This post is meant to be an (incomplete, imperfect, yet appreciated) resource on the topic of street harassment and how to avoid it, written for cisgender, heterosexual men, by a cisgender, heterosexual man acquaintance of mine. This does not mean this same advice is totally useless to trans* folks, gender non-conforming folks, or queer/other-wise non-binary people – it all depends on how you relate to it. Please feel free to post suggestions, additions, or disagreements in the comments – this conversation is always growing. And please feel free to share the link or the text. Any misogynistic or otherwise hateful comments will be deleted.
Not posting this with 100% confidence at all… so I’m curious what others will think of this advice:
First off, we should recognize that this question, “So how can I approach strange women without being offensive,” is related to this catcalling issue because its the most common excuse that men give for harassment, and it transfers responsibility to the woman and the world at large for being so complicated and confusing. Men need to learn from their experiences, they get *plenty* of feedback from women which provides them with an opportunity to do so, and we should not be surprised in the least that women perceive our continued “ignorance” as willful and hostile!
The criterion we can apply to interactions with a stranger is so very simple: does this person welcome and enjoy my attention? Yeah, I can’t know ahead of time how I will be received, and that’s MY burden to bear, as a social creature. If I am approaching someone new, I am finding out the answer to the question of whether – to them – I am an asshole or not. When men insist that there should be, that there needs to be a way for them to know the answer to that question first, before they approach a woman, that is blatant entitlement and patriarchy. That entitlement is actually reflected in catcalling itself, as women are told how to react to it: to smile, that its a compliment, etc.
1) Consider whether you have the right to expect that there is time for a meaningful interaction with her… honestly ask yourself why you want an interaction and don’t pursue that interaction if the answer doesn’t feel like something you could proudly share with feminist friends, comrades, etc. Prep yourself so that whatever response you get, you accept that it was the right response, even if that response is that you are an asshole.
2) Don’t pursue communication unless it’s clear you have her reciprocal attention AND consent to talk with her.
3) Try to have nonverbal consent before you initiate verbal communication. Check if she makes sustained eye contact. Another option is to smile, and see if she smiles back. Don’t be intrusive to get that consent. Don’t get in her way or follow her or do anything coercive or underhanded to get that attention. Be patient, and understand that most of the time you will not get that nonverbal consent, and that the absence of nonverbal consent is a lack of consent, and that means you don’t initiate or approach.
4) If you don’t have that nonverbal consent to initiate a conversation and really are going to speak first anyway, limit yourself to a “Hello” or “Hi” to start, and then be very attentive to her reaction. If it’s not enthusiastic, apologize and go away. Make sure you limit, very strictly, the number of times you allow yourself – without nonverbal consent – to ever approach women you are attracted to who are otherwise not paying attention to you (see #1).
5) Expect and anticipate that you will be wrong. When it happens, don’t extend interactions that go poorly. Instead, apologize, and move away and out of their space. You did the approaching, so make sure you take responsibility for the interaction that happened. Do some reflection on the feedback you got. Accept that your inclinations are going to be skewed towards too much contact, too aggressive, to confident, too entitled. Make adjustments to your practices accordingly.