Confronting the everyday power of street harassment: What can be done?

'Cards Against Harrassment' features videos of a Minneapolis woman named Lindsey who confronts men as they catcall in the downtown core.

Street harassment in Minneapolis is making headlines these days, and not in a good way. A few weeks ago a project named “Cards Against Harassment” went viral. The project is the work of a Minneapolis woman named Lindsey who confronts men as they catcall in the downtown core. Watching her series of videos, and reading through the accompanying cards that Lindsey hands out to her objectifiers, is a object lesson. Through the cards, which are both serious and funny, the project attempts to explain how women feel while being harassed by men. And the project’s YouTube videos, which document Lindsey’s diverse conversations with the men who make remarks to her, shows awkward social interactions in a way that is painfully unvarnished.

Street harassment lies somewhere on a spectrum with “the male gaze” on one end, and sexual violence (i.e. rape) on the other. In my conversations with different women over the last few weeks, catcalling, wolf whistling and unsolicited sexual comments seem to slide easily up and down along the line of male power, often fading into the background, but occasionally becoming gateways to more explicit forms of assault.

Street harassment is a difficult topic to confront because, for many men, it remains almost invisible. Harassment almost never occurs when women are around male friends; instead it’s something women deal with when they’re alone and most vulnerable. (This is a key reason these incidents can leave such deep impressions.)

The public flexibility of street harassment also makes it a difficult problem to solve through policy, because it’s deeply wrapped up in social and cultural habits — and perceptions of what is and is not harassment can vary widely. Are there things that the city can do to make street harassment less likely? Does confronting a harasser help the situation, or exacerbate it?

Women’s right to the city

The bottom line is that women should have the right to move around the city without having to experience unsolicited sexual language from men. But for hundreds of years, this hasn’t been the case. As Rebecca Solint describes in “Wanderlust,” the best history of walking I’ve found, women’s rights to walk in the city have been restricted by men from Ancient Greece to the present.

“Access to public space, urban and rural, for social, political, practical, and cultural purposes is an important part of everyday life, but is limited by fear of violence and harassment,” Solnit writes. “The routine harassment women experience ensures, in the words of one scholar of the subject, ‘that women will not feel at ease, that we will remember our role as sexual beings, available to, accessible to men.’ “

For example, Solnit describes how women walking alone through 19th-century cities were viewed as morally corrupted, not part of the respectable domestic caste. For all but the lowest classes of society, women could be fined, arrested or forced to prove they were not prostitutes simply for walking unaccompanied through a city.

Just because control over women’s access to movement has become less visible today doesn’t mean it has vanished. For most women, the ability to take the bus, ride a bike, or walk down a sidewalk is shaped by their ability to tolerate the various forms of harassment that persist in the Twin Cities. Memories of these experiences form individual mental maps for women that shape their experience of the city.

“The weird part of it is when you begin to blend maps and temporal experiences,” Sarah Brumble explained to me. Brumble is a travel writer who has experienced increasing amounts of street harassment in Minneapolis over the last few years, including being groped at a South Minneapolis gas station. “Sometimes you just decide that this street is bad at night. Or maybe there’s some construction going on … and it’s equidistant to avoid that pack of construction workers. It’s the same thing with bus stops: Try to avoid masses of people.”

Different experiences in different modes

For some women, a partial solution to the harassment problem is to drive a car, where spatial security is guaranteed by a steel shell. Yet this solution poses a problem for cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul that are trying to reduce automobile dependency, and increase the number of people walking, biking and taking transit. If women don’t feel safe using non-motorized transportation, our cities will be leaving half the population behind and reinforcing longstanding spatial inequalities.

Laura Kling is a transportation expert who has spent years organizing Grease Rag, a bicycle community that focuses on empowering women, trans and femme riders.

“One reason I ride my bicycle is to get away from public transportation,” Kling told me. “I feel like I have more space between me and someone who’s going to harass me, but I feel like I can independently move myself from one place to another without having to sit next to someone that I don’t know.”

“There’s also the power structure of the mode of transit that you take,” Kling continued. “If you’re a pedestrian, you’re a slow-moving, isolated target. Walking down the street, it’s really awkward if someone says something disgusting to you. You can tell them to go to hell, but you still have to finish walking the block.” As Kling explains it, each of the modes of movement has distinct vulnerabilities. Once you’re out of your car, you’re fair game for harassment.

