How to Talk to Girls on the Street

June 30, 2009

Wow, I accidentally came across articles which are each called some variation of “How to Talk to Girls on the Street.”  I’m going on the assumption that these are real articles… From one of them:

“…One of the most challenging things for men in the dating scene is approaching women on the street. Like any learned skill the more you practice approaching women the better you will get. So the easy solution in learning how to talk to women on the street is to simply approach more of them. But this is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you might be walking in one direction and she is walking opposite and toward you. It can be very awkward because she’s going one way and you’re going the other way so it’s not very natural to just walk up and say something. Or is it? The reality is that you can approach anyone, anywhere, and virtually at any time…”

A friendly smile or hello from a stranger of any sex can often lift someone’s spirits. I also recognize that strangers can and do meet in public and form relationships, be they one night stands or lifetime commitments. What bothers me about these articles is the assumption that any girl/woman (preferably attractive, right?) on the street who is not already with a man is publicly available for a man’s attention and he is free to approach any and all of them if he just gets up the courage and learns how to do it well.

I’m reading Sue Wise & Liz Stanley’s book Georgie Porgie: Sexual Harassment in Everyday Life (published in 1987) and something I read today relates exactly to these articles.

“As marriage is taken to indicate a woman’s perpetual sexual consent to the desires of her husband [when this was written rape was still legal within marriage in many places], so womanhood is taken to indicate a woman’s perpetual consent to the attentions of whatever man: unless a particular man owns the property in question it’s taken to be public property” (Stanley and Wise, 176).

Let me try to explain further why I see these articles as being misguided.

Raise your hand if you mostly are harassed when you are alone or with female friends! In my informal, anonymous survey I conducted last fall, female respondents said they were harassed the most when they were #1 alone and #2 when they were with female friends. The absence of men seems to imply women are sexually available and just dying to be approached on the street. I’ve learned from several women’s stories that wearing a wedding ring or being with one’s children doesn’t always prevent harassment either because the men who “own” the women and/or children aren’t actually present.

Side but related note:  I’ve  found that when men do harass women who are with other men, it’s often directed at the man about how lucky he is to be with a hot woman, or something along those lines. This even happened to me two years ago when I was out with my boyfriend and a man started talking to him about me like I was a car he was admiring. We were both stunned.

The men writing and reading the articles don’t seem to care to take into account that – depending on the time of day – most women are out in public because they are traveling to/from work or school or stores or out getting exercise or walking a dog and they have no interest whatsoever in being detained by men testing out pick-up lines or trying to improve their game or improve their confidence at approaching women by “hitting” on them. No matter what their reason for being in public, many women who are not looking for a new romantic or sexual relationship are not going to be interested in having men approach them this way. These articles also assume that all women are heterosexual; what about women who only date women? They really don’t want to be approached by men in a sexual way. And the articles don’t adequately address how unnerving, scary, or annoying it can be to be approached by unknown men in public, particularly in isolated areas or at night.

So these men would be better off following advice like this on how to talk to girls/women on the street:

1. Don’t assume a girl or woman is single, heterosexual, and/or interested in being “hit on” or picked up just because she’s in public.

2. Instead of whistling, honking, touching, or saying something about the way she looks as a way of saying hi, treat her like a normal human being and actually say hello and smile or nod.

3. If you want to engage her in conversation, see #2. If she says hello back and doesn’t hurry away or look away, then you can try to politely and respectfully start a conversation about something inoffensive and preferably not about her body parts. Take cues from her whether to continue the conversation. If she looks busy, distracted, or nervous, leave her alone! She may not have the time or inclination to talk. Or you may be the third or fourth man to approach her that day – even if it’s done politely this is wearisome and annoying. Don’t be rude if she doesn’t talk to you. You don’t know her personal history or what’s on her mind or her schedule. Be respectful of her as a human. Don’t force her to be rude to you in order to get you to leave her alone.

4. Never approach her in an isolated area or at night because that makes most women nervous or scared.

What’s your advice to men who want to talk to girls/women on the street?


