Please note. . .

Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

As of 3/1/08, I will no longer be working on this blog. Please read this post for more details.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Flirtation vs. Harassment

Avocado in Paradise did this great write-up on flirting vs. harassing that she asked to publish on DBS:

Some guys know how to flirt in a good way and others seem to only know how to harass. Flirting can be a pleasant exchange for both parties, reaffirming each others' attractiveness and social skills innocently and then going your separate ways. Or it can turn uncomfortable and make one person not want to walk past the place that it happened again, and presumably make the other person depressed that I never took their invitation to email or call. When it goes badly, it makes me much less likely to be open to these pleasant exchanges in the future. The clueless or willfully jerky guys are ruining it for everyone and making women in the city have to be cold and standoffish to everyone.

Let me contrast two encounters I've had in the last 72 hours. One went well and the other not so well.

Yesterday as I was getting on the metro on the way home I had to squeeze through the doors past a well-dressed rather cute guy who was standing in the doorway. I got on at Smithsonian, the one stop within about 10 where the doors open on the right side. They open on the left at all the other stops around there so people who feel like standing stand on the right side and just move out of the way if anyone gets on at Smithsonian. People rarely get on there at rush hour, and if they do they're a family of tourists, so he seemed surprised that I was getting on there as he moved aside and that made me smile a little.

After a little while I get off at my stop, and he gets off there too. On the escalator he says hello and asks if I'm from France. I say "no" and laugh a little at the absurdity because I get asked that a lot. He then acts kind of embarrassed and asks if I have a sister in the city who's from France, like he's met someone who looks like me who was. I say no, thinking that if he says anything else it'll be something like what I've encountered before (saying he's met someone who looks like me who was, or that I have an accent).

Instead of anything normal, he proceeds to ask my name and where I work, saying he works for the government when I ask where he works (rather than answer straight, annoyed that he's asking me that kind of stuff). I mean, why start grilling me? Weirdo. If you want a little flirtation you talk about the weather, the arts festival happening up the street, something about the metro. You know, pleasant stuff that's innocuous.

I get off the first escalator and walk quickly away trying to leave him in the dust. Suddenly he's next to me again asking if I live around here, asking if I want to get coffee sometime, & saying something about how he has to go to his car. I say no I can't, look straight ahead and walk quicker, get to the escalator to the surface and walk up it, trying to leave him behind.

He apparently follows closely, because at the top of the escalator he's right there saying he lives right around here, and giving me a card with his government email address written on the back. I take it, trying not to do anything to make this weirdo mad, figuring there's a better chance he'll leave me alone if I don't piss him off by not taking his card. He explains that he ran out of cards but wrote his address on the back. The card is for a shoe repair place, Cobbler's Bench at Union Station.

At that point I'm finally able to lose him by walking away quickly and not looking back. I proceed to take a meandering route home in case he's following me, checking behind me every couple blocks. Why are guys so creeeeepyyyyy??? Why do we have to deal with this crap just trying to get home?

Let me contrast this unpleasant behavior with that I encountered the night before. Thinking back, the night before's events might explain why I responded pleasantly at first when he asked if I was from France.

I stopped on the way home to get a slice of pizza to go, and had a nice conversation with the Egyptian order taker guy for 5 minutes till it was ready. There were no other customers so it was normal to chat. He was tall, late 20s, with curly dark hair, looked like he could be a movie star but was instead stuck in a pizza place.

It started similarly, he asked where I was from. I said here and he said I looked like I was from Russia. I said that my family is actually from there. Part of it is, back a few generations. We laughed as he described how he used to have a family living next door who was Russian and they all looked exactly like me. That was neat since I never really knew anyone from that part of the family. They're like a mystery so it was neat to hear about how I looked just like some Russian folks who recently immigrated. Russia is such a huge ethnically diverse country that I probably don't look like most people from Russia. It's probably just a certain ethnic group in a certain region that my family fled. I think they left around 1900 when the czars were overthrown. I like to think that perhaps they were part of the rich, ruling elite and had to flee when the famous, ill fated peasant uprising happened.

Anyway, I asked where he was from and he said Egypt. I said "Oooh! You have lots of nice tourist attractions there." You know, making pleasant small talk. I was about to go on about how I'd like to see the pyramids but probably won't get to anytime soon due to politics and the way they don't like Americans there right now.

Before I could say that he said something about how Russians are beautiful people. I was feeling down that day (had a big bug bite on my face and no makeup on, sweaty from working out) so I must have looked wistful in response, and he added "you're beautiful too!" That was nice. We all love random compliments when they're not accompanied by creepiness! I laughed and looked at him, thinking how to respond and he added, Egyptian women are beautiful too! I agreed heartily and we started talking about belly dancing, which is from there. A friend of mine used to take belly dancing classes for exercise and he laughed and said he recently saw a workout video about that. Etc etc. It was just a nice conversation. Then my pizza was ready, and we said "have a good night" and I left. I think we both felt nice after that exchange.