Rules of engagement and tricks of avoidance

Meanwhile, women who (through choice or necessity) end up taking more public forms of transportation end up using a variety of tricks to dealing with the persistent behavior, ranging from body language to sunglasses to different forms of spatial avoidance. Probably the most common trick is “the headphones thing,” where women wear headphones (often without even listening to any music) just to keep men from bothering them.

Janne Flisrand is a housing consultant who lives in Minneapolis who shared with me some other anti-harassment tricks for riding the bus in the city:

“Don’t be small in your seat,” Flisrand told me. “Basically, act like a man in your bus seat. Take up more of your fair share, using your elbows. I always put my bag in my seat next to me so it’s socially awkward to try and sit next to me. I used to knit on the bus; it creates a conversation starter that isn’t about how I look or my age.”

“Finally, there’s a very definite way about how you carry your body,” Flisrand continued. “Don’t ever make eye contact. If you do, give them the snake eye. You don’t ever smile at anybody. If somebody says hi, you don’t respond verbally. Instead you put on your ‘city face.’ ”

What is to be done?

“There’s not been much progress if I feel like I can’t go biking by myself,” Beth Bowman told me. Bowman is a visual artist who lives in St. Paul, and remembers being coached by her grandmother about how to deal with cat callers on the street.

(Grandma’s No. 1 tip? “Don’t make eye contact.”)

“When we talk about walkability and streets and urban planning,” Bowman explained, “if women don’t feel safe on the streets, if they feel like they’re going to be harassed, that’s a walkability issue. That’s a planning issue.”

Because the culture of street harassment is so ubiquitous across time and space, it seems the only real solution lies in changing male culture.

“The best thing women can do is to continue sharing their stories and encourage others to do it,” Sarah Brumble told me. “It really helps when guy friends step in from a position of empathy rather than cracking a joke about it or try and make us smile.”

Meanwhile, Brumble, her friends, and women all through the Twin Cities continue to endure a daily gantlet of subtle and overt abuse just for trying to move through the city. Lindsey is out there, handing out cards and documenting discomfort like a superhero. But without a broader recognition of the problem, women will continue to be excluded from city streets through the everyday power of street harassment. When this happens, everyone loses.    

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Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/12/2014 - 11:33 am.

    This subject makes certain men defensive

    so they launch into the defensive person’s favorite rhetorical technique, exaggeration. “Oh, I’m not supposed to notice pretty women anymore? Should I go around with a blindfold? Why are women going around in short sleeveless dresses, then?” (Uh, because it’s summer?)

    Since women accompanied by men are rarely harassed in this way, many men do not understand that street harassment is usually not complimentary. In its most benign form–a man telling a complete stranger to smile–it seems to express the attitude that women are just scenery for men to enjoy, not individual human beings who may have good reasons to “ruin the picture” with their unhappiness.

    The more malignant form of harassment sounds nothing like a lover’s compliments. When three women, all over the age of fifty, none dressed in any way that could be described as sexy, are standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and some teenage boys drive by yelling things like “Hey, Granny, s*** my d***!” that’s simply disgusting.

    Interestingly enough, this kind of harassment is always carried out by males in groups, including the four middle school boys who walked around with copies of a pornographic magazine one long-ago afternoon and opened it to a photo depicting a naked woman chained to a radiator whenever they passed by a woman or girl.

    My hypothesis is that street harassment is some kind of sick game that groups of men play, each trying to get a reaction out of the woman who is the object of their derision. It may be that our mothers’ advice, “Just ignore them,” is the best tactic.

    For the macho-macho men who ask with false naiveté what’s wrong with saying things like, “Hey, pretty girl!” or “I like the way you fill out that dress,” here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that you, a macho-macho man, are walking down the street, and you hear a group of men calling out “Hey, pretty boy!” or “I like the way you fill out those pants.” Would you take either of those remarks as a compliment?

    All right then!

  2. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 08/12/2014 - 12:23 pm.

    Street Harassment

    This article needs to be a little clearer about what “harassment” means. If smiling and saying hi is perceived as harassment, you’re not going to get much sympathy from 95% of men.

