Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy)

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Post by Werel on Mon Oct 13, 2014 6:40 pm

SadisticToaster wrote:
Is this unusal then? It's so hard to judge what is normal with things like this because there's no frame of reference.

I'm far happier in London, by the way. I ran into a gang of youth ( hoddies up, baseball caps on, holding cans of beer, sort of thing ) late at night a few months ago. One raised a clenched fist, and shouted "Peace", and so I raised my first and shouted "Love and Peace" ( being half through rewatching Trigun ). He shouted back "Love and Peace" , and the group of them walked off shouting "Love and Peace" at each other. I'm sorry if this is a bit of a thread deviate, but I've been a bit glum here, so wanted to end with a happy note.

I don't know how normal that is in the UK, but there are very few places in the US that I know of where unprovoked physical violence in the form of punching would be normal (unprovoked shootings are a whole nother beast Neutral ).

But that anecdote is super, super charming! So great when people you were planning to be scared of end up sharing a friendly moment with you.
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Post by Girlande on Tue Oct 14, 2014 1:46 pm

SadisticToaster wrote:All the rumours and sterotypes of Essex are true.

Damn! All I know of Essex is from watching Gavin & Stacey. Didn't seem that bad.
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Post by fakely mctest on Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:09 pm

Girlande wrote:
SadisticToaster wrote:All the rumours and sterotypes of Essex are true.  

Damn! All I know of Essex is from watching Gavin & Stacey. Didn't seem that bad.

I knew a guy from Folkestone who had MULTIPLE stories about being jumped at random by groups of dudes wielding construction site detritus.

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Post by UristMcBunny on Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:45 pm

Godsdamnit I moved from Romford in Essex to Folkestone in Kent I have moved sideways in terms of shitty violent parts of the UK.

Good job, Bunny.

Also yeah.  Essex has it's good points, but in many ways - especially in the London Boroughs - it's like the worst aspects of inner-city London stereotypes with, like, half the diversity and twice the racism.

That said, I think we're derailing a bit now. If people want to continue dissing my home county (no problem if you do - it sucks!) I'll split off a thread for it! Grin

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Post by reboot on Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:50 pm

I am going to loop this back to harassment because it sounds like men who grew up in such areas should have some idea of what street harassment feels like, especially the seeing a group of people and having that voice in the back of your head go, "Jeez, I hope I can walk by uneventfully."
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Post by Hirundo Bos on Thu Oct 16, 2014 4:19 am

Hmm. That voice, "jeez, I hope I can walk by uneventfully," appeared a lot in my head at a certain time in my life, but in a very different context. I was, some years ago, a participant in a Norwegian reality show. It was a very un-nasty one, pitched as feelgood reality, with no one being voted out or pitted against each other, but rather set to mastering tasks as a team. This show really hit a nerve with the audience, and at one point, somewhere around 15% of the population were watching. So I got a lot of attention just walking in the streets.

It was not like any of the harassment described here – certainly not like the sexualized harassment directed at women in this thread. I wouldn't really call it harassment at all. Almost all of it was complimentary, and quite a lot of it was genuine.

But even with this mostly positive framework... there were those that acted as if they owned a part of me, as if they had a right to expect me to perform as if onscreen. Some called me by my media nickname, or just by the title of the show, as if the show's identity had now overwritten my own. Some gathered around me, shouting and pointing, like the (much too frequent) times when I broke the social codes as a child. Some performed the quite peculiar operation of first elevating me to higher social status, and then trying to assert themselves over me... And so I became a lot more conscious of my environment, wary of contexts where I was more likely to be approach, and walking by groups with the silent hope of uneventfulness.

Among the things I took away from that time was 1) things that didn't appear so signifcant when it happened once or twice, had a much larger impact when it was repeated a thousand times. 2) The level of awareness I developed of my surroundings had some similarities with serious mental illness – if I had described some of my experiences to someone who didn't know the context, they might have become really worried. 3) The difference between nice and unpleasant encounters was that the nice ones interacted with me as a real person, someone they appreciated, but didn't know very well. The unpleasant ones interacted with a certain image of how they thought I was, and did so in an uncomfortably familiar manner.

Would any of these mostly benign experiences be relevant for understanding the much less benign ones we are talking about in this thread?
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Post by Lemminkainen on Thu Oct 16, 2014 4:52 am

reboot wrote:I am going to loop this back to harassment because it sounds like men who grew up in such areas should have some idea of what street harassment feels like, especially the seeing a group of people and having that voice in the back of your head go, "Jeez, I hope I can walk by uneventfully."

