“Hey, why can’t you put a smile on that pretty face?”

I was walking down the street in my neighborhood when I passed a panhandler. We know each other by sight – occasionally I give him money or we exchange nods. Today, I didn’t make eye contact, so he called out to me, “Hey, why can’t you put a smile on that pretty face?”

I probably would have shook my head, then spent the rest of the day thinking up snappy comebacks I could say when I saw him again. But I had just finished reading a book about harassment: “Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers” by Martha J. Langelan. It teaches women how to confront sexual harassers in their community, on the street, at the workplace, etc., without being aggressive (yelling curses or insulting him) or timid (ignoring it or not walking that way).

I did exactly what the book advised – I kept my calm, looked him in the eye, named the behavior and told him not to do it again: “Don’t tell me to smile,” I said.

He started wheedling, saying “Oh, I didn’t TELL you to smile, I asked if maybe you could, maybe-”

I said (again, calmly naming the behavior and holding him accountable): “I don’t like it when strangers tell me to smile.”

He apologized right away. We told each other, “Have a good day.” I felt a bit tense in the moment, but afterwards, I felt good for having asked for respect!

It works! Even though it’s about 20 years old, I highly recommend this book.

Submitted by Laura

Location: Connecticut Ave & 24th St., NW

Time of harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)

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.

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