Posted by: CeCe | November 1, 2014

Hey beautiful!

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. I’ve had lots of things that I wanted to write about, but didn’t have the time to get them done before completely forgetting everything I meant to write. But here I am now.

Some of you have probably seen the video going around with the woman getting cat-calls in New York City [link will open in new tab/window], and have already formed your own opinion on it. From what I’ve seen in discussions about it, people generally fall into one of two camps. The first camp says that yes, this is harassment and we hate dealing with it. The second says, for various reasons, that it is not. I’d like to address the latter, giving their reasons for saying such and responding to each of them. This is by no means a comprehensive response, but maybe it will be helpful to a few people when engaging in conversation about it.

First, let me say that I have been cat-called and hit on in public, just like most women have. Some of the times I’ve been hit on have been kind of nice, like the gentleman who hit on me a couple weeks ago, and then backed off politely when I said I have a boyfriend. That was so wonderful, really; he took no for an answer and did not persist, although we made polite conversation for a few minutes after that. I can’t express how much I appreciated it! Other times, it’s been creepy and downright scary, like being followed by men who loudly expressed what kind of things they wanted to do to me. Granted, those latter instances have become more and more rare as I get further into my 30s, but they did happen with alarming frequency when I was a teenager and in my early 20s.

When I watched the video, it really hit home for me, because many of the creepy instances I experienced started off with a polite “hello” or “hello beautiful” but did not end there. They usually ended with the men getting in my personal space when I responded, or becoming hostile when I didn’t. It’s amazing how fast “beautiful” can become “stuck-up B*TCH!” when one chooses to not respond… and scary. It’s also scary how a simple nod and a smile can be taken as an invitation to sexually proposition a woman, or to touch her. Truthfully, for many women it becomes “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. If you respond in any way, you’re leading them on. If you don’t, you’re stuck-up. There is no middle ground, like that you responded because you’re polite and trying to be nice, or that you didn’t respond because the person gave you the creeps and you’re tired of it.

So the last couple of days, I’ve been reading the responses to the video on Facebook, on various pages to which I subscribe. Here’s a sample of the responses I’ve seen:

1) “How is saying hello harassment?”

Truthfully, merely saying hello to someone when passing them on the street is not harassment. When I’m out for walks, I may nod to those whom I pass, and if they meet my eyes and tell me to have a good day, I’ll say “thanks, same to you”, and continue on my way. However, if you watch the video, the woman in question was not making eye contact. She was not smiling or nodding at those whom she passed. She was walking quickly, and she had a very clear “don’t talk to me” look on her face. Talking to someone you don’t know when they’re giving off these signals, especially when they’re given as clearly as she was giving them, is harassment, plain and simple. Does a person really have to carry a sign saying “don’t talk to me” in order for people to leave them alone? These men were ignoring her clear signals. That is rude, presumptuous, and disrespectful.

Not only that, this was not Smalltown, USA, this was New York City, the same city where Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death in public while her neighbors did nothing to help her, although several heard portions of the attack. When you live in a city, especially one as heavily populated and immense as New York City, you have to be on your guard, whether you’re male or female, but especially when you’re a female, because although men are more likely to be violently assaulted, women are likely to be assaulted simply for being a woman. Being a woman walking alone makes you a target in a city, whether it’s broad daylight or the middle of the night. I can say that instances in which I was followed by cars full of men, loudly propositioning me out the windows took place during the day, and it was still just as terrifying as it was when it happened at night. It can be scary being a woman in public! And you never know if that man saying “hello” to you is one of the creeps, or is merely being polite, so it’s best sometimes just to ignore them all.

2) “If she didn’t want the attention, she should have worn looser/less revealing clothing!”

First, I didn’t realize that wearing a t-shirt and jeans was considered “revealing”. Second, while the t-shirt and jeans in question were both fitted, they still covered her completely and weren’t overly tight. They were just the correct size for her, that’s all. Third, it really doesn’t matter what we wear. I’ve been lewdly and rudely propositioned wearing everything from shorts and a t-shirt to exercise clothes that fully covered me, and I’m sure other women can say the same. Fourth, this is just victim blaming, and akin to people who try to justify a woman being raped because of her outfit. Just because a woman looks nice does not mean she’s looking nice for you, and to think otherwise is egotistical.

3) “By not responding, she may have missed out on meeting someone special, like her future husband!”

This one is one of the stupidest responses I’ve seen about it. Not every woman who dares venture out of her house (when obviously she should be in the kitchen or raising kids /sarcasm) is looking for a boyfriend or a husband. Maybe she’s already taken. Maybe she’s a lesbian. Maybe she just doesn’t want to date anyone right now, or ever. Isn’t that her business?

Also, generally speaking, women who are walking down the street are either exercising, or trying to get from one place to another. They’re not trying to meet anyone. And even if they are, it doesn’t mean they want to meet you in the same place where they’re often harassed and cat-called. If you want to meet someone, save it for a place where it’s more likely the women there are looking to meet someone, like in a store, cafe, restaurant, bar, or club. Women generally feel safer in these places than they do on the street, and are more likely to be receptive, if they’re single and you’re what they’re seeking.

4) “Some women like the attention!”

Yes, but most women don’t. Isn’t it better to cater to the majority of women rather than the small minority who enjoy it? Why would any man want to risk scaring 9/10 women, just to find the one that actually doesn’t mind? Do you not care that this makes the vast majority of us uncomfortable? If you don’t care, that makes you a creep and maybe you’re the one who shouldn’t be allowed out in public.

5) “She’ll miss it when she becomes old and invisible!”

