back NY. Such a shame that a blog like that has to exist, but it is a great place to vent.
posted by orangemiles at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2007

aacheson writes "Contact the contractor..."

I think regardless of whether or not you really want to sue, the best strategy would be to have your attorney contact the contractor. Just to make sure you're taken seriously.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:19 AM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

In addition to contacting the construction company, I'd send the same letter and evidence to the city (if it's a public school, the school itself if it's private) and also report it to your own HR department. Obviously these aren't the folks who can probably actually do anything (unless enough other employees are getting harrassed that your company itself wants to take action). But they should know about it anyway.
posted by lampoil at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the idea of plotting your moves without letting on to him. Get active, take control. Bait him over the course of a week or two and have a friend or two recording audio/video. An then go to the construction company, the city, etc. I would not let him in on this until after you've got the evidence. You've put up with it for way too long. Plan and execute, now.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2007

It bothers me (only a little) that I'm having a "Yeah! Git 'im!" reaction to this thread. My friend, you could have a very interesting time with this. If you have any especially geeky friends, they might enjoy helping wire you for recording purposes and/or setting up the camera.

Of course, having a lawyer place a call to the employer would probably be less embarrassing for the offender, and would probably get quicker, easier results for you.

On the other hand, if you did a really good job with this, it might get enough press to discourage other instances of harassment. infinityjinx, you could be a heroine to urban, harassed females everywhere.

It's your choice. You have the power here.
posted by amtho at 11:49 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. I'm concerned that without this guy's name there will be nothing the company could do. I don't really want to ask, and I doubt he'd tell me it. Still, I suppose I could just describe what he looks like.

To answer some other questions - it is a public high school they are building. There is a sign somewhere with the construction company name on it, so I will look into that. I believe that I am the only woman being harassed because I am the only young girl who works on this block (the other establishments are a car repair shop, a diner, and a mosque.)

Thanks for your support. I really was afraid everyone would tell me to toughen up.
posted by infinityjinx at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2007

oh. i was just going to suggest pepper spray, but the other suggestions are really much more productive.
posted by wreckingball at 12:00 PM on April 11, 2007

infinityjinx: I'm concerned that without this guy's name there will be nothing the company could do. I don't really want to ask, and I doubt he'd tell me it. Still, I suppose I could just describe what he looks like.

You might need to get his name eventually if you're going to have him served with some sort of lawsuit, but you don't need his name to complain to his superiors. His foreman and/or the payroll people know his name, and what he looks like.

Try to pick out distinguishing features, or even what sort of job he does on the site. If you can say something like "your welder with the big nose, scar on his cheek, and lazy eye", they'll most likely know who you mean.
posted by CKmtl at 12:00 PM on April 11, 2007

OK, I understand this isn't for everyone, and it's been quite a while since I was catcalled (it used to happen to me when I was a vulnerable-looking teen, not so much now that I'm a grey-haired bull dyke) but I think 'blowing up' is an excellent strategy.

On a bunch of occassions when someone made a comment to me in public I walked straight towards the guy and yelled "SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT..." (etc). In every instance I can remember, this made the guy shut up immediately, or say something wimpy and then shut up.

These dudes love being in charge and making you squirm and don't expect you to confront them. Confronting them may feel even better/safer if you have a female friend with you (it doesn't send the harrasser the same message if a male friend 'protects' you)

Once in a movie theater (and again, this is when I was a teen) a dude sat next to me and slowly started touching my thigh. For 15 minutes or so I was paralized. I kept thinking 'is he really touching me'? But when I finally admited what was going on I yelled "GET YOUR FUCKING HAND OFF ME ASSHOLE". THis was midway through The Crying Game, and everyone in the audience turned around to stare at us. He mumbled something about not touching me and then fled from the theater.

Another story: once a friend and her friend were walking down the street and some dude started yelling at them from a truck. She started screeming at him and (she was a punk rock type and wore boots a lot) started kicking out his headlights. I guess in this case he did start to freak out and yell back at her, but there were a lot of people around on the sidewalk who had seen him yell at her. She and her friend just kept up screeming at him and kicking his car until he drove off.

Like I said, I realize this kind of response isn't for everyone, but, the upside is that doing this doesn't just protect you, it makes the dude think twice before harrassing someone else.

Good luck.
posted by serazin at 12:03 PM on April 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

So take his picture - that alone might get him to stop.
posted by amtho at 12:03 PM on April 11, 2007

Don't worry about getting his name. Take his picture and give it to his employer when you give them your complaint. Make sure you have more copies of it in case they "lose" it. And better yet, have your lawyer send it, via certified mail, as others have suggested. I would hold off on posting his pic to holla back ny, or other forms of public humiliation unless contacting his employer turns out to be fruitless. Or at least until that end of things is taken care of.

Also, try to find out if others you work with have had problems with the same guy, or others working with him. Get them to take similar steps.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2007

"and then post on Holla Back NY"

No. Forget that stupid website. That's not going to do any good and in my opinion, it may even have the opposite effect. Mindless man bashing on the internet won't solve the problem. Some fools may even like the attention.

When things like this cross the line, even I agree that you should escalate the issue a bit. Find out who the contractor is and file a complaint.

Call the police department and file a complaint as well. This lughead is obviously a blithering idiot and doesn't know when things have gone too far. Perhaps a uniformed police officer giving him a talking to will clue him in.
posted by drstein at 12:15 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Scream and spray him with pepper spray?
posted by chunking express at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2007

serazin: I took a similar approach when harassed at work (I was a teenager working in a fast-food joint, I didn't know I had the option to file a complaint). The guy "accidentally bumped into me" and his hands accidentally found their way to my rear one more time, and I let him have it right there in the store, in front of dozens of customers and employees. He was so humiliated he never spoke to me or came near me again (no, he wasn't fired, because the boss was a jerk, and I didn't quit, because the harassment stopped).

infinity: I agree with everyone else. Take your complaint to his employer, and then to the school. If all else fails, call the police. They probably won't do anything other than talk to the guy, but he'll be embarrassed in front of all his work buddies.
posted by desjardins at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dittoing taking his picture. Not surreptitiously, either. Just calmly, obviously, take his picture. There's a decent chance he'll stop just after that.

Something that might work is getting one of the other construction workers on your side. If the harasser says something, and there are other workers within easy earshot, a sincere "Is that really appropriate? He's making me really uncomfortable" directed at a group of guys with a pained look on your face (no sarcasm) could work. The fine line would be not setting it up as a weird "Defend my honor!" chivalry triangle, which means you'd have to be calm, in control, and approaching the guys as equals, not defenders.

And in general, sunglasses help, as does an iPod or earphones. Even if you can still see and hear the guy, it makes it hard for him to tell that you see and hear him. Sometimes that alone will ward off comments, sometimes it's just gratifying to be able to roll your eyes or even flinch without giving the asshole the satisfaction of seeing he's caused a reaction.
posted by occhiblu at 12:20 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even as a guy, I get and notice this crap / yo yo yo / variants of the same from most construction/group projects.

My recent favorite was witnessing some of the yo yo yo junk addressed towards a blind person that was walking (School of the deaf and blind is close by).

I'm not sure if the email to the named contractor did anything or not; but it felt good to send it off anyway.

In a nice, charming, big city like New York you could also park a block away and drop an airgun pellet into his face also. But I am just charming that way.
posted by buzzman at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2007

I sincerely hope you will report back with what you do and the results. feedback is good as it can help inform others in the future what has worked, or not.

good luck.
posted by edgeways at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is gonna sound like im putting down my own gender, but, the truth is, a lot of the time men can be real… and excuse the yiddish, insensitive schmucks.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think taking his picture is a good idea but, given the hostility he's already displayed, it might be wise to do it when there are others present (maybe bring a friend or coworker along?) -- just in case he's inclined to flip from "merely" leering and jeering to batshit "don't take my fucking picture you fucking bitch" insane.

