Holly Kearl on how to talk to women without harassing them

I was street harassed twice in the space of an hour yesterday. Well, the first time didn’t happen on the street, per se. It happened inside Grand Central Station, which was bad news for the well-dressed middle-aged businessman who decided to sidle past me, look me up and down appraisingly, and sneer “Niiiice” as he passed. Bad news, indeed. Because inside this particular section of Grand Central Station, when someone of my lung capacity loudly responds to such harassment with a hearty, “Fuck off, asshole!” it echoes. And everyone around us can hear it.

Street harassment is part of my daily life in New York, as it is for women all over the world. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Spaces Safe and Welcoming for Women, has a piece in the The Guardian about how to talk to women without eliciting the kind of reaction that Pinstripes McFuckwad got out of me yesterday:

Consider if the context might make them feel uncomfortable if you approach them. For example, is it dark out or a deserted area? Are you larger or older than them? Are you with friends while they are alone? If any of these factors apply, be aware that they may feel a little unsafe or unsure if you approach. So make it clear that you mean no harm and then leave them alone if they look uncomfortable.

This point – Kearl also writes about using appropriate, non-sexualized language, and about picking up on whether the woman wants to talk to you at all – is, I think, the most important, because it cuts to the heart of how to end street harassment. Simply put, street harassment won’t end until the men who do it learn to consider the possibility that their words will affect women in a negative way, and until those men care enough about women for that possibility shut them up. In other words, until these men let go of the male privilege that grants them the right to say whatever the hell they want, without regard for the impact it might have on women. Until then, ladies, I suggest you have your middle fingers ready to fly. Or perhaps, if you’re feeling extra festive, a nice hearty, “Happy Valentine’s Day, dickhead!”

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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