How do I handle street harassment being directed at a woman I’m with? Do I call the person out or try to avoid more confrontation?
I know you didn’t ask but please, have a cookie (I know, I shouldn’t, but I’m feeling relaxed and generous since returning from vacation) for recognizing that street harassment is a thing. Here you go.
I hope you realized this because someone told you about their lived experience, but even if it took witnessing it in person, thank you for understanding that this is a problem. Because some people don’t. They think women should be happy with the compliment (vomit), and don’t realize that we worry that the wrong response from us could lead to getting spit on, punched, or even killed.
When it comes to my experiences being on the receiving end of street harassment, I pretty much only say something when I’m alone but with strangers nearby (like on a crowded street), and pretty much only during daylight hours. Why? Because I don’t want to get beaten up or murdered because the harasser has a fragile ego, and I don’t want a friend or partner who is with me to get beaten up or murdered. As evidenced above, some guys can get pretty violent when they think their masculinity is questioned.
If a guy I was with spoke up in response to every rude comment I received, I’d be stressed that he was about to get punched by a super sensitive asshole. I’d rather handle things myself in most circumstances, and that might mean keeping quiet and walking away, or it might mean rolling my eyes at the person and laughing. I’d also, however, be kind of pissed if the person I was with didn’t acknowledge the reality of what just happened.
Basically, as a friend I was talking about this with said, “It depends.” And that’s totally true. The best answer I have is that if you’re wondering about this, ask the woman you’re with if she’s experienced street harassment (spoiler alert: she has), and then ask if she has any preferences about how you should handle things. If she wants you to speak up, you should be prepared to. If she’d rather handle it herself, that’s her call to make as well. And it might change depending on the situation.
You can also take a look at this essay on bystander intervention — the situation isn’t exactly the same, but some of those tips can help when your friend or partner is looking to you to get involved.
Another thing you should do is talk to your guy friends about street harassment, and don’t ever put up with it if you witness them doing it. If a guy you know tells a story about hitting on a woman in a public place, and you can tell that she was not into it, call him out. Let him know that you aren’t cool with treating women that way. And if he does it in front of you, stop him and apologize to her. Not in a “heh heh, sorry about my friend” way, but in a “That is definitely not okay, I’m sorry he harassed you” way. This site has some suggestions, as does this article.
Guys who harass women regularly have some misogyny in them. There’s no way around that. But if you take the opportunity to help your guy friends realize that street harassment is just not cool, and not something you’re interested in being around, you might be able to slowly, over time, get them to recognize they need to stop being jerks.