If you’re going to lay the blame for that somewhere

Miri has a great post on street harassment. One interesting bit:

Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are genuinely good guys who just don’t understand why their comments might be unwelcome. Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are creepy predators. Most are somewhere in between, and guess what? I don’t know you, I don’t know your life, and I have no idea if you’re going to leave it at “Hey, you look good in that dress!” or follow it up with “But you’d look better without it! Har har! C’mon, where’re you going? I know you heard me! Fucking cunt, nobody wants your fat ass anyway, bitch.”

When you compliment a random woman who doesn’t know you, no matter how nice you are about it, there’s a good chance she’s going to freak out internally because for all she knows, you could be that latter type. And I get that it’s really unfair that women would just assume that about you. I get that it sucks that sometimes, expressing totally reasonable opinions like “hey you’re hot” will make women terrified of you or furious at you. That’s not fair.

But if you’re going to lay the blame for that somewhere, for fuck’s sake, don’t blame the woman. Blame all the guys who have called her a bitch and a cunt for ignoring their advances. Blame all the guys who may have harassed, abused, or assaulted her in the past. Blame all the people who may never do such a thing themselves, but who were quick to blame her and tell her to just get over it.

Ya. That applies to more than just street harassment – it applies to quite a few things. It applies to me, for instance. (Doesn’t everything??! No. Not everything does. Contrary to myth, I don’t think that everything does. But this does.) If I don’t smile sweetly when you jeer at me on Twitter, blame all the people who have called me a bitch and a cunt for whatever the hell it was I don’t even remember. If I’m irritable about online harassment and stalking, blame all the people who have been online harassing and stalking me for anything from a few days to almost two years.

But it also applies to other things, including the thing Miri is talking about. It’s all connected. Trigger-happy hostility to women is the underlying issue.



  1. johnthedrunkard says

    Two things:
    1. I had an aggressive (male) panhandler start off with ‘you forgot your smile.’ Even with no gender-power-politics dynamic involved it was invasive and insulting.
    2. There is a recentish article about Amanda Knox on Slate (maybe Salon) where the reporter reviews the obsessed, hate crazed online stalking focused on Ms Knox. One blogger had been posting something like seven times a day for several years.

    It’s all connected. LIke agressive driving, the interwebs are pits of contagion for self-righteous rage. Not that being ordered to smile is an internet thing….just more control and entitlement.

  2. says

    Personally, I think even good guys complimenting a stranger on her looks are crossing a line, even without the existence of overt predators. Women being furious or terrified about it is totally fair. If you don’t know me, this kind of flattery is presumptuous–it’s a claim of superiority and authority (you’re in a position to be doling out your favours like I’m an underling and I ought to be grateful for your approbation)*. It’s also a blatantly superficial judgement, and women are judged far too frequently by how fuckable men think they are, for that voiced judgement to be harmless. Once you’re my friend, and I know you appreciate me as a human being and not merely as an object that’s pleasing or displeasing you, then you can shower me with compliments all you like.

    You want to compliment a complete stranger out of the blue? Say “nice shoes” “love that hat” “like your tattoo” “that jacket looks great”–then you’re sharing an opinion about an external item and making a connection to a real person, not objectifying them.

  3. H2s says

    I had an interaction with a stranger, I’d like to know what people here think. I (would like to) think it was fine, and i think it’s important that we do point out and discuss what is fine and what isn’t.

    I was exiting an underground station on the escalator, and was looking around. It was the first proper hot day of the year, so everyone’s wearing different clothes. I notice a nice looking girl slightly ahead of me on the adjacent escalator, and she turns around and sees me. I look away, blah blah, she looks again, I smile, she smiles.

    At the top of the escalator, she slows down and looks back a bit askance, ie she doesn’t want to look like an idiot if I breezed past. I catch up and say “Hello, how do you do?” ( obviously, feeling awkward like everyone does in that kind of situation) blah blah, we have a nice but short chat about meaningless small talk and then she suggested to meet for a coffee next week.

    So, partly from this website and others, I think some people think some other people would think this was bad.
    Now I have to admit I do worry that maybe some have an absolutist opinion on this? My reasoning as to why this is ok is
    A) I think that the eye contact, smiling and slowing down, looking back indicates its not unwanted attention. I never would have talked to her if that hadn’t been pretty blatant. And if there had been any indication that it wasn’t wanted at any point I would have made my apologies and left quickly feeling like a bit of an idiot… Not blamed the girl for my mistake.
    B) it’s not in some secluded space, there’s a lot of people about and I never was in a threatening position – not crowding in or touching etc
    C) I was not being suggestive or lewd, all conversation was on a light hearted level with many face saving exit points available…

    I’m explicitly not using the fact that in this case it did turn out mutually beneficial, as its where people misinterpret that the issue arises…

    One objection would be that, well, ok maybe someone thinking about this and making sure not to be an ass can do it in a reasonable way, but that’s not many people – so the behaviour shouldn’t be attempted by anyone.


  4. says

    @H2s Sounds fine to me. You have non-verbal consent (smiling, eye contact) to progress to speech. Your speech was non-aggressive. You engaged in some chat in a public and non-threatening environment (i.e. not a closed or isolated space) before accepting an invitation to a likewise public and non-threatening engagement. Why wouldn’t this be okay?

  5. says

    Well of course; it’s fine. When it’s mutual, it’s fine. I’ve said that all along. Mutual flirtation is fine (in the right setting). Jeez, smiling and saying hello to a passing stranger is often fine – when you’re both wearing your “I’m eyes front, looking around, making eye contact, cheerful, feeling hello-ish” faces for instance. There are signals. There are signals for not wanting a hello from a stranger and signals for being fine with it. You are clearly sensitive to signals.

    You know what? I think that’s all we ask.

  6. jaggington says


    Not sure what you’ve read here that made you think people would disapprove of the scenario you’ve described.

    Surely the main thing is to approach someone with respect and empathy. As long as you are prepared to accept being rebuffed in other circumstances with a smile and an apology and politeness. “Sorry, my mistake, enjoy the rest of your day,” sort of thing. She might have been smiling at someone or something else, perhaps she did a double take because she mistook you for someone else.

    Anyway, well done and best of luck.

  7. H2s says

    Well, good. I said I thought it was fine. I think maybe there does need to be a bit more discussion of what *is* ok, to dispel the impression that ” oh how can I ever talk to wimminz if I follow these rules”. I think there’s a tendency to over generalise and exaggerate, especially when people think they are being told what to do (black helicopters etc).

    Having said that, there is an argument in the original posts comments that could be applied to this situation. It goes : some men may have seen this interaction, thought, “oh that’s how you do it”, but missed all the subtle cues. Then they try it themselves, with no cues/prior interaction, and also think, “I’ll be bolder and say she’s really pretty, that will improve my chances” .

    I think this arguments a bit silly, because probably people would just think we knew each other. It also does seem like a slippery slope, that no one should do anything in case an asshole badly emulates them.

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