On the one hand, goddamn I hate knowing that once I leave my house, I am fair game to have my space intruded upon. On the other hand, I can’t hold it against people for trying to fulfill the most basic human urge to connect with another human being. Straight men with good intentions looking to honestly fulfill that need have the deck stacked against them. No, I’m not saying “What about the men!!!!” I’m saying, sexism stacks the deck against everybody, and provides innumerable unnecessary obstacles between human beings trying to connect in intimate or basic ways. While I believe that women have disproportionately more obstacles (and less resources to overcome them with), and obstacles that are more likely to result in physical attack, that doesn’t mean that boys ain’t got their shit to deal with.
To wit: our current concepts of masculinity and manhood require a demonstratable ability to acquire the exclusive attention and sexual favors of women, and that requirement doesn’t get waived on the basis of context. That is, you don’t get points for trying; you get points for winning.”I don’t have a girlfriend because the girl I like the best right now just isn’t ready for a relationship and I respect that,” doesn’t make you a man, though “I wouldn’t leave this girl alone until she gave me her number and now I won’t leave her alone until we’re dating” does.
Our concepts of masculinity and manhood also require that concepts like masculinity and manhood exist. I know that sounds patently obvious. But the idea is, “man” can’t exist as a discrete concept unless “woman” exists as a discrete concept. “Masculine” can’t exist unless “feminine” exists. So the two concepts must necessarily be in opposition to each other; one is what the other is not, one is not what the other is.
So men are tasked with this impossible, crazy-making requirement: to be a man, you must acquire relationships with women, but you must not identify with them, or even like them all that much. You are not a man until you can get a woman to pay attention to you, but you can’t acquire that attention by being interested in anything that she is interested in. You must first treat women like aliens, to prove you are not one, and then you must find a way to make them enjoy that treatment.
There is no reasonable way to combine those two needs at the same time, while also fulfilling the very basic human need to have a companion. Which is how you end up with the wild shit women deal with every day when they get harassed on the street. A man is attempting to accomplish one or all three requirements:
- establish that he is fundamentally nothing like her and never will be anything like her (which carries the implication that there is something wrong or undesirable about being like her)
- attempt to get her to give him exclusive attention, deserved or not
- attempt to acquire a positive human connection.
Does that sound confusing? Let me put it this way:
Man on street: Heeeeeey baby why don’t you come over here (Need #2)
Woman who is trying to walk to the laundromat: No.
Man on street: Well fuck you, bitch, you fat bitch, do you think you’re better than me? (Need #1)
Woman: What the fuck is wrong with you? Don’t you have a mother who fucking raised you? If you talk that way to me again, I’m going to call the cops, you piece of shit.
Man on street: Oh, hey, no need to act like that. I just saw a pretty lady, I was trying to say hi to a pretty lady. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just saying hi. (Need #3)
Woman: ????? (quiet determination to be aggressively and pre-emptively dismissive to all men who approach her in public in the future so as to avoid this bullshit)
Second Man: Is that a Firefly T-shirt? That’s awesome! (Need #3)
Woman: FUCK YOU GET AWAY FROM ME.
Second Man: Jesus! Women are psycho bitches! (Need #1)
The fact that men are raised to view women as completely separate and distinct creatures that cannot be understood by normal male brains doesn’t help boys any. The Second Man in that scenario probably viewed what he was doing as pure and innocent and nice, and his intentions probably were — he was trying to connect with another human being. But because that man has also spent a lifetime fulfilling Need #1 — the need to distinguish himself as separate and apart from women and their experiences — he entered into that interaction with no idea of how much street harassment women put up with, and how much they hate it. Because of Need #1, he has no idea how a woman wants to be approached, how a woman would be receptive to an approach, because if he were to learn these things, he would not be fulfilling the bargain of manhood.
This is going to be the list of Street Luv. This is going to be a list of ways men can approach women that are not uncomfortable, dismissive, humiliating, condescending, privileged, ignorant, or generally sexist bad sauce.
- The entire concept of this list, as I’ve explained it, is pretty cis and hetero centered. That’s been my experience of the world. I don’t know what kind of street harassment non-cis and non-hetero people deal with. I don’t know what kind of street luv they get. But the actual content of this list doesn’t have to be exclusively cis and hetero. What I am looking for is respectful, happy encounters between a person a couple clicks up on the kyriarchy and somebody a couple clicks down. In my own experience, that’s straight cis men approaching straight cis women, and probably the majority of entries on this list will be that. But it’s not a rule of the list that they have to be.
- It’s called Street Luv, but it doesn’t have to take place on the street, and it doesn’t have to be about strangers. Just between people who are more strange than familiar to each other.
- I want the stories from the person who was approached, because only they know how it felt. If you, Some Dude, once hit on a lady on the street in a super smooth way, and you got together, and it was all awesome, don’t leave your story — get your lady to leave it. Only she knows if it was actually smooth, or if she secretly overlooked your arrogance and obnoxiousness for some other reason. You’re just assuming the pick-up line worked, when it might have been the geeky sci fi book she spied in your backpack.
- The stories do not have to end with a relationship. They only have to end with good feelings instead of bad ones.
- This is not a how-to list. This is not the definitive Ladies Manifesto, downloaded directly from the Hive Mind. One person’s good story is probably going to be another person’s harassment. I’m really interested in the complexities of that! If somebody leaves a story about an encounter that would have left you fuming, talk about it in the comments.
