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The Other Reason Street Harassment Is Wrong

January 31st, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Let us all agree street harassment is unacceptable. When a woman is walking down the street, minding her business, and men start cat calling with unwelcome and sometimes rude remarks, giving her all this attention she did not intend to get when she stepped out to pick up a gallon of milk from the store, it is wrong.

And yet, according to this chart I dug up at, men are still out here doing it like it’s a national pastime with no signs of stopping.

But I didn’t need to see a chart like this to be aware of the frequency of street harassment because as a man who has partaken in more than his fair share of approaching women on the street, I’ve developed a nose for such activity.

I can recall a time when I was walking down the street with my lady in San Jose, California, and seeing two young men walking in our direction. The men were loud, laughing amongst themselves, and walking down the sidewalk like they owned it. All signs pointed to them saying something to my lady if I didn’t make a move to show them she was with me, so I simply grabbed her hand. No sonner did our fingers clasp did one of the men yell in our direction, “Ah man, how’d you know?!” I laughed and said, “Because I know what I have and if I were you and I saw her, I would have said something too!” The two men and I got a good laugh out of the whole thing as we walked in separate directions, but the exchange had my girl confused. She asked, “How did you know they were going to say something?” I repeated what I said to the guys adding it was just something guys do.

Harassing women on the street is wrong, approaching women on the street is not. I’ve been doing the latter for as long as I’ve been walking down streets myself. Not to say it’s my preferred method, I’m just an opportunist with 20/20 vision, therefore I don’t begrudge any man who pays attention to his surroundings. The reason I think street harassment is wrong is because it’s ineffective.

If you were to show a group of young men who are guilty of street harassment the same statistics I displayed in this post, or point to the other numbers of how prevalent it is, they would all acknowledge there is z problem. But what if we flipped those statistics to tell a different story? Allow me to start with a couple I have compiled myself off based on research I have gathered simply through casual observation.

Over 100% of all men who have committed some form of street harassment have failed in accomplishing getting the attention they sought from the woman they harassed.

Under 1% of all women who fall victim to street harassment have given their phone number to the harasser.

If more men knew were given these numbers, there might be a higher likelihood they would change their approach. Frankly, it might be the best solution, in spite of how shallow it is for the following reasons: A) A lot of men have a warped idea of what harassment is and think as long as they’re not touching the woman they’re shouting at, they’re not harassing them. B) One time, whether it was just the other day or years ago, the cat calling actually worked, and who knows it can work again? C) They’re just paying a woman a compliment.

These are the most common excuses I’ve heard from men, and I’ll be the first to admit, back in my younger days, when I had little decorum, and absolutely no idea how to talk to women, I would use these excuses to explain my own actions. But as I’ve gotten older, I realized: A) Harassment can be verbal. B) The women who do respond to street harassment are attention-mongers. C) If I really wanted a woman walking down the street to feel special, I would give her the courtesy of paying her an original compliment.

The question is what’s an effective way to spin this message towards the men who don’t know any better? Women talk down to them and tell them they’re being disrespectful, and men who speak out against their actions do something similar. Both approaches are nice in principle, but horrible in execution. What we need to do is coach these young men up and show them while street harassment is wrong, it also doesn’t work and the reason they should stop is because if it’s positive attention from the opposite sex they seek, there’s a better way to get it.

We need to start showing men the magical ways of effective communication, because frankly, a lot of them aren’t around enough women to know better or they’re lazy.

Some people might accuse me of victim blaming when I say street harassment has worked for some men, but it’s true. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, a man with absolutely no couth says something to a woman without so much as taking one step from the spot where he stands, and she comes right over. Now it gives him no right to approach the next woman the same way, but it does make him lazy, it does give him reason to continue with his unoriginal approach because, hey, it did work once upon a time. For some men, that’s the only incentive they need to keep going.

If it’s not laziness he suffers from, it’s the lack of social skills hindering his ability to approach a woman the proper way. I always joke, if a woman ever wants to go somewhere crawling with men, visit the most crime-ridden neighborhoods. There’s a lot of men there and most of the pretty women who live there have either left, are married and/or with child, or they work at the local strip club. What’s sad is how much truth their is in the last fact I shared.

