On Men Who Think Street Harassment Would Be Awesome

Whenever women are discussing street harassment and what causes it and how to prevent it, a man inevitably comes along to inform us that, actually, our feelings about harassment are Wrong because he, personally, would just love it if women catcalled him on the street or came up and slapped his ass without consent.

There are lots of things wrong here.

1. This is male privilege.

It’s a perfect example of it, in fact. Having privilege isn’t a “bad” thing, and it doesn’t mean you should have to lose that privilege–rather, it means the rest of society should gain it. In this case, that privilege is being able to walk down the street without being subjected to sexualized attention, and that privilege is one men have and women do not, in our society. (Of course, men are more likely than women to face other kinds of unwanted attention on the streets, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

When you say that you would “love” it if women catcalled you, you are speaking from a place of privilege because catcalling isn’t something you ever have to deal with. The only reason you are even able to imagine enjoying it because you’ve never experienced it.

Some men do experience sexual harassment from women or other men. But these generally aren’t the men butting into our conversations and telling us that we should take harassment as a compliment, because they understand what it’s actually like.

2. Harassment means you don’t want it.

Why is this so hard to understand? If you want sexual attention, then it’s not harassment or assault. It’s flirting or sex. If you want to be catcalled, then it won’t feel like harassment to you. When you make a sexual comment towards someone without their consent, you are running a huge risk of harassing them, but if it turns out that they wanted to hear that comment, they’re probably not going to complain.

But of course, none of us are mindreaders, or else men who harass women on the street would probably realize that they don’t want it in the least.

3. And anyway, your penis is not the arbiter of everyone’s sexuality.

As in, I don’t really care what you like. Just because you may like getting catcalled without your consent doesn’t mean the rest of us have to like it too, and it definitely doesn’t mean you have the right to do it to others. It’s just like I wrote about people who prefer not to be asked for consent during sex–that’s totally cool. But you cannot assume that others feel the same way you do.

If being catcalled in public is your thing (which, as I’ll explain, I kind of doubt, anyway), you’ll need to find a way to arrange that without advocating that everyone should be okay with catcalling. Just like if you get off on emulating rape, you’ll need to find a consenting partner to do that with rather than suggesting that everyone should be okay with getting raped because that’s what your penis likes.

4. Harassment is never a one-time thing, and that changes everything.

If you’ve never gotten catcalled (and likely never will), it may indeed seem like it’ll be pleasant and flattering. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking something similar when I was a teenager–old enough to want sexual attention, but too young to really get it (not to mention living in a quiet suburb rather than a big city).

The first time a man ever made a comment to me on the street, it was a bit weird but also kind of cool. I still remember it–I had just graduated from high school and was taking a trip to Chicago alone for the first time. I was in the Loop and there was a group of guys. One of them said, “Hey! You look good.” That was it. Fairly harmless as catcalling goes.

The second or third time, which I don’t remember, probably went much the same way, and I didn’t mind it much. But it’s never just a few times. It’s dozens, hundreds of times over a lifetime. It’s when you wear a cute dress. It’s when you wear sweats. It’s when you’re excitedly on your way to a date. it’s when you’re dragging yourself home after an exhausting day at work. It’s when you’re taking a run. It’s when you’re carrying groceries. It’s all. The. Fucking. Time.

And that, as this blogger explains beautifully, makes all the difference.

5. It’s also different when you’ve been a victim of sexual violence.

My guess is that men who say these things have not, and this is another type of privilege at play. If you’ve never experienced sexual violence, unwanted come-ons will feel different to you than they will to someone who has. To survivors of sexual violence, street harassment can be anything from a mildly uncomfortable reminder of a past experience to an actual trigger for a panic attack, depressive episode, or flashback.

And here’s the thing–if you haven’t had that experience, you cannot know what it’s like to be triggered or reminded of it. You just can’t. But luckily, you don’t need to understand it to respect those who do know. You just have to shut up for a change, and listen.