    Crude sexual remarks are a different story and should be prosecuted.

    • Submitted by Matt Schroeder on 08/12/2014 - 12:54 pm.

      Not about men’s feelings

      This is not about how men feel or what they intend. This is about how women feel and what they perceive. If women feel uncomfortable, objectified, or anything less than a whole human being, that’s a problem. There’s a ton of harassment that happens beyond simply smiling and saying hi that doesn’t rise to the level of crude sexual remarks. (See, for example, the “telling a complete stranger to smile” that Karen referenced at 11:33.) And I’d hope that if one of your family members experiences that, you’d give them some sympathy.

      • Submitted by Martin Owings on 08/12/2014 - 01:53 pm.

        Maybe not

        Matt – I’m not so sure. Seems both females and males are parties involved in the human transaction. I don’t agree with the assertion that a smile and “hi” be greeted with a “snake eye” or cold indifference. There’s a definite line between respectful and polite interactions and harassment or hostility. Ignoring a passerby who says hello or smiles at you isn’t a mere dismissal of interaction, it could be perceived ad hostile in itself. It’s more than a little hypocritical to ask one party in an interaction to be respectful, polite and understanding while simultaneously instructing the opposite party to practice indifference and even hostile behavior.

        I think handing out the cards is a great idea and we should be educating people on the negative aspects of hostile interactions (cat-calling, eye-balling, sexual comments). However I think it’s a bad idea to teach people (women in this case) to automatically assume that a smile or a greeting should be received in the same manner as harassment.

        • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 08/12/2014 - 04:06 pm.

          No maybes about it

          Women are instructed to present themselves as indifferent or even hostile in public interactions because if they do respond or even make eye contact, the harassers see that as an invitation to continue. If they respond to some interactions, such as your polite “hi” but not others, such as someone’s “hey, baby” the harassers see that as a slight and escalate. There’s basically no way for women to win in interacting, so they’re taught not to even try.

          Does that suck? Absolutely. Is it up to women to fix that? Absolutely not. It’s up to men to do as the author and Ms. Brumble suggested and work to change the culture. When you do hear about these things happening to someone you know, respond with empathy. Don’t get defensive about it and pull the #NotAllMen card because that’s truly not helping. If you do happen to observe something like this taking place, step up and call the harasser on it, if you feel safe doing so.

          And finally, for those of you who have sons, make sure you teach them that women are to be respected and this kind of behavior is unacceptable, so that maybe we can stop having to teach our daughters how to avoid any public interactions at all.

          • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 08/17/2014 - 02:10 pm.

            Interactions with Women

            I’m still confused. Are we suppose to be teaching our sons that smiling and saying “Hi” to a woman is unacceptable behavior?

            • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 08/19/2014 - 02:24 pm.

              Basically, yes.

              More specifically, teach your sons to not expect any kind of response to saying hi and/or smiling. Also, teach your sons to treat women on the street the same as they would treat men. Do you smile and say hi to every man you see walking down the street? If not, why not? Why would you treat women differently than you would treat other men? Or why would you expect something different from women than you would from other men?

              You can acknowledge the presence of another human being without engaging them. I nod my head at people I pass by. If I’m running or biking and encounter others doing the same, I may offer a small wave. I don’t expect a response.

              • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/19/2014 - 04:04 pm.

                And not everyone saying hi

                is engaging the other person or expecting a response.

                Sorry, not going to skimp on the niceties.

                • Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/19/2014 - 05:27 pm.

                  As Mark asked . . . . . .

                  “Do you smile and say hi to every man you see walking down the street? If not, why not?”

                  That seems to me to be a key question here for all the male posters who are having difficulty with this concept. And – of course – only they can each answer this question for themselves.

                  Hopefully they’ll each give themselves an honest answer.

                  • Submitted by jason myron on 08/19/2014 - 11:31 pm.

                    Well stated, Pat.

                    I’m a little baffled at the umbrage some men here seem to be taking about this. If you’re in the aisle at Target and you meet a woman walking in the opposite direction, that makes eye contact with you, a simple hello as you continue you on your way is non threatening and acceptable. Saying hello to people walking down the street that have their eyes forward or are otherwise engaged is a little creepy. It’s commons sense… and a man would never do that to another man.

