Brooklyn Movement Center What Men Should Say To Women in the Street » Brooklyn Movement Center

What Men Should Say To Women in the Street

street harassment

Male allies: we need your help!

“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?

street harassment

A sticker you can give to street harassers, designed by Audrey Wayne.

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.

Anthonine Pierre
As BMC's Lead Community Organizer, Anthonine looks to bring people together to make Central Brooklyn a smaller (and better!) place. She's a lifelong Brooklynite, foodie, and enthusiasm enthusiast. When she’s not working at BMC, she’s usually looking for the Wiz with her friends the Lion, the Tin Man & the Scarecrow. Follow her on twitter at @AnthonineP.
  • http://www.facebook.com/ldown47 Ken Bright

    Both genders are out of there nature. I do not support “street Harassment.” However, like i said both party mind-sets are toxic. No 1 deserve such gross statements. But, I have actually purposefully reached out in words to a simple ‘Morning.’ Total ignore! If this simple humanity of respect and simple courtesy does not return to a community. WE ARE IN TROUBLE! Tooooo much insensitivity will kill us don’t ya’ll get it. TOTAL DESTRUCTION AS A RACE! Wake up! Good Afternoon to my sisters!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12407463 Tynisha Scott

      Please don’t take this as an attack, but how do you not see that your comment falls directly in line with her argument? You may see your action of saying good morning as being polite (and being from the south, I completely understand this idea) but if a woman chooses not to respond that’s her perogative. Your racial commonality doesn’t entitle you to her attention regardless of how benign your comment may be. I honestly understand the thought behind greeting other blacks as a sign of respect, but black men aren’t habitually threatened by “good” women who resort to verbal/physical violence simply because they refused to respond to someone they don’t even know.

      • http://www.facebook.com/staloe.jenkins Staloe Jenkins

        but i ask why choose not to respond. Is it a fear of continued conversation, possible flirtation, harrassment, ??? That borderlines prejudice and bigotry…or at the very least buying in to stereotypes. Body language says alot. If you were downtown in dc, and a white man said good morning…would you say morning and keep walking. But the likelihood is that that wht man is a serial rapist before the black man would be. With more unity, we could be rid of this problem totally, disrespectful guys would be beaten by respectful guys. But women dont think they owe members of their own community respect. your preference/perrogative could be born from bad foundations

        • http://twitter.com/April_Davis April Davis

          First let me say that women don’t need a reason to decide to not respond. You should not need justification for someone else’s personal choices/behavior.

          Second, it’s interesting that you mention body language because if you really study body language, you would notice that there are times when people are not open to communication or being approached. Learn the signs. A guy above asked where would be OK to approach a woman and I said a structured social environment. It you look at the body language of women in such a place you’ll see a radical difference from most women just walking down the street. They’re smiling more and generally more approachable.

          In regards the race issue you bring up, I’ll respond by saying that if I’m correct, most crime is committed to members of the same race. So, it is more likely for a Black woman to be assaulted by a Black man.

          PS: Check out this Dick Gregory comment about racial crime that proves my point (in an unrelated story) http://www.v103.com/articles/hot-on-the-web-423478/video-dick-gregory-gives-tmz-reporter-11168967/

      • Marly Pierre-Louis

        “Your racial commonality doesn’t entitle you to her attention regardless of how benign your comment may be.” YES!

    • Marly Pierre-Louis

      There is nothing wrong with saying Good Morning. Unfortunately, 5 minutes before you said good morning, another man commented on my ass… and 5 minutes before that another man followed me in his car, and last week, i said good morning to a man on my street and he followed up by commenting on my breast… also last month I was grabbed… etc. etc. etc. Try to understand that this is not about YOU. Women are at war in these streets. We have no way of knowing what a simple, innocent, “morning” will lead to. We have to wear armor. We have to protect ourselves. This is about a context of rape culture and sexualization of womens bodies.

  • Brooklyn Kat

    @Ken Bright: Too many times, responding to a simple “morning” does not just mean it will be a simple exchange and is not “enough” for the male, there’s going to be more asked, and if it’s not given, then it’s “bitch” “cheer up it ain’t that bad” or worse. I hate the feeling of having to be “on guard” but I’ve learned the hard way that openness is taken as a sign of weakness, and is a sign that I can be taken advantage of. It feels like the encounters I have with men on the street are often about power,– them demonstrating they have the power to stop me, make me engage in conversation, make me appease their egos- whatever. What if I just want to walk in solitude? What if I am going through something and don’t want to talk to anybody? Don’t I have that right? It is really about DIGNITY. I deserve the dignity to not have to smile at any random guy who asks for a smile. If men asked for smiles from each other the way men ask for “smiles” from women, there would be punches thrown. A better way to greet a woman would be to make polite eye contact… if you want to smile, go ahead and smile– if she feels like saying hello or smiling back, she will.