Sorry this asshole is putting you through this. And good for you for standing up to it!
posted by scody at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry. I get this all the time, too, and I hate it.

And you know what's strange? In all my years getting harassed (and even calling it harassment is strange, because it's become such a part of my daily routine) by construction workers, I never once thought of contacting their employer. I guess that just shows how much we've been cowed, right?

You know, the relentlessness of this makes me so bloodthirsty i can't stand it. I want to make an example of this fucker. I want you to not only take his picture, but contact his employer and get the bastard fired. I want him humiliated. I know this won't change him, and I know it'll only make him dehumanize women more, but man. For some people, it's plagiarism; for others, it's vandalism. For me, it's this shit. This shit has been making me afraid to go outside since I was eleven years old.

People, guys especially, I implore you - if you see this happening to a women, for the love of god, STEP IN AND DEFEND HER. It's tacitly accepted everywhere, and it's nightmarish.
posted by granted at 12:40 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

And the very idea that you'd fear people here would tell you to lighten up makes me even more livid! Good God!
posted by granted at 12:43 PM on April 11, 2007

Good advice above, but I just want to point out that it mostly consists of "fucking with the man's livelihood". Justified, to be sure, but consider whether it is worth becoming a focal point for this creep's resentment before you act. I also suggest making an effort to remain anonymous, by acting through lawyers, not identifying your place of work, etc.
posted by Manjusri at 12:43 PM on April 11, 2007

If contacting his employer isn't showing results fast enough, ask your local police station if someone is interested in after-hours work. Often they are. Give him is hourly rate and confront the man with your escort in uniform. That'll rattle his cage enough to make him hide for a while.

You could do something similar if you have a large male coworker. Offer him $20 to stand next to you and look mean.
posted by kc0dxh at 12:44 PM on April 11, 2007

These are all good answers, but I am surprised at how little "slug him" appears here.

Years ago, some guy stopped me on the street to ask me the time. While I was looking at my watch, he reached out and grabbed a tit. Hard.

Not what I'd planned for, and my unplanned response was "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST YOU FUCKING PERVERT" and WHAM! and, well, he was down on the ground with one punch. He was a little pervert, and probably drunk, but. It felt fantastic, after I realised what'd happened...

If you don't like the idea of finding a geeky friend to help record and photograph -- consider finding a thuggy friend to take a swing. Clearly illegal and blah blah, but pretty likely to work well.
posted by kmennie at 12:47 PM on April 11, 2007

I'd like to recommend against serazin and others recommendation of swearing your head off, kicking in cars, etc. It's a stupid way to react and could potentially (even if the likelihood is low) get you injured or in trouble.

Document what's going on and report it, plain and simple.

As far as imploring guys to defend girls, I don't mean to derail too much here but what you're basically asking is for an average guy to "defend" a girl against someone who lifts heavy stuff all day long for a living and is probably vastly stronger than the average guy.

Even "high-road" types of guys occasionally escalate tempers into fisticuffs, and the choice to "defend" a girl against a guy whose ass you are not 100% sure you can kick is a stupid risk to take.

All our lives, we guys are told to suck it up and ignore verbal bullying while simultaneously being asked to protect others from it. It's kind of backwards.

Neither gender should have to put up with it, and it's harassment by law, so document it and report it and be done with it.
posted by twiggy at 12:53 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ugh, how gross. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. Please do follow the prior advice and contact his company. And let us know how it pans out!

Also, it's helped me, a lot, to have on sunglasses and my iPod almost all the time when walking around the city. I know it puts me in a little bubble and that such a bubble is not always a good thing, but I am blissfully unaware of looks, catcalls, crazy religious people screaming or anything similar. I don't even get harassed by the Lydon LaRouche people when I have my headphones on and they're pretty persistent.
posted by sutel at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2007

That should be Lyndon.
posted by sutel at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2007

nth-ing the report to the contractor/manager line. Don't tell him you are going to do it, don't provoke any backlash.

Speaking as an HR type - Make sure the employer knows the employee is breaching numerous sex discrimination laws (at least for the UK), as well as bringing the company into disrepute.
IANAL, and you should check with yours, but under UK employment law this could be grounds for dismissal for gross misconduct or at least serious disciplinary action.

On behalf of my gender, I apologize for this idiot.
posted by arcticseal at 1:05 PM on April 11, 2007

You don't need to know his name for his employer to be liable. The contracting company knows this. The contractor knows it can be sued if you have notified them once before and they didn't stop the behavior. Yes, complain in person but also give them a letter which documents what you are saying. They will work hard to stop this if they know you are obtaining evidence. Though the contractor may be defensive with you in person, I think you'll find the behavior will stop shortly.
posted by dendrite at 1:07 PM on April 11, 2007

Just to clarify, the letter you should bring will simply be your complaint in written form...not actual evidence. That letter can serve as evidence later that the contractor was aware of the problem. The letter should also state that you are in the process of obtaining video and audio evidence (even if you aren't going to go that far, it'll light a fire in their pants to nip this in the bud.)

Lastly, while it would be satisfying to get violent, or threaten violence, or mess with this won't help. This person is a cretin and while it'd be nice to teach him a lesson, you just want this to stop.
posted by dendrite at 1:13 PM on April 11, 2007

FWIW, I was just as apprehensive about a bunch of "toughen up" comments when I clicked on this thread. Especially with the fauxnonymity of the internet. I am quite relieved to read so many great suggestions. It's confidence building and reaffirming. I'm not sure where I picked it up, but I too have found myself just "accepting" this behavior (I regularly have to walk under the freeway underpass in SF) all the while still fearing the steps I take, and wondering if I am just being an overly sensitive female. It's assinine to think that way! But something, somewhere has allowed me to doubt myself, and not see the situation for what it is. And it had never occured to me either about contacting the fact, I never made the mental connection between the harrassment from a male and that male being at their job.

This is a great thread. I'm glad infinityjinx got fed up and thought to ask. You've made a difference, and so thank you.

This is something I'll think about on the walk home tonight.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Note that you don't really need a lawyer to write these letters, but it will be interpreted as FAR more threatening and dangerous to the people in power. Especially when they know you've "told the boss" so to speak (by telling the owner, the GC can't try to sweep things under the rug).
posted by aramaic at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2007

When I lived in NYC this happened to me upon occasion. It was always so upsetting. I used to just walk on by. Then I decided it was time to be proactive about it, without confronting the jerks or putting myself in any more of an uncomfortable position. So, anytime they were in an identifiable place or vehicle, I'd calmly write down the name and phone number of whatever business they represented, and then I'd call that business when I got to work.

I would say, "Hello, my name is Kangaroo and I work at (name of company). On my way to work this morning, your employee, about 5'8", brown hair, blue shirt with your company name, standing by your company truck, license # ABC123 at the corner of 40th Street and 3rd Avenue, harassed me. He said, *^%%$#$^&**()***!!!. Please excuse my language, I'm just repeating what he said. This was a completely unprovoked attack. I'm a professional woman, just walking to work, and this left me really upset. As I said, it's pretty clear to me he works for you and did this on company time. I thought you'd like to know. "

I did this at least a half dozen times and in every case, the person I spoke with was extremely nice, took me very seriously, seemed to write down the specifics, and always apologized. I didn't have a serial harasser as you seem to but this method worked for me.