                    • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/20/2014 - 11:24 am.

                      We must be talking about two different scenarios

                      If they are obviously avoiding eye contact or are otherwise engaged, there’s no point in saying hi. And as a gay man, I’m not sure I understand your point about treating women differently than men.

        • Submitted by Sarah Burridge on 08/12/2014 - 04:19 pm.


          Seriously, this could not be more of a classic “I have never experienced the thing we’re talking about here, and I therefore have no idea what it’s like” example.

          Believe it or not, most women don’t actually enjoy walking around glaring at dudes. I HATE that I feel like I have to walk down the street trying to ignore (rather than smile at) a full 50% of the population. But I have found that carrying myself in a pissed-off, don’t-you-dare-****-with-me way is the absolute BEST way to get dudes to leave you the hell alone – to the point that I really don’t get harassed a ton anymore. While the vast majority of men do not harass you if you are friendly to them, there’s just something about being friendly and open that draws harasser types like flies (presumably they assume that they’ll get more of a reaction out of you, which is what they want).

          Point being, we are hostile as a defense, not on principle; there’s nothing hypocritical about it. If you want women to be friendly, then work to create the kind of street atmosphere where our hostility isn’t necessary.

    • Submitted by Sarah Burridge on 08/12/2014 - 03:17 pm.

      It’s not that simple

      What feels like harassment is different for every woman, and it’s different depending on the context and the intent behind it. Years ago, I spent four months in Bangladesh, and was very surprised when my host family expressed outrage that a man bumped into me with his shoulder while walking down the street – after all, it’s a very crowded country. My host family explained to me that men are supposed to try to avoid touching women they aren’t related to at all costs – even on a crowded street – and that someone bumping into me so intentionally was nothing short of degrading and insulting.

      Versions of this play out everyday for women here. Something that would generally be considered innocuous in most contexts, such as saying hi, can be said with any number of undertones and intents, in any number of contexts where a woman is feeling more safe or less safe, and a man is feeling more or less emboldened by the circumstances. Some men say hi to force you to acknowledge them when you are very obviously absorbed in something else (or else very obviously trying to ignore them). Some men say hi to give themselves an excuse to say something rude to you if you blow them off. Some men say hi to let you know that they consider the public sphere their territory and they want you to understand that they will control your experience in it. Some men just say hi, but might as well be saying something much more crude based on where they’re looking, how they’re behaving, what body language they are using, etc.

      Point being, I’m uncomfortable (and I imagine most women feel the same way) to make a blanket proclamation that saying hi is totally fine, because the subtext is very often totally NOT fine.

      I’d say a good rule of thumb for men trying to NOT be harassers, or men trying to understand what is and is not harassment, is to consider whether you intend to achieve ANYTHING other than briefly but genuinely connecting with another human in a friendly, non-sexual manner. If she’s ignoring you and you want to force her attention – that’s harassment. If you’re feeling insecure and want her to acknowledge you to boost your ego or whatever – harassment. If you say hi to strike up a conversation in which you intend to keep chatting with her regardless of whether she seems like she actually wants to chat with you – harassment.

      I think most women can generally tell when a “Hi” comes from a respectful place and when it doesn’t.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/12/2014 - 05:03 pm.

        What the harasser wants to achieve

        You make some good points. I think that tying the rule of thumb for what is harassment to what the person making a remark is trying to achieve is going to miss the target. Harassers aren’t trying to “achieve” anything beyond, as you note, a reaction. If they are taken to task for their behavior, they will fall back on the stock “I was just kidding; lighten up” defense.

        The rule of thumb I gave my sons is, don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t want someone to say or do to your mother or sister (for so-called adults, I would expand that to daughter or significant other). A harasser is dehumanizing his victim, so getting him to put a human face on his victim–to imagine someone he cares about in that situation–makes it less likely he will be “just kidding around.”

    • Submitted by Elsa Mack on 08/13/2014 - 05:40 pm.