- When I say “talk about it in the comments,” I mean talk about your own feelings and thoughts. Don’t dismiss somebody else’s experience; do describe yours. If a woman tells a story about an encounter that you find sexist and disgusting, don’t tell her that her experience was sexist and disgusting; explain why, had that encounter happened to you, you would have been disgusted and seen sexism present.
- Same as the other list: leave your story in the comments, and I’ll delete and copy/paste it onto the list.
I know this is a lot more vague and weird than my other list. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll put down a few to kick it off:
I was walking home one night. Ahead of me, a man stumbled out of a bar. When he saw me, he gaped a little, then smiled. As I passed, he said, “Excuse me! I know this is rude, and I’m sorry for bothering you. But I have to tell you: the way you walk is fantastic! You walk, like, BAM, I am HERE, I am SEXY, I am a WOMAN. It’s just incredible! You look so fantastic when you walk like that, just so confident. I love it. I just have to tell you I love it.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“No problem! Now you just keep on walking like that, show everybody.”
“I will.” And I walked home.
Why I Liked That
He stayed several paces away from me and did not try to crowd into my personal space. He apologized for bothering me, and admitted that he knew what he was doing was rude. When I showed no interest in continuing a conversation with him, he did not press one and encouraged me to leave. He did not ask for my number or my name. He did not try to walk with me. His compliment was partially based in how confident I looked. Basically, he treated me like a human being who had a right to her own space, and a right to choose to continue or end a conversation. Since that treatment came first — his respect for me as an autonomous human being — I didn’t mind that he also obviously thought I was a very attractive human being.
I was waiting at the bus stop one day when some Puerto Rican guy started chatting me up. I had my headphones in and I was reading a book. To listen to what he was saying, I would have had to take my headphones out and put my book down, and I wasn’t willing to do that just because a stranger demanded my attention. I thought he was rude as hell. So I threw him an irritated glance and did not once respond to anything he said. If it had ended there, this would not be a story making its way to my list.
He quit hitting on me, though he was obviously miffed, and now I was annoyed both by his chatting and by his telegraphed irritation. I wasn’t looking forward to having to sit at a bus stop with a man who was obviously angry at me. Then, an old dude came up to the bus stop. In retrospect, I think he was probably mentally ill. He was very agitated, very hostile, and ranting to himself about how much he hated women. It was literally just a stream of “fucking cunts all of them deserve to die.” When he saw me, the only young unattached woman at the bus stop, he immediately got in my space and started directing this monologue at me. I was afraid, and my first instinct was to try and make eye contact with another man at the bus stop to get them to step in. But the only other man was the Puerto Rican, and to put it crudely, I didn’t want to swap my pussy for safety. So I just stared at the crazy old man, frozen, trying to figure out what to do.
But the Puerto Rican dude stepped up anyway. He got up next to the crazy old man, put his arm around him, and started talking in a smooth, calm voice. He was just babbling stuff, making up conversation as he went along, telling the old man about Puerto Rico, talking about what a beautiful day it was, etc. He led the old man away from me, and spent the next ten minutes listening to this crazy old man spout off aggressively about everything he wanted to kill. When the bus arrived, the Puerto Rican guy stayed with the crazy old man while I boarded. Only once I was on the bus did he make a break for the bus, leaving the crazy old guy behind. He smiled and nodded at me as he boarded, but he purposefully sat several seats away from me, and made no further attempts to talk to me.
Why I Liked That
What that dude did completely changed my opinion of him. He was an obnoxious street harasser before. But he stepped up to keep me safe, and (this is the most important part) did not try to use this as currency to start hitting on me again. At the end, he acted like a real nice guy instead of a Nice Guy ™. Though he was obviously interested in me, and though he had done something that he could reasonably expect some degree of thanks for, he did not use that action to force his way into my space when I had already telegraphed to him that I wasn’t interested. Basically, he didn’t try to manipulate me using my personal safety as leverage, even though he had a very clear opportunity and motive. Had I been single, that might have been enough for me to pursue the possibility of getting his number.
On the afternoon of my 18th birthday, I was walking back from classes to my dorm room, enjoying the scenery and humming to myself. A young man my age walking in the opposite direction stopped and said, rather shyly, “excuse me miss, but I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and that you might like to hear that.” I smiled equally shyly and thanked him and we both continued on our walks.
After a bit, I heard jogging behind me – he’d turned around and run back. “Uh. I’m sorry to bother you again, but is there any possibility you would want to have dinner with me sometime?” I gave him an answer somewhere along the lines of “That sounds nice, but I don’t think my boyfriend would like that much.”
“Ah. Well, you tell him I think he’s a lucky guy to be seeing a lady with as nice a smile as yours. You take care.” And then he was gone.
Why I liked that:
That man kept a safe distance when he approached me, didn’t seem to expect anything from me, and respected me when I said no. While I can’t put my finger on why – it might be something he said that I’ve forgotten – I got the impression that he was genuinely interested in getting to know ME and who I was, that he thought I was beautiful because of the way I carried myself, rather than because of my physical features.
Additionally, this happened when I was in the middle of a very emotionally and sexually abusive relationship, and I never once felt good about myself that year except when I thought about that young man. Later, when I finally had the courage to leave that relationship, I had that young man in mind – he convinced me that I deserved better, and better could be found out there somewhere. There existed men who spoke softly and sweetly, and expected nothing in return for being nice, and wouldn’t force me to do anything I didn’t want to.
I never found out his name, and I probably wouldn’t recognize him if I ran into him ever again, but I really wish I could thank him for that.
