What Happened to ‘Hello’?

Did anyone ever teach you how to properly talk to a woman?

It seemed witty enough when getting hit on in a bar or catcalled in the street, but most of the time I’d forget or was more focused on getting out of the situation as fast as possible. I didn’t feel safe enough to engage, nor was in right headspace to want to educate anyone. In my early twenties, it was a comeback meant to shut the guy up and nothing more. Yet I’m now a working woman who relies on walking and public transit, and it’s still a genuine question that echoes in the back of my mind.

Why do men tell women to “smile” when they have no idea what kind of day they’ve had, or the circumstances they might be experiencing?

Why do men call a woman beautiful or sexy, when they don’t even truly know what makes her so? And what about at first sight makes this so-called flattery appropriate?

And while rejection stings, why get so angry to the point of causing emotional and even physical harm?

I’ve had enough conversations to realize that it comes down to entitlement and ego; I want this, and therefore I deserve to get it. If you don’t like or appreciate my attention, then you deserve to be punished.

It’s disgusting and degrading; perhaps men who act this way already know this and don’t care, but I’m going to take the human to human approach anyway:

Life is not fair, and the world does not owe you anything. You can have back luck and a bad lot, but that does not give you the right to put that pain onto others, particularly those you don’t know. Being a good person does not always lead to the rewards that we believe we should receive, and there comes a point when you have to face your bullshit and admit that you just might be part of the problem. If you want to experience genuine human interaction, learn how to pay attention and pick up on social cues. But more importantly, learn how to listen and respect boundaries, even if you don’t agree with them.

And if you’re genuinely looking for a date, stop assuming that sidewalks, public transit, and various places of busyness are the only places you can go. I’m not opposed to meet-cutes, but there’s a huge difference between organic introduction and the feeling of being trapped to the point of questioning your physical safety. A couple of years ago, I went to a Starbucks on my lunch break for a phone interview. A man approached me saying that he had a question, and I politely tried to explain that it wasn’t a good time. He kept coming up to me throughout the phone call trying to ask me things, and then kept me in full view as he walked away again. I could tell that he was going to try to follow me out the door, so I instinctively went toward the front counter to explain the situation to a barista. I’m grateful that a couple sitting nearby saw what was happening, and offered to walk me back the office where I was interning at.

Being stuck between trusting my instincts and sparing a stranger’s feelings is exhausting; you should be ashamed if you ever put someone there.

There’s a popular quote that if you see something beautiful in someone, speak it. Most of the time I agree with it, though it’s definitely not applicable or appropriate when you don’t even know their name. If the first words out of a guy’s mouth are “Hey beautiful” (or something to that effect, whether online or in person), I cringe and the alarm bells automatically start going off. I absolutely hate it, but it’s my way of being able to tell when it’s meaningful or when that person is trying to butter me up. There’s a time and a place for commenting on a woman’s physical appearance, and a first meeting is not one of them.

In most situations, a simple hello or making eye contact will suffice; no pick-up lines or clever come-on’s necessary.

If she doesn’t respond or engage, you leave her alone, full stop. She might not want to talk or meet anyone. She might not be available. Whatever it is, she’s not interested and that’s all you need to know.

Being powerful does not make you better than anyone.

And wielding that power to dehumanize and harm others does not make you a man.

///

I’m aware that men experience harassment as well, but I’m only qualified to speak for myself and as a woman. Debating on who has it worse does not negate the gravity of harassment, and there should be no competition over who deserves more compassion. Reaction to rejection by intimidation and/or violence is never okay, and the only way to get that message across is by standing together.

It might take a generation or two to find a way forward. In theory, sticking up for oneself is ideal, but it’s an entirely different story when strength and size come into play. As I write, it’s easy to say that I would use self-defense techniques that I’ve learned over the years, but what about when anxiety kicks in or there’s nowhere for me to run? You can’t possibly know how you’ll exactly you’ll handle an aggressor unless you’re looking right at them.

One could argue that consequences infringe on the first amendment, but a freedom is a freedom until it is abused. All I want to do is to get from point A to point B safely and peacefully, and respecting that shouldn’t be so difficult.

I initially wanted to write more, but the different aspects of harassment, assault, and #MeToo became too much to unpack in one piece, so I’ve decided to split it up. I’ve been quiet as I’ve processed the daily headlines in conjunction with my own experiences, and want to respond rather than just react.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s