Probably because a lot of people who don't experience sexual street harassment are primed to think "flirting" rather than "bullying" when it comes up. I feel like activists would have a lot more success if they emphasized that sexual street harassment was a particular form of nastiness-to-vulnerable-seeming-strangers (which I think that almost everybody who lives in a big city has seen or experienced at some point) directed at women. I think a script like "You know how there are people who want to hurt any vulnerable person they can in any way they can just to show that they can? You know, those guys who throw trash at you from their cars or start shouting obscenities at you when you walk past them on the sidewalk? Well, they often see women who are alone as vulnerable targets, and see sex as a way to threaten them," would illuminate a lot.

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Post by UristMcBunny on Thu Oct 16, 2014 7:21 am

Hirundo Bos wrote:Hmm. That voice, "jeez, I hope I can walk by uneventfully," appeared a lot in my head at a certain time in my life, but in a very different context. I was, some years ago, a participant in a Norwegian reality show. It was a very un-nasty one, pitched as feelgood reality, with no one being voted out or pitted against each other, but rather set to mastering tasks as a team. This show really hit a nerve with the audience, and at one point, somewhere around 15% of the population were watching. So I got a lot of attention just walking in the streets.

It was not like any of the harassment described here – certainly not like the sexualized harassment directed at women in this thread. I wouldn't really call it harassment at all. Almost all of it was complimentary, and quite a lot of it was genuine.

But even with this mostly positive framework... there were those that acted as if they owned a part of me, as if they had a right to expect me to perform as if onscreen. Some called me by my media nickname, or just by the title of the show, as if the show's identity had now overwritten my own. Some gathered around me, shouting and pointing, like the (much too frequent) times when I broke the social codes as a child. Some performed the quite peculiar operation of first elevating me to higher social status, and then trying to assert themselves over me... And so I became a lot more conscious of my environment, wary of contexts where I was more likely to be approach, and walking by groups with the silent hope of uneventfulness.

Among the things I took away from that time was 1) things that didn't  appear so signifcant when it happened once or twice, had a much larger impact when it was repeated a thousand times. 2) The level of awareness I developed of my surroundings had some similarities with serious mental illness – if I had described some of my experiences to someone who didn't know the context, they might have become really worried. 3) The difference between nice and unpleasant encounters was that the nice ones interacted with me as a real person, someone they appreciated, but didn't know very well. The unpleasant ones interacted with a certain image of how they thought I was, and did so in an uncomfortably familiar manner.

Would any of these mostly benign experiences be relevant for understanding the much less benign ones we are talking about in this thread?

YES. VERY VERY MUCH SO.

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Post by reboot on Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:15 am

Hirundo Bos wrote:...
Among the things I took away from that time was 1) things that didn't  appear so signifcant when it happened once or twice, had a much larger impact when it was repeated a thousand times. 2) The level of awareness I developed of my surroundings had some similarities with serious mental illness – if I had described some of my experiences to someone who didn't know the context, they might have become really worried. 3) The difference between nice and unpleasant encounters was that the nice ones interacted with me as a real person, someone they appreciated, but didn't know very well. The unpleasant ones interacted with a certain image of how they thought I was, and did so in an uncomfortably familiar manner.

Would any of these mostly benign experiences be relevant for understanding the much less benign ones we are talking about in this thread?

Your entire post definitely lent itself to understanding, but the numbered summary really nailed it. Add in a touch of, "OK, if I react wrong to this I might get hurt" and you have the entire street harassment experience understood.
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Post by Guest on Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:29 am

Yeah, Hirundo Bos wins this thread for the day, anyway. That's exactly what I feel a lot of the time. The comparison to celebrity actually works really well, because in both cases, there's a kind of sense that the person (victim? target? struggling for language here) belongs to collective humanity rather than to themselves, and has obligations that go with that ownership.

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Post by The Wisp on Thu Oct 16, 2014 6:12 pm

ElizaJane wrote:Yeah, Hirundo Bos wins this thread for the day, anyway.  That's exactly what I feel a lot of the time.  The comparison to celebrity actually works really well, because in both cases, there's a kind of sense that the person (victim? target? struggling for language here) belongs to collective humanity rather than to themselves, and has obligations that go with that ownership.

