Guest post: Judy Brown’s Take on What Works in fending off the Harassers

At Hollaback!, we are going to start doing guest posts. You will see a lot more of these when we re-launch our site in July. Please note, these posts do not necessarily reflect our views. They are intended to start a conversation and reflect a diversity of tactics. If you would like to submit your HOLLAperspective, send it to holla (at) ihollaback.org.

I don’t believe that guys on the street hollering at women believe they’re going to get a date: it’s definitely about entitlement, if not harassment.

And yes, it just keeps coming: I’m 60 and fat, both of which are great for lessening street harassment, but even age and padding haven’t ended it completely, I’m sorry to tell you.

However, while living in New York City for a decade as an under five-foot tall girl I evolved a system that’s kept me safe for 40 years, while getting rid of the PUAs (self-styled Pick Up Artists), harassers, stalkers or whichever strange man was bothering me in a public place. (With the added pleasure of embarrassing some, and scaring off others.)

Ignoring strange men intent on a pickup on the street often didn’t work: they had the “excuse” that I may not have heard them, and while repeating their harassment some of ’em worked themselves up into a lather that that I was being “rude” because I’d ignored them.

Sorry: Yelling at the clods to leave me alone only resulted in a psycho screaming at the top of his lungs that he could do whatever he wanted to me, while following, for blocks.

After a couple years, I discovered that the key to successfully dealing with street harassment from men was to acknowledge it in a dull monotone, and pretend it was—get this—a matter of “manners.”

I come from the generation whose parents insisted children learn basic manners, including “Please”, “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome,” so I respond with that politesse automatically, to this day.

Even when the situation may not warrant it. But when my disinterested, but seemingly polite, “No, thank you,” to a street harasser’s request (for a date, coffee, whatever) actually stopped him, dumbfounded in his tracks, I realized I may have stumbled onto something workable.

From there on in, to every approach I’d repeat in a neutral or monotone, “I’m terribly sorry, but I never speak to strangers on the street,” (or variation “I‘m sorry, but I never speak to strangers.”) rinse and repeat, while moving on. (Don’t smile, that can be seen as an encouragement.)

An neutral tone and overtly “polite” response didn’t give the psychos or PUAs an excuse to abuse me for my disinterest, or to continue to harass me, usually.

A request of any sort from the street harasser was also responded to, again, in an emotionless, “No, thank you.” Rinse and repeat, while moving away at a deliberate pace.

(With a bonus: if the request has been obscene, and guy has friends around him, they then laughed at him after my “polite” response.)

However, if the clod persisted after “polite” neutral-toned dismissals, I discovered how to deflect that attack, too—largely because when someone was rude enough to frighten me, my next natural response was anger that he’d had the nerve.

The one time I was groped, on an up escalator at Port Authority bus terminal, the guy behind me grabbed my thigh.

My natural, indignant response, ”Are you insane?” had him backing down the escalator, apologizing.

Righteous indignation after a line crossed, usually resulted in a PUA or strange man backing away and apologizing, believe it or not— as long as I made it a matter of manners.

“Do you realize how rude it is to follow me and frighten me!” Late at night, followed through empty blocks by drunks, and yet invariably apologized to.

However, if there were other people on the street and I was being followed, I’d point it out calmly, “That man is following me,” and cross the street. That would end THAT.

After I moved to Los Angeles and a guy in a sports car followed me for blocks through Beverly Hills after I’d politely told him, no I didn’t want a ride, I turned and said, “I said, no thank you.”

Another block of following, and I turned and spat, “Listen buddy, don’t fuck with me — I’m from New York.”

At which point, PUA and sports car peeled out.

(WARNING: If, after your neutral or monotone “polite” response the harasser immediately cycles into anger or abuse, don’t escalate the situation: repeat over and over in the same neutral tone, “I’m not interested. Please go way. Please go away,” as you move away. No rise out of you, and he doesn‘t have the excuse he wants to escalate the abuse. At least, that‘s how I got rid of a multiple offender.)

So that’s the system: “polite” response in emotionless monotone, rinse and repeat, while moving on, usually deflects the harassers. Until or unless he crosses the line, and then righteous indignation usually backs them off.

However, if your harasser is abusively angry from the gitgo, neutral tone or monotone requests for him to leave you alone, repeated endlessly, is better for getting rid of him and keeping you safe.

I’d also recommend you keep the number of the local police station on speed dial — 911 isn’t as fast from a cell. I now work in a public place where I don’t have the option of leaving when harassed, but when several monotone requests for them to leave hasn’t worked, threatening to call the police, flipping open my phone and/or actually calling the cops, or a more local authority, has sent my harassers running, or at least ambling, away. However, I’ve also never shown fear while doing so, I spoke in the same calm, emotionless tone of voice — I think guys who harass women on the street get some sort of satisfication from frightening or upsetting those women.

The above system has kept me safe for four decades as a woman living in several big cities, as well as giving me a way to respond to harassers that gave them no satisfaction.

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