    • http://www.facebook.com/staloe.jenkins Staloe Jenkins

      yea but thats the risk we all have…the minority of scum always mess it up for everyone else.i think their is more paraphilic people in new york, so thats a battle that is more intense there. yet, saying kind words as woman walk by is not gateway behavior. we all communicate via words, body language and other things. respect is key and its should be reciprocated. but if someone isnt genuine, or objectifies your behind, or says vulgar things they deserve none of it. men have no idea that woman have been violated unless they say something, but woman make it a man vs. women issue. if a guy says something fukked up many of us men will be their to protect any innocent woman from a bastard. but i think the hatred is misdirected.

      • LolaMar

        There’s no hatred in this article – it’s just explaining the way it feels from the woman’s perspective when strange men say things to them on the street. You don’t have to know if an individual woman you’re going to approach has been violated – that’s not the point. The point is that women don’t like this, it makes them uncomfortable, and men should stop it. Women aren’t making it a men v. woman issue. Women learn from an early age that they need to be on constant guard, and behavior like street harassment reinforces that. Please don’t take it personally – this is not about you and a loss of a privilege because of bad behavior of others – this is about you needing to find non-threatening ways to start a conversation with a person that you are genuinely interested in.

      • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

        Just to clarify, the “gateway behavior” is not so much the “Good morning” you may say to a woman as she walks by, but it’s the way many dudes will respond negatively if we say nothing. Really? I didn’t say GM to you and now you called me a darky bitch? Would you react to a man that way? Clearly there is an unfair expectation (control, even) that a woman who chooses of her own free will not to speak to you is a bad/dirty/slutty/[insert mean and ridiculous assumption here] person. It ain’t about you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ganksta-Thsecond/100002301459387 Ganksta Th’second

        if men are so eager & willing to protect, then why am I breaking up fights, taking down way out of line males, and calling 911 over gang beatings against random females every month or 2? Rarely am I the only one around, frequently men’s stance is ‘You don’t want to get involved’. What kind of cop out is that!!!

    • Akiko

      Just the other day as I was waiting for the Metro, a guy walked up to me and tried to use trickery to talk to me. He asked me what time it was, and I quickly responded that there was a clock a few feet away. He admitted to what he did. Stuff like that is the reason some of us women are very suspicious of men who approach us, because they try to trick us into giving them our attention. And the whole ‘morning’ thing is trickery as well. More often than not, these men who say ‘morning’ say it with a lascivious inflection in their voice.

  • DonnieBlack

    I would say that you shouldn’t be Offered to Walk Her Home Guy, because you can quickly become Tazed Guy in that situation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

      That’s real! Walking a woman home after she’s been harassed can easily become a dicey situation. Honestly, just offer. She can turn you down, but if she feels threatened enough, the company will be welcome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/berechiah.adams Berechiah Adams

    I am from NYC and I moved to ATL and let me tell you that talking to women down south is so much easier. Women down south are more responsive to you than in NYC and in my personally opinion, women have more reason to be on edge down south than they do in the north. Women down south are more responsive to a “good morning” and “how is your day”. Even if they are not interested, you get rejected better there as well…lol. I understand that women have to be careful in today’s society because of all the crazy stuff going on. At the same time you can not go about carry a war-hammer waiting to swing it at the next guy that gives you the time of day. And later that day complain why you cant find a man. I had a experience where I was talking to a female on a train in NY and she told me she did not want to talk to me. I told her I am sorry she is having a bad day and she blew up on me. This is a issue with NY women…not women anywhere else.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

      Berechiah, our approach to street harassment is community-centered — which means that we also want to neighborhood where men and women can interact without being offended. On the flip side, understand that in public spaces, we all (men and women alike) retain the right not to speak to strangers. It does not mean we are having a “bad day” or that we are “NY women.” We are just people who want to go to and fro in peace.

      • http://www.facebook.com/berechiah.adams Berechiah Adams

        I understand and respect what you are trying to do but at the same time feel that people are making this a bigger issue than it has to be. If I see a female on my way to work or walking through the park, I should be able to approach her and see what happens from there. If she seems uninterested, I walk away.Simple as that. I don’t agree that saying Hi to a female is harassment. It called interaction. Just like you have the right no to respond to my comment, I have a right to approach you. AS long as I am not disrespectful or put my hands on the female, there should not be a issue. If I am at a bar and offer a female a drink, is that harassment? How are us men suppose to talk to women, if you women feel that us talking to you is harassment?

        • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

          I agree — you should be able to say hi, and if she tells you she doesn’t want to engage, you say, “Thank you” and walk away. Beyond saying vulgar things and physically crossing boundaries, some guys are just trying to have a conversation, which is fine! Ain’t nobody tryna get in the middle of folks kickin game! The problem ensues when she ignores you or says, “Not interested” and you tell her she’s having a bad day. Just accept that she’s not interested and keep it moving.

        • Akiko

          Why do you keep referring to women as ‘a female’?

    • Akiko

      Maybe she ‘blew up’ on you because you accused her of having a bad day for expressing her disinterest in talking to you. You made the mistake of thinking that a woman would be attracted to you simply because.

  • http://www.facebook.com/NiecyReedus Jenise Grice

    Wow, feel you Sis, nicely done, thanks! Never thought about it this way before….

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

      Thanks! Glad you got something out of it :)

  • disqus_N7gcTPxsOR

    I am and have always been an ally of not harassing women in the street – so much so that I rarely talk to women I don’t know. I MAY glance a quick stare, a smile, and maybe even once a year, a compliment. But in my mind, even the woman I personally may not be attracted to gets those silly comments at least once a day. I honestly wish I could think of a way to help more men understand why that’s not manly behavior, but ignorance is quite an interesting paradigm, especially in the working class neighborhoods of NY.

    • Akiko

      Taking a glance is fine. Staring is not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/OldManChalmers Brady Chalmers

    I have a question about this though, when is it ok to approach a woman you find attractive and attempt to start a conversation? You don’t have to remark on her “fat ass” or “juicy lips”. But When is it actually alright to approach a woman who’s a total stranger to you, particularly if you’re attracted to her?

    • http://twitter.com/April_Davis April Davis

      There are lots of places/times that are more appropriate. First thought, in a structured social environment. Party, bar, lounge, club, etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/OldManChalmers Brady Chalmers

        And if you’re not at a party/bar/lounge? If you’re on the train on the way home from work, if you’re reading a book in the park and someone catches your eye, is it not ok to try to initiate conversation?

        • http://twitter.com/April_Davis April Davis

          I responded to a guy below and mentioned learning to read body language. I’ll use your reading a book in the park example. If you see someone sitting headphones on, in her book not really looking around at other people, I’d probably say she doesn’t want to be bothered. On the other hand, if she’s looking around, smiling, possibly making small talk with others she’s probably more open to communicating. I’d say take your chances and approach either way.

          On the train, personally I’d rather not be bothered. Especially since I would most likely be unable to get away from the person. Think about it, if you try to talk to a woman, she’s not interested, now you’ve made her pleasant subway ride awkward because she can’t get away.

        • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

          I like a smile and eye contact as a primer, personally. April makes some good points about figuring out if someone really wants to talk to you… in general, being polite and reasonable (i.e. don’t try to holla while walking down a dark alley!) will go a long way. Jezebel also wrote this article on the topic: http://jezebel.com/5981581/how-to-talk-to-a-woman-without-being-a-creep

    • Risse Alicia

      You can start of by simple eye contact, and a “i hope you have a lovely day miss” something simple, non invasive. You will absolutely be able to tell if she wants to engage.

      • Risse Alicia

        A fast look away, she’s uncomfortable, don’t take it personal. I’ve had guys apologize for their fellow males who previously made me so uncomfortable that I avoided any guy, which actually made me engage in conversation with them. If she says a quick thank you with no eye contact or smile, use your better judgement, she’s probably not interested. A smile and some pleasant eye contact? Well it doesn’t mean “you’re in there” so to speak, but she might not mind a simple conversation to start. Hope it helps.

        • http://www.facebook.com/OldManChalmers Brady Chalmers

          Risse, I totally agree with you and in fact that’s the exact approach I take. My criticism of this article, is that it leaves that question up in the air. The title is ” What Men Should Say To Women In The Street” and the premise f the article is that, no matter how nice you are, some men are douchebags, so avoid talking to women in the street, because you may remind them of a predator. I find that premise important, but, flawed. I would understand, if the article said, stop disrespecting women. That would make total sense, but be “ask to walk her home guy”? Isn’t that just as sexist in a different way? Her only two examples of how a male should interact with a female involve him offering her protection. She never actually addresses the title of te article. What if anything should we say to women in the street. I personally have my answer for this, but if it’s meant to be a PSA directed towards men no less, shouldn’t she at least answer that?

          • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

            Hi Brady, the article is directed towards men who see themselves as allies of women, but say or do nothing when they see harassment. The point in that context is to encourage building community by helping to protect someone who has been harmed. Men are the only ones so far who have taken issue with the “Offer to Walk Her Home Guy” piece, and I think a couple of things are being missed.

            The first is that an “offer” doesn’t mean you stalk her to her house; you offer and she can still turn that down if she’s not feeling the idea. The second thing I’m hearing is that men think it’s creepy/sexist/weird to walk their neighbor home after she’s had a scare, which brings us back to the first point: she has the opportunity to politely decline.

            Also, I wouldn’t say don’t talk to women (scroll down, I responded to this point yesterday). In fact, BMC’s approach to street harassment takes into account the idea that we want men and women to be able to dialogue with each other in ways that aren’t harmful. If you want to know exactly how to talk to women without being creepy, Jezebel has a great post on the topic here: http://jezebel.com/5981581/how-to-talk-to-a-woman-without-being-a-creep

            Lastly, I want to thank you for engaging in this discussion so far! One of the main reasons why there is so much gray area around street harassment is because we hardly ever talk about these issues in a solution-oriented way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ganksta-Thsecond/100002301459387 Ganksta Th’second

      In a place where people go to meet other people??? Like join a club? Meetups? Lots of people have the same problem, but the ones who are serious about meeting someone special don’t just lurk around any place… consider the qualities your looking for & choose activities thoughtfully.

  • http://twitter.com/GangStarrGirl Starr R.

    I’m so glad you wrote this. Rarely do we have “nice” encounters with men who simply wanted to give a compliment. Usually they compliment to see how far they can push. If you say, “thanks,” then that opens the gateway to, “Can I walk with you.” Ugh. But I wish more men, the non-creeps understood this. So, again thanks for putting this out there.

    • William Huxtan

      This is why I don’t greet women on the street anymore. I’m a gay male who is naturally friendly, and enjoy greeting and talking to people. Yes, my “nice” encounters are just that, because I’m hardly interested in anything more than that. Unfortunately, I’ve learned to ignore women everywhere because of the sentiments expressed here. Luckily, women never bemoan the dearth of “nice guys” out there. If you don’t believe in them, you’ll never accept one.

  • Risse Alicia
    • Risse Alicia

      Because in my hood they always start with “Yo ma…” Lol

  • WodOffPooH

    Women don’t respect the are you okay guy…they really don’t. I am that guy. I’m miss you dropped your scarf guy, i’m miss do you need help with that stroller guy, and i’m never hey ma whats you bra cup dude…But despite my gentlemanness and courageous behavior I am met with women like: kick rocks lady, ughh i would never talk to you misses, and not a chance boo hard eye roll…despite the fact that I do not talk to women in the street. Nor do i want to. Told one woman that she dropped her scarf but before i could she broke down like six reasons in my personal appearance that I could never talk to her in life. I’m like thats nice miss i saw you dropped your scarf on the stairs have a nice night.

    I dont say any of this to make it okay what men do to women…I have a sister and I have been personally witness to everything from cursing to bottle throwing. But I think there is respect to go around on both sides of the isle. #GuySide

    • William Huxtan

      Exactly why I don’t talk to women at all–dropped scarf, hold the door open, get ahead of me in the checkout aisle because you have 1 item, or whatnot. They’re not looking for any Mr. Nice Guys, so they’ll never co-participate to find one.

  • Nathania Fields

    Hi! My name is Nathania Fields and I work closely with an organization known as Girls For Gender Equity. I am a Sister In Strength Youth Organizer. We are having a rally tomorrow On Saturday April 13, 2013 on Street Harassment at Washington Square Park. The rally will start at noon and will be followed by a chalk walk at 2. The rally is open to the public so come on out and share your opinions and experiences with street harassment!

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthonine Anthonine Pierre

      Thanks, Nathania! We’re speaking at the rally, so see you there!

  • http://twitter.com/MichelleAlerte Michelle Alerte

    Great article. I appreciate you taking the time to define how women feel when these things happen. I knows it’s a tricky issue to solve but hopefully men can read this and begin to interact with women with an understanding that the only person you can control is yourself. Therefore when you speak it should be with the idea that SHE may or may not respond and that is her prerogative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ganksta-Thsecond/100002301459387 Ganksta Th’second

    This is so common here in California, nobody notices or cares if teens are shot at by strangers who harass them
    anymore, least of all the press: http://sfist.com/2013/04/16/15-year-old_girl_shot_in_east_oakla.php