What happened: I was running outside through my college campus and the surrounding city. I had heard an especially ridiculous number of catcalls that day, but then I saw a man close to my age walking toward me. We made eye contact; he smiled at me.
That was all. Just eye contact and a smile.
Why it impressed me:
He was the only person during my 6.5-mile run that acknowledged me without shouting a catcall. It showed he realized that trying to talk to me while I was in the middle of a sweaty, long run probably wasn’t the best idea as I probably wouldn’t want to stop to talk, and he respected me enough to let me run in peace.
I grew up in Chicago and so daily street harrassment was my reality–it was eventually one of the motivating factors for not wanting to live in a city. I just couldn’t deal after a while.
One night, not too long before I left East Rogers Park for the relative safety of North Halsted, I was walking to a friend’s house at dusk. A black man was walking toward me, vaguely vagranty looking. I steeled myself against the usual fear of one-on-one encounters on a residential street with no one anywhere. As he got close, the man broke into a huge grin. “My God!” he said. “I don’t want to scare you or anything, but you are looking good tonight!” I think my jaw dropped because he said, “No joke–and I just had to tell you. Now keep on going wherever you’re going. Have a great night!” And he he just kept on walking.
Why I liked it:
Because he didn’t seem to want anything. He seemed truly to be in a good mood and wanting to pay a compliment because…who knows? He wasn’t at all leery, and he didn’t have rape eyes. I think he was just happy, and it made me happy.
This one time a couple of year a go I was walking towards a bus stop where a young guy was waiting for the bus, though initally I didn’t really notice him. As I got closer to the shelter, he jumped up in front of me, spread his arms wide, looked me up and dow, and said “Wow. Just… Wow.”
I laughed, and he stepped out of my way so I could continue walking. That was it.
I liked it because it just felt so sincere and unrehearsed – this guy didn’t want anything from me, not even acknowledgement. He was just expressing his spontaneous admiration for my physicality, but without forcing me into any kind of interaction, which would have made it feel objectifying.
He also made me feel safe, which is a theme I can already see developing here. He kept an even larger distance between us than I needed for comfort, and didn’t stare, shout or walk after me. He didn’t intrude upon me in any way. And, he smiled really sweetly, even though I think he may have been as pissed as a lord at the time!
Now I don’t know if you want to put the next bit on your list Harriet, but something had happened to me once before, and I felt a bit differently that time. I was doing a summer job in Italy when I was sixteen, and came in for a simply mind boggling amount of harrassement. Anyway, one day I’m walking down the street and a guy drops to his knees in front of me, exclaims “que bella!”, gets up and walks off. The funny thing is that while I felt much more flattered that time than I did with the more recent incident, I also felt weirded out and a little scared. It was just too in my face, too much, too dramatic.
And therein lies a lesson: sometimes, it’s not about you. There is context (my weeks of constant harrassement in Italy, pubescent insecurity vs. more mature confidence, etc.), there is age and vulnerability, there is, at the end of it all, personal preference and such a thing as a bad day. So if you try all the tips on the list and get rebuffed, just remember it’s not about you, so don’t take it personally. Women are people, and people react differently to different situations. No reason to get discouraged…
Harriet’s first one cracks me up. I can’t say I’d like that like that, but it wouldn’t piss me off and it’d be good for a laugh.
When I was in NYC a guy on the subway platform made me a balloon sculpture of a teddy bear, told me I had a nice smile as he gave me his card, then got on a separate car. I thought the teddy bear was cool and I liked that he expressed his interest in me politely and left me alone, like his interest wasn’t the only thing that mattered for once.
Still, while his approach was technically decent, I’m pretty much disinterested by default in guys who approach me in settings that aren’t specifically social. If I’m at a party or a bar or somewhere among friends and a guy strikes up a conversation with me – or me him – and it flows comfortably, that tends to work out pretty well. I’m most likely to actually date that guy.
I used to walk to work through the middle of a seriously poor, dense, mixed-race neighborhood. I’d get hit on all the time, in various degrees of aggression, especially when I bleached my hair, but only one incident stays with me. I was pretty heavily pregnant. He was an older Black man, in clothes that looked clean but shabby – possibly homeless, more likely a resident of one of the local SROs.
He looked me in the eye, smiled gently and said “Well aren’t you beautiful. You are just beautiful.”
Why I liked that:
He kept a safe distance. He made eye contact and made it clear from his expression that he wasn’t going to pose any threat. He offered his compliment, made me smile and then let me go on my way. This was years ago and the memory still makes me happy.
I got two! One was a few years ago, when I was a student. I’d reserved a book at a bookshop, and left my email to be notified when it came in. The guy I’d reserved it with had seemed friendly and nice, so we had a quick chat.
A few days later, I got an email from him, apologising profusely for using my personal email address but he hadn’t been able to think of another way to get in touch with me, and asking me – very sweetly and articulately – if I wanted to go out for a drink or something some time. I was in a relationship, so sent him a friendly email back, thanking him and turning him down, and he sent one more email back which sounded genuinely friendly, saying thanks and wishing me a good weekend and a happy relationship. I hope he found a lovely woman, he was a sweetheart.
