Hey Girl, Talk to me About Street Harrassment
I need a prayer to get in her book and it looks rather dry
I guess a twinkle in her eye is just a twinkle in her eye
Although she’s crazy steppin, I’ll try to stop her stride
Cause I won’t have no more of this passin me by
— Slimkid3 of The Pharcyde from “Passin’ Me By”
Several years ago, me and my boys Ace and Hugh were walking down Canal street in New Orleans. We were there for the Essence Music Festival, Fourth of July Weekend. For those who have never been or read my previous posts about it, it’s essentially a weekend of nothing but great music, excellent cuisine, lots of liquor, and for a man, so much eye candy they’re bound to leave with optical diabetes.
Such a piece walked right past the three of us as we were discussing which direction we were going in. The girl was flanked by two others on her right and left side. They were all walking quickly, but Ace and Hugh and I noticed the woman in the middle. This was day two at the festival, a festival we had been to previous years, so by now we were well trained in the art of patience. We were no longer running after pretty face who walked by, and put a premium on good conversation with strangers instead of just aesthetics. But this girl in the middle couldn’t be ignored, at least not by me.
I stepped away from the group to catch up. Of course, I had no idea what to say to get her attention. She was wearing a floral dress, so thinking on my toes I started yelling “Hey, flower girl!” as I speed-walked towards her, hoping to get her to turn around before I had to pass her up, turn around, and get in her way. “Flower girl” wasn’t working, so I started yelling, “Beautiful, beautiful!”
Finally, she turned around, but only for a moment to see if I was talking to her. “Yes, you.” She turned back around and kept walking. “No, you, I’m talking to you!” There was a storefront with mirrors to our immediate left, as they were still walking, I improvised: “Look to your left, in the mirror, I’m talking to you. You!” She looked to her left. “There you go,” I said as she was slowing down, and finally stood at the corner, her girls putting some space between us and them. “Hi,” I said. “I’m sorry for yelling, I just had to stop you. My name is Jozen…”
What happened next isn’t relevant to today’s post, but since I know you all are nosy I will say this much: She ended up visiting me in New York City a few weeks later.
The reason I’m sharing this story is because I want to talk about street harassment. It is close to 90 degrees in New York City today, and the forecast says the weather will be hovering around that temperature for the next few days. That means Summer is here, and it also means women are going to hear the latest in cat call lexicon.
I’ve written about street harassment before (click here to read this), because the older I get, the more I see it as a problem. I encourage us to have a healthy dialogue about it, but what I see from a lot of people is a very simple message being preached:
Street harassment is wrong. Don’t do it.
My question is, what exactly is street harassment?
I’m not talking about explicit forms of street harassment, where a guy is calling after some woman like she’s a stray animal. I know not only is that wrong, it’s not very becoming of any man who wishes to be taken seriously by a woman he wants to talk to. Blatant street harassment is something we can all spot from a mile away.
But for the men who mean no disrespect and simply want to talk to a pretty woman who has crossed their path, men like myself in the story I told above, have we gone too far from the moment we opened our mouth?
I would like to think I have not street harassed a woman, but the more I hear people pointing out examples of street harassment, the more I think maybe I have, and I ain’t even know it.
I’m not going to tell women they should be able to distinguish between a genuine compliment from a stranger and a backhanded one. I don’t believe it’s on women to filter through the noise or say thank you to a guy all because he was like, “Daaaaamn, you’re looking good today!” It’s on men to know what is acceptable and what isn’t, while fully understanding, every woman will respond to a comment differently, no matter how well-intended that comment was. I know better than to street harass a woman, but if I want to get the attention of a woman I don’t know, and I choose to call her out by the shirt she’s wearing (“Hey, soft gray v-neck shirt!”) because I don’t have much else to go on, or choose to address her the way I addressed that woman in New Orleans, have I said too much?
This is my request for a conversation and feedback, not a debate about definitions, so ladies help me out here. I’m listening. I have a good idea of what street harassment is, but I’m curious to know what it’s not. Extra credit if you give me some appropriate phrases to utter the next time I want to get the attention of a beautiful stranger.