Street Harassment: What Men Can Learn

His Side: Guys say it's just a compliment, but when a woman doesn't think so, what can he say?

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Now, I know what some men are going to say: These women have attitude problems. They can't take a compliment. If we all looked like Idris Elba, they would not be saying we're harassers.

Unfortunately, with the exception of maybe Idris Elba himself, no one can tell these women they're wrong.

My average for successfully approaching random women in public spaces is about .500. If I were a baseball slugger with those types of numbers, I would be in the hall of fame. Which is to say, I have done pretty well.

When I have been unable to engage a woman, I've backed off immediately. That's the gentlemanly thing to do. It's also ego -- the only thing more embarrassing than the first rejection is a second rejection by the same woman.

Fortunately this has kept me out of that muddy area known as street harassment.

One of my biggest concerns about the street-harassment discussion is how one-sided it has become. Women have taken the lead, and rightfully so, considering they are the victims of street harassment most of the time. Hollaback, an organization against street harassment that was founded by three men and one woman, says on its website, "particularly men are unaware of the frequency and severity of disrespect that numerous folks, especially women, experience in public spaces."

There's Hanna Price, who took it upon herself to turn her camera lens on men who said something to her while she was out in public. The images of the men -- all black -- are telling. Tatayana Fazlalizadeh, a black woman living in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y., has waged a public guerilla-style art series entitled "Stop Telling Women to Smile." Fazlalizadeh  paints images of young women's responses to things they have heard from men in public spaces. One of them is "My name is not 'Baby.' " Holly Kearl is the founder of Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization that addresses gender-based street harassment around the world.

I see behavior like this from all sorts of men, uptown in Harlem where I live or at construction sites in midtown Manhattan. I laugh at the men's attempts, not because they're rude (they are) but because I know they won't work.

The problem is when the behavior of these men spills over to those of us who are looking for more meaningful relationships. I know that as a man, if I want to meet a woman, I have to be the "aggressor." This is what all young men are taught. We have to go up to a woman we don't know and initiate conversation. I think I know how to approach women. I also know what it means to be a misogynist or a male chauvinist, and I try to avoid exhibiting any behavior that would garner me such labels. Yet I've had women say they didn't want to hear phrases I used because those, too, constituted a softer form of street harassment.

Certainly listening to what kind of experiences women endure on a daily basis helps us better understand what they're going through. But men need to be part of this discussion. Just like we offer each other tips on how to pick up women, we should also be sharing tips on how to avoid offending women, and a good place to start would be with empathy through experience.