Don’t Be a Harasser! How to Earn Consent on the StreetsFebruary 12, 2011
How can you talk to someone — or meet someone — in a public place like the street, a park, or a bus stop without being a harasser?
This question is also often on the minds of men who read my blog, Stop Street Harassment, or attend talks that I give about my book. I am happy to answer it. After all, if you tell someone what is not appropriate behavior, it is important to tell them what is appropriate.
I also recently had an opportunity to explore this question in a video interview with Ben Privot, founder of the Consensual Project, as we chatted about consent on the streets. (AAUW gets a shout out early in the video, which was filmed in one of our meeting rooms.)
Here are two of the points that I make.
1. The most important factor is treating the person with respect. Do not use insults or sexually objectifying language. A hello, a smile, or gender-neutral small talk that does not include comments about appearance (at least not right away) are rarely going to offend anyone and can open up the door to further conversation. Avoid familiar terms like “baby,” “honey,” or “love.” While some people may not find that offensive, many do.
2. Consider if the context might make the person you are approaching feel uncomfortable. For example, is it dark out or are you in a deserted area? Are you larger or older than them? Are you with friends while they are alone? If any of these factors apply, be aware that they may feel a little unsafe or unsure if you approach. So make it clear that you mean no harm and then leave them alone if they look uncomfortable.
I think having these conversations, especially with young men, is so important. Most men don’t want to be harassers, but a lot of the messaging they receive in the media, from their peers, and from their families says that it’s okay and required of them to be aggressive, rude, and sexually objectifying with people they encounter. And if they listen to those messages, they can become harassers.
So something we can all do is talk to each other about appropriate ways to interact with strangers in public. What contexts or circumstances make some interactions fun and some scary? What words or actions do? How can we be respectful people without being boring?
You can learn some of the answers to these questions at the Consensual Project website. If you’re at a college campus, please check out the organization and consider bringing Privot’s workshop about how to have consent in your relationships to your campus.