6. Who, exactly, would you want to be catcalled by?

My guess is that when you imagine getting catcalled, you’re imagining a gorgeous woman doing it. What about an ugly woman? A fat woman? A gay man? In my experience, the men who go around whining that nobody ever catcalls them on the street are the same ones who get horrified when someone they don’t find desirable pays them any attention.

Also, men who are perceived as gay are often bullied or assaulted for even seeming like they’re coming on to straight men. Apparently it’s not such a “compliment” anymore when it’s coming from someone you’re prejudiced against.

And remember that the whole problem with non-consensual interaction is that you don’t get to choose who interacts with you.

7. Gender matters.

Although men are not immune to violence (sexual or otherwise, from women or from other men), the dynamics are demonstrably different because most men are stronger than most women. If you’re a man walking down the street and a woman starts harassing you, you generally don’t have to worry that she’ll brutally rape and attack you if you try to get her to stop (TW for that link).

For women, the awfulness of street harassment isn’t just what it actually is, but also in what it could become. It could just be an offhand comment, or it could lead to stalking, groping, assault, mugging, or murder. You may think that you’re a perfectly nice guy who’d never actually hurt anyone as you stand there and whistle at a woman, but she doesn’t know that, and therein lies the horror of it.

The humiliation makes it even worse. When a man catcalls me, I can feel the eyes of the passerby on me and I know what they’re thinking: She shouldn’t have dressed like a slut. She shouldn’t be here alone this late at night. I wonder what she did to get his attention. 

When women come on to men, on the other hand, this generally reflects well on the men because getting attention from women is seen as an accomplishment, not a failure to stay modest and unobtrusive enough.

On the other hand, though, this mindset also contributes to the huge problem of sexual assault not being taken seriously when men are the victims, which brings me right to my final point.

8. Comments like these erase male victims.

This is perhaps the most important point I’ll make in this entire piece: men who say things like this are effectively erasing the experiences of male victims of sexual harassment and assault. Believe it or not, many (if not most) men don’t actually enjoy it when women pay them unwanted sexual attention, “unwanted” being the key word.

A male friend of mine mentioned that whenever a guy points out that, no, he does not want to be harassed by women on the street, he gets ridiculed by other men. That, right there, is why it’s so difficult for men to admit being harassed or assaulted, and why male victims are marginalized. Male rape is still largely considered either impossible, “not a big deal,” or, as I’m discussing in an upcoming post, simply hilarious. I don’t know how else to say it: this is a fucking problem.

Anyway, I’m at 1,400 words now, so this seems as good a time as any to stop. Here’s the tl;dr version for people who minimize the problem of street harassment: check your privilege, put yourself into someone else’s shoes, and consider the fact that the world doesn’t fucking revolve around you.

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51 thoughts on “On Men Who Think Street Harassment Would Be Awesome

  1. I’m male, I’ve never been a victim of assault and I still don’t like unsolicited come-ons in general.

    On #6, I think the gay panic defense is the perfect illustration of how strong a double-standard this is.

  2. I, too, remember when I was a budding pre-adolescent that I enjoyed the attention of cat-callers, because that must have meant I was really pretty, I thought. It took me years to realize that they don’t discriminate. It’s not about the way you look or who you are; it’s about the fact that you’re a woman, and they’re a man, and you’re powerless to stop it.

    Anyway, I love this post! It is brill. Thank you for writing it, friend. :D

  3. “you’ll need to find a consenting partner to do that with rather than suggesting that everyone should be okay with getting raped because that’s what your penis likes.” Penises don’t have brains. Perhaps the world would be better place if we all had a miniature, auxiliary brains implanted in our penises. #tinypenisbrains #tinybrainsinsideapenis #abetterworld

  4. As a man who is unashamedly straight but definitely not narrow, I once got cornered by a rather large and muscular top when I was working as a bouncer in a gay leather bar in London in the 80’s.
    While I didn’t feel threatened, I did feel slightly uncomfortable, and gained a small insight into what it must feel like to be on the receiving of harassment.
    I’m proud to say that single brief incident changed my attitude on my approach to women.
    This should be an obligatory lesson for every hetero man.

