Four Things (#Not All)Men Don’t (Want to) Understand about Street Harassment

Anne Marie Wells
9 min readAug 29, 2018
A security camera image of an entitled man with a fragile ego punching a woman outside a café in France
An entitled man with a fragile ego punches a woman outside a café because he kept making lewd comments at her and she voiced that she did not like it.

A man in France punched a woman when she told him to stop making lewd remarks at her. Luckily cameras caught the assault, and police arrested the man (what will happen as a result of this arrest remains uncertain, probably nothing.) Sometimes a punch to the face is a much more delicate punishment for rejecting a man. Mollie Tibbetts’s fate was much more grim for rejecting a man’s advances (a heinous murder not caused by lax border control, as many claim, since immigration cannot explain the three victims stabbed, three shot and killed, and 13 injured either with gunshots or the car that a young, American man used as a battering ram against bicyclists and skateboarders when he went on a rampage after members of a sorority he harassed and stalked refused to open the door for him.)

What (hashtag not all) men don’t seem to understand is this:

1. You are not entitled to anyone’s body, space, or time.

If this was understood, then the sting that rejection brings to your egos wouldn’t feel like a searing wound needing avenging.

2. You are not the first person to make lewd remarks.

You’re not the first or the tenth, or even the hundredth. You are merely a drop in the ocean of sexual harassment that women are subjected to on a regular basis.

3. We get criticized no matter how we say “no”

Women are conditioned our entire lives to be “nice” because if a man blows up your sorority after you refuse to have sex with him, guess what the headline says? “Denied again by sorority girls, UC Santa Barbara gunman improvised.” Instead of reading “Fragile man goes on murderous rampage after harassing and stalking women for months.” Do not tell us to be more direct because no matter the level of directness, it doesn’t protect us from fragile, angry men. Do not tell us that some women say “no” when they really mean “yes.” If you think a woman is saying “no” when she really means “yes,” then disappoint her by taking “no” for an answer. You’ll be protecting the safety and sanity of the majority of other women who say “no” and mean it sincerely.

4. You are the problem if you’re a witness and do nothing.

The problem remains a problem not just because of men in their singularity, but also because of friends who witness harassment and say or do nothing, or worse think it’s funny or cool to watch their friends act like assholes to women.

I posted on my facebook about some incidents that I have endured, writing “I could list dozens more.” So, I decided to list as many incidents as I could remember, to give a glimpse as to what it is like to be the subject or witness of harassment on a regular basis.

  • While at a burlesque show, a stranger grabbed my ass so thoroughly through my dress that I felt his fingers between my butt cheeks. When I turned around and angrily asked, “Did you just grab my ass?” He said, “Mayyybeee” in a flirtatious way. I made my way to the bouncer and when I got there, another woman was there complaining that the same man touched her friend’s breasts.
  • While in a grocery story a man and his friend walked by, and the man said, “Yo, did you know your ass is like a shelf?”
  • While leaving a night club with my friends, a stranger grabbed me by the waist, pulled me in close to him and licked my neck.
  • While walking to class, a stranger stopped me and asked if I was from the neighborhood. Thinking he needed directions, I said “Yes.” Then he proceeded to tell me how sexy I was and if he could take me out. He didn’t even ask my name. I told him “No” and kept walking. He followed me shouting things like “C’mon I just want to talk to you.” I walked faster away. Then he grabbed my hand and arm and was holding me back from walking away. I started shouting for him to let me go. He did with a shocked look on his face. As I fled, he shouted “What’s the matter with you?”
  • When I was at a concert with friends, a friend of mine went to jump on my back, and in doing so, she lifted my dress up above my thong. A stranger walked by and slapped my bare ass. I lost my mind and started shouting hysterically at him. The group of men I was with, friends at the time, all came up to me to tell me it was okay and that I needed to calm down. Only one person stood up for me and confronted the man.
  • While walking to the Farmer’s Market, two guys passed by me, and one pretended to motor boat me as he walked by.
  • Two men stood outside a grocery store saying loudly what they would “do” to the different women passing by. I went in to tell the store’s management, and the (male) manager said “What should I tell them to do? Stop speaking?”
  • While walking a group of campers to the bus stop for a field trip, we all passed two women in their car waiting to make a turn. The only male councilor lowered his sunglasses and howled “Hello, ladies” at them. I chastized his behavior telling him he is setting the example for these single-digit-aged kids and that they are learning that women are only objects for men’s visual pleasure. He responded that he “was only saying ‘hello.’”
  • While walking home at night, a group of young men passed me. One stopped me by holding me by the shoulders. He looked at one of his friends asking, “Do you want her?” The friend grimaced and shook his head. The guy holding me tossed me to the side as the group kept walking.
  • While walking in a park with a friend in the middle of the day, a guy came up to hit on us, calling us “Babies” and telling us to come hang out with him and his group of friends. I told him “No” and he kept following us trying to get us to come hang out with him and his friends. After telling him “no” politely several times, I firmly told him “Look, we’re not interested, leave us alone.” And then he and his friends ran at us and whipped water balloons at us, soaking our clothes.
  • While walking into my student union, two men were sitting outside, and one whistled at me. I confronted them, and they told me I was exaggerating, that their intentions were innocent, that they didn’t actually say anything to me or touch me. I told them their whistling made me feel disgusting and unsafe. They told me that I was unique in that opinion. So I stopped a random woman walking by and said “Excuse me, when a man whistles at you in public, how does it make you feel?” She said, “Bad.” I stopped another woman and asked her the same thing. That’s when one of the men stood up and got in my face to intimidate me. He started yelling at me that I was humiliating them when they didn’t do anything wrong. I told them if they didn’t do anything wrong, they shouldn’t be humiliated. They walked away telling me that I was a bitch. I later learned, when I filed a complaint about the incident that that man worked at the student union. He was relocated to a different department.
  • As I was walking by a car at a cross walk, the man in the driver’s seat whistled at me. When I ignored him, he tooted the horn. When I continued to ignore him, he held the horn down and then yelled “FUCK YOU!” at me.
  • While walking with my then girlfriend, an older man said something along the lines of “Hey ladies, where you going so fast?” I shouted back that we weren’t interested, and then put my arm around my girlfriend’s shoulder. The man then proceeded to follow us for blocks until we reached the club, shouting at us at how we were wastes to men the entire way.
  • A man approached me at an event for my environmental department. When he asked me out, I politely told him I was uninterested. He then emailed my supervisor asking for my contact information. Luckily my supervisor asked me about it first, and so did not forward my contact information. Suddenly I noticed the man all over campus wherever I was and at every environmental event. Then, he showed up to my aerobics class that I taught. I asked him to leave because he wasn’t wearing sneakers, and he did. I asked the people in my class to please stay with me while I closed up the room and to walk with me to the locker room which had a second staircase that lead to my manager’s office. I told my manager about what happened, and she called Campus Police. They showed up and when we looked for him on the security cameras, he was standing alone in my aerobics studio. A police officer confronted him and scared him into leaving me alone, which he did, but I had an officer escort me to my car every time I worked for the rest of the semester.
  • A DIFFERENT man took an exercise class I taught and waited for me outside the studio after I finished closing up. He insisted on walking me out even though I tried to politely tell him “no” by saying “That’s okay, I’m fine.” Once again, the guy asked my supervisor for my contact information, which she did not give him, and then she contacted me to tell me what happened. He continually showed up to my classes and waited for me outside the classroom. When I told him that he was making me uncomfortable, he was offended and angrily said “Why? I’m only being nice!” He ended up being banned from the gym because of complaints filed by other people at the gym.