The other one was at Glastonbury this year; I was wandering round in the sunshine in a bikini top and shorts, enjoying the sunshine and the festival vibe. I walked past some guy who was handing out flyers (or something; I forget) – he looked at me, looked me in the eye (important, that bit) and grinned, and as I walked past said ‘You look GREAT!’. I loved that – he didn’t try to pursue it or get anything out of it for himself, he certainly didn’t come after me, he was busy doing his own thing but gave me a nice compliment. Had I been single I would *definitely* have turned round and tried to distract him from handing out flyers – as it was, I wandered round feeling confident and gorgeous for the rest of the day from that one compliment.
I wear bright colors a lot, and have brightly-colored hair. More than once, in fact, a man has walked past me, smiled, and said, “Nice colors!” and kept walking. This is nice, because it is a compliment without being creepy or about my sexuality, and the dudes have looked genuinely happy to see someone dressed colorfully. It has always made me feel like we are two humans who enjoy colorful clothing, rather than a man who is looking at a woman and commenting on what she’s wearing, if that makes sense.
I was sitting in a window seat on a commuter train, which was stopped at a station. There was a guy about my age standing on the platform, and I noticed him looking at me. My first reaction was to scowl at him – like, “What are you looking at, asshole?”
But then he just smiled, really simply and really warmly. That surprised me.
He didn’t advance toward me, he just stood still and smiled. He didn’t make any gestures, and he didn’t mouth any words.
The meaning I got was, “It’s just a smile. I’m just giving you a smile. That’s it.”
This was novel, because in my experience, it’s common for strangers who are guys to do something to shame, humiliate, or manipulate me once they have my attention. As in, “Your eye contact gives me permission to tell you exactly and explicitly what I think about your breasts, and how I want to use your body sexually.”
So yeah, this guy’s relaxed body language and lack of asshole behavior when I made eye contact surprised and kind of confused me.
And when my look changed from a scowl to surprise, he smiled bigger, which made me smile, which made him smile more.
Then the train pulled away, and it was like, “wow, yeah, that really was just nice shared smile.”
It made my day, actually.
Just remembered two more that happened on the same day.
I used to be incredibly physically fit. Lifted weights every day, aerobics three times a week, jogged, played tennis, walked everywhere. Just a muscle-bound creature of beauty who didn’t know it because I still thought I was fat and ugly. Good lord.
One day, I was on my way out of the weight room when I heard an indrawn breath and, “GodDAMN.” I turned around and saw a group of boys looking at me with their jaws dropped. They weren’t leering — which, let me take a moment to explain the difference, guys. Appreciative looks — what they were giving me — are just looking at a body and a face because it is a nice body and face. Your face says, “Hey, you’ve got the whole package, and I like the way it fits together.” Leering is when you are looking at the nice body and face because you are actively and viscerally imagining what you are going to do to that body and face. When you leer, it means we can tell what you’re thinking, because it’s on your face, and it’s fucking nasty. It’s all, “You have ceased to exist as a person for me and are now a fucktoy in my mind, and also, I’m not bothering to hide this from you because, as I mentioned, you are not a person to me.”
Anyway, they weren’t leering. They were jaw-dropped appreciative. One of them really awkwardly waved at me. None of them tried to approach me, or talk to me. They were spending equal times looking at my body as they were making eye contact. Their faces said “you have a body I want to adore, enjoy, appreciate, touch, look at, smell, marvel at, because you are a woman and that is a wonderful thing that I love” instead of “you have a body I want to slather cum on, because you are a woman and that is what I do with women, because that is God’s gift to me.” I had a sense that if I asked any one of them for their numbers, I’d get it, and they’d be awkward and pleasant and embarrassed and all-around adorable about it.
I wouldn’t have minded, at that point, if one of them had tried to talk to me, but the fact that they didn’t really raised my estimation of them. From the look of my body, I was obviously a woman who went to the gym to work out. I didn’t go to the gym to get hit on, or attract men, and they didn’t treat me like my purpose in the weight room was to be ogled and approached. The longer they looked and smiled at me without talking to me or invading my space, the more I wished I was single and could ask them which one wanted to take me to a bar tonight. I’m realizing that’s a theme here with me. If a guy has found a way to make his apprecation of me obvious, but does not invade my space or force conversation on me to do it, that makes me incredibly willing to strike up a conversation with him, because he has proven himself able to be attracted to women and respect their space and dignity at the same magical time. Which is kind of what I look for in a mate.
As I was leaving the gym, already plenty pleased with myself, a guy rushed ahead of me out the door. I thought he was being a rude bastard, but then I saw he had rushed out to hold open the door for me. I said thank you and gave him a curt smile, not sure if he was going to be a creep or not. Then I stopped short. He was making solid eye contact with me. If he’d been staring at my tits, or leering, I would’ve been annoyed and given a loud, obviously irritated sigh. But he was maintaining solid eye contact. And when I looked back at him, his eye contact was so direct, so appreciative, so un-squeamish, that I ended up looking into his eyes waaaaaaay longer than I meant to. And we just stood there staring at each other’s eyes for a few more seconds than is natural or explained away. It was so incredibly intimate. My heart skipped a beat, and, let me TMI the hell out of you, I got wet. Because he was looking at my eyes the way some men look at tits. I knew that he was looking at me that way because he had already checked out my tits and thought they were awesome, but he had made a conscious choice to communicate this to me in a way that acknowledged me as a whole person he was willing to be vulnerably intimate with rather than a collection of body parts he was willing to manhandle as if they belonged to a doll.
That was so, so, so hot. I must’ve turned beet red before I stuttered, “Thanks!” and ran squealing away.