      Saying “hi”

      While something like saying “hi” might seem innocuous to you, it really isn’t. If I’m walking down the street, I am going somewhere. I’m not there to make friends, or to look pretty, or to fulfill anybody’s desire for entertainment or companionship. Saying hi and expecting any real response is expecting me to stop what I’m doing and cater to you in some way, with the idea that I, as a woman, should be friendly and open to your attention. I’m not. I’m busy.

      Plus, as others pointed out, “Hi,” is generally the opening of a conversation, not the whole of it. And I can’t count the number of times some man has given me the smile and “hi”, and then called me a F-ing B because I didn’t stop and talk to him.

      Would you smile and say hi to random men on the street? I doubt it.

      • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/14/2014 - 09:47 am.

        Granted, women have a different experience of this than men, but seriously? Unless it’s a busy sidewalk, I generally try to say ‘hi’ to people I pass by. It acknowledges their humanity. It also helps to keep me from feeling as if the world revolves around me. Many times, I’m ignored completely and it would feel weird to say, ‘hi’, or people don’t respond in kind, but that’s not my problem, is it?

        I disagree that saying, “Hi,” is the opening of a conversation. It can simply be the acknowledgment of another human being’s presence.

  3. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 08/12/2014 - 01:04 pm.

    Street Harassment

    Watch Lindsey’s videos which are linked to in this article. The remarks themselves, taken out of context – “damn!! you’re beautiful” or my favorite “smile!!” – could be interpreted in an innocent fashion. But they are often accompanied by standing too close, leering looks and other inappropriate behavior. Besides, why would any man think that they have the right to make comments like this to a perfect stranger? And, most of these men admit that they wouldn’t say anything if the woman was accompanied by a man, and they would not like it if someone said the same thing to their sister. She is doing very brave work, this Lindsey. It is a massive re-education project.

  4. Submitted by David Frenkel on 08/12/2014 - 01:07 pm.

    Media and war

    I think if you want to start to change culture norms towards women you might start with the various forms of media that often portray women as sexual objects. We are raising children watching TV full of sex and music that slams women as sexual objects. It is a complicated topic that needs more attention.
    A few years ago I was walking down a street in Europe with some male friends when somebody grabbed my hand from behind, it was a British woman who asked if she could walk with us because some Greek men were harassing her and her female friends. The Greek men left when the women joined us.
    While this type of behavior is uncalled for it pales in comparison to those that live in war zones like is currently being experienced by women in Iraq.

  5. Submitted by William Lindeke on 08/12/2014 - 04:09 pm.

    American Girl in Italy

    My favorite example of the topic is this famous photo from 1951, American Girl in Italy.

    The photo really captures how men control space. It’s a powerful photograph! At the same time, the subject of the photo claims to have enjoyed it. (

    Does that change the dynamics of the situation? Does it change the history of the curtailment women’s ability to move through the city? Does it change the everyday fact of violence against women (not helped by the existence of even subtle harassment, IMO)?

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/13/2014 - 08:10 am.

      The photo illustrates the issue well, but

      Keep in mind that the photo was somewhat staged. The subject walked through that area twice, and the men were prompted to not look at the camera. So it was natural for them to focus on the subject of the photo. Whether they would have responded the same way (especially the man grabbing his crotch) if the photographer was not noticed, I don’t know.

  6. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 08/12/2014 - 04:56 pm.


    For this article, Bill, and for letting us all know about Lindsey’s work. Amazing stuff. She is so brave.

    Here’s a comic-form set of instructions done by another harassment activist that I just ran across. It’s called Next Time Someone Says Women Aren’t Victims of Harassment, Show Them This.

  7. Submitted by Leah Garaas on 08/12/2014 - 07:30 pm.

    Missing a crucial point

    I’m glad that the issue of street harassment toward women is being addressed, but this article fails to recognize that women, as victims, are not solely responsible for change. It’s great to include tips for females to avoid harassment, but no point is made about what men can do to help. The article victimizes women and holds them 100% accountable for any change. No good will come of that when it’s men that need to knock off the harassment.