These are only the incidents that I remember that occurred with unwanted explicit or implicit sexual advances and strangers. This does not include the plethora of misogyny or vengeful violence I’ve endured from supervisors, colleagues, friends or intimate partners after they’ve become angry or felt rejected, which ranges from sexist condescension to malicious rumor spreading to physical assault.

I know some individuals reading about these instances will find justifications in their own behaviors, or perhaps not relate to the level of extremeness, but these invasions of body, space, and time start with “innocent” acts such as hard stares.

Women pretend to not notice as men fixate upon their bodies, but we feel it, and it’s uncomfortable. We pretend to not notice because if we dare make eye contact with you, it could lead to you pursuing us when we are very uninterested or it could lead to you pursuing us and then acting violent when we make it known that we are very uninterested. Either way, we lose, so we pretend to not feel the objectifying male gaze. “Innocence” is the foundation for snowballing violence.

Hey, Guy! Everyone knows you are a virile male! Your penis works, we get it! You don’t have to show how desperate you are for a woman by staring her down as she walks by or lives her goddamn life. It’s gross!

I hope this article helps everyone, but especially cisgender, straight men to understand that they are not special and that SURPRISINGLY, the MAJORITY OF WOMEN don’t want sexual advances from strangers!

Dear Guy,

You are not the first man to ever show me attention. I am not flattered by you. I do not find your whistles and sexual advances to be complimentary. They only tell me that I am not free or safe to live my goddamn life in public. Sometimes you’re not even the first man to make an unwanted sexual advance toward me that DAY. You are merely a kernel in the Costco-sized bag of popcorn. And if you think we are angry or rude, know that it is because we are TIRED of being blindly hit on. If you’re going to disrespect us when we are strangers, you’re only going to continue to treat us like shit if we give you a chance. So why would we do anything except reject your advances? And, really, being disgusting toward women in the street isn’t an effective way to get women to sleep with you. Maybe try Tinder? Or speed dating? Maybe ask friends to set you up? Maybe pick up a hobby that isn’t playing video games alone in your room? I promise, lots of women will probably want to sleep with you as soon as you start showing them respect and basic human decency instead of treating them like a checklist.

Developing a following for my writing is really hard. Can you help me out?

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If you liked this article and want to read more articles from me, check out:

Walkaway Partner Syndrome: It Has Probably Happened to You

White People Need to Start Standing Up Against White Supremacist Microaggressions

Misogyny in Higher Ed: Allowing Creepy Professors to Remain Creepy

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