Street etiquette

Jessica Williams of The Daily Show had an amusing segment about all the forms of harassment that women face even when they are simply walking along a street. She interviewed a large group of women who said they routinely had to fend off unwanted advances and comments and that as a defense mechanism they put on stern faces and strictly avoided eye contact with anyone because that could be construed as an invitation that they did not intend to make.

I wonder if this is more of a New York City thing. When I walk on the streets here most people, men and women, make eye contact and smile and even say ‘Hi’ if they pass close enough.

(This clip aired on October 2, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. moarscienceplz says

    I wonder if this is more of a New York City thing. When I walk on the streets here most people, men and women, make eye contact and smile and even say ‘Hi’ if they pass close enough.

    I think this is a crowded city thing. When I visit San Francisco, there are just so many people I walk past that even taking a tiny fraction of a second to nod and smile at everyone would become a major operation. Plus, there are lots of homeless people who if you acknowledge their existence are going to ask for money, and a few of them get pretty aggressive. I imagine being a woman walking past hundreds of guys that want to “get to know you better” would be like that, only a thousand times worse.
    However, here in San Jose, I go for a walk on a river trail that has me walking past a few dozen people at lunchtime, and I find that about half the women are open to a smile and a nod, so I guess they don’t feel overwhelmed in that environment.

  2. Holms says

    Yes, definitely a function of crowding. There is a large difference in the number of pedestrians between the suburbs and the CBD in many cities; the more frequent it is to walk by someone, the less likely it is you’ll bother to say anything.

  3. JPS says

    For a different perspective …
    A few years ago I was talking with a friend at a local club. I don’t remember how it came up, but he told of going into a bar in another city because he needed to use the restroom, which was at the rear of the bar. A few steps into the bar he realized it was a gay bar, and he could feel the eyes of every customer follow him as he made his way through the length of the establishment.
    I suggested that that’s what women feel all of the time. “Oh…” was his only reply.

  4. MadHatter says

    On the one hand it’s a crowding thing, the most extreme examples (groping) happened to me in more crowded places and people nearby were less likely to help out. On the other, this happens even in less crowded places. I’ve been street harassed by adult men (and not just construction workers) since I was 13 in the suburbs, in Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco (not big cities like NYC), and now in Europe as well.

    I’d also comment that I am less likely to make eye contact and nod hello in crowded places than I am otherwise. So on the city streets vs in a office building or nature trail. And both are actually protective. In the city I noticed a long time ago that if you single someone out to nod hello and you don’t know them you’re inviting interaction, when passing in a hallway it’s just polite. On a trail it’s also polite, and I’m letting that person know that I am aware of them which is for their safety and mine.

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