    • Submitted by William Lindeke on 08/12/2014 - 11:46 pm.

      yeah, actually…

      I tried to include that at the end. Women I talked with told me the there are two things men can do…

      1) ask women if they need help but do it in a very careful way where if they say “no” you leave them alone
      2) confront the behavior with your friend (but not necessarily with strangers)
      3) listen to women when they talk about the issue from a place of empathy (don’t try and make it humorous/minimize the issue)

  8. Submitted by jody rooney on 08/12/2014 - 09:29 pm.

    My first thought as I read this article was

    for goodness sake what a whiner this woman is. Years from now she will look back and be embarrassed at trying to deal with this trifle. This type of behavior has been going on for a long time and it has never been socially acceptable. Why don’t you just write these folks off as clods as women have done for years.

    The expectation that everyone you run into has a well developed sense of civility is ridiculous. Hardly seems worth the trouble to educate these boors. The fact that these men make these kind of remarks is their problem not yours.

    Both the cards and the conversation bring you down to this person’s level and actually giving them what they want attention. You know the old saying if you can’t get positive attention get negative attention. These people just want attention.

    And if this kind of verbal or visual behavior makes you feel demeaned, objectified or threatened then I would say as a woman you need to work on where you get your validation from.

    These people are buzzing “gnats” try to ignore them.

    • Submitted by Martha Garcés on 08/14/2014 - 08:34 am.

      No, she’s brave.

      I find your comment horrifying. The creator of Cards Against Harassment is not a whiner. She’s not a whiner any more than others who are brave enough to stand up against bigotry or harassment. The fact that these men make these remarks is a societal issue, which means it belongs to all of us—women and men. As some of the above comments and personal experience indicate, this is an issue that stretches well beyond Minneapolis, and beyond the United States.

      It’s also important to acknowledge what is likely a large source of inspiration for Cards Against Harassment, Adrian Piper’s Calling Card project from the 1980s and 90s. Here’s an excerpt from the Walker’s site, referencing what Piper was doing with her own cards:

      “Dear Friend/I am black./I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark.” Thus read the opening lines of Adrian Piper’s My Calling (Card) #1 (1986–1990), a short message typed on a note card. Whenever the artist found herself in the presence of racist behavior by someone not cognizant of her mixed-race identity, she approached the perpetrator and silently handed over one of the calling cards. The “performance” was designed as a rational alternative to racial self-identification, which, Piper states elsewhere on the card, had caused people to perceive her as “pushy, manipulative, or socially inappropriate.” But is such a textual act any less forceful than direct verbalization or protest?


      • Submitted by jody rooney on 08/18/2014 - 11:04 am.

        If you find my comments horrifying

        then you have a lot to learn about life.

        Cat calling and rude remarks in a public setting are rude and uncouth but not dangerous, or discriminating. Words can only hurt if you let them, and if you let they you are getting way too much validation from external sources.

        There are a lot of rude, and stupid people in the world. Let it go.

        Making a big deal about something like this focuses energy inappropriately. Telling people they are rude (which Miss Manners would say is ruder than the original offense) is not as productive as addressing real discriminatory behavior. It’s swatting a gnat when an elephant is in the room.

        Handing out “you are rude” cards to people is seems both irrelevant and self indulgent to the woman who is struggling to feed her children, or get an education while working two jobs, or homeless because she turned 18. It is something only a privileged person has the luxury to do. And if you are that privileged it is a whine.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2014 - 12:29 pm.

          Words, words, words

          Catcalling and rude remarks may seem harmless if they are taken in isolation. In reality, however, they are symptomatic of deeper cultural issues. Telling strange women to smile, or critiquing their appearance, is saying that a woman’s place is to please or validate men.

          I’m not sure why you think handing out “you are rude” cards would seem self-indulgent to “unprivileged” women. The woman who is struggling to feed her children, or to get an education while working two jobs, can take offense at comments about her anatomy just as readily as the privileged person. I don’t doubt that a homeless because she turned 18 will feel safer if she is not subject to mock propositions (how does she know they are mocked) as she tries to survive. In any event, not handing out cards is not going to help them one bit. Working to end the male dominance of society, however, just might.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/18/2014 - 12:51 pm.