Because there are rules and regulations, and in a weird, twisted way, they are getting what they want in exchange for $20, most men talk to women in the strip club with more respect than they talk to women on the street. (Next time a man says something out of line on the street, don’t ask him if he would talk to his mother that way, ask him if he would talk to a stripper that way; chances are he wouldn’t.) When they go into a non-strip club environment they don’t understand, all women don’t attention, and even if they do, sometimes it’s from someone else. That’s when men start acting like the guys Chris Rock is talking about in the video I’ve shared on the “Until I Get Married” Facebook page.

When I see these men get excited over every woman who walks by I find it sad because it’s a testament to how little they get to be around women who are not members of their family. I swear, sometimes my neighborhood in Harlem looks like Lord of the Flies. None of this is to excuse their behavior, but I am tired of people pointing the blam and simply saying, “You should know better.” We all agree, they should, but why don’t they know better? What gives with not only their lack of chivalry but originality?

What they’re doing needs to be stopped, but in order for them to be stopped, they have to be shown a better way to do things.

As I said, street harassment is wrong, full stop, but talking to women walking down the street is not and if we want to make even the slightest progress in getting more men to understand the difference and how to do more of the latter instead of the former, we need to learn how to better talk to men.

Where to start, I don’t know, but if I could teach a class, I would start with some wise words from this guy.

  • Mac

    Ah, but Jozen street harrassment is rarely ever about communication skills.  It’s about exerting power over women & putting us in our “place.”  It’s a constant reminder that we are on display for their (read: male) satisfaction and dissection, we shouldn’t be out in public, and that we are inferior to men.
    And, I think you’re letting these assholes off the hook by saying “they don’t know any better.”  There is a huge difference in being socially awkward/bumbling around the opposite sex and street harrassers on some “ay bitch lemme holla atchu.”  While the former can benefit from your post, the latter is beyond your help. 
    Oh yeah, congrats on all your new opportunities, wishing you much success!! : )

  • Dewan Gibson

    I agree, but street harassment tends to be more successful at a 24 hour Super Walmart. Between the hours of 11pm to 3am it’s like a nightclub, especially in the baby section. 

  • Chocolate Mom

    I would have to agree with Mac, street harassment is about control.  A man knows he will rarely get a positive response from catcalling, however, he still gets a fix from the negative responses or reactions.

  • ThisIsTee1

    I spent some time in the south growing up, and there were two types of men that would approach you on the street:  The “Hey-shawty-what-up-you-so-fine” dude that would try to grab your hand and the “Ay-b*tch-what-dat-mouth-do” type of dude that would try to grab…err…other parts of your body. At least some of them (the former, obviously) would still treat you with respect even if you weren’t feeling them or chose not to respond to them. The latter would no doubt call you a b*tch, or my favorite; a lesbian.  No-one ever actually tried to harm me, though.  However, when I got to college, I learned that there can be repercussions for not responding to street harassment.  Broken bottles were actually thrown at me and my friends for not acknowledging a catcall on the street. (and I swear to you I’m not the stuck up type)  It got to the point where I felt like I was “running the gauntlet” every time I walked up the street towards a group of guys.  It was all fun and games; banter and bs before, and now I have to fear the threat of violence?  No bueno…

  • BoardroomB

    ‘exerting power over women and putting us in our “place”‘ i strongly disagree. what jozen is referring to is a ‘class’ issue. most men who are doing the proverbial cat calling are men generally men from low social/economic classes or younger men who lack maturity. i’m from and live in chicago and the majority of the men cat calling that goes on are either outside a corner store, outside a club/college party where drinks may or may not have been involved or outside a dorm building where men are standing in groups

    and if you ever lived or visited chicago calling a woman a b***** is the fastest way to find a man getting cursed out. chicago

  • Treifalicious

    While well intentioned, Jozen, as Hugo Schwyzer points out, street harassment is more about impressing other men and bonding with each other by objectifying women as a kind of sport. In order to truly stop street harassment, there will need to be a complete overhaul of the way masculinity, especially Black masculinity, is “performed” in our culture. See:

  • Treifalicious