Why “Hey baby!” is a big deal

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D.C.’s alt-weekly, the City Paper has a package of stories this week on street harassment. One, a catcall diary a woman kept for a year. Two, a very poorly-written essay by that same woman about how now she’s a racist because of all the harassment she gets from Latino men. And three, a piece by some dude who was apparently totally unaware that your average woman experiences street harassment on a daily basis. It also has a companion video, in which exactly two people (a male harasser and a female harass-ee) are interviewed. Taken as a package, it’s a real trainwreck. [Warning, massive post to follow.]
What I found most remarkable about the catcall diary is that she is careful to record what she’s wearing when she’s harassed on the street. While it’s true that short skirts can sometimes bring a different type of harassment, I find that I get unwelcome attention even if I’m wearing dirty jeans and a bulky winter coat. But I suppose it’s nice for those who don’t regularly experience street harassment (i.e. men) to read and take note that a short skirt and low-cut top do not necessarily correlate with catcalls. (In fact, it seemed like the subtext of the diary was: Hey guys, this is what it’s like to walk outside as a woman.) The male writer seems shocked by this. In his piece, he writes,

I am leaving the Chinatown Metro station when I see a blond woman standing well over 6 feet in platform heels. Her tight black dress hangs inches below her ass and drops deep in the front, exposing a good portion of breasts that are surprisingly large for her rail-thin body. Catcall bait for sure. I step in behind her as she walks.

Isn’t his tone disgusting? It’s as if he wants to find a slobbering harasser to channel what he wishes he could shout at this woman. And he’s then astonished when no one — not homeless men, not construction workers, not dudes in power suits, not young men at the bus stop — calls out to her.


The male-perspective piece began like this,

It’s early evening in Adams Morgan, and I’m tracking a nice ass in a pair of bluejeans as it glides down the Columbia Road sidewalk. I’m matching its pace, keeping my distance, 15 steps or so behind, so I can watch, so no one notices I’m watching.

Ew. Set aside for a moment Intrepid Reporter Joe’s totally disgusting, sexist language. Turns out that nice, disembodied ass actually belongs to the woman who penned the other two pieces, Kimberly Klinger. He’s following her to observe just how much shit women take for daring to walk down the street alone. And then he has some man-to-man chats with catcallers. The patronizing attitude of the guys he interviews is quite telling. A sampling:

“It depends on what she looks like,� adds Daniel Smallwood, a 16-year-old in a red polo shirt and a visor turned backward. “If she’s a slut, you have to treat her like a slut. If she’s not, I say, ‘How you doing young lady?’ Everybody says ‘baby’ or ‘shorty.’ I say ‘young lady.’�

And:

“Yeah, I always do it,� says Contreras [a proud street harasser]. He is happy to explain the process. “What I do is I ask how is their day. I ask to help with their bags. I give a nice compliment to her. I say, ‘You are beautiful. Can I get to know you?’� [...]
I ask him about Klinger, the fastball he just whiffed. He’s excited to talk about that, too. “It’s tough in D.C.,� he says. “Especially with white girls. They are stuck up, man. Bitches.�
Contreras thinks it is bad form for women like Klinger to walk by without acknowledging a compliment, to just ignore you like you aren’t even there. It pisses him off. “At least wink at me or wave back,� he says. “Giggle or something. Don’t walk past like you didn’t hear me.� He says it’s different in Texas. He says white women there are crazy about Hispanic guys and yes, they do respond to catcalls.

(Back to the race thing in a second.) Intrepid Reporter Joe’s next question is not, “Have you considered that most women, regardless of their race, do not enjoy being hit on as they walk from point A to point B?” Instead, he asks, rhetorically,

So why the hell do you take Columbia Road home and why live in Mount Pleasant, anyway, if you can’t tolerate a few catcalls?

Maybe because it’s the fastest route to my apartment, you asshole!? Intrepid Reporter Joe is not quite at the point yet where his reptilian brain can handle the idea that maybe it’s men’s responsibility to keep their traps shut; that they don’t have a right to yell at every passing woman about her body.
Then he writes, “Klinger knows the argument about how catcalling is part of Hispanic culture and how she shouldn’t impose her values on others.” I’m sorry, but men of all cultures harass women. And women of all colors are on the receiving end of harassment. In her essay, Klinger writes,

White men don’t do this to me with the same frequency, so when I pass a group of them on the street, I don’t clench my jaw, tense up, and walk faster. But when I pass Latino men, I assume the worst. Black men, too, sometimes, since after Latino men, they harass me the most. Hell, if you’re at all brown, I’m gonna get worried. So I have this conflict every damn day.