Earlier this year I was waiting on the platform for a train very late on a Saturday night. There was a man standing a short (though not uncomfortably close) distance away. I could tell out of the corner of my eye he was checking me out, but he didn’t approach me. Behind us on the platform a few drunk folks were yelling really silly things. We both turned around to look and laugh. When we did that we made eye contact and smiled at each other. He then politely asked me if I had had a good night. We had a conversation from there, boarded the train together, and before my final stop he asked for my number and I gave it to him. We ended up going out on a date.
Why I liked it:
I liked it for many of the reasons others have stated above. He stood a comfortable distance away and didn’t invade my personal space. He looked me in the eyes when he talked to me. He expressed his interest in a manner that was respectful and polite. I got the distinct impression that had I not returned his eye contact or not smiled back at him, he would not have pushed for anything more. For me these are all key things. He displayed no sense of entitlement and THAT is the most charming thing of all.
So I have two of similar. I grew up in a city that had good areas and bad areas right next to each other. I was driving home late one night, and through a couple of “bad blocks.” I stopped at a red light, and a car pulled up next two me, a real beater, with two older, poorly dressed men in it. I had already learned, at that time, to smile when I was afraid, to set myself up as submissive and “look, I’m nice, don’t hurt me.” So I smiled at them.
One of them said “now THAT’S a beautiful smile!” and they smiled at me, and the light changed and we drove off. Their car didn’t follow mine (it turned left, while I went straight). So, safe distance, genuine compliment, no following, etc.
BUT… 6 months? a year later? same bat time, same bat traffic light, SAME SITUATION. Beat-up car pulled up, two older men, I look over and smile, guy says “there it is! there’s that beautiful smile!” which is when I realized it was the same guys.
It was the second time that made me feel good. They had remembered me, what had been a nice 30 seconds for me, was also a nice 30 seconds for them.
Here’s my story.
I was in junior high (7th grade I believe). I was with a group of friends in a hotel lobby (this is where kids hung out, don’t ask just go with it) and we were introduced to 2 brothers who had just moved to town. Well, when I was introduced to the oldest brother, his response blew me away. He simply said “Wow.” But it was the look on his face that sealed the deal for me. He was in awe of me.
Why I liked it:
He was appreciative of my appearance, but not creepy. He kept his distance (he only ever got close enough to shake my hand) and kept the conversation respectful. I admit that I was overwhelmed by his reaction, but not intimidated or frightened. I felt safe and flattered.
I wear a lot of quirky hats. (A really good idea if you shave your head and live in a sunny part of the world, as I do.) I like it when men compliment my hats; it’s a polite way of connecting with me that doesn’t make me feel like the focus is on my body or my sexuality. Two memories in particular stand out:
1) I was at an Internet cafe. The middle-aged man next to me turned and said, “Miss, you look lovely in that hat.” I said “Thank you”, we smiled at each other, and we went back to working on our computers. He didn’t try to talk to me at all after that, which was exactly the right action. I was pretty clearly not there to be chatted up, and I particularly hate it when men who are much older than me assume that I’m interested in getting into their pants. But his compliment, delivered with respect and without any ulterior motive, really made my day.
2) Another time, I was on public transport, wearing my top hat. A young man, also in a top hat, got on. He looked me in the eye, smiled a big, friendly smile, and said “I like your hat.” I said “I like *your* hat,” and he and sat down in a nearby seat. He looked out the window in a way that was open-looking but not expectant, like he would be OK if I wanted to talk to him more, but he was fine to sit by himself. I decided not to pursue things further; I just went back to my own thoughts. I smiled at when I got off at my stop, and he smiled back. If I’d been single, I would have tried to get his number.
First story that comes to mind:
I was freshly loosed from a very bad, self-esteem destroying marriage in my mid-20s and had passed through the weeping stage into the drunk on freedom and possibilities and “omg I’m actually NOT totally disgusting!” stage. I was positively burning with renewed sexual energy, but was still too unsure to really act on it yet. So one afternoon I was with a few girlfriends from our downtown office heading out for happy hours drinks. (I should note that there is a ton of “hey girl HEY GIRL!!” harassment in this area – lots of bad stories that way.)
As we walked, we were passed in the opposite direction by a guy probably my age wearing a huge backpack. I recall shaggy blondish hair and a sunburny look that suggested he was actually backpacking across the country. I found it all incredibly sexy and was probably watching him with that look the whole time he approached. As he got close, he locked eyes with me and then as he was passing by, said, “You look really nice today,” and kept right on going. It had to have looked as least somewhat as intense as if felt, because after he passed my friends were like, “Whoa! What was that!?”
Why I liked it:
He was responding to my looking first of all, then made that (innocuous) statement which made the connection, but then he kept walking, indicating he was not a threat and wanted nothing in return for the compliment/ recognition of mutual attraction. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d tried to stop him, but he may have been unavailable in some kind of way, and as it was it was kind of a perfect moment. When I think about it, it reminds me of the thing in The Celestine Prophecy where when there is attraction the auras reach out to envelop the other person. I wonder if some of the guys getting all defensive about the SP thread think that this kind of thing is getting outlawed by a bunch of killjoys, but that’s not it at all!
Aurora Erratica, 10/30/2009
What happened: This has happened to me several times: sitting in a bar, watching the Red Sox. Something happens in the game, and the guy besides me says something to the effect of, “Oh, man, did you see that shit? They do this every time.” Or a positive comment, depending on the game: the point being, it’s about the game that we are both watching. Maybe we talk more, maybe we don’t.