I do not recommend engaging with this person in any way, including taking his picture. Maybe someone can do this for you but I think you should make every effort to avoid any contact with him in any way. The previous posters all gave good advice on documenting and reporting the abuse. I think you can call the construction company, find out the name of the owner and write him/her a letter with as many dates and specifics as you can recall. I don't know that you need to bring in a lawyer at this point but I would send a copy of the letter to your city hall as well, cc'd on the original so they know you're doing it. Ask the construction company owner to please follow up with you and let you know what they're going to do about this. If you don't hear back from them within a day or two, call and then you can start talking legal action.

Good luck to you. It's a damn shame that you have had to endure this. I think you'll feel empowered and generally a lot better when you take some steps to have this jerk stopped.
posted by Kangaroo at 1:27 PM on April 11, 2007 [11 favorites]

I did this. After months of getting harassed outside BAM when they were doing their construction work, I went to the supervisor's trailer. I told the two men in there what had happened, and I told them that this was the LAST time I would contact them through any means other than a lawyer. I made clear that if I got harassed when walking by one more time, they and BAM and several local papers would hear about it, and I am SURE that the Brooklyn Academy of Music does not want their patrons being sexually harassed on their way past.

I had every intention of following through with this threat, but strangely, it never happened again. To me, or any of my friends who'd had the same problem.
posted by jennyjenny at 1:28 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone else that you should document it and report it to his employer and the city. I've got another suggestion as well: scowl, all the time. I've also lived in the city for about five years now, and I've found the meaner my expression, the less I get harassed. I just walk around looking mean and act like I'm in a hurry and know where I'm going. I've developed my scowl to the point where I will probably have a line the size of the Grand Canyon between my eyes in a few years, but hey, I rarely get harassed anymore, even by the religious nuts and people who are flyering. fwiw, I am a small, young woman.

I used to get harassed more, and I found when I couldn't take it anymore, screaming something really vile, obscene, or insulting worked--the key was that it had to be so far past what they would expect out of someone like me that it shut them up. One time a couple of guys harassed me while I was running, and I screamed really loud "shut the fuck up you motherfucking shitfaced cocksucker assholes!" That string of obscenities did shut them up, and man, it felt so good. I think Kangaroo's and Jennyjenny's suggestions are much better, though.

(I felt bad later for using a homophobic slur; I hate homophobia, but I have to say it really was effective, unfortunately.)

I'm really sorry you're dealing with this. It SUCKS and I remember a lot of occasions I was harassed in vivid, humilating, painful detail. I hate it.
posted by min at 1:39 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

People, guys especially, I implore you - if you see this happening to a women, for the love of god, STEP IN AND DEFEND HER. It's tacitly accepted everywhere, and it's nightmarish.

Sometimes the fact that a man is defending a woman might set these types of assholes off on a power, "who the f**k are you to tell me what to do?" kind of escalation. Meaning, if a man were to defend you in front of his buddies, I can see how the harasser would not want to be seen as backing down in front of his buddies - and leading at least to shoving if not fists.

I read somewhere (can't remember where) where a woman about to get raped looked at the rapist and said, "What would your mother think if she knew what you were doing right now?" Rapist got embarrased, and fled.

So I wonder if a sort of calm, "What would you do if someone treated your daughter like that?", "Would you want someone to do that to your mother?", or "What would your daughter think if she could see you now?" delivered as calmly as you can pull it off would embarrass him so much that he would never do it again (and neither would his cohorts) But then again, being a man, I have no idea what works never having had to confront that.
posted by xetere at 1:56 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

This was a problem for a young woman I worked with in Downtown Boston. She solved the problem by having another co-worker (male) walk nonchalantly 20 feet behind her with his SLR camera and snapped a bunch of photos one lunch time.

She said nothing to the worker, but then called the HR dept. of the construction firm and got a contact to email the photos. The HR contact called her back at the end of business, thanked her for her patience and said that they would deal with the guy appropriately. She never saw the loudmouth again.

She never exchanged words with him. She just provided photo ID of the perpetrator and it was done. This should work for you provided that you just want it to stop. If you want to make sure that the guy is fired/disciplined beyond "hey, stop it now" you'll need to do more.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:06 PM on April 11, 2007

Since when do we have to resort to putting on permanent public scowls, screaming, obscenities, acting pissed/negative/busy/psycho just to walk down the street peacefully? That's a rhetorical question of course. It just *REALLY* sucks, that is all. Shouldn't I be able to walk around, unbusy and smiling ('cause I'm joyful and in a good mood) without that being perceived as letting my guard down, thereby inviting some a-hole to sexually harrass me, and more importantly, taking me out of my happy cloud? C'mon!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:15 PM on April 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

As far as imploring guys to defend girls, I don't mean to derail too much here but what you're basically asking is for an average guy to "defend" a girl against someone who lifts heavy stuff all day long for a living and is probably vastly stronger than the average guy.
Even "high-road" types of guys occasionally escalate tempers into fisticuffs, and the choice to "defend" a girl against a guy whose ass you are not 100% sure you can kick is a stupid risk to take.

Rationally, I know you're probably right, but that doesn't mean I'll think kindly on you or anybody else who scuttles by sheepishly while I'm getting hassled for being so brazen as to walk down a public street.

But anyway, since it's apparent we can't count on anyone else to stand up for us - whether justified or otherwise - we'll just have to learn how to defend ourselves on our own. I suppose it's fair, yet few things have saddened me more to admit.
posted by granted at 2:29 PM on April 11, 2007

It may just be a cultural difference, but the few times I've been catcalled, I've responded with a polite, "Wow. That was a creative way to be a total dick. Your mother must be so very proud."

Everytime, the other guys made fun of the catcaller and made him apologize. Of course, being in a smallish Southern town, sometimes I actually *know* their mothers and can mention it the next time I see them in the grocery store.

Good luck with this. Honestly, it breaks my heart that it's the 21st century and we still have to put up with this shit.
posted by teleri025 at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2007

One other thing I've tried in a different situation that might work here (again, only works if you're up for talking directly to him):

Call apon his manliness. This is simular to teleri025s advice above, but you could try specifically saying something like "A real man doesn't need to say that shit to women on the street".

THe time I used this was when I saw a boy in his late teens fucking with a younger boy. I just started yelling "Act like a man! What, you need to beat up on a kid to prove something? Come on!"
posted by serazin at 2:46 PM on April 11, 2007

So I wonder if a sort of calm, "What would you do if someone treated your daughter like that?", "Would you want someone to do that to your mother?", or "What would your daughter think if she could see you now?" delivered as calmly as you can pull it off would embarrass him so much that he would never do it again (and neither would his cohorts) But then again, being a man, I have no idea what works never having had to confront that.

I seriously doubt it. These men don't respect women, and are likely to have no feelings and/or feelings of hatred towards their own mothers, etc.
posted by agregoli at 2:48 PM on April 11, 2007

Do NOT physically engage with this person. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT.

The very last thing you want is for him to sue you for assault and battery and have you taken in by the cops, which is more or less what'll happen if you start taking retaliatory action of any kind.

As cathartic as it'd feel to get in this guy's shit with both boots, it's nothing but a losing proposition for you. He'll call the cops, or his friends will, and you'll be forced to explain why you put a boot in his ass when he was just, you know, complimenting you!

No, it's not right. No, it's not fair. Maybe the cops will believe that he provoked it, maybe not, but either way you'll be arrested.

I'd strongly second contacting the construction company running the site, at the highest level you can reach. Having troglodytes like this on the job site is shitty PR for them, and (at least at the company for which my wife works) a complaint like this is enough to end someone's work on the site instantly.
posted by scrump at 3:19 PM on April 11, 2007

I live in NYC and either am oblivious or just don't get harassed all that often, but when I do, I usually just give them a general "wow, you're pretty lame" look and keep going.
posted by mdn at 3:26 PM on April 11, 2007

On behalf of my gender, I apologize for this idiot.

