Want to better understand women? Think about connecting with their experience. This short video, with 30 million+ views, has been making the rounds of the web. The harrassment women face is a reminder that context is important, words matter, and big cities have distinct social norms.
Big city vs. small: social norms
Big cities have their own social norms, especially crowded, busy places like Manhattan. Living in a small midwestern city, I'm used to courteous strangers, people exchanging smiles as they pass by, and a generally relaxed vibe in public places. I'll often smile at a woman passing by, and she'll smile back, with no flirtatious intention. Just people being engaged, human.
When I visit New York City, however, the experience is much different. People walk briskly, always headed somewhere, and they look right through you, especially women. This bothers me at first, because I'm not used to being so brazenly ignored. But I get used to it, and then I will start to do it to. There are simply too many people out there who want something from you: money, help with problems real or imagined, new members for their cult. Compassion is important, but giving your attention to everyone who seeks it means you will never get to work, or anywhere else, on time.
And for women, responding to pickup attempts, however polite, will also derail them from any meaningful plan they had for the day. But this video is not about legitimate pickup attempts, it's about harrassment. If you want to watch pickup, these guys are bold, irreverant and even offensive, but the women they engage with have stopped to talk with them.
What's wrong with what the men in the video are doing?
If you watched this video and wondered what's so awful about the men's comments to the woman walking, well, ask a good female friend—then shut up and listen. Don't interrupt. One of the reasons for friction between men and women, with regards to pickup, is men's ignorance of context. This woman is walking very purposefully, looking ahead, not engaging with the people around her. Her body language says "I have somewhere to be, and I'm intent on getting there." You don't have to be a body language expert to realize that. But it doesn't discourage all. Some men will persist no matter the context.
“The right to approach women at any point in time no matter where they are is seen as a right by some men. And some of these dudes lack the most basic form of empathy to understand that our desire or intent doesn’t negate what that woman might be going through. Walking to the grocery store or to go pick up your kid shouldn’t be a gauntlet that you have to gear up for.”
What is harrassment?
There are different levels of harrassment. "Hey baby," and "how you doin',"are clearly harrassment. But then there's what my friend Lynn calls "soft harrassment": lighter comments like "have a nice evening." Why would you say this to someone who hasn't even made eye contact with you? She's not walking out of your restaurant after having a meal there—she's a complete stranger. I'm sure YouTube will provide responses to this video from men complaining "jeez, can't you even talk to a woman without being accused of harrassment?" Yes, you can. But when you ignore social norms, calling after a stranger who hasn't even looked you in the eye, you're not being friendly, you're just being a dick.
Why do men keep doing this?
Oh, so many reasons.
- They don't know any better.
- It worked once, at some point in the past, and they're going to keep up the same tactics indefinitely.
- They weren't raised to respect women.
- They lack the confidence to pick up a woman legitimately: by paying attention to context, timing, and engaging like a human being.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet women—take those instead.