Why I liked it: It’s just a conversation between two people, about something they are both interested in. It could easily have happened between two women, or two men. Are the guys involved attracted to me? I don’t know. Probably sometimes, I guess. But the comment wasn’t about that, and wasn’t gender-related at all: just two people, chatting.
I have two!
First one: Though I didn’t live there, I spent a lot of time in New York City when I was in school for theatre, going on auditions and the like. One night I went (alone) to see a musical that had me completely bawling at the end. Afterward, I was seriously craving a smoothie, so I booked it to the Jamba Juice in Times Square. The guy who took my order was probably early twenties, like me, and as he was typing it in, he kept looking up at my face in between keystrokes, like he was kind of examining me, but not in a creepy way. So I asked him, “Oh, do I have mascara all over my face? I just got out of a show and I was crying at the end.” To which he replied, “No, you actually look great,” and smiled. I was kind of taken aback, but thought it was really sweet. We chatted about the rain briefly while he scanned my credit card and asked for my name for the order. Then, as I walked down to the end of the counter to wait for my smoothie, he called after me, “Oh, just one more question. Could I maybe have your number?” I opened my mouth to tell him I wasn’t single, but all I got out was “I’m sorry…” and he gave a good-natured sigh, and said, “Aw, man! I knew it! Well, have a great night!” I liked it because, after a day of walking around in the city and getting catcalled by guys who obviously were just looking at me as a non-human object, this guy actually managed to actually *ask me for my number* in a way that made me feel like, yeah, he didn’t know me at all, but he thought that I was beautiful and confident and seemed like a nice person that he wanted to get to know. And, when I declined, he made it clear that he respected my response and wasn’t going to push the issue, and that he still thought I was cool.
Story two: Yesterday, it was unseasonably warm for this area (smallish college town) so I went out for a run in a tank top and shorts. It was cool enough that most people walking around were at least in pants, most with sweatshirts or something on, but too warm to run in warmer clothing. Anyway, I was feeling kind of weirdly vulnerable being in this outfit that looked out of place for the season, and not nearly as covered up as anyone else I saw walking. About five minutes in, I had to stop for about a minute to wait to cross a street, and this random guy was also waiting to cross. As I stopped to wait, I saw him look over at me, and thought to myself, Please don’t let this guy try to start a conversation right now. So I was kind of avoiding eye contact with him as we both waited. Then, once we were able to, we both crossed the street and, *as he went a different direction*, he simply said to me, “You look beautiful.” I liked this experience because he waited until he would no longer be perceived as trying to start something before he paid me a compliment. Obviously he thought I was attractive, but he made it a point to tell me so, without leering, as we were parting ways so as not to freak me out.
I have a couple!
What Happened 1: I was in Greece a couple of decades ago where & when the harassment was amazingly fierce, borderline unbearable. I was sitting at a table in a rather empty cafe with a friend, avoiding (as usual) looking at the two guys at another table across the room, just in case they took a casual glance for a huge invitation to invade my space, insist on my phone number, and other usual modus operandi of the thoroughly clueless. Then when they got up to go, one of them came over and simply put a rose on our table in front of me then left without a word.
Why I liked that: It was a simple but lovely gesture of appreciation, no insistence that I talk or cater to them. EXTREMELY rare back in the day!!
What Happened 2: In Paris, I’m sitting in the metro, buried deep in my mind, Monday morning. As the train stops in a station, a young man gets, leaps in front of me to say “You have won the award of the most beautiful girl in the metro on Monday morning!” Then he exited, and waved at me as the train left.
Why I liked that: No pressure again for a response, and he said it as he was leaving so I didn’t feel put upon.
Oh, and one more: Walking in the street — an elderly man paused as I walked near him, and simply said “Vous etes charmante (you are charming)” before going on his way. Nice because there wasn’t one trace of a leer on his face; again, simply a joy he wanted to share but without wanting anything in return.
One day when I was going to my new landlady’s place to finish up some paperwork, I almost went into the wrong building before realizing what I had been doing and turned around on the step to go the right way, probably muttering something under my breath (I talk to myself a lot.) I halfway noticed somebody up on a ladder doing something to the roof of the entryway, but I didn’t think much more about it than hoping they hadn’t heard me talking to myself. I went and did my business, and on my way back, as I had parked my truck in front of the first building, I heard someone saying “See, there she is” off to the left. I immediately turned to look, feeling a bit intimidated by the anonymous observation, and caught the eye of the man up on the ladder and his friend, who must have been actually up on the roof as I hadn’t seen him the first time around. I sort of half-smiled and walked a little faster, but they both caught my eye and smiled fully and didn’t seem to be moving towards me, so I looked over again when they didn’t move off, which prompted one of them to explain their comment; “My friend here was just wondering where you went. When he saw you walking up he was hoping you were going his way.” I looked at the other guy, who was obviously really sweet and a bit shy, and I said “Sorry, not today!” and they both laughed and stayed where they were. They watched me go, but it didn’t make me nervous because although the interest had been unprompted, there was something innocent about the way the man had chosen to express his interest in me. Nothing sexual, not even anything overtly proactive, just that he had hoped he might see me again at some point. I haven’t seen the men again, but even if I did I probably wouldn’t be weirded out by the experience. Of course they would have all the time in the world to prove me wrong, but that one encounter was a nice positive non-aggressive experience with men that I hold on to when the shitty stuff happens.