Off topic, but I've always had a pet theory that this why celebrities tend to only date and marry other celebrities.
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Post by Kaz on Fri Oct 24, 2014 11:04 am

Hmm...

Something where I wonder whether it might help (in terms of understanding why street harrassment is a bad thing that people should not do) is framing things in form of the annoyance/bother of being continually imposed on when you are out on business of your own rather than the fear and threat. Because the latter often seems to be a stumbling block.

Like... I'm read as female in everyday life so you can stick me into the category "women" for this discussion, but I have had to deal with very little street harrassment all the same. IDK what's going on there, but I can count the number of times I've had to face something like that on one hand and can view them as isolated freak occurrences that don't have much impact on how I navigate the world. And I do find it hard to imagine the sense of threat that so many of you describe - I mean, I *can*, but I need to dig at underlying assumptions about physical safety in public during the day and not being approached by strangers without good reason and then figure out what life would be like if I couldn't have those. It's not instant, and it helps that I do have other experiences of being socialised/read as female to draw on to make that jump (e.g. being taught to view men as potential threats). I can imagine cis men would have even more problems (don't want to assume one way or the other re: trans guys here...).

What *is* instant is the knowledge that I don't want to be targeted by even the 'benign' types of street harassment, simply because it'd be freaking invasive and obnoxious to have semi-constant demands on my attention when I am trying to get from A to B. And that's something that surely isn't gendered and where "put yourself into their shoes" doesn't have to accommodate various issues regarding socialisation and assumptions about who's doing the catcalling. Like, do you, guy who thinks of catcalling as a compliment and doesn't understand why women get upset about it, *really* want to deal with people approaching you, interrupting you, demanding your attention on a semiconstant basis when you are out in public? Seriously?

How would you feel if they did it when you're on the way to a really important exam and going over some of your last-minute memorisation in your head? Just got terrible news at the doctor's and really hoping you'll manage to get home before you break down? In a hurry because you want to visit your significant other in hospital and visiting hours are almost over? Overslept and late to your first day of work? Going shopping but forgot your grocery list and right now trying to remember everything that was on it? Just had a spark of inspiration that might become a novel and are currently working through it in your head?

I can come up with roughly a dozen non-gender-specific reasons off the top of my head why someone in a public space might really not want to be interrupted by anything and *definitely* not want to get involved in any sort of interaction at a given moment. Surely the jump from there to "so maybe behaviour that leads to a certain group of people getting semi-constantly interrupted when out and about is not cool" shouldn't be so hard?

Disclaimer the first is that I may be wrong on how annoying your average person would find being intruded on like that, seeing as I'm autistic and already extremely biased against unexpected events because my brain does not handle suddenly shifting gears well at all. Due to the highly unsafe and unpleasant cognitive side effects that can occur when it has to, I'm inclined to view being approached on the street for reasons less urgent than "excuse me, have you noticed that your hair is on fire?" with a jaundiced eye.

Disclaimer the second is that this of course doesn't get across the feeling of fear and threat that you're all saying is the worst part of it, the way it's really a form of bullying, just some really... surface-level? reasons for why street harassment is not generally going to make for a pleasant experience for women.

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Post by Lemminkainen on Fri Oct 24, 2014 1:50 pm

@Kaz: I actually think that the "feeling threatened" thing might actually be more helpful than the "imposition/annoyance thing," because most people who live in certain kinds of cities (New York, I'm thinking about you!) have had frightening encounters of some sort or another with strangers (even if they're not sexual)-- muggers, aggressive panhandlers, evangelists and mentally ill people who angrily shout at you on the street-- so they can probably relate to that.

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Post by eselle28 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 1:58 pm

Lemminkainen wrote:@Kaz: I actually think that the "feeling threatened" thing might actually be more helpful than the "imposition/annoyance thing," because most people who live in certain kinds of cities (New York, I'm thinking about you!) have had frightening encounters of some sort or another with strangers (even if they're not sexual)-- muggers, aggressive panhandlers, evangelists and mentally ill people who angrily shout at you on the street-- so they can probably relate to that.

I think both can be helpful in certain contexts. The feeling threatened bit may be more easily relatable, but it does tend to provoke a certain sort of person to assume that of course they wouldn't be threatening, so whatever they might want to do is fine.
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Post by Lemminkainen on Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:00 pm

eselle28 wrote:
Lemminkainen wrote:@Kaz: I actually think that the "feeling threatened" thing might actually be more helpful than the "imposition/annoyance thing," because most people who live in certain kinds of cities (New York, I'm thinking about you!) have had frightening encounters of some sort or another with strangers (even if they're not sexual)-- muggers, aggressive panhandlers, evangelists and mentally ill people who angrily shout at you on the street-- so they can probably relate to that.