Wow. So is this just honest, or totally racist, or both? I can say that, while I’ve most definitely been harassed by men of all ages and races, I feel like I receive more harassment from men of color on the street, and more harassment from white men in bars. Is it racist of me to speak to my experience, that street harassment directed toward me is more likely to come from men of color? I don’t think it is. (But I do think there’s a discussion to be had here.) But I do think it’s racist to make general statements that Latino and black men are harassers and white men are not. I like the statement from this site:

Different people may find themselves harassed more by different people, depending on where they live and specifics of their community. Sometimes some groups of people are outside and in the streets more often then other groups. Think before generalizing.

The folks at Hollaback are sensitive to the race issue, and have an antiracism statement on their site. The one time I submitted a cellphone photo of some guys who had harassed me on the street, they informed me that there might be a wait to see my incident appear on their blog, as they make a conscious effort to publish photos of street harassers of all races. And they explicitly ask that submissions not mention race unless it is somehow relevant to the incident of harassment.
A DC street harassment blogger writes,

I came home Saturday feeling hurt, frustrated and just plain angry at the mess I deal with on the streets. I went to the neighborhood I used to live in, Petworth, to check out Domku and Flip It (the former is a sleek restaurant and the latter a sweet bakery…check them out). I had my path blocked by these men, was followed, had men stopping in the middle of the road trying to talk to me, beeping their horns so loudly that I jumped, had men coming too daggone close on the sidewalk, and calling me names such as “shorty,” “baby,” and other stupid nonsense. The thing that bothers me the most about Saturday’s ordeal with the men on the streets is that all of my harassers were black. It upsets me, makes no sense, and had me getting on the Internet to try to find answers. Why do so many Black men do this mess to me, a Black female, on the streets?

Klinger’s piece doesn’t even begin to do this issue justice. The intersection of race and harassment is a big and complicated issue — not exactly manageable subject matter for just three paragraphs in a flip essay. Which is also why I’m not a huge fan of Jezebel’s take on these three City Paper pieces:

Which is to say, it’s what, at most five seconds of discomfort for a lifetime of funny stories? We have fucked dudes to achieve the same result!

Ok, I’ll bite and play humorless feminist on this one. I, for one, don’t particularly like it when a strange man on the street grabs my elbow and says, “There’s a nice pussy.” (True story. Shudder.) While I do sort of keep a mental catalog of, shall we say, most original cat-calls I’ve received (“I’d climb that tree!”), their cumulative effect is much greater than five seconds of discomfort a day. It’s a reality of life that affects how I dress, where I walk, how safe I feel. Which is to say it’s usually not very hilarious.

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466 Comments

  1. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Wreckerofplans,
    I like the Miss Manners approach–ask the offending party to repeat what they just said as though you can’t believe what they just said. This is good for three reasons–it clues them in that they are close to the edge of appropriate behavior, it makes them repeat something that, if they know it is inappropriate, they don’t want to repeat, and it gives you time to formulate a “comeback” if you so choose.

  2. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    SarahMC: I appreciate hearing that. Despite knowing that what was happening was wrong, and having my mother tell me it was the right thing to do, it was very hard. 15, first job… The guy was just awful though, threatening to put me on a leash in a dog run after he (presumably forcibly) married me. If it happened again today I would be much more forceful in presenting it to management.

  3. Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Kimmy, my request for a show of hands was my response to your post. I can’t speak for women, naturally, but you can’t speak for all women either. So I am curious what others think and if they really object as much as you claim. Part of it is obv. that you, like many feminists, object to being objectified.
    But okay, let’s forget the bar scenario and say … a short supermarket line.
    Sarah, I agree that telling a stranger to smile is pushy and asserting authority over them.
    At a crosswalk, if he was going the same direction as me, I would probably be afraid unless the tone was very light and merely friendly, not at all a pick-up. If it were clearly both the beginning and ending of the convo. and he didn’t startle me or sneak up behind me, no problem.
    So we can count you as a pro-hair-complimenter, then? Obv., you don’t want to be skeezy or in any way threatening. If a woman is interested she’ll take the conversation further … otherwise, no harm, no foul (hopefully).