A couple weeks ago I was heading back up to my office, when one of the local FedEx guys got onto the elevator with me. We pushed for our respective floors. He introduced himself to me and we made a little small talk in the few seconds until the elevator reached his floor. As he was leaving the elevator, he made eye contact and said “You sure are cute.” And gave me a nice smile, which I returned, while blushing and saying thank you.
Why I Liked it:
He introduced himself to me, which is always polite, and makes each of us less of a stranger. He didn’t invade my body space in the elevator, and he gave me the comment as he was leaving the elevator, which is very non-threatening. Were I single, I’d definitely have thought about asking for his number. I also like words like cute, as opposed to hot or sexy – it feels more office-appropriate and is more appreciative of the whole package of the person.
I had two of these this weekend. I was in a pizza place with some friends and was sitting alone on one side, facing some guys who were sitting behind my companions. One of the guys started making ridiculous faces at me–wiggling his fingers around his face, pulling out his cheeks, until I finally cracked and said, “what the hell are you doing?” in an amused kind of way. The guy kept kidding around, saying “I’m Dracula!” (I live in Romania, and shockingly they’re not sick of Dracula jokes yet.) Then he left me alone when I went back to talking with my friends. When I got up to leave, he reached out to give me a rose made out of a paper napkin, saying “this is for you.” I said thanks and left.
Why I liked it: I think this guy would have done the same to any girl who was sitting there, which isn’t necessarily a good thing but he wasn’t at all ill-intentioned. He didn’t make any effort to comment on my appearance–all he seemed to want to to was make me smile, which he did.
On the ride home from the same trip, I was with an older lady friend and we were on a cheap train. Some very exuberant teenage boys got on. They were fairly obnoxious but seemed pretty harmless and I felt safe because Romanian guys rarely bother me when they think I’m with a chaperon of some kind. I noticed them gaping at me (like in Harriet’s story, it was a kind of charming slack-jawed amazement) and at one point one of them caught my eye. He held up his phone and made a gesture to ask if he could take my picture; I mouthed a very firm NO and he held up his hands and backed off.
Why I liked it: It’s sad, but this behavior is in such sharp contrast to the way some men treat me here that it seemed fairly charming. I’ve had men take my picture without my permission before, so having them make a request and then abide by my answer (as far as I know…) was refreshing. If I’d been alone, however, I probably would have been freaked out.
I was out walking a popular pedestrian/jogging path in my town. There was a man walking towards me who was wearing a hat. As I approached, he took off his hat, held it over his heart, and gave me a bow as I passed.
Why I liked it:
Some commentors have expressed the concern that any expression of admiration on the part of a man towards a woman veers a little too much in the direction of objectification. Given that objectification is a daily part of women’s’ lives, I understand that. On the other hand, attraction is a part of being human, and so is the desire to be noticed at times; I believe there is something to be said for an honest, non-threatening, respectful compliment. In this instance, there was no leering, no cat-calling, no words at all. Everything about this man’s gesture was non-threatening, and even respectful. My instinctual reaction was a huge smile, and I felt good, not objectified.
I was riding a bus and I noticed a man checking me out. He didn’t say anything, or approach me, while we were still on the bus. Once we got to the end of the line, which was a high pedestrian traffic zone downtown, he came up to me in the public square and sort of waved to get my attention. I looked at him, not knowing what to expect exactly, and said nothing. He said, ‘Hi, I’m [his first name]‘, in a friendly, not lascivious tone. I stumbled mentally for a second: Did I know this guy from somewhere and didn’t remember him? Should I know who he is? So, trying to gloss over my confusion, I replied, ‘Hi, I’m [my first name].’
His face lit up with the brightest smile, and he said, ‘Great! Can I see you again?’
I laughed and said, ‘Okay.’ He gave me his contact information and suggested we meet on campus for lunch (I was a student, he was not), at the place of my choosing, and told me to feel free to have friends join us. And that’s exactly what we did.
I saw him a few more times, but it didn’t work out, he living in another city and I terrible at long-distance relationships. Plus, I was still quite young and wanted nothing serious, while he was a bit older and looking for something with a future. However, the experience of meeting him and knowing him was all positive.
Why I liked it:
His demeanour was entirely non-predatory. He waited to speak to me until we were off the bus where I could escape easily, in a crowded place full of witnesses. He was very forward, obviously, but neither said anything gross or intimidating, nor said what he did in a gross or intimidating way. He waved at me and waited until I gave him my attention before actually addressing me. He introduced himself before employing his ‘line’, which was polite and gave *me* information about *him* instead of insisting on it being the other way around. And giving me his contact info without asking for mine was particularly gentlemanly; it left the decision up to me, giving me the opportunity to pursue the matter while affording me the safety of not being vulnerable to harassment if I wasn’t interested.
Also, his actual pick-up line, ‘can I see you again?’, was a request – not a demand – to have my attention at some point in the future. He wasn’t trying to get me to go with him, talk to him, divulge personal information or make myself accessible to him in the immediate when he was still a complete stranger. So, the combination of suggesting that we do something together in the future and of giving me his info left me feeling safe: I never had to call or email him if I didn’t want to, and if I did want to get to know him, I could do so *before* spending any time with him in physical proximity.
Additionally, his suggestion that our first date be in a busy public place in the middle of the day and that I bring some friends if I wanted to implied that his intentions, though clearly romantic/sexual, were honourable and sincere: He wanted to get to know me for the eventual purposes of having the sexy fun times, but only if I wanted it, too, and only if I felt safe. And, since he wanted to get to know me first and give me the chance to get to know him, it suggested that he viewed me as an actual person with, like, a personality and a brain and a history. Crazy!