Guys -- remember that it's good to talk to women like that. Just have normal conversations when both parties feel like it. It builds up both people's ability to be attractive and engaging, and eventually you'll meet a woman who wants to have coffee with you. She'll send off signals and will either ask for your email address, or pause dramatically before leaving hoping you'll ask for hers. She'll appear reluctant to leave when it's time to go, and I think that's the real signal to ask for her digits or email. I didn't project that in either of these situations. One guy noticed, the other didn't. You definitely don't just immediately ask for our numbers and then follow us around. Yuck yuck yuck.

Great advice! Men, please realize there is a difference between reasonably getting to know a woman better and flat-out harassing them.


Blackbeard said...

HM. In instance number one, she could've said, "I've got a boyfriend, sorry" and ended the whole thing right there. Harassment? Hardly.

voodooval421 said...

@Blackbeard: You obviously have no idea what you're talking about. Following a woman around when she is OBVIOUSLY trying to get away from you and asking for information that you have NO right to, as she is damn near RUNNING from you, IS harassment. And by the way, telling a harasser that you have a significant other isn't always a deterrent. In fact, from personal experience, it RARELY is.

avocadoinparadise said...

Well why should I be forced to lie? Lieing makes me uncomfortable. I'm not sure if it was technically harrassment, but it sure made me feel icky and uncomfortable. It's an example of how it sucks to be treated in this city. Not as extreme as many posted on DBS, granted.

I've had this sort of thing happen multiple times and it makes me feel so uncomfortable. Women shouldn't have to feel that way when they're just going about their normal activities.

I am trying to help these guys by explaining to them what they're doing wrong and how it's making us feel. You know, activly try to improve the situation instead of just passively living with it, by not being silent... "Be the change you want to see in the world..." and all that jazz.

SarahMC said...

And also, blackbeard, the fact that you suggest using your "fake boyfriend" as an excuse to avoid creepy men just goes to show that men take other men more seriously than they take women. If I, a woman, tell a guy I'm not interested, he's going to keep pestering me until I tell him I have a boyfriend, at which point he finally leaves me alone (this doesn't always happen, of course). Telling guys you have a boyfriend in order to stop unwanted attention just perpetuates the notion that women are chapperoned at all times by men. MY word (not a boyfriend's existance) should be enough.

Golden Silence said...

Blackbeard, when someone is trying to get away from you and you're chasing that person like there's no tomorrow, that is harassment. Many people take Metro and conversations are started on it, but when Avocado was through with the conversation and trying to get to her destination, the dude should've gotten the hint and moved on. But nope, he followed her, kept pressing her and I doubt he would've taken "no" for an answer. Desperation is not attractive at all.

Anytime a person feels threatened, it's harassment. And why would she have to lie? When I deal with persistent men who do that "got a boyfriend?" mess (aggravating in itself) I say "No...but I'm not interested in you." And if they don't take "no" for an answer, they've just revealed the kind of men they are.

Blackbeard, I'm sorry you can't see the other side and "get it," and that you haven't come back to defend yourself. It's probably for the best.

AO said...

sarahmc... your comment is dead on. and i think women are almost immune to this kind of treatment now... to the point that we don't see it for what it truly is (i.e., abuse, stalking, etc.).

Jeff Deutsch said...


I think there are good points all around.

Avocado in Paradise, SarahMC and Golden Silence are absolutely right: one shouldn't have to lie (or even tell the truth) about having a SO.

As SarahMC put it: "MY word (not a boyfriend's existance) should be enough." I couldn't have said it better myself.

I completely agree with Golden Silence's line in response to "Got a boyfriend?" - she says "No...but I'm not interested in you." That straightforward approach really helps everyone...including the man in question, who can then much more quickly go on to other things.

On the other hand, having used the Metro for many years I can say that a hurried pace in a Metro stop and then outside doesn't necessarily mean - and thus shouldn't be assumed to mean - that the person is trying to get away from whoever is with him/her. Depending on the situation, s/he may be in a hurry and may not necessarily mind the other person tagging along without slowing him/her down.

Now, in this particular case, given the questions the man was asking Avocado in Paradise and his evasiveness in return, his attentions do seem creepy. (Perhaps she might consider reporting the incident, including the specific email address, to an appropriate person at the government agency?)

I will also say that harassment is a strong word. You do have a right to leave (almost) any situation you want to, for whatever reason. But that does not necessarily mean that the other person involved is harassing you. Harassment implies knowledge and intent. If you feel threatened, the other person may or may not know how you feel and may or may not intend to bother you despite your lack of interest. That needs to be determined on a case by case basis.

Avocado in Paradise, I especially appreciate your explanation of the respective cues at the end of your story. You are absolutely right in that it is better to light a candle than to (merely) curse the darkness. I certainly hope some people learn from it and make everyone better off. (I also hope you will still have patience with those who haven't yet read your wisdom, or who have a harder time reading cues.)


Jeff Deutsch