  4. Vervain
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    “How many women here would be offended by a handsome, smooth-talking stranger giving you a random compliment on your hair — say, at a bar, or someone waiting with you for the light to change at a crosswalk?”
    You’re still not grasping the concept. I’m more likely to be expecting or even amenable to being approached in a bar than on the street. A bar is typically a “meeting people” setting. The street is not. If you’re in a “waiting” situation like a bus stop, smoker’s oasis, etc. and want to ease the tension, the appropriate form of communication is small talk. “Small talk” is supposed to be innocuous and impersonal–that’s why it’s usually about the weather: “Nice day today,” “Looks like rain,” “Hot enough for ya?” etc. Comments/Compliments on personal appearance, made to a complete stranger, cross the line of what is socially appropriate for that context. It invades personal boundaries, just like facing inwards and making eye contact in an elevator does. You don’t need to touch someone to invade their personal space.
    Imagine if everywhere you went, people held up signs rating your appearance from 1-10. Even if most of the signs held up were in the 8-10 range, don’t you think it would make you a bit self-conscious after a while? I’m betting you’d spend a lot more time in front of the mirror each morning. And what if all the scores were bad? Would you be ashamed to leave the house?
    Compliments to strangers on the street who are minding their own business is like holding up a sign: You meet my approval! The fact that you’re offering your approval implies that that person is (or should be) seeking it. Who do we typically seek approval from? Those we place socially above ourselves–leaders, parents, authority figures, etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? By commenting (approvingly or otherwise) on the appearance a woman you don’t know, you are reminding her that you’re her social superior. Which is why it’s unwelcome, sexist, and RUDE.
    While I’m on the subject, it’s also rude to hit on waitresses, cashiers, and other people who are working in a position that “serves” you, due to the imbalance of power. Especially waitresses, who have to worry about whether they’ll still get a tip if they don’t put up with it. She shouldn’t have to pretend she likes you just to get the 20% a man would get just for bringing you your meal. (Ladies, don’t hit on your waiter, either!)
    Obviously, you can strike up a conversation with a stranger by asking for directions or commenting on the weather and potentially move on from there to flirtation, once the ice is broken and if there seems to chemistry between you. Consider it verbal foreplay.
    Conversely, a personal comment, compliment or request to go on a date straight out of the gate is the conversational equivalent of premature ejaculation.

  5. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Derek, this whole “show of hands” thing does not in any way answer my question for you. What’s the ratio? What’s the number?
    Also, you keep counting people as “pro” who’ve made it quite clear they prefer not to be bothered. It’s intellectually dishonest.

  6. ktorre
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I think something to realize is, when this kind of thing happens to you often (as it does to many women), even if some of it is threatening and some of it is ridiculous and some of it is benign, you stop differentiating and just get annoyed when it happens, because you’re tired of being picked out and stared at and talked to on the street, and you’re tired of the way it makes you feel.
    Of course, I shouldn’t try to speak for all women, but that’s the way I feel.

  7. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Ismone:
    While in general I am a huge fan of Miss Manners, I am not convinced that would have worked here. First of all, I do not believe that the woman in question would have seen anything she said as remotely inappropriate regardless of the repetitions requested. Second, this was a superior/inferior situation as she was a customer and I was staff.
    I will happily admit that on the street your response might work well, and will store the suggestion (hopefully never to be needed) for the future.

  8. oenophile
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    As for having people catcall me: I’ve had my share of obnoxious “hey, baby” comments. One guy managed to be nice about complementing my legs. (I was wearing a seersucker skirt that hits below the knee.) He walked up to me when I was feeding a parking meter and said, “Miss, I don’t want to upset you and I hope I don’t offend you, but I wanted to tell you that you have really nice legs.”
    A bit tacky? Perhaps. Badly intentioned? Certainly not.
    I’ve been “catcalled” by women a few times. ;) Two women once saw me crossing the street, leaned out of their car, and said, “I LOVE your skirt!”
    The simple truth is that even the “nice” catcalls are not nice. Women who’ve seen a “nice compliment” turn into a threat of rape aren’t being unreasonable when they are no longer interested in indulging those “nice compliments” anymore.
    IMHO, there can be some “nice catcalls.” Witness what some very nice women have said to me. I don’t think that a man saying it would make it inherently bad. There’s a basic level of respect that happens when someone pays someone else a compliment which is not present when he is trying to degrade and sexualise her. If you wouldn’t say it to your mom or your sister, you shouldn’t say it to a woman on the street.

  9. Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I agree, ktorre. It happens so frequently that any interaction from a stranger on the streets, even benign, aggravates me. And I’ve had too many instances where the harassers would start out polite then become immediately lewd.
    My first memorable (for lack of a better term) instance of DC street harassment was two summers ago. I was walking past Thomas Circle and this guy says “hi, how are you doing?” and I reply in kind.
    This fool then asks “is your pussy big enough for my dick?” I’m like, “hell no! I’m not having this!” He definitely got cursed out.
    It’s just to the point where I don’t want to be bothered by ANYONE on the streets anymore! I don’t know who to trust!

