How Do You Respond?


Photo by Stefan Baudy via flickr


This post is more of a question for this blogging community in general. I have struggled with the question of whether to ignore harassers or address them.

On the one hand, a reaction may be desired by the harasser so ignoring them would clearly be best. I have also heard that even eye contact alone is recognized in the brain as a “reward” and I certainly don’t want to add to such a reward cycle in street harassers by looking at them when they try to engage me.

However, I am also done with handing over my power and rights to be comfortable in public to disrespectful men misusing their own power. They shouldn’t have the ability to entertain themselves at my expense with no repercussions.

At the risk of sounding like a crazy person, I’ll share a couple ways I have responded. Some days I get so angry at the lusty, oppressive leers from men on sidewalks that I glare a look of death at them while I approach, as I pass them, and I turn my head to keep glaring directly at them until they look away. In almost all cases, these men have looked away- and most rather uncomfortably. This might work only because I had been so angry as to actually be daring them to say something in my head or because the men may have thought I was actually crazy. I’m not sure if its an entirely constructive approach, but I felt better by reclaiming my space.

I have responded to a man in a truck catcalling me by immediately stopping my walk and asking very loudly and sternly “Who are you talking to??” He looked confused and said “What?”. I then shouted with a bit of anger and even more pronounced: “WHO are you talking to???” He looked uncomfortable and drove away w/o saying anything. I used this same approach with a man on the same sidewalk as me. He muttered something back that was probably rude but he also looked uncomfortable and stopped.

My patience line has been crossed and I will likely attempt to wrestle my public rights back by responding to future harassment. I have considered announcing that I am calling the police (and not bluffing) as one response to use.

One important detail is that these interactions have all been during the day. I’m not sure yet if my feelings or strength would be different at night. I also may just be lucky so far that my first attempts to respond to harassment have produced a desirable result. I do feel that my visible anger and being unafraid to make my voice loud enough for others to hear me has helped. But my biggest fear is making the situation worse and more uncomfortable by responding.

Has anyone who reads or comments on this blog tried responding and how did it go?

I am curious because it would be great to share with each other the methods that have worked the best, as well as the methods or situations that made the harassment worse.

I would love to hear any opinions!



8 responses to “How Do You Respond?

  1. Like you said in this story, it depends on the situation.

    I do feel bolder during daytime. Most of my reactions have been dirty looks, cursing them out, embarrassing them in public, and, if possible, getting photos or videos of them on my cell phone. I know I’m not obligated to be polite to these men, so I refuse to be. I only respect those who are deserving of respect. When you degrade me and insult me, you’ve lost my respect.

    Nighttime is different. If I’m by myself and it’s pitch black, I’m not going to try to get their photos or curse them out. I do what you said you did, threaten to call the police and pull out my phone ready to do such. Nine times out of ten it works.

  2. Hi,

    I usually say ‘that is harassment’ or ‘you are harassing me’. That usually ends any dialogue. I find the louder the better, especially if in a public place as it embarasses the harasser.

    If alone and at night, I would say it again then get my phone out, ready to call the police. I’ve never had to do that luckily.

  3. so I just took a self-defense course and we went over this exact issue. the instructor taught us a 3-liner to use towards “cat-callers”:

    Stop Harrassing Women
    I don’t like it, Nobody likes it
    Show some respect

    Very calmly, make eye contact, and then continue on your way. That’ll shut them up 🙂

  4. I normally don’t respond because I don’t want to engage in a confrontation with someone who is aggressive and stronger than me. However, if the person is blocking my way or trying to touch me, I simply say excuse me and I can usually extract myself from his reach.

  5. my wife and i regularly argue about this. she’s of the “don’t feed the bully” school of thought, whereas i’m of the “angry second-class citizen” school of thought. we are a house divided on the response issue, which makes street harassment that much more intrusive in our lives!

    i do take it on a case-by-case basis in terms of environment. if there’s no one around i’ll let it go, but if there are witnesses i usually call people out. LOTS of eye contact.

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  8. I wish I could tell you that I get clever & witty when harassed, but generally do not. That said, when I was younger and spent more time in urban areas and was hassled by construction workers or similar, I’d sometimes holler back with a bemused expression: “Get back to work!” Nobody ever had a retort to that. Today I might do it, but with no amused expression and perhaps tack on “You’re wasting my tax dollars!” if appropriate. I can give dirty looks with the best of ’em also. The last time somebody waltzed up to me in a public space and commanded me to smile I just looked straight at him with a look I am sure could peel paint until he slunk away. I know my responses are changing; I am too old for this. I am beginning over the last year to respond in ways I never did. I’ve been harassed for over 30 years. Geez, haven’t I earned my peace?! That’s how I feel. Like I am going to release the wrath of hell on the next fool who steps up. I’m selling tickets now.

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