Me too. I also want to second the praise for this thread and the recommendations to avoid violence (not that you sound like the kind of person who would resort to it). I'll be very interested to see the resolution of this.

(It was a magazine account of what a woman had to endure walking down the street each day that made me a feminist back in 1970. I can barely bring myself to accept that this shit still goes on.)
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on April 11, 2007

re: lawyer's letters. I'll bet (though I've never dealt with one) that a legal firm would be willing to write a letter to the business of your choice, with their letterhead -- because that's what you'd be really paying for. There need not be any more to your contract with the firm then the simple letter writing and sending, which should ease your mind if you are concerned about costs and hassles.

Though personally, I think that involving the lawyer should be the step after you talk to his HR dept. I'd also like to say that having a friend, with a camera following you, is an excellent idea. You will then be in possession of excellent evidence and assured of recompense. Especially if this guy is gesturing towards you in any way.
posted by philomathoholic at 3:53 PM on April 11, 2007

eventually, this mook will grab his crotch, when he does, say 'wow. that looks just like a penis, only smaller.'
posted by jonmc at 3:54 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think taking photographs and contacting the construction company's HR is a great idea. I think it would be a bad idea to have any further contact with the harasser himself, so someone else should probably take the pictures. I'm not sure how much documenting you'll really have to do, beyond simply identifying him, since you're clearly the more credible party.

I would caution against threatening to sue unless you actually do intend on suing. The legal system is not a weapon. It's a means of redress. At the very least, consult with a lawyer first, to find out if you even have a cause of action. There's no need to add yourself to the list of people foolishly spouting off about legal action.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 4:29 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rationally, I know you're probably right, but that doesn't mean I'll think kindly on you or anybody else who scuttles by sheepishly while I'm getting hassled for being so brazen as to walk down a public street.

The above was in response to why men might not rush to the defense of a woman being cat-called at...

I think you're implying by "that doesn't mean I'll think kindly on you or anybody else..." you're saying you'll look down on people who don't rush to your defense.

While it's mentally trying for you to be cat-called and yelled at, you are not in physical danger. Looking down on people for not putting themselves into physical danger to protect your psyche is rather unfair. Specifically imploring men moreso than women shows that you understand a man is putting himself in physical danger to stop another guy from yelling at you - something that causes you annoyance and demeans you, but does not put your life in danger.

It's irrational to expect this. It also raises a lot of gender bias questions that I won't get into.

It all boils down to the fact that the person being cat-called at and yelled at is being harassed and should document and report it to the police and to the management of the construction workers. The systems for these kinds of complaints exist for a reason, and if people can't be troubled to use it, that's as much of a shame as the fact that many people look down on a guy who does not put himself in physical danger to protect you from verbal annoyance. It's an unfair expectation.
posted by twiggy at 4:52 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to work in heavy construction as a welder, and I could never quite understand why some idiots thought it was a good idea to harass women like that. In any case, you already know that these chumps are not good with women. What you don’t know is that, as a rule, they’re not good at their jobs either. Its always the little dog that barks the loudest.
posted by Huplescat at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whenever that happens to me I demand to see the foreman immediately. There is typically a construction office or other structure onsite and I go straight there and file a complaint and tell them I will also be filing a complaint with the police. I ask for the name of the man and tell them I will be seeking a restraining order (which I never do).

To date I've gotten two tow truck drivers, a factory worker and a a crew foreman fired ON THE SPOT.

One time I just puched the guy in the face and broke his nose but that wasn't as much fun.
posted by fshgrl at 6:01 PM on April 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't involve another man in this because the possibility of an actual violent act, with another male involved, skyrockets. That's just making a bad situation worse.

Contact the construction company, yourself or via an attorney, and do nothing to confront the harasser directly. There's no reason that he need know you are responsible for the reprimand he will undoubtedly receive. That's not quite as empowering and satisfying as if he knew, I grant, but it avoids the possibility of any kind of retaliation.

This will probably shut him up and you'll feel better. There will still be other men making harrssing comments at you in NYC, but you'll feel a little better about those, too, because you'll know you're not powerless.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:03 PM on April 11, 2007

It's irrational to expect this.

I agree, which is why I began my rebuttal with that very caveat.

However, this:

While it's mentally trying for you to be cat-called and yelled at, you are not in physical danger.

is perhaps one of the most condescending, ignorant, and offensive statements I have ever read on this site. I literally had to pace around my apartment for five minutes to calm down after reading it.

You reduce sexual harassment to "verbal annoyance" and you have the gall to bring up gender bias as backing up your point of view?

You have to nerve to say that a woman who is bombarded with sexually explicit remarks by muscled construction workers while walking down the street is in no physical danger? You have the nerve to say that women are in no physical danger at any time, but especially then?

Let me tell you a little bit about what it's like to be a woman. In particular, let me tell you a little bit about what it's like to be an eleven-year-old who developed breasts early and is afraid to walk home from the bus stop because her neighbors - adolescent boys themselves - call out, "Hey sexy! Nice body, baby!" every time she walks by. Every time this happens, she goes home and cries. Yeah, that sure was annoying. Very mentally trying.

Let me tell you about a eighteen-year-old girl who wore a tank top one day, walked down a street full of people, and had a guy pass her and look her up and down and say, "Damn!" But she ignored it, scowled, and looked the other way - this sort of thing happens all the time, and she was in no physical danger, right? So she kept walking, and he followed her, rubbed right up against her, and reached his hand between her legs.

God, was that annoying! Luckily, though, she wasn't in any physical danger. It's a good thing nobody around stepped in, though, right? She understood - wouldn't want others to put themselves in danger just to save her from the mental trial of having a stranger grab her vagina.

Next time you're walking down the street and see a woman being harassed, watch her body language. Watch her tense up like a cat, watch her eyes fill with fear as she pretends to hear nothing, watch her self-consciously hasten her gait - and then, afterwards, when you're a safe distance away (we wouldn't want you to feel unsafe), approach her and say, "You know, you actually weren't in any physical danger," and see how she reacts.

Rationally, I don't expect anyone to step in. It's a pipe dream and I know it. I've been dealing with this for twelve years now and I've never had someone step in and defend me, and I certainly don't expect it to start now. But when I'm alone and a group of big men start loudly discussing how much they'd like to fuck me, I regress to that terrified eleven-year-old who's too scared to play outside, who knows she's small and not very strong and has no real defense against aggressive men who would corner her.

So, I accept that nobody is going to help me, and I accept why, and I understand why. But yes, I'm going to look down on you as you walk by, and frankly, you're just going to have to fucking deal with it. You can ask me to accept it, but don't you dare ask me to embrace it.
posted by granted at 6:14 PM on April 11, 2007 [24 favorites]

"Mentally trying" ?!?!

ahaha. You must be fucking joking. How insulting.

I don't know about the other women on this board, but when I was growing up, it was impressed upon me that as a girl, my body meant others may try to harm me sexually. (And hey, guess what, they did.)

When someone talks to me in a sexually threatening way, I feel physically unsafe and start to freak-- "what happens after they tell me I look fuckable? They try to fuck me??"

It's not a rational reaction-- but it's a common one, I'd say.
posted by gerls at 6:45 PM on April 11, 2007

"Rationally, I don't expect anyone to step in. It's a pipe dream and I know it."

I won't in any way defend twiggy's minimalization of sexual harassment. However, I think partly what twiggy was objecting to, and which bothered me in your comment, was the implication that men should be stepping up and defending you from other men.