  10. Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Derek,
    As I explained this to my husband yes, some times a woman may be in a mood that a comment from a stranger may make her smile. HOWEVER, in my experience that is the a tiny fraction of the time. Usually it’s annoying, uncomfortable bothersome, threatening, or frightening. Making the days of many people worse because you might make one person feel better, and get something from it, is an incredibly self centered action. Even if a comment amused me, I wouldn’t want to get to know you socially.
    It’s like arguing you should drive drunk all the time because you may have a better shot at surviving the odd accident.
    While I certainly can’t speak for all women, from talking to them, this speaks for many that I know. Have you honestly talked to many women about this?

  11. Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Kimmy: Well, it’s sorta a moot point, as I’m in a relationship. And I haven’t worked out anything so specific as a “ratio.” I just wanted to hear what other women thought. Actually, what Vervain wrote makes more sense to me. I know she’s saying close to what you’re saying, but the way she explained things makes more sense to me and doesn’t seem quite as drastic. (Particularly her last two paragraphs).

  12. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    No, it’s not a moot point. I didn’t ask what you do on a daily basis. I asked what you considered okay. I’d really like an answer. How many women is too many for you to hurt and upset before you’d stop? If you said something to ten women, and it was 8:2 (eight hurt, two not) would that be enough? What if it were twenty women with an 18:2 ratio? Would that be enough for you to stop doing it? Or would it have to be fifty women with a 48:2 ratio before it would be enough to stop?
    Let’s put the question another way. Why would it be okay for you to hurt even one woman in your quest for a date?
    Stop ducking the question. You don’t like it, because the answer makes you look like a not-so-nice guy. But the fact is you’ve been defending a reprehensible practice. So answer the question. It’d be best if you could admit it out loud to all of us, but at least do so to yourself.
    And by the way, I never said it wasn’t okay to speak to strangers at all. We were discussing “complimenting” strangers, so that’s what I talked about. If you think I disapprove of asking directions or saying, “I hate all this rain,” then you’re making some pretty drastic conclusions yourself.

  13. annejumps
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, let’s have a show of hands here. How many women here would be offended by a handsome, smooth-talking stranger giving you a random compliment on your hair — say, at a bar, or someone waiting with you for the light to change at a crosswalk?
    I note how you pre-picked the word “offended” there, but… being who I am, I would be immediately at least mildly suspicious and cautious around any “handsome, smooth-talking stranger” giving me a random compliment. For whatever reason, I go unnoticed by most men, esp. “handsome, smooth-talking” men. So I would assume that he’s either talking to me as a joke, or trying to sell something.

  14. SingOut
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Delurking to say Kimmy–YES! You’ve summed up my feelings about being harrassed on the street far more eloquently than I could have. Thank you!

  15. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, SingOut

  16. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    That’s an interesting philosophical question, Kimmy. I would say have to say the ratio would be pretty low – like maybe 3-5% of “hurt and upset” women to complimented women. Ultimately there are some weird people out there and you can’t be responsible for people who are really really uptight or who have strange mental health issues.
    If you adopted as an ethical rule that you couldn’t take any step that might have the consequence of anyone hurt or upset, I don’t think you’d really be able to act at all.
    However: I really don’t think that many women are out there who would be “HURT AND UPSET” to have someone compliment their hair in a supermarket checkout line or would find that practice reprehensible.
    If women are really such delicate flowers as you suggest, though, I’ll be willing to mend my ways.
    And I am still unconvinced that there is /always/ going to be some kind of power issue (seeking/granting approval) behind a compliment from a stranger. I remember two years ago, I competed in the Esquire’s “best dressed man” competition here in Manhattan. Didn’t place at all, but got a random compliment from some guy on my jacket on the street. Made me feel really, really good – made my day, actually.

  17. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Kimmy,
    I’m with you. He does seem to dodge questions directed at him, while feeling free to ask the entire board to respond to his hypos.
    Derek,
    No, you can’t put me in the “hair comments ok” category, because most comments made about my hair on the street are not appropriate or innocuous. Under a limited set of circumstances, very limited, I might not mind much, but usually that is an inappropriately personal comment. I don’t make those kinds of comments to men, because I think they might be rude.
    And Kimmy is right, you keep avoiding the difficult questions.
    So let me ask mine again:
    Have you ever felt physically threatened when a woman made a sexual advance or ‘complimented’ you?
    Here is my answer: I would say that about 80% of the time in my experience, when a stranger hits on/’compliments’ me it is threatening. I am afraid of what they are going to do next. I start mapping out escape routes and planning self-defense. No joke.
    After the “you’re fucking dead” comment I mentioned above (which took so long to register that by the time it did penetrate my ipod fogged brain, the car was too far away for me to get a plate no. so I could call the cops), I changed my route home, was constantly looking over my shoulder, and was so visibly shaken up that a guy walking his dog said “I don’t want to alarm you, but you look nervous, so I just wanted to let you know that there is someone sitting in the garden up ahead, so you aren’t startled.”
    Notice, that just like the “excuse me” we give people before asking directions, the first words out of his mouth were meant to reassure me and explain why he was intruding on my solitude.
    Wreckerofplans,
    I didn’t mean to criticize at all, I think you handled the situation admirably (most of the time when people, esp. superiors, drop those kinds of lines on me I do the same thing–feel crushing disbelief and don’t say a word). When the cat hasn’t gotten my tongue, I am pretty aggressive about taking superiors to task, and I realize that not everyone else has that same comfort level. I think we can ‘get away with it’ as long as the tone remains formal, and is more polite and quizzical rather than challenging, but I know that not everyone is comfortable with being that confrontational.
    Your supervisors also have a duty to prevent clients from sexually harassing you, there is a great case out of Puerto Rico on that, and it is not the only one.

