I’m a solidly-built, six foot tall white male in my mid forties, and for at least two decades I have had absolutely NO idea what it’s like to be scared walking down a street.
Well, y’know, how shall I put this… I’m a thinly-built, 5 foot 2, “weak” looking, often “effeminate” looking male, and I have ALWAYS known what it’s like to be scared walking down a street.
I’ve been sexually harassed, I’ve been in a hostile environment, I’ve been physically assaulted. This is probably actually fairly common for boys who went through US schools, unfortunately. My threat assessment is turned WAAAAAY up, all the time; I have PTSD.
And nobody is running a special campaign to make me more comfortable, or to claim that “all men” are scary — if I find all men scary, uh, that’s my problem to get PTSD treatment for, and I will.
If I find men who are behaving in a creepy, inappropriate, impolite, and boundary-ignoring manner scary, on the other hand — which I totally do — that’s entirely another matter. They are scary.
Harassment needs to stop, and frankly it’s bloody obvious when someone is harrassing: harrassing means not taking no for an answer. Rude, selfish interruptions such as catcalls aren’t technically harassment individually (only in large numbers) but are equally inappropriate. Both are often indicators of someone who *might* turn out to be violent. Stalking and invasion of personal space is even worse and even more of an indicator.
Politely talking to people about contextually appropriate things obviously isn’t harassment. The way I was brought up, if you really want to talk to a stranger, you nearly always start with “excuse me”. (For instance, “excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice your WHATEVER T-shirt; I’m a big fan of WHATEVER, and I don’t meet many fans of WHATEVER, are you a fan?”, or “excuse me, I hate to be a bother, but I have always wanted a hat like yours, where did you buy it”.) Then it’s their move conversationally. You stop. If they do nothing or don’t respond, you say “Sorry to bother you,” and leave. If they answer your question politely but brusquely, you say “Thanks,” then accept that they don’t want to talk any more, say “Sorry, I won’t take up any more of your time,” and leave. It’s still their move. If they then say “no, wait” and ask to talk to you, then you have a conversation.
If you’re looking for directions, you should be staring at your map and looking lost before saying “excuse me, I’m lost”…
I don’t know when I learned those rules for talking to strangers, but it was young — elementary school, perhaps. I have never had any problem with talking to strangers.
I guess a lot of older men were trained to be inappropriately and offensively pushy towards women on a routine basis. They need to learn not to do that; they’ll mostly probably be happier, on the whole. It just seems so bizarre to me, since I was brought up post-1970s in what I think of as a normal environment.
The other issue here is the men who are defending the idea of making inappropriate pushiness the norm, who really want it to be the norm, who get angry at the idea of obeying normal norms of polite behavior when women are involved — I suspect these men, who are so upset at the idea of behaving in an ordinary polite fashion, of being actual predators, who need a rape culture in order to hide their behavior.
Another little point: from what I can tell, assaulters and harassers really really like to gaslight the third-party witnesses (when there are any). The witnesses often start out with “Hey! Why did you do that to him/her, that’s awful!”, and then the gaslighting starts… “oh, you didn’t really see me just barge into her, really, I was further away, no you didn’t really see me rudely yell at her, I was politely talking to her…”