I think both can be helpful in certain contexts. The feeling threatened bit may be more easily relatable, but it does tend to provoke a certain sort of person to assume that of course they wouldn't be threatening, so whatever they might want to do is fine.

That makes sense. I guess that it might be useful to disaggregate the "sexualized bullying" and "annoying approaches" issues, then? Because it seems like they're actually two separate phenomena that are unpleasant for different reasons, and understanding them both might require different metaphorical vocabularies.

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Post by eselle28 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:05 pm

Lemminkainen wrote:
eselle28 wrote:
Lemminkainen wrote:@Kaz: I actually think that the "feeling threatened" thing might actually be more helpful than the "imposition/annoyance thing," because most people who live in certain kinds of cities (New York, I'm thinking about you!) have had frightening encounters of some sort or another with strangers (even if they're not sexual)-- muggers, aggressive panhandlers, evangelists and mentally ill people who angrily shout at you on the street-- so they can probably relate to that.

I think both can be helpful in certain contexts. The feeling threatened bit may be more easily relatable, but it does tend to provoke a certain sort of person to assume that of course they wouldn't be threatening, so whatever they might want to do is fine.

That makes sense.  I guess that it might be useful to disaggregate the "sexualized bullying" and "annoying approaches" issues, then?  Because it seems like they're actually two separate phenomena that are unpleasant for different reasons, and understanding them both might require different metaphorical vocabularies.

The person I'm particularly thinking of is the "Smile!" man. He is engaging in sexualized bullying in my book, because he's letting every woman who passes him know that she's a sex object who's obligated to perform in a certain way if she wants to be on the street. He probably doesn't think of himself as a bully, though, and he's certainly not making any approaches.

Maybe a third way of talking about it would help? For me, one of the biggest problems with street harassment is that it reminds me that society doesn't allow me to not think about my gender or how I'm performing my gender or my physical attractiveness or the fact that men do or do not want to have sex with me for even a few minutes of the day while I transport myself from Point A to Point B.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:15 pm

I can't speak for other neurotypicals either, but to me being temporarily inconvenienced is just not a very big deal no matter how many times it happens or in what way. Sometimes there are unpleasant side-effects but they eventually blow over too.

I am glad you shared this, though; I am sometimes not mindful of the sorts of things other persons or groups struggle with.

...Eh, I'm still kind of going back and forth with myself whether there's really that much of a failure to understand (empathize with) the negative side* of these interactions, whether we're talking about an inconvenient/unwanted interruption or a scary encounter with a potential bully. Neither argument really does much to take envy out of the equation. Then again, we've already handily covered how "imagine if the roles were reversed" actually makes it worse, so it may just not be possible to reduce the role of that facet (therefore we're stuck focusing on the others and hoping for the best).

*ETA: Careless wording; of course in reality there isn't a positive side and what is perceived as such is something else.
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Post by Lemminkainen on Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:28 pm

eselle28 wrote:
The person I'm particularly thinking of is the "Smile!" man. He is engaging in sexualized bullying in my book, because he's letting every woman who passes him know that she's a sex object who's obligated to perform in a certain way if she wants to be on the street. He probably doesn't think of himself as a bully, though, and he's certainly not making any approaches.

Maybe a third way of talking about it would help? For me, one of the biggest problems with street harassment is that it reminds me that society doesn't allow me to not think about my gender or how I'm performing my gender or my physical attractiveness or the fact that men do or do not want to have sex with me for even a few minutes of the day while I transport myself from Point A to Point B.

Thanks for telling us about this! I think that you're right about this being a third kind of thing-- maybe yet another sort of empathy-producing narrative would help? Would something like "Think about those advertisements which tell you that you need to be a macho idiot to be a man. Now imagine that random people shouted the same sort of stuff at you as you walked to work." be near the mark?

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Post by eselle28 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:42 pm

Lemminkainen wrote:
eselle28 wrote:
The person I'm particularly thinking of is the "Smile!" man. He is engaging in sexualized bullying in my book, because he's letting every woman who passes him know that she's a sex object who's obligated to perform in a certain way if she wants to be on the street. He probably doesn't think of himself as a bully, though, and he's certainly not making any approaches.