I'll agree that people should be intervening. But what people? Most people don't intervene in even violent public conflicts between people. Why? Because they're afraid. They're afraid of the aggressor just like you are. Furthermore, what applies to bystanders applies to you. You look down on them for failing to do something? Well, do you do something? Do you stand up for yourself? If you're going to expect random people to defend you, the least you can do is to defend yourself.

In such harassment is very definitely the implicit thread of sexual violence. This is a reality that women live with every day that most men cannot fathom. On the other hand, the threat of physical violence and humiliation by other men is a threat that men are very well familiar with and most men are going to be just as frozen with fear and indecision when faced with a big construction guy who apparently fears no one and enjoys tormenting women. That's a transgressive person. That is a person who probably would enjoy the challenge of some random male bystander trying to defend a harassed woman.

There is no magic bullet for dealing with these men and if you're waiting for a knight in shining armor to make them go away you're part of the problem, not the solution. The only answer is people taking action that is effective and safe and slowly changing cultural norms.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:48 PM on April 11, 2007

With all these suggestions to get a lawyer involved, I was curious about what the precise cause of action would be, and I ran across this New York law treatise excerpt on the offense of "harassment in the second degree," which seems to fit the facts here.

New York Practice Series - New York Criminal Law
Database updated November 2006

Richard A. Greenberg, Editor-in-Chief

Chapter 30. Offenses Against Public Order—Articles 240 and 241
Eve Cary


§ 30:9. Harassment in the second degree

A person is guilty of the violation of harassment in the second degree when, "with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, 1) He or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same; or 2) He or she follows a person in or about a public place or places; or 3) He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose."[FN1]

A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree, a class B misdemeanor, "when he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury.[FN2]

Neither degree of harassment applies to activities regulated by the National Labor Relations Act, the Railway Labor Act, or the Federal Employment Labor Management Act.[FN3] Presumably, the federal statutes have preempted the field when it comes to disturbances in the context of labor disputes.

Harassment involves essentially the same acts as those proscribed by the disorderly conduct statute, but the conduct is directed toward an individual rather than toward the public in general.[FN4] Thus, there need be no showing of substantial risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.[FN5]

The harassment statute was substantially amended in 1992, among other reasons, to conform to the decision of the Court of Appeals in People v. Dietze holding unconstitutional a section of the law prohibiting the use of abusive language with intent to harass, annoy or alarm.[FN6] The court in Dietze found that this provision would bar a substantial amount of constitutionally protected expression.

The constitutionality of the new version of the harassment statute has been upheld on the ground that, unlike the old statute, it does not cover simple abusive speech, but rather covers minor assaultive behavior which formerly constituted simple assault, but which does not constitute assault of any kind or degree under the present Penal Law.[FN7]

One remaining issue that arises regularly in harassment cases involves the intent of the defendant. "The key to establishing the violation of harassment is evidentiary facts which support or tend to support an intent to annoy, harass or alarm."[FN8] Thus, where the defendant in his car followed three women walking down the street and offered them $100 to come home with him, the court reversed his conviction of harassment, finding that his intent was simply to secure female companionship.[FN9] Although the court recognized that the defendant's conduct was in fact annoying, the court concluded that "[t]he statute does not … gauge criminality by the impressions made on the annoyed or disgruntled citizen."[FN10]

The conviction was also reversed in People v. Cifarelli,[FN11] where the defendant was charged with harassment on the complaint of a neighbor for playing drums. The court dismissed the information, finding that the drum playing had a legitimate purpose and was not intended as harassment.[FN12]

posted by jayder at 6:56 PM on April 11, 2007

I agree with quite a few other comments saying "take a picture of him" and "contact his employer/the authorities."

I also happen to have just finished a five-year mission to concoct the perfect cutdown. Any situation, anywhere, you say this to somebody and it will stop him dead in his tracks. Ready?

"You are dogshit."

You might be thinking, no way, that's ridiculous, that's just fighting fire with fire, he'll just talk more shit to me. But he won't. Not if you get right in his face and say it like he is dogshit. He's never been called dogshit before, and none of his buddies have heard it before, so they'll all drop their jaws and say, "Yo, she just called him dogshit, you hear that? Damn."

All during lunch hour, guys'll be walking past Sammy saying, "Hey Sammy! You. Are. Dogshit!" And it'll really hurt him, he'll feel bad about it. Seriously. "You are dogshit." Try it.

But what'll hurt more is, the next week, when he's spent all this time figuring out something to say that'll piss you off, the foreman will call him into the office, and his uncle will be there because you called the company office and sent them the pictures, and his uncle will say to him, "What the fuck is wrong with you, Sammy, I got you this job, your card, and you're fucking it up already? You want me to tell my sister her son can't keep a job because he talks shit to the ladies? Get out there, and do your job, and keep your fucking mouth shut, and if I ever have to come down here because of you again, you'll be parking cars on Tenth Avenue for the rest of your fucked-up life. Now get the fuck outta here and back to work before I scramble your face. Fucking kids!"
posted by breezeway at 7:11 PM on April 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

EB, I never once implied that I expected a "knight in shining armor" to step in. In fact, as I've repeatedly stated, I don't expect anyone to step in. As I said above:

But anyway, since it's apparent we can't count on anyone else to stand up for us - whether justified or otherwise - we'll just have to learn how to defend ourselves on our own.

I do stand up for myself - it has taken a long time, but I do. I assume that nobody will help - again, it's never happened, and again, I do not expect it to happen.

My lack of sympathy for bystanders who say or do nothing stems from deep within my emotional core - it's the childish rage, humiliation, and fear of a trapped animal. Again I repeat myself - it's not rational. To use your argument, if you had a history of being bullied, and one day you were mocked and threatened by a construction worker amid a throng of passersby who pretended not to see, how would you feel? If you'd view them with compassion and understanding, I congratulate you. But if you were to resent them, just a crumb or more, I would not blame you.
That's different from expecting them to step in.

And I know you mean well, but calling me "part of the problem" (even though I believe you are mistaken about my position) is very hurtful. Especially coming from you. Apparently I never received the primer on how to deal with harassment, but that's not my fault. I take responsibility for doing what I can to change things, but it's a responsibility I didn't ask for and don't want. Nobody does, but we deal as best we can.
posted by granted at 8:19 PM on April 11, 2007

(And I didn't mean that I lack sympathy altogether. I do sympathize, of course. But that's not mutually exclusive with with resentment and frustration, especially in an area that triggers so many strong emotions for me.)
posted by granted at 8:30 PM on April 11, 2007

You've gotten a lot of good advice, so here's just another phrase you can stick in your pocket in case you ever need to use it:

"If your company refuses to take action against this kind of harassment, I will be forced to assume that your employee speaks *for* your company and that XYZ Corp. endorses his statements."

Then mumble something about sharing this news with local media outlets.
posted by Hankins at 8:57 PM on April 11, 2007

granted, I was careful to write "if you're waiting for a knight in shining armor to make them go away". If you're not doing that, then it's not true. And if I've misunderstood you, I apologize.

I was ambivalent about my comment because your pain and anger are clear and I don't want to devalue that.

Also, even if you don't, I do think that people—not just men—should intervene when they see aggression, including this variety. It wasn't clear to me, and you seemed to give the opposite impression, that you aren't angry with other men for failing to intervene. The idea that a woman needs one man to protect her from another bothers me a great deal. And it also bothered me that you seemed, as I understood what you wrote, to be unaware of how frightening this kind of person can be to another man.

