Q: What can I do, as a man, to help combat harrassment?

Photo by AlbinoFlea via Flickr

I’m submitting this as a witness, rather than a person at whom harassment was directed, and I’m looking for some input from the Hollaback community. (For context, I am a man.)

I was taking the red line home from work and witnessed a man talking to/hitting on a woman who was clearly uncomfortable not interested. The man stood quite close to her and persisted in talking to her loudly and calling her “baby,” even while she ignored him and put on headphones. She looked uncomfortable, but she didn’t say anything. They guy eventually left her alone when he got a call on his cell phone. They both got off at the NY Avenue stop.

I was standing a few feet from them on the train, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I should say anything. I could tell that the woman was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to be a patronizing “rescuer” or risk making it worse by getting involved, so I stayed silent.

So my question for you, the Hollaback community, is this: What can I do, as a man, to help combat harrassment?

Submitted by J

Location: Red line toward Glenmont, near NY Ave. Station

Time if harassment: Evening Rush Hour (3:30P-7:30P)

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.


9 responses to “Q: What can I do, as a man, to help combat harrassment?

  1. You could intervene by asking if the woman would like to trade seats with you. Or you could strike up a conversation with her about the weather.

  2. Curly DC’s suggestion is a good one. Also, one of the suggestions Holla Back has made for bystanders is to ask the harasser for directions. This could allow the victim a chance to leave the situation. This is often my preferred choice for stopping the harassment as it is not confrontational. In your situation on the metro train, you could have acted like a tourist an asked what line you are on – how to get to a certain metro station, etc. Knowing what to do in a situation like this is really difficult and I think we need suggestions and models so we know what to do. I think it’s great that you’re asking for advice.

  3. First off, thanks for noticing the problem AND wanting to do something. Many situations of both sexual harassment and assault can be prevented thru bystander intervention. Of course, your action in each situation is going to be different. It will depend on the players involved and your level of comfort and safety. This appears to be a low-risk situation (of course I wasn’t there so I don’t exactly know). Therefore, taking the advice above would be a great idea. Or even addressing the male and stating that you notice that she is obviously uncomfortable and not returning the desire to talk and therefore his actions are harassing in nature (of course, do so in your own words). This will let the male know that there are other people watching him and that they won’t stand for such behavior. I can almost guarantee you that the woman would be very appreciative. According to your paragraph, she seemed very uncomfortable but not assertive enough to address the harasser. This is very common.

    It is always great to see men engaged in this sort of topic.

  4. You could ask her if he’s bothering her. Or you could say to the harasser something like “Hey, man, I don’t think she’s interested in talking to you” or “Leave her alone.” If he gets belligerent, there’s always “stop harassing women. Nobody likes it. Show some respect.” Agreed that the Metro sounds like a low-risk situation. Here’s some other possibilities: https://streetharassment.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/this-was-the-first-time-i-felt-in-a-position-where-i-could-do-something/

  5. I’m a woman but I guess this method I’ve used when stupid teenage whacking and horseplay seems to devolve into something else. Look straight at the woman, in a confident and calm tone say, “Miss, do you need any assistance?” Do not look at the jerk bothering her.
    However, in the situation presented, she was in ignore mode and only you can determine the safety level of the car to determine your next step. The killing at N Cap and Florida where a young man intervened on behalf of a woman is still too fresh in my memory, so first determine the level of safety.

  6. One tactic that you could use is to come up on the other side of her and say something like, “hey could you step towards me? Let’s move away from this guy.” This removes her from the guy, and it’s something that professional security does to clear the scene before dealing with someone.

  7. My husband walks to work, and sees a lot of street harassment – his tactic is usually to stand right next to the woman and glare at the harasser. This usually makes the guy think, “Oh, I guess she is spoken for” (as though we need to be!) and leave her alone.

    • There are many useful tactics that bystanders can use help women and LGBTQ individuals ward of harassment. Check out this great blog post with tips from one of our mentors and founder of Defend Yourself, Lauren Taylor. Also check out these ten tips from Jackson Katz.

      Here are three tactics we often teach in our trainings:
      a. Speak up – If someone says something offensive, derogatory or abusive, let them know that behavior is wrong and you don’t want to be around it. Don’t laugh at racist, sexist or homophobic jokes. Challenge your peers to be respectful.
      b. Distraction – This snaps people out of their “sexist comfort zone.” It allows the target of harassment to escape. For example, If a man is harassing women on the street, ask him for directions or the time.
      c. Intervene – When someone else is being harassed, intervene and help him/her out of the situation, and let the harasser know that the action he or she is taking is not right.

      Lets us know if your husband has any success with any of these tactics!

  8. This is a very interesting – and much needed – discussion. Quick background: I’m a male with some experience volunteering in domestic violence shelters and have intervened to stop street harassment on previous occasions.

    I still struggle quite a lot with how to intervene due to two primary issues: 1) the perception of my actions on the part of the “target” and 2) the actual reactions of the perp which I’ll outline below.

    1) I intervened one night upon seeing a man pinning a girls arms to her side against a handrail forcing her to listen to whatever he had to say. She made a few half attempts to knee him in the groin and was obviously “uncomfortable.” I began and non-confrontationally as I could by walking up and saying “Is everything alright?” The perp became immediately defensive and told me to mind my own business. I then followed the advice about speaking directly to the target who said “everything’s fine” in a shaky voice. I calmly offered to make a call to someone on her behalf, remain where I was to ensure that things didn’t get worse, etc. She replied (with her arms still pinned), “No, it’s okay.”

    The conundrum: I sympathize with the other males here who don’t want to “come to the rescue” and disempower the target even more. That makes this case even worse because if the target knows the perp then you’ve very likely just complicated matters because she’ll just “pay” for it later. He’ll be more upset and, since this is about power, he’ll probably redouble his efforts to control the target. Despite the best intentions, my experiences don’t lead me to think this really helps or changes anything for the target. In this case, I really felt as thought the target wished I hadn’t come along at all and I felt even worse for having intervened. I’m no expert but I would argue that having “help” arrive only to be sent away with no outcome likely enforces the idea that the perp is in charge and there’s nothing the target can do.

    2) Unlike the first example, in which the actors most likely knew each other, I have intervened in cases where the perp was obviously a stranger. My basic advice to any male out there would be: prepare for things to get nasty, quick. You need to be very good at de-escalating and you should have great situational awareness. I have never, ever, seen a guy simply slink away or be “ashamed” into changing his behavior. If anything, my intervention is an affront to his power-play and just freaks him out even more. I’m very average looking: not terribly menacing, neither am I particularly meek. I’ve studied martial arts for years, but street fighting still scares the beejesus out of me. All this is to say that I approach things confidently, but very calmly but the situation almost always becomes more tense.

    From the advice I’ve seen here I think the “diversion” tactic (e.g. asking for directions) is probably the best one. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it! It makes a huge amount of sense. In any case, I’d love to hear more from women about there thoughts on this and stories about actual outcomes of interventions.

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