Maybe a third way of talking about it would help? For me, one of the biggest problems with street harassment is that it reminds me that society doesn't allow me to not think about my gender or how I'm performing my gender or my physical attractiveness or the fact that men do or do not want to have sex with me for even a few minutes of the day while I transport myself from Point A to Point B.

Thanks for telling us about this!  I think that you're right about this being a third kind of thing-- maybe yet another sort of empathy-producing narrative would help?  Would something like "Think about those advertisements which tell you that you need to be a macho idiot to be a man.  Now imagine that random people shouted the same sort of stuff at you as you walked to work." be near the mark?


Yeah, I think that actually seems like it might be getting pretty close to what that part of it feels like! The only thing I'd tweak is that it's not just random people, but random women who are informing you out loud of the degree to which you've achieved macho idiotness.
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Post by Kaz on Fri Oct 24, 2014 3:09 pm

Lemminkainen wrote:@Kaz: I actually think that the "feeling threatened" thing might actually be more helpful than the "imposition/annoyance thing," because most people who live in certain kinds of cities (New York, I'm thinking about you!) have had frightening encounters of some sort or another with strangers (even if they're not sexual)-- muggers, aggressive panhandlers, evangelists and mentally ill people who angrily shout at you on the street-- so they can probably relate to that.

Mmm, the worry I have is really about inhowfar that sort of thing actually helps the empathy. Like, I *have* had some physically threatening encounters - one time someone grabbed me and tried to kiss me as I was walking home from school and I had to yank free and run away, another time someone ran into the street to try to grab my bicycle as I was cycling past. Those were definitely very frightening and left me feeling pretty shaky and wanting to go home and not come back out for a while. However, the fact is that these were isolated incidents and years apart - to me, freak occurrences rather than the kind of events I feel I have to expect or be on guard against. Having experienced them doesn't really help me in really viscerally *understanding* the constant sensation of low-grade threat and need to be wary of men caused by continual street harassment, and it definitely doesn't help to understand how even ostensibly harmless behaviour would become threatening. The comparison with (non-sexualised) bullying sounds like it might work better for that? (Kaz says, not having been bullied...)

I can't speak for other neurotypicals either, but to me being temporarily inconvenienced is just not a very big deal no matter how many times it happens or in what way. Sometimes there are unpleasant side-effects but they eventually blow over too.

I am glad you shared this, though; I am sometimes not mindful of the sorts of things other persons or groups struggle with.

*nods* I'm glad you found it interesting... I kind of wanted to bring that up because I'm not sure it's something NT people are really aware of as a possibility (seeing as autism usually gets brought up to excuse inappropriate behaviour in these discussions, sigh^10).

Like, I hear guys saying "okay, sure yelling sexual things at women is wrong, but what about an honest compliment?" And... of my couple of encounters with street harassment, two of which I detailed above and involved people getting grabby, the single worst one was the one that looked most like someone paying a sincere well-intentioned compliment. Because it happened when I was already really stressed and overstimulated, so when someone came up to me and started saying "You're really beautiful-" what happened was that my stress level went up so high that my auditory processing cut out completely. So suddenly I was standing there going oh god I know the sounds this guy is making carry meaning and I know I can usually decipher them but right now all I can hear is noise, oh god I'm standing in the middle of a strange city with a random guy talking to me and I need to buy a train ticket home and I have just lost the ability to understand spoken language oh hell what do I do.

Maybe the guy just wanted to be nice (he backed off pretty quickly when I kept repeating "I'm sorry, I can't understand you," at least). Maybe a NT woman would have been flattered or would have just brushed it off and gone on with her day. Hell, some other time it might have just meant an extra spike of stress, a bit of added difficulty with processing language, a little more trouble filtering sensory input, etc. for me. But at that point in time it produced something terrifying. And women with vulnerabilities like mine are out there.

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Post by celette482 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 3:24 pm

Kaz wrote:Maybe a NT woman would have been flattered or would have just brushed it off and gone on with her day. Hell, some other time it might have just meant an extra spike of stress, a bit of added difficulty with processing language, a little more trouble filtering sensory input, etc. for me. But at that point in time it produced something terrifying. And women with vulnerabilities like mine are out there.