  18. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    To “show my hand” I would have to say that on the face of it this is a dreadful hypothetical situation. Traditionally handsome quite often does *nothing* for me, so it does not make me more receptive. But that’s not the major issue there; that would be you setting up a kind of perfect storm to justify behavior. *At BEST* “random” compliments without extraordinary extenuating circumstances make me mildly uncomfortable and self-conscious. In Italy just such comments on my hair led to me wearing a scarf over my head so as to avoid those comments, which literally translated as “hey, red, red-head” (rosa, testa rosa). Random men, some of them surely the proverbial “tall, dark, and handsome” types calling after me down the street, “complimenting” me on my hair led me to cover my hair, which I’m normally very happy with. I didn’t like it as a solution, but I couldn’t very well do anything else, now could I?
    Just because you’re not telling some woman you want to “fuck her ass” and just because she wouldn’t say you “hurt” her doesn’t mean you’re not affecting her negatively. You can never know that sort of thing.
    The irony if the Italian situation is that if they’d just kept their damn mouths shut, they could have looked at my hair all they wanted as I walked down the street.

  19. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    In other words, despite the many confirmations from women here, you still refuse to believe what we say. You think that you, as a man, know better than we do how we react to things. And you think that being offended at having our physical appearance verbally judged by random strangers just because we’ve gone out in public makes us “delicate flowers.”
    That’s all very sexist, thank you for clarifying your position. It’s nice to have you out in the open.
    And for the record, if you’re willing to hurt and/or upset three or five percent of the women that you talk to on the off chance that you might get a date… That’s truly disgusting. Your desire for a date doesn’t trump women’s right to not be treated that way. A date is not that important. You are not that important.
    No one ever asked you to not do anything that might hurt someone. But we’re talking about something that you’ve now had many women tell you does cause harm. And yet you think your desire for a date is more important than that.
    I’ll say it again. Disgusting.

  20. Bryan
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that there are harassing comments to make and non harassing ones (Example: “Good Morning” to a total stranger. I’m picturing Jimmy Stewart tipping a fedora while walking down the ol’ main street).
    There are also comments anywhere in between. The problem is that it can be hard to distinguish the two sometimes, and so women take the defensive approach. This is sad, because it stops friendly comments, but it makes total sense to me. My take on it is to refrain from saying things, because I don’t want it to be taken badly, and I understand how it could be.
    It also might be a question of culture. Here, in panhandle texas, random comments are more common (and the ones I hear) are genuinely benign (This is not to say harassment doesn’t happen just as often, but, being a male, I don’t usually hear it). I’ve never been to New York, but I hear the atmosphere is a bit less outgoing, and I could see how any comment would be construed as harassment.
    Does this ring true to anyone?

  21. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Bryan, yeah, it rings true to me.

  22. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Bryan, it’s really very simple. Don’t make personal comments unless you’ve established some kind of conversational relationship with some one, and then keep them as low key as possible. Don’t strike up a conversation unless they’ve indicated they might be interested. Don’t ever say anything vulgar. Stop if she seems uninterested (lack of eye contact, mono-syllabic or grunted responses, etc.). Never EVER touch someone without permission. That includes their clothing or possessions.
    It’s really not as hard as people like to make it out to be.

  23. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Yet in all of those cases, the guy wasn’t persistent, didn’t invade anyone’s personal space and didn’t menace anyone. There were advances, but they weren’t sexual in nature.

