Survival First When Facing Street Harasser

Ask Demetria: You might be tempted to offer a lesson in manners, but staying safe is key.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) —

“When a guy asks for your number on the street and you say, ‘I have a man,’ and he says, ‘Your man doesn’t let you have friends?’ How do you put an end to this convo? Apparently I’m answering wrong, because when I do it opens up dialogue, which results in me just walking away and sometimes being called a ‘bitch.’ ” –A.D.

I’ve been in your shoes — like a lot of woman, especially black women. I say that not to comfort you but to point out how pervasive street harassment is. The tactic that has consistently ceased the extra conversation and kept me safe is to answer, “Nope, my man doesn’t let me have friends.” I also always keep moving.

I can’t guarantee that this will stop a guy from calling you a bitch, especially one who feels so comfortable prying into a stranger’s personal business and relationship dynamic. But saying no and walking away increases the likelihood that the conversation ends, and you will remain safe.

Oddly, there’s been some pushback in some feminist circles about this approach, particularly because women are passing the buck to an unseen and controlling male protector to get out of a harassing situation. In a September story that went viral, Alecia Lynn Eberhardt wrote for Luna that saying, “I have a boyfriend” or the like instead of stating the truth — “You’re harassing me and I’m just not interested” — was the wrong approach.

“We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e., polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not),” Eberhardt wrote. “We’re merely taking the easy exit and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are ‘fair game’ for harassment.”

She has a point. Sort of. I cringe inside every time I need to say, “I have a man” to get some guy to leave me alone because apparently my steady gait, lack of eye contact and unsmiling face don’t convey “I’m not interested in you.” The fact that for a street harasser the demeanor of a woman comes second to “respect” for a man who isn’t even there irks me. It says a lot about how highly too many men think of each other and how little they think of women.

I’d really like to follow Eberhardt’s advice to be blunt and tell most guys to kiss off. In complete frustration, I did try something similar. I’d moved to a new neighborhood, and there was a guy who used to start up with “hey, baby,” “how you doing, baby?” “you look good, baby” as soon as I turned the corner every single day.

One day, I hit the corner and he started up. I kept walking, then stopped, turned and said something akin to “Can you stop? If you want to speak, my name is Demetria. Just say hi.”