The Harassed & the Harassed-Nots.

I was harassed on the way to work the other morning.

A youngish (25–30 years old, I suppose) man ran up behind me and said hello and asked me how I was. I replied, and stupidly told him where I work because I couldn’t think of a lie quickly enough when he asked me. I was quickly approaching my bus stop and had to think of a diversion lest he wait with me for it. He was asking me if I like my job and I said no. He said if I was looking for work he knows of some jobs going. I pleasantly tried to get rid of him as I stepped into the news agency, but he followed me in asking if he could have my email to send me the jobs. I said I wasn’t interested and told him goodbye, but he said he’d like to get to know me better, and could he have my number. I said no. He asked if he could give me a compliment, and told me I was beautiful. I begrudgingly said thanks and tried to bury myself in a magazine as he exited the store.


When I told some co-workers/friends about this later that morning, one of them complained that no one ever harasses her in the street, and the other said she’d love for someone to harass her on the way to work.

Um, I didn’t tell them that some lovely man approached me on the way to work and was super-polite when he paid me compliments and asked me for my number. I told them that I repeatedly said I wasn’t interested, yet he still followed me into a shop and invaded my personal space. I was HARASSED. How is that something to be envious of?

Friend #1, who lamented that she never gets harassed, later explained to me her reaction and shed some light on Friend #2’s reaction. She said a few years ago she was very self-conscious and hated the way she looked. The fact that strange men didn’t approach her whilst she was going about her business, or wolf whistle and honk from moving cars, only added to her bad body image. She said she felt that Friend #2 was where she was several years ago.

I tend to agree, but I certainly don’t understand. Being approached with no invitation, being asked personal questions and being repeatedly asked for your contact details when you’ve already told them no is in no way a confidence booster. The fact that our society encourages us to see women as public property and the only measure of their (self-)worth is if they appeal to the opposite sex is abhorrent and a reflection on Friend #2’s reaction.

Even when I was blatantly sexually harassed in my workplace a few months ago, Friend #2 exclaimed that if it was a young, hot guy who had said to me, “I’d like to take you home,” I wouldn’t have complained. Actually, I would have.

Firstly, I would never go for a guy who would say something like that to me, regardless of age and appearance, without any prior contact. Secondly, I was just standing there, minding my own business. Since when (okay, since forever) did a woman just being in your general vicinity make it okay to approach her with rude comments? And lastly, harassment is harassment regardless of the body it comes in.

A few weeks ago I was going to meet my housemate for a movie. On the way, a young guy, about 19, came up to me and told me he just had to talk to me because I stopped him in his tracks. He asked me if he could have my number, and I said no because I’d just started seeing someone (I can finally use that as an excuse without it being a lie!) and didn’t feel comfortable giving my number out to him. I said I was really flattered, though, and he told me to have a nice day and enjoy the movie. Now, that’s how you approach someone without it being deemed harassment. That’s how my friend would like to be “harassed”.

I’m all for confident men going up to someone they find attractive and would like to get to know, paying them a compliment and asking for their number and, when rebuffed, go about their business—and let us go about ours—in a respectful way. But if some young women are so starved for affection and approval by our predominantly looks-based society that they would be happy to be harassed if it means being acknowledged by the opposite sex, there is something seriously wrong.

I’m calling for more education on harassment for both men and women.

Related: The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

So a Tattoo Makes me Public Property, Huh?

Image via YouTube.

18 thoughts on “The Harassed & the Harassed-Nots.

  1. Recognising myself as Friend #1, I feel I should clarify my comments!

    When I said “this never happens to me. I wonder why?” I certainly didn’t mean to complain, or to dismiss your experience. Street harassment (or workplace harassment, or anywhere harassment) is never okay, and I’m angry that it happened to you. What I was trying to express was amazement at how this happens to some women with horrible regularity, and to others not at all. Looking back on it, though, I can see how it came across as envious and dismissive, and I’m sorry for that.

    But yeah, I did think differently a while ago, and it came from insecurity – when it seems like everyone is receiving (unwanted!) attention except you, you can start to wonder “well, why not me?”. Now, instead of feeling left out, I recognise that I’m very lucky not to have experienced this, and how important it is to support other women who have.

  2. Hi Zoe, thanks for your feedback and clarifying your comments.
    My initial reaction to your comment, “this never happens to me” was to roll my eyes as I think the mindset of a lot of people is still, “well, you were harassed because of the way you look, what you were wearing etc.” and I often get that kind of response when I talk about things like this. But speaking with you about it after the fact helped me to understand why you have felt that way in the past, and friend #2 (perhaps?) feels this way now.
    Sorry if I offended you in any way.

  3. I hate to sound like a bad feminist, but I think guys are sometimes really persistent not necessarily because society considers women to be public property, but just because men are following their biological instincts: to pursue a female who catches their eye. I do agree that some behaviour is definitely creepy, disrespectful and unacceptable, but not all men who pursue a woman are disrespecting women by doing so. The world would be a boring, dispassionate place if we all went about our business with polite exchanges and no one was ever cheeky or colourful. You gotta have some passion :)

  4. I see your point, Sheeple, but when a guy approaches a woman the way I described in the second encounter in this post, that’s an acceptable, flattering and, perhaps natural biological way of expressing their interest in them. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem when someone doesn’t take no (indeed, three no’s) for an answer.

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  6. I’m guessing that if you told other people, they probably chided you for not being thankful for being so beautiful and bla bla bla. Which is insulting enough. Reminds me of this episode I had the other day: I was waiting at the bus stop and an old man moved so I could sit on the bench next to him. I thanked him, to which he replied that he only moves for good looking girls and not fat and ugly ones. I gave him my best bitch face, because that shit’s clearly a little archaic and out of line. If a hunch back needed to sit down, would he have honestly just sat there? By his selective rules he should have been standing. After that he pestered me for a smile, because it’s clearly my duty as a woman to be as pleasant as possible and to improve people’s days by being sweetness and light, OBVIOUSLY.
    I’ve had so many other street harassment episodes, you’ve actually inspired me to write my own post and not take over this post with my ranting!

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  8. While individually a guy that comes up to you politely and gives you a compliment is not a horrible person, think about how many times a day that can happen if you live in a city where you walk rather than drive from place to place. Every 5 minutes is okay? Every hour? Every other minute? Once a day? Every one of those guys feels he has a justification (biological, social, it really doesn’t matter). But it’s my time, my patience, an expectation that I be polite and pleasant no matter how many times this happens, no matter what is going on in my life or what is on my mind… There may be times in the public space where a conversation organically develops, but I really don’t want to be incessantly approached by strange men I’ve not invited into my space. Even if they are “polite”.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with your point, that being female in public is not an invitation, and that the longer we treat it like it is, the longer there will be confusion between harassment and a compliment. But the thing is, part of how we experience harassment IS about how we feel about it and how we react to it. There’s harassment that anyone would recognize as harassment, and then there are encounters that genuinely do fall into a gray area, and those are the tricky ones that one person might consider a compliment and another might consider harassment. Saying, “No, this is definitely harassment” can feel undermining to women who might experience some forms of attention as validating–but saying “No, this is definitely a compliment” can feel invalidating to a woman who doesn’t want to hear it. It’s an enormously complex area. What determines “respect”? I mean, certainly going away when asked is respectful–but some would argue that simply approaching a person who is unknown to you is disrespectful.

  10. Tsipi, I think this comic strip sums it up best. I, myself, feel like I’m slowly turning into this woman, and I have another friend who gets harassed almost every time she leaves the house who is fast approaching this, too.
    Autumn, thanks for your input. By far the most notable commenter this blog has ever seen! ;)

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