girl running awayBetween Jian Ghomeshi and problems in the House of Commons. the taboo surrounding sexual harassment is having a moment these last few weeks, with many women in Canada and worldwide opening up about their own experiences.

So, in the spirit of considering an important issue, I’d like to try something with all of you. Do you remember reading ‘choose your own adventure’ novels as a kid? Well, this is going to be something like that.

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I am going to give you three versions of a story. After reading each of them, I’d like you to tell me which one you’d choose.

THE BACKGROUND:

Let’s say there is a girl running. Let’s say she’s around 20 years old. Let’s say I’ll stop pretending this girl isn’t me now. As I am running, I pass a house with three males sitting on the front porch. They are probably around my age. As I go by, one of them yells “Nice ass, baby! Why don’t you run back over here?” and the other two laugh. I:

A)

Roll my eyes and keep on running, feeling a tad self-conscious. I do not look back. Despite the fact that my normal route would involve me heading home the way I’d come, I choose an alternate route home to avoid the porch.

B)

Turn around and jog back towards the house. All three guys look uncomfortable that I actually turned around and are nervously giggling. I look at the original speaker and say: “Hmm, doesn’t look like I can say the same about you,” flip all three of them the bird and continue running. When I return back the same way, the guys are still on the porch. None of them say anything.

C)

Turn around and jog back towards the house. I explain to the three guys that their comment, however offhand it may have been, made me feel uncomfortable. The phrasing I use is: “Do you really think saying something like that is ever going to make a girl want to date you? The answer is ‘no.’ My advice would be the next time you sit on your front porch and a girl runs by, maybe yell at her to have a great run. I guarantee she’ll appreciate that more.” They apologize and I continue my run. On my way back home, I return the way I’d come. The porch is empty.

So, what do you think is the ‘best’ version of the story? I also wonder if you can guess which one actually happened.

In my quest to search for the best response, I contacted Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, consultant to the United Nations’ Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative and adjunct professor at George Mason University. Despite her wealth of experience, Kearl admitted to being unable to offer a ‘correct’ way to react.

As general advice, she says: “It’s really up to the person to decide how safe they feel and what their comfort level is in responding. A lot of harassment while running is from guys in cars zooming by, so it is hard to be able to do much of anything besides perhaps glare or maybe snap a photo to include in a story on a website like Stop Street Harassment.”

Speaking from a personal perspective, Kearl says, “for me, I have found that when the harassers are on the street too, saying something quick and direct like, “Don’t harass me” or “Stop, that’s harassment” identifies what has just happened, shuts them up, makes me feel a lot better because I’ve stood up for myself, and it’s short enough that it doesn’t interrupt my stride.”

As for me? Well, at the time that I was catcalled, I made the decision to ignore and then take an alternate route home. At the time, I felt as though acknowledging the guys on the porch would encourage them, maybe even make them think that girls like to be yelled at on the street. I hope that more open discussion around this topic means that I will not find myself in this situation again, but if I do, I think I may choose another ‘ending.’


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9 Comments

  • Bobbi De Garmo says:

    Ignore them. Best chance of not turning the situation into something physical.

  • Tug says:

    Yes, I agree with some of your article. But please note, the same comments are made to men yet we are expected to laugh and smile and act as if it’s a compliment. It’s a societal problem, not just a female issue.

  • Guest says:

    Guys get called too you know. I get more than enough comments like “like legs” my way. It goes both ways.

  • Eric Chan says:

    Guys get called too you know. I get more than enough comments like “nice legs” my way. It goes both ways.

    • Scott says:

      An unacceptably high percentage of women are sexually assaulted. A scorned catcaller becoming an attacker is not an unreasonable leap of logic.

      If you can’t see how that’s a factor in this discussion, I’m not sure you can contribute much of value to the conversation. It’s NOT the same for men.

  • mcangrove says:

    Why can’t men just accept that this is a huge issue for women? Why do they always try and make it about themselves? Yes, you do get catcalled sometimes. I know I have. But it is NOTHING compared to what women go through. Not only that, but women also have the added fear of being attacked and overpowered by these harassers. It does not “go both ways”.

    • Steph says:

      THANK YOU.
      I just posted this article, saying essentially this on my Facebook page. But I can’t tell you enough how nice it is to hear someone of the opposite sex echo my feelings and not just brush off what a woman feels or experiences as “not really that bad” or “it happens to me too”.
      So, thanks.

    • Scott says:

      Well said.

  • Caela Fenton says:

    I am by no means trying to belittle possible male catcalling experiences. As a female, I only have the ability to elaborate on my own interactions. However, I would dare to venture to guess that most catcalling directed towards guys would also be from other males. This, to me, signals that the problem of catcalling in general needs to be addressed as inappropriate–not simply towards women, but towards anyone. If you don’t have anything positive (and sarcasm does not count as positive in my opinion) to say to the runner passing by, don’t say anything at all.

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