I can honestly say that when I’m out walking and the most I get are nods and smiles from passersby, I feel relieved. I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve been out walking and at some point I encounter a man headed the opposite direction, and I’ve breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t do more than nod at me. I would love it if that’s the only attention I got, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! I love it when I’m out and about and all I get are polite reactions, rather than the “hey baby nice t*ts/butt” and “smile! You should smile!” comments I’ve gotten in the past. Now that I’m getting older, I love the fact that I can now sometimes walk in peace!

Not only that, but to think that you know what a woman will think/feel in the future is incredibly conceited and egotistical. If you can’t read her clear signals when she wants to be left alone, what makes you think that you know how she’ll feel 20 years from now?

6) “What, can’t a man ever talk to a woman or acknowledge her beauty?”

One time, I was out grocery shopping with my now ex-husband, and at one point, an African-American gentleman who looked to be in his 40s or 50s approached me and he said, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that you look really beautiful today. I hope you don’t mind.” I said thank you and smiled, he told me to have a good day, I wished him the same, and that was it. He didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all. In fact, I felt flattered, even though I wasn’t attracted to him in the least bit. He was nice about it, not creepy, and I appreciated that.

Another time, when I was a teenager, I was standing outside a grocery store and a man who looked to be in his early 30s started to pass me, and then he came back and said, “Hey, you’re just as cute as Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island! If you were older, I’d ask you out on a date!” While I was standing there trying to figure out how to respond to this, he asked me how old I was (17) and if I had a boyfriend (yes). And then he continued asking me questions (where ya going? Are you from here?), while I was trying to back away and find any excuse to leave. It isn’t that he was horribly bad-looking, because really he was average and some women probably would have found him attractive, but just the fact that he kept trying to come on to me after I told him that I had a boyfriend and was under 18 was creepy. And I was sending off clear “leave me alone” signals, which he ignored.

So there you have it, one example of the right thing to do, one example of the wrong thing to do. But here’s the thing: Yelling out “hey sexy” or “hey beautiful” to a woman’s back while she’s out walking is pretty much always rude, disrespectful, and sometimes downright creepy.

Saying hello to a woman in public is fine, if you are just being polite. It’s not fine when you’re doing it as she’s walking away from you, while staring at her butt. Paying a woman a sincere compliment is perfectly okay, like the former gentleman I just mentioned. It’s not okay when you’re leering at her, staring at her breasts, “complimenting” a single body part (“nice legs/breasts/butt!”), getting into her personal space, or ignoring her signals that she wants to be left alone. Women are not here for your personal enjoyment. Get over yourself.

7) “If women don’t want attention, they should stop wearing makeup/doing their hair/wearing nice clothes!”

This is kind of related to number 2, but it’s not exactly the same thing. Why assume that a woman wearing makeup/nice clothes/styled hair is doing it to get attention directly from you? Kind of egotistical of you, don’t you think? Not only that, but society has certain expectations of women, particularly women who work. Going to work without clean and neatly groomed hair, makeup, and clothes that fit and look nice can get a woman fired, disciplined, or at the very least, prevent her from being promoted. Maybe she’s dressing that way because it’s required, not because she wants “compliments” from random guys on the street. Maybe she wears makeup and does her hair that way because she likes it and it makes her feel beautiful. Maybe she’s off to go on a date with her boyfriend or her husband (or her girlfriend or wife, whatever), and she wants to look nice for them. Even if she is looking for a prospective mate or attention, it doesn’t mean that she wants you. Again, get over yourself.

8) “If the guy looked like Brad Pitt, the woman probably wouldn’t mind!”

That is not necessarily true. Some men assume that women are shallow, and while we can be, most of us look for more in a man than just his appearance. For example, a woman may be looking for a man who is kind, stable, has a good sense of humor, is able to go along with her quirks and will accept her for who she is, is respectful of her, is well-groomed and takes care of himself, and is fun. If he looks like Ian Somerhalder and has a bank account balance with seven figures to go along with his great looks, that’s just a bonus… but it’s not everything. And a creep is still a creep, whether he looks like George Clooney or is an old fat drunk guy. Don’t be a creep.

9) “But don’t all relationships start off with two strangers?”

That may be the case, but there are times and places for meeting people. School, work, cafes, stores, bars, restaurants, through mutual friends, at church or other social gatherings, at parks… those are all great places to meet people. While a woman is walking down the street? Not so much. Leave her alone.

10) “Well maybe women should just stay home then!”

Yeah, because it’s not like we’d ever need to shop, work, hang out with friends, or whatever. Maybe you shouldn’t leave the house if you’re unable to control yourself. If you think like that, you are a waste of space and oxygen. Full stop.

Other responses that possibly deserve a mention state that this is a first world problem (it’s not, this happens everywhere), that this kind of thing only happens in large cities like New York City (not true), or that it’s harmless (it’s not, because it’s terrifying and makes some women never want to leave the house), or that with all the other issues in the world, perhaps this isn’t worthy of concern (yeah, it only affects about 90% of 50% of the population, no big deal /*snark*). Street harassment is insidious, and only exists because of the prevailing attitudes towards women in society. It is a symptom of a larger problem, which is that women are still not granted full autonomy and the right to exist in public without being subject to victimization just because we happen to have a vagina rather than a penis. I don’t know if we can ever eradicate the issue of misogyny in society, but at least we can address some of the behaviors that it causes, and teach these men who engage in such behaviors that it’s not acceptable.

It should go without saying that I realize not all men do this, and not all people have the kind of thoughts I detailed above. I know that, and am thankful for it. But having seen these comments and been angered by them, I figured the best thing I could do was write about it and get it off my chest. So there you have it.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to tell me your thoughts in a comment. If you are a woman reading this, have you ever faced street harassment? Please don’t hesitate to tell your story, even if you do so anonymously.

Oh, and happy Halloween and blessed Samhain to those who are celebrating!

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