I'm NT and I would have not found it flattering particularly. especially if I'm stressed or tired or busy or any number of things. Not just you. And the fact remains that I've had other experiences that started out with "You're so pretty" and ended with physical assault. So, even if the words coming out of the man's mouth are nice and even if he's polite and even if I'm in a good mood, I still tense, just a bit.

Yes, bad apples ruined it for the rest of us. This has been true pretty much since the first bad apple.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Oct 24, 2014 3:36 pm

Immediate reaction to hypothetical crowd of women remarking on whether or not I'm sufficiently macho or sufficiently idiotic: who gives a shit? I don't strive to be either.

Question for a hypothetical focus group—imagine your reaction(s) to the following:


  • A stranger commenting descriptively on something superficial about you (e.g. your hair or clothes).
  • A stranger commenting positively on something superficial about you.
  • A stranger commenting negatively on something superficial about you.
  • A stranger commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something about your behavior (e.g. your gait or facial expression).
  • A stranger accurately commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something personal (e.g. a correct guess about your job or your sexual history or lack of one).
  • A stranger inaccurately commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something personal (i.e. they're way off the mark).
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way you perceive to be sincere.
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way you perceive to be insincere.
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way that makes you unsure of their motives.
  • A close acquaintance, friend, or family member making each of the above comments at each level of sincerity or intent.
  • A stranger of the gender you didn't default to imagining, doing the above things.
  • A stranger, close acquaintance, friend, or family member making each of the above comments at each level of sincerity or intent, toward another person in close proximity.
  • A multitude of different strangers separately making any of the above comments, across a long period of time.

Which of these factors significantly skew your interpretation of the interaction one way or another? Which are irrelevant?




My own answer would look something like:

Casual remarks absent any obvious value judgment ("descriptive" comments that aren't obviously insincere) just leave me confused about the whole interaction. I end up concerned that I may not have acted appropriately/gracefully in response to something that may have been meant in a good way, but I don't spend too much time worrying over whether they had ill intent after all. Doesn't really matter whom the source is, either; anyone from my tactless grandmother to a fixed but arbitrarily chosen grocery store cashier might say stuff like this from time to time.

Although it is demonstrably not the case where text is involved, I'm bad at judging intent in person because there are too many things to track in too brief a moment, so I default to assuming sincerity unless there are specific inflection cues.

I don't really care what any particular person thinks of me unless I care about that person, so it's easy to dismiss a small number of strangers occasionally making off-putting remarks. So the key is making it seem like there are enough people doing this consistently that it begins to feel like there's a real consensus. In other words, the way I would relate to this is by thinking about when I was asking a whole bunch of people out and getting rejected 100% of the time, because the common theme is lots of people judging me/nonspecific-you. This may even extend further, because I'm no longer certain I would trust what I was hearing if I did one day hear a sequence of digits. Whereas if I were to try to relate by thinking of specific events that inconvenienced me, I would think of things like having my time wasted by a policeman who wanted to interrogate me while I was walking home from work, or being repeatedly splashed by careless people driving over ice-cold muddy puddles in the middle of winter, or other things that ultimately didn't have that much of an effect on me or my fee-fees. Of course, since at least 85% of the men my age (probably more) haven't had this exact problem, it's still worth looking for better examples....

The personal-relation-to-asshole axis may or may not be a red herring; certainly, close friends thoughtlessly saying hurtful things are an exception to the rule that specific interactions aren't important, but that kind of situation is pretty far removed from the subject of public harassment. Then again, people (including myself in this) do have an annoying tendency to question other people's experiences and downplay things that don't seem like such a big deal to them, all while having the best of intentions, so the fact that close friends can sometimes make things worse without meaning to might still be a useful thing to consider as Part Of The Problem.

ETA unrelated remark: I suddenly find it amusing that my chosen user name could be abbreviated NT.
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Post by eselle28 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:11 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:Immediate reaction to hypothetical crowd of women remarking on whether or not I'm sufficiently macho or sufficiently idiotic: who gives a shit? I don't strive to be either.

Is there something that would fit in that category for you? Perceptions about sexuality, maybe? If not, that's actually a really positive thing, because the world is a better place if people don't feel those pressures. The thing I'm getting at is that street harassment tends to remind me that there's not a moment of the day when I'm not judged based on my perceived fuckability, whether I want to play into cultural prescriptions or defy them or just do my own thing, and that it's also not acceptable for me to ignore it. I have to be reminded of it, out loud, over and over, and many of the people who do so expect me to be grateful.