  5. while i don’t doubt that men are more likely to respond to this issue if you cast it in terms of how it makes other men feel, you lost me when you called #8 “the most important point.” beyond that, this is amazing.

    • It may not be “the most important point,” you’re right, but it’s arguably the most OVERLOOKED point. Which might actually make it the most important thing to point out.

  6. Founds this on r/feminisms, and as a man who has been sexually harassed, assaulted, and acquaintance raped, it was refreshing (at least to me) to read your eighth point. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.

    Your blog rocks.

  7. The definition of privilege is something that a group of people has that the general population does not. If the rest of society gains a privilege, it is not a privilege. Many things in your blog make sense. Having your first point display a clear misunderstanding of the English language does not.

    • English is something I understand just fine, thanks. Obviously, if everyone had a certain privilege, we would no longer have the same understanding of that privilege as we do now. However, since there isn’t really any other word for a privilege that used to be restricted to certain groups and has now been extended to everyone, I am forced to still use it in this context.

      Also, from dictionary.com, privilege means:

      1. a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.
      2. a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities: the privilege of a senator to speak in Congress without danger of a libel suit.
      3. a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
      4. the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
      5. any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government: We enjoy the privileges of a free people.

      Notice that fifth one? Yup.

      • no. I had problems with that line too. With all those definitions, it’s something someone gives you as a special treat because you don’t really deserve it. In other words, privileged men give women the “privilege” to walk on the street without being raped and murdered but they can revoke that privilege at any time. Being in a position to revoke a privilege is what makes you “privileged.” The authors line does not make sense because the equal situation she describes would be a right to walk on the street.

    • “Ah yes,” he chortles, fiddling with his bowtie and ceremoniously doffing a fedora, “she c l e a r l y lacks sufficient understanding of the English language!”

      “You see,” he drones to no one in particular, neckbeard fluttering in an errant breeze, “she uses the word ‘privilege’ in a way that is not consistent with how *I* use it!”

      “She must be wrong!” he concludes triumphantly to a ringing silence. After an awkward moment, he straightens his waistcoat, hitches up his cargo shorts, plops into a beanbag, and resumes masturbating frantically to a half-opened Merriam-Webster.

    • If a nitpicky complaint about the use of the word “privilege” is all you came away with from this article, you’re a moron.

      • This reply is addressed to the “anonymous” commenter above. I’m not sure if thats clear based on where my reply came out.

  8. Oof. I was so excited about this piece until I came across the unnecessary swipe at fat women. “Gorgeous” is one thing, but “ugly” and “fat” are another? Speaking of privilege…

    • I’m pretty sure she meant “fat” and “ugly” to be derogatory from the point of view of the man making the claim that he would love to get harassed by women. Just because I know she doesn’t feel that way herself. True, it could be misread as a swipe, though, from the author. Perhaps, Miriam, you might be able to add a footnote or something to clarify?

  9. “they don’t discriminate. It’s not about the way you look or who you are; it’s about the fact that you’re a woman, and they’re a man, and you’re powerless to stop it.”

    brassyclassy, this is exactly it- like rape and sexual assault, street harassment isn’t about attraction, it’s about power and it’s an act of aggression. We know this through seeing just how often it turns ugly- an ignored “hey sexy” is often followed up with a “never mind- you’re a fat slag anyway” or a thrown glass bottle- both of these have actually happened to me, the latter on at least two occasions, the former more times than I can count.

    Any attempt to “hollaback” may be met with even worse- the one time I responded to a “you fat slag” with “f*** off, Tiny Penis” the harasser and his mates responded by charging after me and bellowing. I only dared to respond because I was on a bicycle at the time and knew they had no chance of catching up with me, but while I “won” that one I also wondered: Why were they chasing me? What were they planning on doing to me when they caught me? Did they realise they were defending the honour of their mate’s penis…?