    Unless one is being excessively literal in order to be obtuse, it’s perfectly obvious that there is more than one way to impinge upon a person’s personal space. The most obnoxious and potentially threatening is probably a physican invasion of that space, but it’s certainly not the only one. If, for example, you are sitting two seats in front of me on the bus, with no one in between us, minding your own business, and I scream at you “Hey, skeezix, get some damn Scrotasil!”, I would not have physically entered your personal space, and yet I would have invaded it.
    To claim otherwise is to base one’s social mores on that children’s game in which they come gradually closer, repeatedly saying “Is this bugging you? I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! Is this bugging you? Huh? Huh?”

  24. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Kimmy, for taking on the burden of Derek. He doesn’t want to get it because he doesn’t want to change his mind or behavior about much of anything. You and others have given him every opportunity to learn something. I think we should not respond to him anymore.

  25. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Ismone:
    I’m so sorry my comment felt like a criticism. That’s not what I meant at all… And once again you have good information for me. I had no idea that there were cases out there mandating that a customer not harass a service provider. It makes sense, of course, when you point it out, but I’d not really thought on it before. I’m now literally more empowered than before to act should this come up again! Thank you for that.

  26. Bryan
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    A good list, Kimmy. Not exactly what I was looking for, but a good list none the less! It also doesn’t come off quite as strong as you may have (or others may have taken your comments) earlier in the thread.

  27. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    No, it didn’t feel like a criticism at all–I just realized that I might have seemed critical in a monday-morning quarterbacking kind of way, by effectively saying, ‘well, you could have done this differently’ which is always a pointless message. I just wanted to clarify what I said.
    And what a creepy creep. Jesus, and some people think we don’t need sexual harassment laws.

  28. petra
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Elise -
    No argument. I didn’t mean to suggest that piropos are welcomed by any women — at least not in the US.
    Harassment is probably universal, but the forms it takes vary. I toss out the information on piropos for anyone who might want to read up on what Hispanic men may be yelling at them and how those men might understand what they’re doing.
    Please know that I’m not blaming single ethno-cultural group for street harassment! I just happen to have references on piropos, and I thought I’d share.

  29. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Again, we were discussing unsolicitated “compliments” lobbed at strangers on the street. I do not believe in picking people up on the street. Women who are walking somewhere are generally doing so because they have a destination they’d like to reach, not because they are hoping you’ll notice them and pick them up.
    However, neither I nor anyone else has ever claimed it’s not okay to say “Hello” or to comment on the weather, or the fact that the bus is late for the fortieth time, or how rude that kid on the roller skates was when he nearly ran you off the sidewalk. If that should happen to lead to a conversation, fine. But don’t expect it. Don’t be offended if it doesn’t.
    And for heaven’s sake, never start off with “Hey, baby,” or “I love your dress,” or “You have a nice ass,” or “I’d love to have your phone number” or any of that kind of crap.

  30. Elise
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Well, let’s have a show of hands here. How many women here would be offended by a handsome, smooth-talking stranger giving you a random compliment on your hair — say, at a bar, or someone waiting with you for the light to change at a crosswalk?

    The worst, most unsettling harrassment I have ever received in the street has come from “smooth talking strangers”. There’s nothing quite as concerning to me as that smooth voice some of these guys get when they’re accosting me. It reminds me of snakes.
    I suppose that, since I referred to this as “unsettling” and “concerning”, Derek will now put me into the “pro-hair compliment camp” because I didn’t use his magic word “offensive”.
    While Derek saw fit to omit this bit of information on the hair complimenting front, SarahMC specifically pointed out that the compliment that “made her day” came from another woman. It’s always been my experience that the only sincere, pleasant, non-creepy compliments I’ve ever received from random strangers have been from other women.

  31. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    In other words, despite the many confirmations from women here, you still refuse to believe what we say.
    Ehh, I asked women what they thought earlier, because I was curious what they did think. Most of the posts have been about harassment, not compliments. There were a number of women who have described smiling at receiving a random compliment, or saying it made her day.
    And you think that being offended at having our physical appearance verbally judged by random strangers just because we’ve gone out in public makes us “delicate flowers.”
    I think that it would take a delicate flower to be “hurt and upset” by being in a supermarket line you have nice hair, yes.
    And like I said, if you based your life around whether or not your actions hurt 3-5% of people, I really don’t think you could do anything. People can be strange.

  32. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    You know, Derek, it’s funny, this past weekend I was speaking to a very attractive colleague of one of my friends in a bar. I thought he had great hair, and that his beard really suited him (even though I usually hate beards).
    After speaking him for THREE HOURS, I still did not say anything about his appearance, because I was afraid I might screw up the compliment and offend him. And this was after we had been having a very personal discussion about our families, and where we grew up, and music, one of those great rare ‘everything’ conversations.
    I became reticent about complimenting people about their physical appearance when I told my dad approvingly that he had ‘skinny legs’ and was told, indignantly, that no he did not. By skinny legs, I meant they weren’t fat, which was a good thing in my book. He thought I meant puny and weak, and I could not convince my own dad (one of the most easygoing people I know) that it was a compliment after half an hour.
    Tricky beast, the compliment, which is why deploying it on strangers can be dangerous.
    And no, I do not make fun of my dad’s appearance. Ever.