          So, I can’t stand up for myself because it’s whiny and I am automatically privileged (as though I must be ashamed of this)? And heaven forbid that what I do might affect someone who isn’t privileged enough to have the time and energy to deal with it. It’s not trivial and self indulgent to want to live without the NEED to avoid eye contact because you might just provide that window of opportunity for the harasser. I don’t want to avoid eye contact or blow off everyone who says hello. I do enjoy smiling at strangers if they are exuding a smile, themselves. But I really don’t think anyone should have to be ashamed for pointing out that someone is harassing, yes HARASSING, others. It’s not just rude. It’s a self-indulgent behavior that affects the ability for a certain group to feel safe in the presence of others. And that is a very real harm (and REAL discriminatory behavior). And street harassment can probably be a hint that the harasser is willing to be self-indulgent in other settings and in other ways, which might be more sinister than a wolf-whistle.

          It’s especially inappropriate for that woman who is struggling to feed her children when she has to haul her children with her because she can’t afford a few hours for a babysitter to run her errands. That catcall that turns into nasty namecalling–it has an effect on both her and her children. If the actions of a few “whiny privileged” females reduces or stops the harassment for them, it might just be beneficial for the woman who was just called nasty names in front of her children for having the audacity to not be accompanied by a man.

          There are a few women out there who find it embarrassing that other women stand up for their freedoms. Many women fought actively against suffrage. There are women out there who, ironically, work hard to claim that women belong out of the work force. There are women who readily shame others for enjoying any number of things they consider ok for men. I don’t understand the mentality, but I am under no obligation to take their opinions seriously. There are certainly a lot of rude and stupid people out there. Letting it go just isn’t all that acceptable.

  9. Submitted by Francesca Sardinola on 08/13/2014 - 07:33 am.

    Keeping an eye for eachother

    Bill, this is very insightful and thank you very much for putting this out there and letting us know about people trying to change mens behavior for the better. I am still hopeful. Your point on “What’s to be done” is spot on. I would add this: KEEPING AN EYE FOR EACH OTHER. In Europe, they are confronting the same problem and I have seen women use HeadsApp an app to basically give each other the headsup here and now about what is happening… here and now. They use it for good an not so good stuff because it s simple and discreet. I use it because I don’t want to attract attention to myself but still i want other women to beware of situations that I do not wish them to experience. So if I went through it, I can avoid them the trouble by giving them the headsup about that shady dude. because you can BET that if he harassed me he will harass 10 others after me that same day. I think the app is available on the app store and its called HeadsApp, i think this is the link, if not look it up:
    Hope this can help other women out there. If we all keep an eye out for each other for the good things and the bad things… we are golden!

  10. Submitted by Ami Wazlawik on 08/13/2014 - 10:13 am.

    Hollaback! chapter

    Thanks for writing the article, Bill. Street harassment is an everyday problem for a lot of women and LGBT folks in the Twin Cities. Another great resource for those interested in working to end street harassment is the local chapter of Hollaback! here in the Twin Cities. Folks can learn more about street harassment, share their stories, and find ways to get involved at

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/14/2014 - 09:42 am.

    Creating a shell

    Here’s the deal, I appreciate that there are all kinds of ways women can avoid harassment. However, we shouldn’t HAVE to avoid harassment. I’ve gotten the “you should smile” from strangers. It’s not because they’re concerned for my happiness. It’s creepy–we know when a comment or a look isn’t “right.” It’s threatening–if it’s a creepy look or comment in a very public place, what will it be if we happen to be in a less public place?

    This is a men’s issue, too. If we must be angry b****es all the time in order to protect ourselves from the jerks, when do we get to be open and friendly to strangers (who are not jerks) we actually want to meet when we want to meet them? If I’m walking down the street, I clearly am not out to make conversation. If I’m standing at a bus stop, I might make conversation, but I’m still not there for socializing. If I’m in a social setting, the level of interaction with strangers is less restrictive, but there’s still a level that becomes harassment.

    It’s not simply a smile and eye contact. I smile and make eye contact with strangers all the time. A friendly nod in passing–I think it’s ok. But if she’s not looking at you, you shouldn’t expect her to. A smile or a “hi” in that context is begging for attention she doesn’t want to give. And if she doesn’t want to give it, you’re out of line in asking for it.