Question for a hypothetical focus group—imagine your reaction(s) to the following:


  • A stranger commenting descriptively on something superficial about you (e.g. your hair or clothes).
  • A stranger commenting positively on something superficial about you.
  • A stranger commenting negatively on something superficial about you.
  • A stranger accurately commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something personal (e.g. a correct guess about your job or your sexual history or lack of one).
  • A stranger inaccurately commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something personal (i.e. they're way off the mark).
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way you perceive to be sincere.
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way you perceive to be insincere.
  • A stranger making any of the above comments in a way that makes you unsure of their motives.

You haven't specified context, which matters a bit for one of these. If it's a reasonably social situation and the comment is both positive and seems to be sincere, my reaction is typically neutral. All the other situations come with varying levels of annoyance. No one asked you for your opinion, Stranger. Why is it so terribly important that you give it to me? I don't care about the opinion itself, but the entitlement is irritating.

A stranger commenting descriptively/positively/negatively on something about your behavior (e.g. your gait or facial expression).

Also annoying and entitled, unless I appear to be in some kind of distress and they're engaging me because they want to offer help.

  • A close acquaintance, friend, or family member making each of the above comments at each level of sincerity or intent.

  • Sincere positive and descriptive comments about superficial things are appreciated. Sincere negative ones are okay from certain people, if we have that kind of relationship or if I've asked for feedback. Insincere compliments aren't my favorite, but I tend to assume compliments are sincere, so that might not be relevant. I'm not sure why someone I know would say something insincere and negative to me, but that sounds like someone I'd rather not talk to. Assumptions about me might actually be more annoying from people in this group, since they could just ask.

  • A stranger of the gender you didn't default to imagining, doing the above things.

  • Most of the stranger behavior you described is still pretty obnoxious if I imagine a woman doing it. I will say the only compliment I've ever gotten from a stranger that I actually did appreciate was a woman on the train who complimented my shoes when I was having a particularly bad day, but I'm not sure if one appreciated compliment is enough to form a generalization about.

  • A stranger, close acquaintance, friend, or family member making each of the above comments at each level of sincerity or intent, toward another person in close proximity.

  • I think my judgments here are pretty similar to those above. My friends don't tend to bother strangers about the sorts of things listed, and doing so would make me reconsider whether I wanted to spend time with someone.

  • A multitude of different strangers separately making any of the above comments, across a long period of time.

  • That changes the first set of reactions from annoyed to angry. But, that's kind of the problem when we talk about this. There's no version of me who hasn't had to deal with strangers making many of those comments across a long period of time and where society didn't think it was more appropriate for strangers to ask for my time than for some other people's.
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    Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy) - Page 3 Empty Re: Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy)

    Post by Guest on Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:15 pm

    But remember, nearly, you haven't also had a lifetime of being judged solely by your looks, of being informed that your looks are the only important thing about you, that you will only ever be of value for what your face and body can provide. I do appreciate the sincere efforts to understand, but I think at some point we need to accept that cis men and cis women are conditioned differently as they grow up, and being objectified as a man simply doesn't carry the same implications and threats as it does for a woman.

    It's kind of like, if a black person calls me a honky or a cracker, yes it's technically racism, but it's not going to really hurt me even though it might be a shock at the time. But if I call said person a n*****, that has a huge weight of historical implication and current discrimination behind it that makes it much more of a threatening behaviour, even if I never lay a hand on them. Does that help or just confuse the issue?

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    Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy) - Page 3 Empty Re: Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy)

    Post by Lemminkainen on Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:37 pm

    @Takuan-- Your focus-group questions should disaggregate hair-and-clothes comments (which are about a person's aesthetic taste and outfit-constructing skill) and comments about people's bodies (which are about the meat-vehicle that we're born with and can't do quite as much to change).  I know that I react to those things quite differently (I pretty much always welcome clothes compliments wholeheartedly, but body compliments tend to make me feel a strange mix of flattered and uncomfortable unless they come in the context of sexytimes or like, if I'm shirtless at a gay pride parade.)  I imagine that other people also assign different meanings to these different sorts of compliments, and that their reactions to one or both could be much more negative if they were pervasive in my life.

    EDIT: I am also a peacock, take a lot of pride in my clothes and put a lot of effort into them, and dress to call attention to myself. I'm not quite sure how well this would generalize across gender lines, but I would imagine that people in flashy clothes will generally be much more receptive to compliments about them.

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