This week’s Feminist Fridays post is another installment of the How Do You Deal series. Because there are certain issues in life and in feminism that are tough to talk about on our own, the HDYD series allows many voices the opportunity to share in these discussions, making it easier for us to talk about our beliefs, opinions, and feelings. Each month I ask contributors how they deal with an issue and we each share our thoughts on the matter. This month we are talking about getting hit on. Here are my feelings on this topic:
I generally hate getting hit on, even if the person is trying to be respectful. When I sense respect and genuine romantic interest, I just say “Thanks for your interest, but I’m not interested.” If I feel disrespected, gross or unsafe, I will do my best to ignore the comments. When I use my words to communicate with genuine people or use my best judgment in ignoring a potentially upsetting situation, I feel in control and like I’m being a good human being.
Now let’s hear what my contributors had to say about getting hit on and feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments.
Dealing with getting hit on by men often includes ignoring their advances while simultaneously being aware of my environment. This is sometimes done by putting headphones in my ears and/or just looking away from the harassers. Unfortunately, pretending that these men don’t exist doesn’t stop many of them from continuing saying their unwanted speech so I just ignore and ignore again. My time, my words, and my energy are precious and those men do not deserve one iota of them.
Whenever possible, I like to employ the “kill em’ with kindness” approach to life, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always work because it’s often misinterpreted as interest. With well-meaning but unwanted advances (e.g. from friends who want something more), I usually let them down as nicely as I can. I admit that I have a tendency to want to avoid conflict, and I dislike speaking when angry, so when people are catcalling or being downright rude, I ignore them and keep on walking. A lot of the time, I think they’re just looking to get some kind of a reaction out of me, and when they don’t get one, they [usually] leave me alone.
I differentiate between catcalling and really being hit on because catcalling isn’t about wanting to date or get to know me, it’s about a person feeling like he has ownership over me because I’m a woman with a body in public. That’s a whole other topic, so I’ll focus on being hit on. I live in Portland and run in feminist circles, but I still deal with men who feel entitled to me — it’s just that a lot of these men feel entitled because they also identify as feminists and hey, they’re a hot commodity, right? But I really prefer people who also live out their feminism, like my partner, so this is a big no thanks. The most important thing I do here is to assert my right to say no because I want to say no, rather than shifting into “I have a boyfriend” or “I’m really busy right now” type responses.
I’m still figuring out how best to deal with catcalls or other unwanted attention. Usually, I respond by simply pretending that person doesn’t exist. (Don’t give them the satisfaction of a response, right?) Sometimes I get flustered, but the way I’m learning to deal is by not letting myself feel ashamed or frustrated for not having the perfect comeback, because no stranger on the sidewalk is allowed to make me feel shameful. Reminding myself of that fact is the most empowering way to let it roll right off of me.
When someone seems genuine enough in expressing interest/asking me out, I try to be polite and just say that I’m not looking for anything steady “at the moment”. If it persists, I’ll usually go on to say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel for you like that; you deserve someone that shows as much interest in you as you do in them.” As far as catcalling/harassing goes, if it’s just some stupid teenager or a wolf whistle from a car, I’ll try to ignore it. At times, if I’ve felt the need, I’ve called out boys/men before and told them how despicable their behavior is – it usually results in a “I wasn’t interested in you anyways, you stupid feminist d*ke!” Oh well, all we can do is try, no?
I hate doing it, but I usually go for the silent treatment or take refuge in politeness. It’s potentially more dangerous to stop and confront people who are shouting things at you – especially when they’re hanging around in a pack. And sometimes I’m so caught off guard (like that time when someone in a car flagged me down to ask if I was single when I thought he wanted directions) that exiting the situation is my only goal. I’ve lived in my general neighborhood for a while, and there’s a definite demographic that tends to catcall me. . .so if I see someone coming who fits that profile, I turn my music up a bit. Haven’t been wrong yet, unfortunately.
My wedding band currently wards off undesired sexual advances, but I did deal with both sexual harassment and welcome flirtatious attention when I was single. Contrary to popular belief, the difference between men harassing me and hitting on me appropriately had nothing to do with their physical appearance. Harassment was threatening, persistent, and often explicitly sexual whereas men hitting on me just offered to buy me drinks or chatted me up politely. When possible, I ignored the harassment, or I enlisted the help of a friend to escape the unsafe situation. If I was uninterested in a polite suitor, I just said I wasn’t dating at the time.
The most striking memory of sexual harassment that came to mind when considering this prompt was only a few months ago. I was simply standing outside of my car in a suburban neighborhood, a black BMW drove by and an unseen man called out “Hooker street is a few blocks over!” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that sexual harassment is subtle and done in a way that the harasser can try to play it off as a joke. It didn’t matter who I was or what I was wearing, that man sought to punish me for being female by comparing me to something he believed was distasteful. In its essence, this kind of harassment is meant to show someone that they are dominant and that you, because of your gender, need to be reminded that you do not have ownership of your body.
So now YOU tell us: How do you deal with getting hit on? Do you relate to anyone above?