Bullish Q&A: How to Maintain Your Gravitas in the Face of Street Harassment

Dear Jen,

I’m moving back to the city after 6 years in the suburbs. Excited as I am I’m also anxious about reentering the world of catcalls & people following me home from the subway. I feel that by removing myself from that for so long, I’ve rebuilt a kind of dignity, and that I’m about to lose it again. (Sort of, I imagine, like one gives it up with a baby – you love it so damn much that you’re resigned to getting poop on you.) Is there anything I can do to hang on to a little dignity this time around?

How apropos of you to send this just as the Hollaback street harassment video has made the rounds and garnered the (sadly unsurprising) backlash.

Yes, street harassment sucks.

The number one thing I like to say to street harassers is:

“That’s not an appropriate way to talk to a woman you don’t know.”

Sometimes a guy is walking by too fast to get the whole thing out, so I say, “That’s not appropriate,” in a sort of dead monotone.

There’s no good response to that. “Yes, it is very appropriate.” Hardly. I usually just get a startled, turned-off silence.

I don’t know how old you are, but you’re six years older than before, and the stern, buzzkill schoolmarm thing only gets better with age. I may in fact be at the very peak in my lifetime of looking pleasant enough without attracting too much undue attention. It’s great. I wish my 24-year-old self could have felt so unburned while trying to go from place to place like a person who goes places and does things. (Not that street harassment is restricted to people who look a certain way. It happens to a lot of people. It’s complicated.)

Alternately, imagine yourself as a boss, and this guy just killed his chances for a raise, but it’s really only worth a second or two of your thoughts because you have a company to manage.

That said, I find that street harassment varies greatly by neighborhood, and you certainly can avoid some of it. If you haven’t found an apartment yet, make sure to do some walking around the neighborhood, alone, before you move into it.

Incidentally, I don’t think changing a baby’s diapers involves a loss of dignity. It’s not really that different from managing your own bathroom habits, and I’ve never heard anyone really complain that wiping their own ass was so terrible that it was really affecting their gravitas or quality of life.

Go forth, newly-urban person, and remember: “That’s not an appropriate way to talk to a woman you don’t know.” Maybe someday I’ll post some selfies of the stern — and yet confused, and yet disgusted — look with which I tend to accompany that statement.