The silly defenses of street harassment continue to roll out, with many men angrily insisting that women are overreacting to men just being nice and saying “hi”. (I want any man who does this to give me his phone number so I can text him 100 times a day with demands for attention disguised as banal greetings and see how he likes it. Or I would, if I had the time.) Even Michael Che of Saturday Night Live got crabby with women over this, disingenuously and poutingly writing, “I want to apologize to all the women I’ve harassed with statements like ‘hi’ or ‘have a nice day.’”
Here’s what I don’t get about this whining: Okay, let’s just entertain for a moment the idea that women, as an entire gender, are a bunch of hysterical overreactors who think that an occasional “hi” is some kind of assault. Let’s just play along with that for a moment. Then the answer is still to leave them the fuck alone. Sometimes people don’t like stuff you think is cool or perfectly innocent. My boyfriend doesn’t like eggs. My mom doesn’t like punk rock. These are things I like. Do I react to this difference of opinion by constantly shoving eggs in his face or blaring punk rock at her while saying, “You SHOULD like it and I’m going to KEEP DOING IT until you learn to like it!” No, that would make me an asshole. So even if you think women should like being hollered at all fucking day—and again, I recommend having someone text you banalities 100 times a day to make sure you really think that it’s so wonderful getting all this attention before you open your fool mouth again on the subject—women told you they don’t like it. Persisting is clearly just an effort to hurt and punish them for not giving you what you want.
And that it’s about what you want and not what they want is screamingly clear, harasser dudes. Elon James did a smashing job of demonstrating the truth of that with the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag. Responding to the bad faith arguments from men who rationalize bugging women by saying they’re just trying to be nice, James tweeted this:
Im so confused as to why dudes are complaining about not being able to say hi to women. Go say hi to other dudes if you need to so bad.
— Elon James White (@elonjames) October 29, 2014
This led to the hashtag, where people mocked the idea of straight men speaking to each other this way by simply imagining men saying the same shit to each other that they say to women. The point was made extremely clear: Men aren’t “just” saying hi. They are being extremely selective at who they say hi to and it’s based primarily on who they think owes them attention. If, in fact, we actually lived in a culture where everyone was chattering at strangers all day, it would be miserable, especially in pedestrian-heavy cities like New York. Only women have to put up with this bullshit. That is why it is sexist, even if you take the weird sexual bullshit out of the equation.
And again, if you were just saying hi, the fact that your targets don’t like it would cause you to reconsider your behavior. If you’re trying to be nice to people, the first rule is to do things they like instead of constantly badger them with behaviors they have indicated they don’t like.
Over and over again we are told that men just want to “brighten” our day or make us “feel good.” But this was never about women’s feelings. If it were, then the moment mass numbers of women started speaking out about street harassment, these men would collectively go, “Oh, oops, I guess that didn’t make you feel so good.”
Instead, they insist over and over again that we actually do like it or that we’re actually too sensitive or that we would like it if only the guys were hotter or that feminism has ruined us.
It was never about how it makes women feel. It was always about how it makes men feel.
That’s the thing that makes this entire debate so maddening. Even if the guys defending street harassment are arguing in good faith when they say they mean well—and let’s be clear, I do not believe this is true, as you can feel the undercurrent of aggression in 90% of the “nice” street harassment you get, an undercurrent that makes it super clear that any reaction you offer will turn this encounter real sour real fast—that still doesn’t matter. The argument still assumes that what men want is the only thing that matters and women exist for no other purpose than to serve. That’s why these encounters that supposedly start “nice” always go sour so fast, because they always start from the assumption that a woman exists to serve and so when she fails to react how a man wants when he harasses her, he gets mad at her for not performing the purpose for which he believes she is here exclusively to serve, which is please men. That’s all this struggle is really over, ultimately: How we see women. Are they people who have a right to move around the world freely? Or are they a service class to entertain and please men? And how you react to this debate says a lot about where you fall on that question.