“I said she looks nice today. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t she just say, ‘Thank you’?”
Yesterday, I was at Fulton Park in Bed-Stuy having a conversation with a man about street harassment, and I found myself at a conversational impasse. He said something both logically and socially acceptable that I knew in my gut was wasn’t right. Street harassment is such a normalized function of our male-dominated society that we often can’t discern why it’s just plain wrong.
Most people agree: rape is an abhorrent crime; following a woman home is creepy; grabbing a woman’s arm to make her talk to you is a gross abuse of male privilege. No man will admit to wanting to be that guy who scares and sexually violates women. Everyone condemns the actions of Sexual Violator Guy.
But what about the guy who yells out, “Why you so mad? Smile, you beautiful!,” while a woman is minding her own business? Men — even men who proclaim proudly to never harass women — find the line is a bit blurred there. Well, what’s wrong with smiling, one might say.
Nothing is wrong with smiling. Victims of street harassment are not ardent smile-haters. We are women who, like men, are just going about our lives and are not particularly interested in walking around wearing inane grins for the sake of entertaining our male neighbors and random strangers.
The problem is not that women don’t like smiling. The problem is that Smile Guy, in asking a complete stranger to give him a smile just because he wants it, feels entitled to receive it. The problem is that, sometimes, if you don’t smile, this dude may call you a bitch or spit at you or push you to the ground.
The problem is, when a man tells a woman to smile or “compliments” her “fat ass” or asks her if she likes it doggy style, she doesn’t know if he’s going to turn into the dude that threatens to rape her. Or follows her home and rings her doorbell at odd hours. Or takes off his shirt and chases her through the street. How do we women, walking at 10pm through a poorly lit and empty park, know that Smile Guy isn’t one bad interaction away from becoming Sexual Violator Guy?
This is where we need male allies to understand: yes, dudes yelling random things at us is annoying. Most of us are not against street harassment just because we’re annoyed. We’re against it because we’ve been followed, we’ve been raped, we’ve been killed. We’ve met Sexual Violator Guy, and that motherfucker almost always starts out as Smile Guy. Hey Sexy Guy. I Love Your Juicy Lips Guy.
So don’t turn a blind eye to gateway behavior. Don’t shrug, say it’s standard for men to pursue women and that it’s not harmful. It’s not harming you, but you can’t see a woman’s hand clenched around her keys in her pocket just in case she has to clock I’d Really Like To Ride That Ass Guy at 3am on her way home after a night out.
What can you do when you see I’d Really Like To Ride That Ass Guy tell Scared As All Get Out Woman, “Fuck you, ugly bitch” after she doesn’t respond to his advances?
Be Asked Her If She Was Okay Guy. Or even Offered to Walk Her Home Guy. We could use more of these guys holding us down instead of Walked Right Past Her ‘Cause It Wasn’t That Bad Yet Guy.