  33. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Permalink


    Thanks, Kimmy, for taking on the burden of Derek. He doesn’t want to get it because he doesn’t want to change his mind or behavior about much of anything. You and others have given him every opportunity to learn something. I think we should not respond to him anymore.

    I second that. After reading his crap in the Brazilian yoghurt ad thread, I think it’s pretty obvious that he isn’t interested in constructive discussion.

  34. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Derek,
    You made up the 3-5% number.
    Kimmy clearly asked you HOW MANY women it would take for you to STOP, and you made up your own question, which was “How many women are actually offended” and picked the number 3-5% out of who knows where.

  35. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Derek:
    You have not address my comment on “hair compliments” which is, to my understanding, a major underpinning of you argument. What I am describing happened not just one day on one street but for three or four days all over a major Italian city.

  36. Kimmy
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Derek, every single responses to your request for a “show of hands” has agreed with me. Even those you tried to co-opt. If you can’t understand what that means, you’re being deliberatly thick.
    And believe it or not, women get tired of being constantly judged on their looks. Yes, it does get old. Does it matter if the response is positive? No, because that still means you’re being judged. It is HARMFUL to women to have to live their lives being scrutinized every moment. And every guy who thinks it’s okay to verbalize another judgement of our appearance (whether “complimentary” or not) is just another person scrutinizing us. Making us self-conscious. Making us nervous. Oftentimes making us afraid (as evidenced by many of the posts here, even those you would describe as “complimentary”).
    Again, you’re willing to hurt people because you think your desire for a date trumps the rights of women to proceed from place to place unmolested. You are a sexist pig. You do not care what women really think (as evidenced by your consistant and constant ignorance of their views as posted here).
    And AGAIN nobody’s talking about refusing to take any action that might hurt someone somewhere. We’re talking about you taking actions that you have now been informed by mutliple people DO cause harm. You know now that you are causing harm. You choose to do it anyway. The word “might” has no place in your sentence. And, quite frankly, the 3 – 5% figure is ridiculously low. I’ll wager the percentage of women you’ve spoken to who just want you to leave them the hell alone is much, much higher.

  37. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Derek:
    You have not address my comment on “hair compliments” which is, to my understanding, a major underpinning of you argument. What I am describing happened not just one day on one street but for three or four days all over a major Italian city.

  38. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Grace: I think we should not respond to him anymore.
    Yeah, I definitely think we’ve taken this discussion about as far as it can go. I was ready for it to end a little while ago, but Kimmy insisted I answer her question. I think this will (likely) be my last comment here though.
    But I wouldn’t say I haven’t learned anything; some of the comments were v. interesting. And yes I did not realize the problem with catcalls were as bad as peole here have said. More recently, as I noted, Vervain had a comment that I thought made some sense to me.

  39. Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:49 pm | Permalink


    Please know that I’m not blaming single ethno-cultural group for street harassment! I just happen to have references on piropos, and I thought I’d share.


    I’m glad you mentioned it.
    As someone who has been harrassed by Germans, Irishmen, Peruvians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Italians, Frenchmen, Russians, Moroccans, Turks, South Asians, and the odd West African, I have my own theory as to why it often seems as if there’s one ethnic group doing the harrassing.
    It seems like most of this sort of harrassment is done by people who haven’t got much to do in the middle of the day, people who are most likely unemployed. Anywhere you go where a lot of people are broke and unemployed, you’ll have guys hanging out on the pavement in the middle of the day, many of whom have a certain resentment of women, whom many blame for their inability to find work (the same guys who make up the bulk of Operation Rescue, one might note).

  40. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Derek,
    Nice dodge of pending questions you don’t want to answer.
    V. brave and intellectually honest. Although Grace probably doesn’t make up 3-5% of the comments on this board (and I’m not slamming you, Grace), her feelings are more important to you in internet-land than the feelings of real women in the physical world who might be frightened of you.
    Izzy

  41. oenophile
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Ehh, I asked women what they thought earlier, because I was curious what they did think. Most of the posts have been about harassment, not compliments. There were a number of women who have described smiling at receiving a random compliment, or saying it made her day.
    Derek,
    The problem is that a guy might “think” that something is a compliment, or “think” that a woman should not be offended, but fails to consider that it is not his outlook on the statement in question that matters; it is hers.
    If she is offended, even if you don’t think she should be, then you have done something wrong. Even if she is overly sensitive, that is your problem: you could have easily avoided upsetting her by figuring out beforehand if she would take offense to what you would like to say.
    In short: you know that there are women out there who will be upset, scared, offended, or pissed by a “compliment.” You’re now aware of how your actions – or the actions of another guy – can be taken by a woman, so you are taking that chance when you decide to engage in this behaviour.
    When in doubt, get to know her well enough before you compliment her boobs to know if she’ll be offended.