    The whole point of harassment is to put women “in their place”, with any women who refuse to be put in their place being punished for it. This punishment is a reminder that they are weak and feeble second-class citizens who should be afraid- be it with insults, threats or physical violence. As the examples above illustrate, there is also no “right” way to respond to street harassment or stop it turning nasty, which makes it all the more frightening- ignore it and you could get hurt, acknowledge it and you could get hurt. Often all we can do is be on our guard and hope for the best. Men who claim street harassment is “nice” have no idea what it’s like to walk around in that state of heightened anxiety and hypervigilance, with the adrenalin flowing until the moment you get home and lock the door behind you.

    During that bike ride I also got an insight into the mind of the street harasser: having an easy escape route meant there was nothing he could do and I had power over him, and I realised that without having the upper hand I wouldn’t have dared to insult him, just as many street harassers pick on people who are smaller and weaker than them, or people who are alone or outnumbered by them and their mates. All that said, while I got a glimpse of what it’s like to be the predator rather than the prey, I still failed to see why anyone should want to exploit that power for kicks. Doing so myself would make me a bully, and this is really what street harassment is all about. It’s not paying someone a compliment, it’s bullying.

  10. Totally feeling this, especially #3 and #4. I don’t understand strangers who insist on yelling at women about how enticing and sexually available they appear. Do they think we care whether or not strangers would have sex with us? Someone once yelled out, “nice walk, keep it up,” and I thought, “well THANK GOODNESS, I was worried my legs wouldn’t meet the approval of a complete stranger.”

  11. This is beautifully well written; factual, straight forward, not glossing over important facts without spreading bias in the opposite direction. I particularly like your inclusion of #8, because I agree that it is often overlooked and ignored, sometimes in the name of basically good causes. All harrassment is bad, and that needs to not be forgotten.

    Again, excellent. Thank you. :)

  12. Pingback: On Men Who Think Street Harassment Would Be Awesome « In Our Words

  13. Yet another article claiming that a gender difference only benefits men.

    “When you say that you would “love” it if women catcalled you, you are speaking from a place of privilege because catcalling isn’t something you ever have to deal with.”

    That’s like saying that the only reason a woman would “love” if nobody would show attention to them is that they haven’t never experienced of never getting catcalled.

    You cannot state as an objective fact that the a woman’s opinion is somehow objectively true.

    Yes, getting catcalled from unattractive women is not someting that most men would enjoy, but catcalling is not done only be unattractive persons.

    It’s female privilege to get attention.

    “But of course, none of us are mindreaders, or else men who harass women on the street would probably realize that they don’t want it in the least.”

    Eh. Some women don’t want some of the catcalls and some want.

    “3. And anyway, your penis is not the arbiter of everyone’s sexuality.”

    That’s sexist.

    “Just because you may like getting catcalled without your consent doesn’t mean the rest of us have to like it too”

    Just because you may like not getting catcalled doesn’t mean everyone should follow your preferences.

    “If you’re a man walking down the street and a woman starts harassing you, you generally don’t have to worry that she’ll brutally rape and attack you if you try to get her to stop (TW for that link).”

    The majority of street violence victims are male. Men have to therefore face more risk by walking on the street and have more to fear than women.

    • First of all: you’re banned for sheer misogynistic idiocy.

      Second: I only let this through moderation to show other readers what kind of person NOT to be–that is, an ignorant and completely dense MRA. Buh-bye.

  14. Pingback: [link] Hollaback London: If someone wolf whistles at you or grabs you in the street, would you confront them? « slendermeans

  15. Pingback: I’ve got your missing links right here (20 October 2012) » Gocnhin Archive

  16. Thank you for this article. As a young woman with a larger than average chest, I seem to get a lot of unwanted attention from men, specifically making comments about my breasts. The response that I have gotten is either to take it as a compliment, or to get a breast reduction. To that I say absolutely not. I did not choose this cup size, but it’s what I got. I will not surgically alter my body because there are men out there who cannot behave themselves. I’m sick of people trying to blame me for the attention by suggesting the attention has to do with the clothing I’m wearing. I am always very conscious about how I look in particular shirts. I do my best to stay covered up. But they’re big and I guess short of binding them down, there is nothing I can do to make them look smaller.

