Women are people – even when they’re walking in the street

I wrote about what men can do regarding street harassment of women. Spoiler alert: don’t be assholes.

To be honest, it’s actually a tough situation – on the one hand you want to stand up, in different kinds of ways for the rights of people not to be targeted for their race, gender, etc.; on the other hand, you don’t want to treat them like fragile princesses, undermine their own strength, and so on. It’s a difficult balance. However, from what I’ve read and what women have told me – and what I’ve long suspected – silence is often worse when harassment occurs.

Anyway, I expand further over at Women24.


  1. John Horstman says

    In my experience (like, I think, yours), the idea of problematic “white knighting” is almost entirely a construction of people who wish to maintain a status quo where they can harass with impunity. One can call out problematic behavior as problematic without implying that the people hurt worst by it are somehow powerless or in need of saving without too much trouble in most cases.

    If one is very uncertain whether the target considers it harassment, one can always ask the target: “Hey, is he bothering you? I don’t mean to suggest you can’t handle yourself, but I’ll be happy to back you up or tell him off if he is bothering you. Just let me know if you need an out.” I asume there is simular language one can use to communicate the same meaning elsewhere – mine uses USA colloquialisms. Sometimes even one supportive presence can mitigate the threat, give someone the support she needs to feel safe acting on her own behalf, etc. It feels extremely awkward at first, because it violates an unstated norm, but it gets easier with practice. If it makes someone else feel a lot safer, I think it’s worth risking sometimes feeling awkward or foolish.

    I thought the article was quite good, though as I’m usually read as male, I’m not in the best position to judge it.

  2. Rabidtreeweasel says

    Hi hi! I was just street harassed a couple of days ago. It really upset me. One, it hadn’t happened in a while. I’ve been experiencing quite a few things recently that hadn’t happened in a while because I decided to start going out into public again. Immediately, had my fear of public spaces justified. In the latest instance, I was walking my dog at night and a guy driving by me in a truck cat called me. I turned around because, you know, person yelling. It’s instinctive. And they were gone, around the corner, before I could respond. I found myself feeling really angry that I wasn’t given the option to yell at him, that he took away my ability to assert myself. Then I got scared, because I wondered if the blank “walking my dog look” mixed with “surprised at being yelled at look” came off as aggressive.

    Yes. I was afraid that my passive face would be read as aggressive.

    It’s happened to me before. It happens to most women. We get chastised for not smiling, but it runs deeper than that. We get abused, physically and sexually, for not appearing inviting. Or being too inviting. Or being inviting but not submissive. Or eating pie.

    Yeah, I had a guy once yell at me from across the street, “Why are you eating pie? You’re so pretty!”

    I wouldn’t have minded if someone had stepped in any of those times, because I am usually too taken aback to say anything. I have also been trained not to react. Reacting can be dangerous. I don’t see my passive responses as weak or powerless. I take umbridge with the privileged ass hats who have termed doing so “white knighting.” They are the ones implying the women in scenario are weak and helpless by framing the situation in that way. And they are jerks.

    But, that view has been ingrained, and it is possible, even likely, that there are women who might be offended by interference. What can you do?

    One tactic I learned when I was training to be a teacher was to not speak for the person being harassed. If you are in a position where you are present with both parties, you could say something like, “You know man, some women don’t like it when men do X. I’ve heard it makes them feel blah blah blah. Woman Standing Next To Us, what do you think?”

    If it’s just you and the guys in a truck, and one of them yelled out the window at a woman, and then sped off, you can be more assertive. You can tell him all the reasons it’s not okay. Take opportunity as often as possible. I think it’s what makes the biggest difference.

    Thanks for having this conversation.