Not That You Asked: Street Harassment

I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate what it’s like to be street harassed to men. Or men who don’t seem to get it.

I think I figured out a decent analogy.

(As an aside, you’d think when there is a disproportionate amount of men who do things like murder, rape, and assault women, I wouldn’t have to do this. But yeah.)

Imagine going to the store. A store that sells everything you need to survive. You already know what you want. Once inside, EVERY employee inside greets you or asks you if you need any help. In a five minute visit, a dozen workers have tried to engage you or asked you a question, some in very close proximity to your person. Some follow you around the store, not taking your initial dismissal seriously.

You don’t want to be rude. But do you REALLY have to nod or respond to every “friendly” or overzealous sales person? You didn’t ask for assistance. You didn’t even walk in looking confused or lost. You just wanted to walk in, get your item, pay for it, and leave.

Now imagine the store is Outside. Right, like, the place that exists when you walk out the door everyday. Every time you think about going Outside, you have to consider what you are wearing and where you’re going, who you might encounter. You know there will be at least five people who will say something to you. This will increase exponentially if it’s summer and you are wearing less clothing. Because it’s like, HOT. You’ll do things like cross the street to avoid people, or have to move seats on the bus or train. You will wear earbuds and walk with your head down or pretend to look at your phone (though not at night because you don’t want to be asking to be robbed, raped or killed.)

This is all very fucking annoying. All you want to do is go Outside and not have to deal with other people.

Like going into the store, YOU are somehow to blame for even going there in the first place. Why should you expect to go into a place where people are just trying to be friendly and helpful (and yeah, OK, sometimes vultures working on commission) and not have to acknowledge them?

What if the sales person followed you in the parking lot? What if they were outside your door? What if they stood and waited for you by your car? Ya know, just to see how you were doing and if they could help you find something.

Why don’t they just leave you the fuck alone? Because they want something from you and they don’t care how much you ignore or deny them. They feel entitled, because it was YOU who crossed paths with THEM first. It’s your job to figure out who is trying to make a sale at any cost or who is simply making small talk. Besides, look how you’re dressed and your ethnicity and where you are. You look like you are some THING, some KIND of person. In the store, you look like someone with money and are obviously here to spend it. That means you are asking to be spoken to. Notice they’re not just speaking to EVERYONE. No. YOU are special. You and the other people who “look like they need assistance”.

This is your fault and if you don’t want it to happen, just don’t come into the store. It’s not up to anyone else to change their behavior. It’s up to you to accept it and shut the hell up about it already.

You DID walk into the store voluntarily, didn’t you? Forget the fact that you had to. Look, all thirty people working there were JUST TRYING TO BE NICE. What’s the big deal?

I really liked this article in Salon and the idea of “affirmative consent”. If I walk into the store looking confused, trying to make eye contact with you or flat out asking you to help me, that’s your clue to engage with me.

It’s that simple.

-Carly

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