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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.

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  • Kelsey

    Excuse me miss always works on me lol.. To me, street harassment is not when you approach me, the woman, without yelling yo or ay or shorty or sexy , and introduce yourself and throw in a compliment. I am always impressed when the guy chases me down without yelling and says something to me, it makes me feel less uncomfortable. Hope this helped 🙂

  • Myrna Orvam

    Hmm..interesting post. What is street harassment NOT? I’ve never thought about it that way because I’ve only addressed what street harassment is. Well..street harassment is not, at least for me, the old man on your block asking you “Excuse me miss, is your husband married”? This happened yesterday and I just laughed. I took it as this man saying in a round about way “Yeah, I’m too old for her but I gotta holla anwyay” LOL. Oh ..and Jozen..just saying “hello” is fine. Works wonders.

  • Heather

    I am not very receptive to being approached by strangers on the street, if you need to yell or touch me to get my attention, you have already gone too far, in my book. Any polite approach like “hello”, or “hey, what’s up”, “holy motorcycle boots, batman” that results in me making eye contact is a great approach. If you try to interact, and I don’t respond, chasing me down and screaming at me is not going to impress me.

  • She fixedwater

    Street Harassment IS lewd, lascivious, rude, and/or continued contact
    from a person who has been rebuffed. It IS NOT a “hello” from a stranger
    or an “excuse me, miss” from a passerby. It IS hollering from a
    vehicle, and the sudden stop of said vehicle to chase the subject down.
    It IS NOT a nod of greeting, and a casual conversation starter with a
    receptive party. It IS a group catcalling and/or whistling at a lone or
    group of the girl/girls/woman/women.

    Identifying street
    harassment is kind of akin to the old rule about pron – “I know it when I
    see it.” I realize that for a reasonable man this may not seem a
    reasonable rule, however, it is important to recognize that street
    harassment is essentially unwelcome. If you are rebuffed, it is time to
    walk away because your continued presence is harassment.

    i hope this is helpful

  • Jayla

    co-sign what She fixedwater said. To make it more personal as far– think of how you’d want a man to approach your sister if they were trying to get her attention. If you wouldn’t approve, then don’t use that tactic on the beautiful stranger you see on the street

  • Me

    To be honest, street harassment is not street harassment if we end up liking said harasser unless it’s disrespectful or lewd. While some goon hollering “aye aye you with the brown skirt on” might be seen as harassment by myself, a guy that I turn out to be interested in may be able to get away with it.

    It is also what She fixedwater said. If we turn you down and you continue to ask to be friends, have your number or plead your case, THAT is harassment. That is the essence of what it means to be harassed…to be overly aggressive or extra persistent in the face of rejection. Most times, NO really does mean NO.

  • Dani

    I live overseas right now, but I would agree street harassment is what Fixedwater said. I don’t know if that is just me being American since some countries are definitely more tolerant of cat calls and grabbing.

    In any country however, I really don’t like when guys are shouting from afar or a group of guys are throwing one-liners. P.S. hollering “Where are you from?!” never works on me, ever. (Even if that is the only English phrase you know)

    I read on public transit a lot so, asking me about my current read usually gets a good response. A simple “hello” works as well. I think it is less about what is said and more of how it is delivered.

  • Natalia Lara

    One final note: harassment in this context, to me, is when you talk “at” a lady, as opposed to talking “to” a lady. Hope this helps!

  • Chelsea

    Excuse miss w/ a nice smile could work wonders

  • Nely

    I always smile when a man offers to help me with my bags or offer a ride when it’s pouring out. I won’t ever accept but it’s the fact that they offered shows that they are gentlemen. I love that! I’m ol’ fashioned.

  • Me

    You have the right idea.
    No noises (‘pst’ or ‘tick’ or kissing sounds), no shitty pick-up lines (‘can I have fries with that shake?’) and certainly no stares that suggest you are, at that moment, picturing what you’d like to do to us.
    I’m always responsive to those that approach me with manners and an awareness that I could be in a rush ie. ‘do you have a moment to chat or are you in a rush?’

    It obviously helps if you are good-looking.

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  • lynn

    I think there’s a consensus forming around “Excuse me, miss.” I don’t think I’d respond well to “Hey flower girl!” Why that would bother me is too long to explain here, but it relates to what you already know. And she probably didn’t respond to it because it didn’t sound much different than the other street harassment she always gets. But when someone says “Excuse me,” maybe they need directions, maybe they need the time, maybe they actually care about talking to me… I will most likely stop to find out.