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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(The Root) — 1. “Smile, girl.”

2. “God bless you.”

3. “Slow down, I really wanna get to know you.”

4. “Hey, beautiful.”

5. “What that mouth do?”

If you know that one of these expressions is not like the others, you’re a regular guy (correct answer is No. 2). If you can spot the most offensive phrase in this group, you’re probably a good man (correct answer is No. 5). If you have said any of the other phrases (Nos. 1, 3 or 4), you’re probably a man who considers himself a gentleman. You’re the type who would never disrespect a woman. Whenever you tell a woman who’s passing you by that she’s beautiful, you’re paying her a compliment, and there’s no harm in that, right?

As a man, I am apt to agree. But you’re not talking to me; you’re talking to her. However well-intended your words may be, however respectful you think you are, your words are usually falling on exhausted ears. Ears that have heard it all before and hear it everyday.

Whether it’s with our admiring eyes or with our words, women are fed up.

And gentlemen, they are talking bad about us.

We’re perpetrators of street harassment. We don’t have any home training. We don’t know how to respect women. And what may be the biggest offense of them all: Our game is utterly and completely wack and unoriginal.

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.