Panama: So, street harassment has been getting a lot of traction as of late. There are panels, discussions, shouting matches (which may or may not actually constitute street harassment depending on if the man is louder methinks), Twitter town halls, Twitter shouting matches (“tweet harassment” perhaps?…), etc. Basically, the conversation about men making women feel uncomfortable has reached a critical mass. To wit, the definition according to StopStreetHarassment.org is: any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.
In its simplest form, basically men need to stop talking to women unless women say something first. Hmm…if I say “smile sister!” and I’m smiling at the same time, is that harassment? I’m really curious about this. What’s your take on it?
Damon: I took part in a HuffPo live segment about street harassment last week. The producers reached out to me because of a piece I wrote for EBONY (“I Stopped Telling Women to Smile“), and I was the lone male voice with three women—including Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Because of the show’s format, I didn’t get much of a chance to speak. But, when I did, I offered some background about what prompted me to write the EBONY piece.
You know, I do think most men understand the difference between considerate approach and harassment, and most women know the difference as well. But, it seems like the tone and tenor of this conversation is being set by people on opposite ends of the spectrum: women who seem to consider all unsolicited male attention to be harassment, and men who say things like “Man, if I can’t give random females compliments on their tiddies, how is the human race gonna survive??? They should be happy I even took the time to notice they asses!”
Panama: I think that you may be right. It probably is mostly the fringe element that’s driving the majority of the conversation, as the Internet is largely responsible for. I mean, if you let the Internet and FOX News tell it, well…don’t let them tell anything. I think men could be a lot smarter and less icky when talking to women on the street. I just don’t know if we’re supposed to stop talking altogether. Like can I say, “hello beautiful”? Or is that like borderline. Perhaps its like backhanded harassment…on the street. And to be fair, I agree. I’m not trying to trivialize the movement. I’ve seen and heard some pretty atrocious things said to women who were doing nothing more than existing. That’s not nice. And the guys who managed to do so clearly were pretty disgusting people. I guess, my curiosity about it is more of, like, would women prefer (I realize I’m asking a man) for nobody to ever say anything? Is positive stuff okay? Hell, I’m afraid that if I say hello to a woman and say she’s beautiful I may get like, hit with the street harassment whistle or something. Wait, is there a street harassment whistle? If not there probably should be one.
Damon: I know women who carry whistles. And mace. And tasers. And tiny dogs that shit in their purses. I also know a woman who showed me how she holds her keys when she’s walking somewhere alone at night so that they form a de facto knife.
I don’t know any men that carry those types of weapons. (Or purse-shitting dogs.) And, while I’m aware many men carry guns, I don’t know—well, I don’t think I know—any who do. I also don’t feel compelled to go to the bathroom in groups, I don’t think twice about taking my eye off of my drink if I’m sitting at a bar, and I’ve never intentionally made sure to wear more conservative clothes so I got less unprompted attention from the opposite sex when catching the train to work.
I’m bringing this up because we (men) have a tendency to downplay or just completely ignore the fact that while the world is a dangerous place for all of us, it’s even more dangerous for women. It’s almost like how (some) White people will downplay or completely ignore the effect racial profiling can have on us.
Also, we have to be real with ourselves. I seriously doubt any woman you say hello to is going to blow the harassment whistle on you, and I seriously doubt you believe that too. It feels like the internet-based pushback or even ambivalence about this movement from men is based on semantics. We (men who read and shit) know how to act around women, know what harassment is, and aren’t going to have our off-line interactions with women affected by this at all.
I will say one thing though: I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask women how they prefer to be approached. Aside from shit that goes without saying—i.e. “don’t grab my ear,” “don’t have breath that smells like Newark”—if you ask 10 women that question, you’re likely to get 10 different answers.
Plus, no one—women, men, Gucci Mane—knows what they want, anyway. Seriously, sometimes it seems like life is nothing but a quest to learn exactly what you don’t want. And, when you finally do figure out what you want, you die.
Basically, life is like a very eclectic hood strip club.
Panama: Damon, sir. Mr. Champ. I do believe we’ve got some growth there. I sense the empathy and attempt at understanding the other side. I’d shed a tear if I hadn’t already let the song cry. So yeah, you’re right. Women have to deal with an entirely different set of circumstances than we do. I have a daughter and I’m already scared about what’s possibly happening to her when I’m not around. So I see your point. Ladies….I get it.
On another note, I disagree about asking women how they want to be approached. Hell, that’s the only way to get data and find a middle ground. So what you get 10 different answers; I guarantee that they’ll all be at least “okay” and won’t include the words, “hey redbone, let me bust it wide open” or “how about you do something strange for a little piece of change” or “I got your tuition in my wallet, guh…twerk something”. Or my current favorite that has yet to work…”guh…I know you want this dih!” Not that I’ve actually tried it. Nope. Not even twice.
So for me, I would be curious as to how women would like men to approach them ideally. I feel like we’d get a mix of grand sweeping gestures and scenes from Belly. Really though, it would probably look like Love Jones. Here’s a stick in the mud, Darius Lovehall, the patron saint of Black romance was a real life stalker. Like an actual one. That isn’t street harassment, that’s a felony. But I’ll bet some women would find that charming. So to quote poet laureate and philosopher king, Tyrese, what am I gonna do?
Damon: Yeah, Darius definitely did some arrestable shit in that movie. That nigga just showed up at her door…after getting her address from a receipt…and after being told by her that she wasn’t interested, but he’s the Black patron paragon of coitus procurement??? It has to be the baby hair.
And, the reason why I don’t think asking about approach best practices is useful is that they’re too variable and arbitrary. Lemme put it this way: What Jane says is the best way to approach her (“Just say hi and make me laugh”) might not work when Jack tries it. But, later that night, Jim gets Jane’s number, and all he did was nod in her direction. (It was a “sexy” nod, according to Jane, but just a nod nonetheless.)
Oh, and let the song cry on deez.