Making a difference, one harasser at a time

I had finished work early and was heading to the public library to return a book. I was walking along Cambridge Street, listening to my iPod quite loudly to drown out the sound of the cars. A man (probably late teens/early 20s) walked by me. Because my music was so loud, it was like a whisper, but I could hear him say something along the lines of “You’re beautiful.” It took a few seconds for me to process what happened, and normally in this kind of situation I would just tell him to “fuck off.”

But I decide to try something different. I stopped and turn around. He must have realized that I’d stopped, as he also turned around, and I said, “Does that ever work for you?”

He’s asking how what he said was so wrong, that it was a compliment. I told him that I’m a complete stranger walking along the street, listening to my iPod. He said, “Yeah, I saw you with your music. I can’t believe you even heard me,” and I said, “Well, I did, and I don’t need you to compliment me. That’s not why I exist.”

He said that he didn’t mean to offend me, and that he’s sorry if he did. I told him that I appreciate that he’s sorry, but I’m trying to let him know that, even though he didn’t mean to be offensive, many women (including me) do take it that way, so he should watch what he says from now on. He slinks away and says again that he’s sorry that I was offended (which is still missing the point, but it’s a start).

I then walked away feeling like maybe I had overreacted. Even writing this now, I still kind of feel that way. But at the same time I’m thinking, if you know I couldn’t hear you, why were you saying it out loud? To prove something to yourself? Hopefully next time he’s tempted to say something similar to a stranger, he’ll think about it more.

Submitted by G.

3 responses to “Making a difference, one harasser at a time

  1. I completely support your actions regarding this situation.

    Many men hide behind the, “It’s a compliment” and “I didn’t mean to offend you” excuses, but what you said is exactly true: you don’t exist for them to talk to you in any way, even in the sweetest manner.

    You are two strangers walking by on the street. There is nothing uniting both of you besides the person’s desire to say something to you while you can’t even hear him.

    I did this in Spain and it worked. The man was older, around 55 years old. I walked past, he mumbled something, and I ignored him until I realized he was still saying things at me after I had walked past. So I turned around and asked him if he considered me an object. He went back inside where he had come from, after I yelled at him to show himself and not be a coward. That day I felt I had the upper hand, not some random jerk face.

  2. Hi,

    I just wanted to say I totally support your action too. I get verbally harassed and followed often on the street where I live (Rotterdam, NL). I always try and tell them off, but it doesn’t usually impress them. It makes me SO angry. My husband feels that I overreact, he has trouble understanding that it makes me feel deeply insulted. So no, I don’t think you overreacted and it helps me to know that I am not unique in getting very angry and upset about similar situations.

    take care!

  3. I often struggle with this too – that confronting a harasser often leaves me feeling more uncomfortable and disappointed than before the incident. I walk away attempting to justify My reaction, instead of being incredulous about the other person’s (oftentimes ridiculous) behavior.
    Having grown up in a society that praises women for being polite and ever-calm, I feel the oneness is on the woman for “overreacting” to unwanted attentions. It’s not fair – the focus should always be on the man who chooses to harass, not the woman on the receiving end.

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