  17. Total nonsense. Being harassed is a CHOICE! If someone comments on the beauty of your ass you can decide to be offended and make it harassement. You can also CHOOSE to ignore it. Then its nothing, absolutely nothing. You can also decide to take it as a complement, and gain self confidence from it as it confirmes your ass is beautifull.

  18. Pingback: [link] On Men Who Think Street Harassment Would Be Awesome « slendermeans

  19. The thing that always bothers me the most (for myself, I mean, personally, not on a global scale or anything) about “Oh man I’d love it if some chick would cat-call at me!” is that horrible (assumption, pretense, understanding–not sure of the word I want here) that street harassment is a compliment.

    I’m fat, and while I’m comfortable in my body, I am also aware that much of America considers me unattractive, at best, repulsive, amoral, repugnant… I could go on, but the salient point is: unfuckable. And that’s fine by me! Because… I don’t actually want to fuck most of America.

    But I *still* get cat-calls, and to me, every time I hear that shit, I feel a double sting–one for “Hey, you’re a woman, and I just want to remind you that I have power over you simply because I’m not! Don’t forget to be afraid all the time!” and one for “Hey, isn’t it HILARIOUS to think that anyone could find you attractive? You’re unfuckable, and that makes you a punchline, not a person.”

    And then I just kind of want to lie down and give up.

    So, you know. Really, hypothetical jackass? Really you’d be super flattered if some total stranger felt the need to publicly humiliate you & point out your complete lack of worth as a human being (in their eyes, of course, but still)? Because damn. That’s kind of an odd reaction.

  20. Good read, I know I sound like a radical when I say things like this but we really need a new society. Writing an article on an issue is fine for educating people but I don’t see how it changes anything.

    • Change minds —> change people —> change society. Passing legislature can only do so much when the problem is an underlying social one. Misogyny is not something we can make illegal. But it is pervasive, and it’s a problem. So how do we change the social landscape? Persuade the people that comprise the society that a) there’s a problem, and b) the power to fix it is in our hands. What do you propose?

      • That’s a big question that can’t be answered in one short paragraph, and certainly not by someone as common as myself. What I can offer is this: A great start would be for the corporations to stop depicting females sexually at every opportunity, which keeps people in what I call a “constant state of arousal”. I have also been a victim of this conditioning, but I’ve recognized and am now trying to reverse it. And that’s going to be the hardest about all of this, people need to recognize that their primitive nature is being exploited at the expense of their capacity to conduct themselves in a civil manner. They need to get angry that advertisements everywhere are showing them pictures of hot girls because the corporations think it’ll get them to buy. It’s just a blatant insult. I hope that made a little sense.

  21. Not sure if this point was brought up – but again another male perspective.

    Being from a smaller city, where pretty much my entire peer group knew I was gay at the same time that I did, actually meant I got called a lot of names while walking down the street. It was an awful and horrible experience. No matter where I was, who I was with, it would not save me from their harassment. Homophobic harassment may not be the same as sexual harassment, but in this case it’s pretty darn similar.

  22. As a fat chick with a large chest I not only get the OMFG boobs harassment, but I get the ‘shameful boner’ harassment too you know where they do the OMFG boobs thing then realise they are attached to a fat chick – that’s when it gets ugly and threatening. I can’t see how some guy threatening to attack me is meant to be a compliment, that happens when I ignore the harassment and when they are ashamed of being attracted to me.

    I might be able to control my reaction, but maybe, just maybe we should be teaching these arseholes how to control themselves and not harass people (radical idea I know). You are right about it being a power thing which ever person who says you should just ignore it is supporting.

    All people are worthwhile until proven otherwise, does’t matter what you look like, everyone should be treated with respect.

    For the guys saying we should just treat it as a compliment, imagine the woman being ‘complimented’ is your girlfriend, mother, sister, grandmother, are you still happy with the situation. (Tip: if the answer is yes, get therapy).

  23. Pingback: [link] The Rape of an 11-Year-Old Girl Highlights an Important Wider Issue [TW] « slendermeans

  24. Pingback: Some Thoughts On Harassment And Consent | My Sex Professor

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