  42. Ann
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to excerpt a portion of a comment from TAPPED, where I cross-posted this:

    I put “what’s the matter? are you having a bad day, why don’t you smile, honey?” in sanme category of harrassment. Because it extends the man’s space of control over you and your body and your day–if only for a second.

    I think that’s really important, and can be applied to what Derek calls compliments (“You look good,” etc).

  43. wreckerofplans
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Derek:
    You have not address my comment on “hair compliments” which is, to my understanding, a major underpinning of you argument. What I am describing happened not just one day on one street but for three or four days all over a major Italian city.

  44. Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    You know now that you are causing harm. You choose to do it anyway. The word “might” has no place in your sentence. And, quite frankly, the 3 – 5% figure is ridiculously low.
    Okay, now you’re just being weird and ridiculous. To be honest, I’m not even certain I’ve ever given a stranger a compliment in public. If I did it was probably another guy. I know I’ve picked up girls (once or thrice, not often) in public spaces, but can’t even remember what my “opener” was. It’s been awhile.
    wreckerofplans- sorry, I’m not going to reply to it either. I’m trying to extricate myself from this discussion! But I promise I’ll go back and read it.
    Ismone – Kimmy very clearly asked me for a RATIO, which I provided.

  45. Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Ismone wrote:
    “Derek,
    Nice dodge of pending questions you don’t want to answer.
    V. brave and intellectually honest. Although Grace probably doesn’t make up 3-5% of the comments on this board (and I’m not slamming you, Grace), her feelings are more important to you in internet-land than the feelings of real women in the physical world who might be frightened of you.”
    I know you aren’t slamming me, Ismone. Derek doesn’t cares a twit about my feelings. He was just double dodging—dodging the questions still pending and dodging my dissing him.

  46. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Actually, 3-5% is not a ratio, it is a percentage. The ratio would be 1:20 (for 5%) and approximately 1:33 (for 3%) if the ratio is offended:total.
    Here is what Kimmy asked the first time, verbatim:
    “How many women would have to be made uncomfortable and upset by you in order to justify your stopping doing this? One? Four? Twenty? How many women are you okay upsetting in order to get one date? A 5 to 1 ratio? 20:1? Where do you stand on this?”
    Here is her third iteration of the question:
    “How many women is too many for you to hurt and upset before you’d stop? If you said something to ten women, and it was 8:2 (eight hurt, two not) would that be enough? What if it were twenty women with an 18:2 ratio? Would that be enough for you to stop doing it? Or would it have to be fifty women with a 48:2 ratio before it would be enough to stop?”
    She is asking what your cutoff point is. When you would stop. Not how many women are you subjectively think are ACTUALLY OFFENDED by what you do. Which is the only answer you gave. Not in ratio form.

  47. Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Ehh, I’m not trying to dodge anything. I just don’t see the point of arguing further. Are there really any other questions you want to ask me?

  48. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    And you still haven’t answered my question, upthread, which I asked twice:
    “Have you ever been afraid of a woman who has made a sexual comment to you? Physically afraid?”
    “Have you ever felt physically threatened when a woman made a sexual advance or ‘complimented’ you?
    Here is my answer: I would say that about 80% of the time in my experience, when a stranger hits on/’compliments’ me it is threatening. I am afraid of what they are going to do next. I start mapping out escape routes and planning self-defense. No joke.”
    And you clearly had to read my question the first time I asked it, since you quoted the follow-up sentence when you claimed I was pro-hair-compliment.

  49. Ismone
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    See my 7:16 and 7:20 posts, in response to your 7:17 post.

  50. Mina
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    “I became reticent about complimenting people about their physical appearance when I told my dad approvingly that he had ‘skinny legs’ and was told, indignantly, that no he did not. By skinny legs, I meant they weren’t fat, which was a good thing in my book. He thought I meant puny and weak, and I could not convince my own dad (one of the most easygoing people I know) that it was a compliment after half an hour.”
    Indeed. Likewise, I guess one observant Sikh guy might feel flattered by “Dude, that’s a nice turban” and another one might feel it’s just another degree of “OMG Osama Bin Laden!!!”

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