I can relate to your anger better than you might expect. My father was very abusive to me and one of the only problems I have with my mother is my resentment that she failed to protect me from him. Of course, she was as afraid of him as I was. Does knowing that make me stop resenting her? No, it doesn't. Because I was a kid and grownups, my mother for crying out loud, had a responsibility to protect me.

Just so in your case with at least one of the traumas you describe. You were hurt as a child and those you expected to protect you, didn't.

There are some big issues that are involved in this that I think are related to but separate from the harassment we're discussing in this thread. While, as I said, I do think that we, as moral creatures, have a responsibility to act against injustice when we see it, I also think that the essential issue here is a man attacking (albeit verbally) a woman. It's not so much about bystanders and what they do or don't do. They could make it better, or make it worse, or do nothing...but the only two people that are really involved are the aggressor and the victim. If I might apply some amateur and probably-faulty psychology, I can't help but wonder if your shifting of the focus to bystanders, or at least enlarging it to include them, isn't some form of avoidance of thinking about the aggressor directly. Perhaps that person is, for some reason in your past, too frightening for you to even confront in your own mind. Thus, it is easier to think about those who were nearby who could have prevented it rather than the person who was directly responsible. That person is who deserves the bulk of your anger.

I don't know, these issues are complicated. One of your descriptions was of something that was clearly sexual violence. The degree to which that and similar violations can make a person feel utterly unsafe and terrified, for a long, long time, can't be overstated.

I think you'll find, per what I wrote in my first comment in this thread, that taking some action, almost any action, to answer the harassment you receive will help you a great deal in working through the terror and anger. At the root of it is the sense of being powerless. But you're not. And doing even a small thing to prove that you're not powerless will open a new vista for you. It won't make everything better and all the harassers and molesters and rapists go away, but it's a start.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:04 PM on April 11, 2007

Re: the various suggestions of fighting fire with fire by flipping out, insulting the guy or angrily cussing him out...I've got mixed feelings about that strategy. I've used it myself at times, and sometimes it can shut the guy down, sometimes it can just lead him to escalate the verbal abuse and/or change the tone from merely crude to actively threatening. This sort of harassment is about power as much as sex, and getting a rise out of you is likely a big part of their fun; since you've tried it once and gotten that you're-cute-when-you're-angry sort of response, it's probably not the best tactic to keep using on these particular jerks. The earphones-and-sunglasses trick others have suggested might work better in this situation, as it robs them of the pleasure of seeing you react to their taunts.

In my experiences, the loud verbal blowout has typically worked best on more physical harassers in crowd situations, like the movie theater case mentioned above -- even if none of the folks around you seem to be preparing to intervene once you've loudly called the guy out, the potential of someone doing so along with the public shaming can definitely shoo those guys off. The catcallers are used to attacking with words, and especially in the absence of any witnesses other than their sympathetic buddies, meeting them with a verbal riposte doesn't necessarily discourage them from making more taunts. OTOH, the sunglasses and earphones convey "I'm ignoring you" non-verbally, and that can be enough to breeze by remarks delivered in passing -- their harassment seems like a matter of opportunity here, they may not be at liberty to leave the job site and pursue you if you walk on by without giving them the reaction you want. That trick works less well in closed situations like an elevator or a subway station or on a bus, where a sufficiently stubborn guy can get so loud and in-your-face that it's harder to pretend you didn't see or hear anything.

As for being able to identify the guy -- if you can't arrange for a friend to snap a picture of him discreetly, if you own or can borrow a camera phone, that might be enough to do the trick without making what you're doing too obvious. A phone or PDA with a voice recorder might also be of assistance in documenting the abuse, so it's no longer in the realm of he-said/she-said; but if nothing else, just starting to keep a written log of what this guy is doing, and when, could be of help when you take the matter to his management or your lawyer.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 9:42 PM on April 11, 2007

i was just going to suggest pepper spray, but the other suggestions are really much more productive.
Scream and spray him with pepper spray?

I don't think you really want to be suggesting that infinityjinx break the law and open herself up to lawsuits.

one of the most condescending, ignorant, and offensive statements I have ever read on this site.

Oh, look, a self-describing statement! Responding to non-physical harassment as though it is a physical assault is just wrong.

I'm going to look down on you as you walk by

For not defending a stranger against a physical assault that isn't happening? Utterly ridiculous.

infinityjinx, get him reprimanded or fired, by all means. But don't be the one to turn something verbal into something physical. It puts you squarely in the wrong.
posted by oaf at 9:46 PM on April 11, 2007

Where in the city is this, infinityjinx? I'm in lower Manhattan, and I get a lot of this hassle too -- I'm not attractive, but apparently there's a small fraction of the New York population that gets joy out of giving me shit anyway. Still, a lot of the responses in this thread come from reasoning that's totally alien to me.

This guy is a creep and a jerk; he knows he's bothering you, and he's still not stopping. Let's say that, as you deserve to, you take this guy down -- get him reassigned, get him fired, sue the business he works for, whatever it takes for you to feel justice has been done. That would be great. I mean it.

Now what are you going to do about the delivery guy another block down who honked his horn to attract your attention and then made obscene gestures, or the suit who whispered an obscene suggestion as he passed you, or the three teenagers who walked behind you for three blocks to discuss your ass, or the guy who followed you too closely on the stairs up from the subway, or the bum who said that from you, he wanted a donation not of spare change but of sex?

You deserve justice against each of those guys. You do. But if you tried to pursue that, it would consume your life. Even if you won every case, you would ultimately be the loser. You can't go after every harasser on an individual basis. It's just not possible.

I think the best solution is to make the active choice to discourage this behavior on a macro level. These guys, the ones who hit on you after they know it bothers you, keep saying shit because want to see you respond. When you went over to the guy, that was his jackpot; in that moment, every single comment he'd made became worthwhile because you showed him that he had gotten to you. If every woman who walked past ignored him -- just took zero notice -- he'd stop. And if every woman ignored every guy trying this shit, the vast, vast majority of those guys would stop.

For me, step one is an iPod with big headphones. You don't even have to be listening to anything -- guys are just much less likely to say anything when they see that you physically can't hear them. It also sends the message that you don't care about their input; you choose what you're hearing, and they're not your choice.

I carry a big bag -- a backpack, actually, but a messenger bag or a big enough purse would also work. When I'm about to run the gauntlet, say by walking through a section of sidewalk with construction workers standing on each side, I suddenly realize I need something in the bottom of my backpack. I leave one strap looped around one shoulder, but I pull the whole thing to the front. Not only is my attention totally focused on something else, I'm also obscuring at least half of my body -- that much less for them to comment on.

The show of "not paying attention to you kthx" is really effective on its own, though. Walk like you own the city, head held high and everything, but act totally focused on talking on your phone or pressing buttons on your Blackberry or something. You'll get way fewer comments because they know you're not paying attention.

This stuff may not work on the jerk in your post, because you've already responded to him; even if you start ignoring him now, he knows you do care about what he says. But if you choose to discourage all guys like him whenever you run into them, you can do it by pretending to be deaf, not pausing or making eye contact, and not looking rattled in the slightest. The more women who choose to do this, the less payoff these creeps will see, and the less reason they'll have to keep harassing unwilling women.

That's how I choose to respond to all verbal harassment other than direct threats. Physical harassment, though -- you can't deny a physical harasser satisfaction, because he doesn't care so much about your response; his handful was his reward. I'm all for going after them individually, although I realize that's not always possible.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:38 PM on April 11, 2007

A few months ago, a grubby little man muttered "you know you want it" as he passed me on Broadway near Astor Place.