(Now, I don’t know what he would have done had I declined his request to see me again. However, based on all the other signals he was putting out, I’m pretty confident that he wouldn’t have pushed it. In fact, he probably would have apologised for disturbing me.)
When I lived in Florence for a semester, my apartment was in the center of town by San Lorenzo and the clothing market. Every day I had to walk through extremely crowded streets full of aggressive Italian men in order to get to class. Eventually, one of the street vendors started to notice me and started saying typical Italian stuff (“Wait, Miss you dropped something?” “What?!?!” “You dropped my heart,” etc). Initially, this guy was just another unwelcome distraction as I tried to go about my day. But after he started to recognize me and I him, he actually became really kind. He would always smile and say hello when I walked by, and eventually it felt like I had an ally on an otherwise sexually aggressive street. We stayed strangers but ultimately I was grateful for his presence.
There’s a rail track that cuts through my town, with only a few ways to get from one side to the other. The most convenient of these ways is a badly-lit, low visibility tunnel. The tunnel makes my skin crawl, despite never having a bad experience there –and I’m not the only one, most of my friends, male and female, are some degree of sketched out by having to pass through.
I was walking home one morning, and had to pass through the tunnel. I was most of the way through it when a guy came down the stairs on the other side, and started walking towards me. As we passed, he caught my eyes, said “hi” and kept walking.
Why It Worked:
The guy seemed to recognize how creepy the tunnel is, and how easily a situation could turn sour. He met my eyes (not staring at my body) and said hi, which helped to set me at ease that he thought of me as a person, and not a piece of meat. Most importantly, he kept walking, and did not try to hinder my passage in any ways, making it easier for me to get out of the tunnel faster.
I was standing on the subway platform in full “interview attire” suit, pearls, heels. I almost never wear heels or pointy toed shoes, and I was picking up one foot or the other to wiggle my toes. A man standing quite a ways away from me looked over and said “you’re very pretty — don’t wear shoes that hurt your feet.” I smiled. When the train came he got on a different car than me.
why I liked it: it was odd, but non-threatening, and he was much older- it seemed like a grandfatherly thing to say.
Firstly, I wanted to say how fucking much I love this list, and your blog. Reading these posts reminded me of a moment that I’d forgotten, so I want to get it out here into the world so I remember it.
I was walking down a somewhat crowded city footpath, after dark. There was a guy standing near the curb facing me/the oncoming foot traffic, and my path took me within a few feet of him.
Now I’m trying to find the words for what he did… He looked me over, feet to shoulders, and then he looked at my face, made eye contact with me, and he smiled. A “You look beautiful; I hope you have an excellent night” smile.
I smiled back (“Thank you! You too!”), and continued walking, and we went on with our respective nights. I can’t even remember what I was doing, or anything, but it made my night, and I’m grinning now, remembering. Thank you for that
Some years ago I went on a graduation trip with my girl scout troop to Mexico (graduation from both high school and girl scouts). Despite being in the same troop, I went to a different school than everyone else, and was considered rather the outsider of the group. One night we did the stupid touristy thing and took a barhopping bus around, as the drinking age was 18. Upon entering an extremely crowded club, we were invited to dance on the bar. It was clear that they wanted to do so, but no one would get up first. Imagine their surprise when I, the book reading loner, jumped up and began pulling them up with me. The look on the their faces was my second favorite part of the night. Reading books and being somewhat of a loner doesn’t mean I’m shy, or take away that I totally love to dance! I began busting some of my prize moves, and am proud to say that I am not entirely ungraceful.
After returning to the dance floor, we were all doin’ our thing, dancing in a circle with each other. A young man made his way all the way through the extremely crowded room to tap me on the shoulder and let me know that I was a great dancer! I grinned and thanked him, then returned to dancing with my group. He then returned to his table on the far side of the place, and I continued to have a great night.
Why I Liked That
Well, the first thing he chose to do was tap my shoulder for attention. Usually, I would have disliked being touched in any way by someone I don’t know. However, it was so loud and crowded I probably never would have heard him. He did not chose to touch my upper or lower back, which would have felt possessive I think, nor did he rest his hand on my shoulder allowing it to linger. He kept an arm’s distance away from me, just close enough to shout at each other, and maintained eye contact. He did not try to dance with me, which would have made me feel like I had to entertain him for a song at least. He left me the opportunity to try to have a conversation or to start dancing with him. When I instead chose to turn back to my friends, he simply went on his way. Although his compliment may have been indirectly related to my body, it was not about my actual figure, but about my skills.
I attended an assembly in high school where two veterans of the attacks on Pearl Harbor were invited to talk. Now in high school, I had major body issues and didn’t feel attractive at all and was constantly teased and pressured into dieting. Well, back to the story. After the assembly I went on stage to talk to the two men and ask them questions about their experiences. After they politely answered my questions, one of the men shook my hand and said “You are an exceptional young lady and someday you will make someone very happy.”
Why I liked it: He complimented me: my personality and intelligent. And it was the first time I thought that I may have something to offer someone in a romantic relationship, even though this man clearly wasn’t suggesting that.
A second story: I was walking up the stairs to the train station in a blue summer dress and wondering if I shouldn’t have worn it, because I still deal with some of those same body issues sometimes. An older man, on the ground level, below the stairs called up “That’s a beautiful color and you make it that way.”
Why I liked it: He didn’t approach me and seemed to just want to brighten my day. I also liked that he complimented the dress and me.