Most of us have seen this video passed ’round and ’round the Facebooks this week. The woman above, 24 year old Shoshana Roberts, wanders purposely around Manhattan clad in a crew neck and jeans for 10 hours and records the catcalling and straight up creepy behavior she receives from men. A guy straight-up silently follows her for five full minutes, for fuck’s sake.
I won’t even get into the fact that since the video, the woman has faced threats of sexual violence and death since the video was published. I can’t even think about it, I have to insert a mental block against this face for my own well being – or I will run screaming down Addison Street. One can note that this is not a rare occurrence on Addison Street but that’s a story for another day.
But I’m here, as a woman, to explain to you that yes, this is a problem, yes, you should listen to us and no, it’s not okay to holler at strange women on the street.
I’ve had two incidents that have been more egregious than “guy yelling at my ass on a street,” which happens on the regular – one douchebro last summer actually just said “nice ass”, which I guess speaks to lack of creativity as well as lack of social awareness.
The first incident happened before I had kids. I was driving home to Gloucester from my late-shift job in Everett at near-midnight in an unexpected heavy snow squall. I was on route 93, four lanes across, but only one even had tire tracks in it. It was slow going, my tiny Scion xA didn’t have snow tires, and it was just messy. And dark. There are barely any other cars on the road.
And then this guy pulls up next to me, starts beeping and rolls down his window. Now, as a human, my thought process at this point is “something is wrong with either my car or the road, and this guy is warning me.” So I roll down my window, too, as I’m also still trying to keep my car in the ruts from the cars ahead. And the man in the truck looming next to me says, “HEY BABY ARE YOU MARRIED.”
The second incident happened less than a week ago, actually. I was walking back to my house from the local watering hole that I frequent, past closing time. This route takes me past the train station as the last train from Boston was pulling away. A pack of manchildren started calling out to me. ‘HEY! HEY! EXCUUUUSE ME! HEY!’ I ignored, quickened my pace with confidence and purpose, pulled out my phone, rang my confused and tired husband, and made him stay on the phone with me until I got back to the house.
These incidents happen to women across the board – all ages, all body types. And the worst part of enduring these experiences as a female is that so many folks second-guess those experiences. Here’s some of the common apologist responses and why they’re awful:
“Those dudes were mostly being polite! They were just saying good morning! She should relax, there was nothing bad there.”
This is mansplaining of the highest order. Here’s the worst thing about this line – it’s disingenuous. Unless that guy on the street said good morning to every man, woman, child, homeless mentally ill person, and hedge fund manager they passed with the same exact phrase in the same exact tone and manner (hint: they do not do this), it’s straight bullshit. There’s a world of difference between a polite eye contact and hello as you pass on the street (to which most people repeat equally across the gender/age line in this town, as it’s custom in this area), and the way in which these guys are expecting or demanding a response. Please listen to the women in your life. Dismissing them is contributing to a vast problem, and it also makes you look and sound like a gigantic tool.
“So we can’t even say hi? What are we supposed to do? It’s so rude of her! I just wanted to tell her she looked good/befriend her!”
Here’s the thing, dudes – we aren’t walking in public to meet you or hear about our bodies from you. This may surprise you, but women know how to meet other humans already. In fact, if we’re looking to meet other members of the public with whom we are not yet acquainted, we can find a social event to do so. Like a bar trivia night, or Pavilion Beach at Fiesta. When we are walking places, we just want to get to that place with minimal hassle. Guys, we’re just like you! Whoa!
Also, I know hundreds of women from all walks of life – none has ever showed up with a man on her arm and said “You just have to meet my new boyfriend Kevin. We met when he told me to smile on the street and then told me my ass was nice!” Never. Happened.
If you’re really confused on what to do, do nothing. Smile if you make eye contact and nod, or say hello or good morning and keep walking. And this is only if you’re taking up the same space, like passing on a sidewalk. Like you’d do with any other person. If you’re a straight-laced brochacho type, imagine 3 of the most obviously homosexual men in town walk by you. What would you be comfortable with them saying to you?
“Women spend all this time and money looking nice, you mean to tell me they don’t want to be complimented on it?”
No. Not from strangers, and especially not from unknown dudes. Much like bondage, paying bills off early, or skateboarding videos, maybe some women get a kick out of it, but that’s not for you to assume and it’s certainly not okay to do in public. Again, it’s all context. If I’m at a bar, and someone I have already politely said hello to tells me they like my hair and are so obviously NOT being a creep about it, I don’t immediately turn into some spittle-flecked angry person. But the line is so thin, and the guys who run roughshod over those lines are so common that we’d rather not get a compliment and avoid possible creepiness.
Here’s my final takeaway – if you’re a guy who just doesn’t get why we’re making a big deal out of this, dig the turds out of your ears and actually listen. We’re not being “bitches” because we don’t want to respond to you telling us to smile. We just want to get to work and you don’t know us or our lives. We don’t want to befriend you. We owe you nothing, we don’t owe you a response because you decide to interact with us – you’re not trying to make us feel good, you’re trying to make YOU feel good. If this upsets you, take a deep breath and figure out where in the hell that upset is coming from, because it’s not us you should be pissed at.