I stopped dead and roared: "STOP HARASSING WOMEN! NO ONE LIKES IT!" He turned and looked at me."SHOW SOME RESPECT!" I posted it to hollabacknyc (no picture) and was told they'd post it--but it hasn't shown up yet; I let them know that it was me who translated "le chinga" on hollaback cali and asked if any Arabic speaking holla women could translate "tah karaysee" or the "krs" root. I had posted on hollaback cali that I knew what their race policy was, but that women should know what is being said to or about them.

A few years ago, the F train at 2nd ave hadn't shown up for an hour late one night and I was about to wet my pants. As I was heading for the staircase, a giant frat boy stepped in my path with a huge leering smirk on his face. Before he could ask me to suck his dick: "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY!!!"
posted by brujita at 10:46 PM on April 11, 2007

I'm leery about using an ipod in public --I want to keep all my wits about me.
posted by brujita at 10:47 PM on April 11, 2007

The difference between severe verbal abuse and physical abuse is arbitrary and serves simply to protect those who perpetrate verbal abuse. Believe me, I'd rather take a beatdown than constant and pervasive harassment that never stops.
posted by Justinian at 10:58 PM on April 11, 2007

Brujita has a good point. My post was based on the situations I'm usually in and the one it seemed infinityjinx was describing -- broad daylight on a city street with at least some people around.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:01 PM on April 11, 2007

The difference between severe verbal abuse and physical abuse is arbitrary

I hate to get involved in this, but... what? I think the difference is pretty much NOT arbitrary. Having a fist slammed into your face repeatedly is clearly different than (severe) verbal abuse (and for good reason). That said, I completely agree that severe verbal abuse is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. When it comes to the dichotomy of "a beatdown" and "constant and pervasive harassment that never stops", I think the point is there are actions you can take to stop constant harassment from someone (as evidenced in this thread). When it comes to being physically assaulted, if the attacker is stronger, well, you're pretty much fucked until it's over.
posted by the other side at 11:11 PM on April 11, 2007

I'm leery about using an ipod in public --I want to keep all my wits about me.

You don't actually have to be listening to music or carrying a player -- just having on headphones that are large or colorful enough to be visible from a distance, with the end of the cord vanishing into a pocket or bag, will make it look like you're zoning out to music and can't hear the catcalls.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 11:11 PM on April 11, 2007

i agree with serazin. stand up for yourself before you call the company...see what happens.
posted by goldism at 5:31 AM on April 12, 2007

I work in construction and the industry is starting to take casual harassment much more seriously than before. People actually get fired for this sort of behavior because it's bad for business. Here's the people you should contact, in order of importance if you get no traction with the individuals doing the harassing:

1. Site superintendent. Look for the guy with the white hardhat with a set of blueprints.

2. Project manager. Call the company on the project sign. Ask the receptionist to speak to the PM in charge of the job at whatever address.

3. School construction management. The project sign usually will say who the project is for and you can contact the school PM in the same way as the PM for the construction company.
posted by electroboy at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm incredibly impressed by the amount and quality of responses this thread has gotten, as well as the tangential discussion taking place. Seriously, all the support and suggestions are very encouraging. Thank you =)

As a follow-up, I would like to tell you all that my plan is to take a picture of this guy and send it to the construction company along with a detailed description of the harassment. I hope he does see me take the picture, so he realizes I'm serious about how his words have affected me. I'm not particularly worried that he'll try to attack me - there are always quite a few other workers around who have given me no problem, and he is generally standing about 10 feet above me on some platform or crane. Either way, I'll take the risk.

I was planning on taking said photo today, but it is raining and they aren't working today.

This is happening in Queens, by the way.

Re: the debate of whether or not to curse a guy out, booksandlibretti pretty much has it in this case. For what it's worth, though, I did ignore him the first half a dozen times. Since he showed no signs of stopping, for some reason I thought I could appeal to his compassionate side by humbly requesting he stop shouting obscene things to me, but it became quite clear that he was delighted to finally have my full attention. I do regret going up to the guy and engaging him, because I realize now that is exactly what he wanted. I've told guys to 'F off' before and it's left them stupefied, but this guy thrived on it. He probably can't wait to see me again to either a. engage in an exciting shit-talking battle or b. taunt me for not having anything to say this time.
posted by infinityjinx at 7:47 AM on April 12, 2007

For what it's worth, though, I did ignore him the first half a dozen times. Since he showed no signs of stopping, for some reason I thought I could appeal to his compassionate side by humbly requesting he stop shouting

worth noting that you say "full attention" so maybe your "ignoring" him wasn't really ignoring him... if you're not saying anything but you're showing your annoyance, anger, frustration etc on your face or through body language, then he's getting what he wants.

I honestly do not know whether I just don't get harassed as much as other women, or if I just don't notice, but it kind of doesn't matter. I just treat these guys like minor irritants, like yappy dogs or unruly toddlers - they're just mentally limited and poorly trained.

You're not going to get anywhere trying to address the yappy dog itself. Going to a supervisor may help or may not; it's up to you how much time & energy you want to expend on the project. But I wouldn't undertake it as a major moral battle - it's just sort of neighborhood maintenance.
posted by mdn at 8:27 AM on April 12, 2007

A woman in Florida was run over last week for trying to "just ignore it".
posted by brujita at 9:00 AM on April 12, 2007

Response by poster: Uh, you're reading too much into it mdn. By ignoring I mean: keep walking, stare straight ahead, headphones on (I often have headphones on but I keep the volume low-ish so I can still hear if someone shouts something at me), act like i didn't notice anything. This is what I've trained myself to do over the years, and like I said, 99% of the time if it happens, I know I'm never going to see the schmuck again and I don't let it bother me. This case is different because I've been harassed by this same person every outdoor lunch break I've taken in the past few weeks.
posted by infinityjinx at 9:16 AM on April 12, 2007

Response by poster: Er, let me rephrase. It always bothers me, but I generally restrain myself from making a big deal out of it.
posted by infinityjinx at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2007

While it's mentally trying for you to be cat-called and yelled at, you are not in physical danger.

is perhaps one of the most condescending, ignorant, and offensive statements I have ever read on this site. I literally had to pace around my apartment for five minutes to calm down after reading it.

One of the most condescending things you've ever read on the site? You haven't read this site very much then.

While mentally trying is apparently a choice of words that is not to your liking, it's hardly the most "condescending, ignorant and offensive statements" ever posted to this site.

I think "mentally trying" sounds pretty bad, but apparently that belief is not universal, so let me clarify my position: verbal abuse is horrible and stupid. If it happens often, it can be incredibly damaging - even moreso than physical abuse in some cases. However, it almost always takes more than one instance of rude comments and cat calls to really screw you up mentally with any sort of a long lasting effect. Therefore, a random bystander who sees one person being treated rudely verbally needs to weigh the benefit of stopping one set of rude comments against the risk of getting beaten, hurt and maybe even killed. To understand the risk/benefit that is being weighed, and still look down on someone who does not risk life and limb to stop a single occurrence of rude comments is to be well beyond the line of irrationality.

I'm sorry my word choice set you off, it wasn't meant to marginalize sexual harrassment at all. I think it's a little excessive to call the phrase "mentally trying" "one of the most condescending, ignorant, and offensive statements I have ever read on this site" though.
posted by twiggy at 10:48 AM on April 12, 2007

Horrible situation, but I'm glad it was asked. And so many best answers here!

I like the idea of holla back. It's a shame that we have to "administer" (?) decent behavior in this way, but, if that's what it takes…

Ditto languagehat. I apologize for my gender. This is something that really irks me. Despite all the technological, social, economic advances we have made, it makes me sad to realize we haven't quite evolved enough as a species.