    Most women experience harassment at some point. Many of them on a regular basis. If you are a man, it is rare that you see it with women you are with. However, if you open your eyes and ears, you will see and hear it happen to women you are not with. Because you are likely one of the many, many decent men out there, you weren’t paying attention to a women that doesn’t want your attention. But, because she doesn’t have the attention of a decent man in public, she often gets the attention of less than decent men. Would it be ok for you to simply say to that catcaller, “Dude. That’s not cool.”? I’ve said stuff like that to people doing questionable things. Don’t put yourself in danger, obviously, but a simple disapproval from a “peer” could make a difference.

    It used to be that women didn’t feel safe in a professional work place. Men often harassed them, and it was widely accepted as ok behavior. But it degraded women, and it degraded men. Times have changed. We can work in a professional environment without feeling like we are there to satisfy men in ways not related to work, or risk losing our jobs. Why can’t that happen outside of business walls? It can if we’re not forced to drive or ride bikes or give dirty looks or cold looks or generally live in a shell because we just have to deal and men don’t believe us. And women stop calling us whiny for being angry about having to live in our shells or foolish for trying to break out of those shells created by awful men.

  12. Submitted by Martin Owings on 08/15/2014 - 03:22 pm.

    Joel Fischer is absolutely right. Saying, “hi” and greeting someone with a smile is NOT harassment. If you’re a man or a woman and you’re feeling like some of the comments here are counter-intuitive it’s because they ARE.

    My five wonderful sisters and many female friends have all dealt with jerks who felt compelled to be idiots and practice, “street harassment”. It didn’t make one of the, NOT a single one, give up on the rest of humanity and decide to treat an entire gender with public indifference or scorn.

    A comment here is a perfect example of how NOT to treat the problem, “Saying hi and expecting any real response is expecting me to stop what I’m doing and cater to you in some way, with the idea that I, as a woman, should be friendly and open to your attention. I’m not. I’m busy.”

    Elsa that’s called a human interaction and YES, you as a person should make an effort to be open to friendly and genuine interactions, it makes the world a little less miserable.

    If someone is being harassed, that’s a different matter, but a simple smile and a friendly hello are not always or even often, “gateway” avenues into harassment.

    Because you don’t have the time to, “…stop what I’m doing to cater to you in some way…” isn’t a response to the issue of harassment. However, it’s a free country and you can continue to treat everyone with an arrogant contempt, I just don’t happen to think it addresses this problem in a constructive way.

  13. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 08/17/2014 - 07:21 pm.

    I’m already tired of reading tone-deaf comments from guys, so I’ll keep this brief.

    I invite the men resisting the idea that attention from you may possibly be unwelcome to…

    …just read/listen, ponder it, and decline to respond.

    …consider for just a moment that you are not entitled to command attention from other people to meet your need for human connection.

    …acknowledge that your actions have impact regardless of your intent.

    • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/19/2014 - 12:33 pm.

      My saying ‘Hi’…

      to a woman, or anyone, on the street is none of the above. It is not ‘attention’, it is ‘acknowledgment’. It is not a request for your attention. It is a greeting. How you respond is not my problem.

      “…just read/listen, ponder it, and decline to respond.”

      Thank you for commanding a certain response from us “tone-deaf” guys. Perhaps you can take your own advice when someone says “Hi” to you on the street.

  14. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 08/18/2014 - 09:13 am.

    Eye of the beholder …what’s the word here?

    Harassment is the four letter word here being bantered about going from a acknowledgement of another person; stranger with no evil intent to actual confrontation going beyond one’s right of privacy I suppose stretching to the ‘unacceptable’ physical assault etc?

    Anyone remember when a whistle from a jack hammer worker at a construction site was a often a common/rough message that could be offensive too, maybe? The whistle is something not heard much anymore…so time moves slowly and some customs die out being their ineffective message in an enlightened world.

    Eye contact itself is a rare commodity in a world texting oneself into another world of communication… be it fun; or at times that too can become another form of harassment?

    And for the books: Old contractor working on a women’s building used the words rule-of-thumb and was angrily reminded (assaulted verbally one could say} for using the old English term for measuring the size of the stick one can use legally in jolly old England, to beat your wife…all in the eye of the beholder at times what is intended; what is received?

    I found a great print, a copy awhile back, in a second hand store, of the Paris scene profiled in the attached article…another time, another story but an appealing picture staged or not…

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