And I concur with the predominant idea of documenting the harassment (with photos/video, discreetly, if possible) and confronting the company with it. And even threatening/engaging with legal action as well.

Best of luck to you! (Can an older white guy say "you go girl!"?)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:48 AM on April 12, 2007

Oh, and granted, in response to your very angry rant:

Your rant was plenty condescending in and of itself.

It's not much better growing up a skinny awkward male. My childhood, adolescence and even some of college were filled with verbal abuse just as nightmarish if not moreso than catcalling and rude comments, and many times paired up with physical abuse as well. I can empathize, and as I said in my previous post, I do empathize and recognize that verbal abuse is horrible.

Your problem is that you lack the ability to not only put yourself in someone else's shoes but also respect that perspective. You said it yourself - expecting someone to risk their life to protect you from verbal abuse is irrational, but you will STILL look down on guys who don't do so.

So let's sum up:
- Verbal abuse very very bad
- Physical abuse also very very bad, for some reasons the same, and some different from why verbal abuse is bad
- Risk/benefit analysis of: "risk my safety and maybe my life to stop a single instance of catcalls/comments for a total stranger" to any rational human being comes out as potentially too high a risk to be worth attempting.
- Despite bullet point above, some women still think men are scum for not doing so
- I personally hope the guy(s) catcalling infinityjinx get what's coming to them
posted by twiggy at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2007

I have learned a lesson from this thread, and to all of you I am grateful. I suggested hollabackny because that's all I could think of. It stings when other posters don't like my answers. But you were right; hollaback only serves to let me vent and it doesn't actually address the issue.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the thoughtful answers here about taking a picture and talking to the superintendent. I work in construction, for crying out loud-- why didn't I think of that? Because I'm just learning to stand up for myself, and I'm just learning that I can cause change. I'm very grateful for you all.
posted by orangemiles at 11:32 AM on April 12, 2007

By ignoring I mean: keep walking, stare straight ahead, headphones on

if that's how you normally walk, then that's ignoring it. If you are determinedly pushing through his domain as if it's a war zone then you are making his day. I'm just saying, he's nothing - he wants to feel powerful by making you feel less powerful, and all reactions against him are playing into that. I really think the only way to get past it is to see it for what it is: a pathetic attempt to dominate because in most of his life he's on the bottom rung.

It's not that he's an asshole. He's just mostly a loser in life, which is sad, and he's reacting to this in an impotent and kind of disgusting way. It's all just sort of miserable if you analyze too far, so I still think the best thing to do is shake yr head and forget it.
posted by mdn at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2007

The one thing I've seen absent from all the suggestions is talking to your employer. They can't want you experiencing this harassment. If nothing else, make your boss aware of the problem, which is potentially helpful if talking to higher ups in the construction firm produce no results.

The advice on headphones is completely situational. It's probably fine to project an air of aloofness during the day with other people around. But in other situations it could make the wearer look unaware and therefor appear to be an easy target to a predator.

I've linked to this site before but I think it's definitely worth reading every page at No Nonsense Self-Defense. The guy you mentioned sounds more obnoxious than dangerous but I think it's good information for anyone interested in personal safety.
posted by 6550 at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2007

Best answer: I feel like I'm regurgitating what others have said, but I hope to add my two cents.

I work as a Project Manager for a General Contractor in Northern California.

I really like the idea of taking a picture of the perpitrator.

I think what is key first is finding out who all the players are.

The structure of the Construction Hierarchy.

From the top:
General Contractor OR Construction Management
Sub-tier subcontractor

You have recourse will all these entities.

For example if Joe Scumbag works for a rebar installer, who works for a Concrete subcontractor, who works for the General Contractor who in turn works for the owner, you can make a legitimate complaint with all four entities.

A fifth party you could complain to woudl be if this Joe Scumbag is part of a Union. Is he a pipe fitter? A carpenter? A Glazer? All laborers, if they are Union all are signatory with the Union Hall and rely on the Hall for getting work.

On our construction projects, we have a zero tolerance for catcalling, fowl language, graffitti, rudeness, yelling, etc. Any valid complaint is grounds for the laborer to be thrown off the job. Our company will not allow that individual to get work on ANY of our company's projects anywhere.

We are signatory to the union and we report those individuals to the Union. If someone loses their Union membership, gone are their benefits, etc.

If I were in your shoes, and I could not find out the name of the person, who they work for, I'd write a complaint letter complete with quotations and pictures of the individual and his "friend," Make it strong, make it as official sounding as possible.
I’d do one or all of the following things:

-- If you want to make this complaint in person to the General Contractor, I'd write a letter first addressed to the GC. Clearly state the incident, the affect it had on you in terms of damages, state the impression the company is making by allowing this conduct and how it relates to their ability to get work and make money. Does "Acme Construction" pride itself as a reputable, professional builder? This behaviour is not that of a reputable, professional builder. This way, you have your thoughts organized and thought out. You don't want to storm in there with your emotions, you want to go in there as someone who is astounded that this is allowed to happen, as a strong woman who isn't thin skinned, but someone who has a valid complaint and will not stand to be mistreated. As a woman who is letting Mr. Acme know what is going on on his project sites and, obviously he doesn't want this to happen, of course he doesn't want to lose money.

-- If nothing happens, then address the same letter to as many parties as you can. What I mean is, get contacts for the Owner, the General Contractor, contact the General Contractor and get a list of all Subcontractors who are working on the project, and write a blanket letter to all of them. To: Persons associated with [Project Name]

Incidents like yours need to be taken seriously. If the owner sees that not only have you been insulted enough to write a complaint letter, you've been insulted enough to do your homework and get to the bottom of this. You are someone to contend with, you are someone he has to answer to.

I know if I'm Joe Scumbag's employer and I see that this letter isn't just addressed to me but every goddamn person on the ENTIRE project, it's public knowledge, it's not something he can shove under the rug and and write off as some thin skinned woman.

That General Contractor will think twice about hiring that subcontractor again. That owner may pre-disqualify certain subcontractors on the next projects they fund. This way it's public and there will be no way that the employer can get away with doing NOTHING. There has to be a response; the General and the Owner will be watching and guaging that response.

Good luck.

PS: I just thought of another idea. Go ahead and write the letter coming from you, but what if you contacted your HR person and/or a VP in your company, could the letter come from your company?
posted by raar at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

Be careful when taking the picture. I just finished doing something similar (and posted the experience to MetaChat). You definitely want to have some friends with you if you start taking pictures or otherwise confront the guy.
posted by Doohickie at 9:50 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hello to anyone who wanted to know how this all turned out.

I was hesitant to post because I'm not sure my actions turned out to be all that ground-breaking...

But anyway...I wrote a strongly worded letter to the construction group - DeMatteis - describing each incident: date, time, place, what was said, how I felt threatened, etc. I also walked over one day with my digital camera and attempted to take a picture of the guy in question. He was standing up on a crane, saw me, and quickly climbed back down the ladder and hid in the depths of the guts of the building somewhere. As some people suggested, I think this sufficiently scared him - but I did not get any kind of clear photo.

I also did not get any response from the company after sending the letter, which was pretty disappointing. However, I haven't been harassed since the day I scared the fellow with my camera. [Maybe he was fired, or maybe he's just not making himself known to me, or maybe he moved to the other side of the site.] I would like to think that perhaps an announcement was made to the construction team to be more respectful, but I have no idea if something like that happened.

In short, they've all been well behaved (so far) ever since I whipped the camera out.

Thank you again for all your concerned replies!
posted by infinityjinx at 9:12 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

good job infinityjinx, glad things worked out (so far as you say)
posted by edgeways at 9:56 PM on July 10, 2007

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