June 29, 2009

There is a problem in the Hispanic Male community. I don’t want this to sound racist, and I apologize if it does. I moved recently from Lincoln Square (North side of Chicago) to Albany Park (2 miles west) and am now in a neighborhood that is a large percentage Hispanic. I want to point out that most of the people are very friendly and I like them. However, since it has gotten warm outside, I have been catcalled, harassed, and followed by men in cars at least once a week.

This has never happened to me before in my life and I am 32 years old and have lived on the North Side of Chicago for over 10 years. The men are always Latino. There is no other explanation other than culture for why this has started happening all of the sudden to me.

To those in the Hispanic/Latino community who care about this issue – PLEASE, teach your boys that it is NOT ok to harass women like they’re meat on the street? There is something wrong with a culture that teaches men that is acceptable.


Location: Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois

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[Editor’s note: While I have a policy against racism, I chose to post her submission as she sent it  because I did not feel her experiences or opinions were voiced in a malicious or hateful way. Race does play a role in much of gender-based public harassment, especially in the U.S. where race means many things to different people, and so I think it’s important to have dialogue on the issue if it’s done with the purpose of learning and addressing the problem and not being racist. Please see my related post on “piropos” for more about street harassment in Hispanic culture.

But I will note, men of all races harass women of all races and really, American culture teaches men this is acceptable just as much as any other. Just read comments from American men and some women when mainstream news or blogs cover catcalling or more benign forms of street harassment. Inevitably some of the commenters declare the behavior is flattering and men’s right and women ask for it by the way they dress and women overreact and blah blah blah.]


June 29, 2009

From women – both Latina and not – whose street harassment stories I’ve read have commented on the volume of harassment they receive from Hispanic men due to the culture of machismo. I know men of all races harass women of all races, but this viewpoint is common enough that it is one I am exploring.

A few months ago, a woman in Colombia who, as part of her PhD work, is examining how people justify violence against women in Colombia, contacted me because she was interested in my research. One of her case studies focused on a woman’s experience being groped in public by a stranger. We exchanged a few e-mails and she shared the following with me when I asked her about street harassment in Colombia.

One more thing you might be interested in…in Hispanic countries there is a cultural history of a sort of courtship in the streets.  “Piropos” ( are probably the best way to name this historical-cultural act. If you use the word ‘piropo,’ many people will tell you how beautiful and wonderful they are.  However, if one looks closely, there are definitions of piropo which also include unpleasant piropos, such as ‘you look like a nice f*ck’, and ‘I want to suck your …’.  There are those who would say that any piropo too directly related to sex is vulgar and uncalled for.  Also, piropos don’t have to only be verbal.  Some articles mention that they might be accompanied by a ‘touch.’  I know that many women will say they don’t mind or even like the nice piropos, but no one likes a quick stranger grope nor a vulgar comment.”

I recently read an article by Joan Fayer entitled “Changes in Gender Use of Public Space in Puerto Rico” which further educated me about “piropos,” which seems to be a tradition adopted by many (most? all?) Hispanic cultures from the Spanish. I found the article to be very useful, so I’m including highlights from it below.

Fayer says that piropos are “compliments or flattering comments traditionally given by men to women” which are “more than ever restricting equal access of women to public space. The hostile environment piropos create by making women ‘open’ to all and any other comments by men” (Fayer, 214).

Piropos were originally compliments given by aristocratic Spanish men to women as a way to admire their beauty and grace. Over time, piropos spread to other social classes and to Hispanic areas. Apparently, piropos used to be fairly prim and proper but gradually vulgar piropos creeped in so that today there’s a good mixture of both being given by men (Fayer, 216).  In fact, in Spain a law passed in 1931 prohibiting piropos and related gestures that were impolite and vulgar and violation of said law resulted in a fine or a jail sentence of 5 to 20 days (can you imagine if the US had a similar law!?!).

She  says, “Machismo, as a public act, is evident in street culture in Puerto Rico and other Hispanic countries in which men control public space not only by looking at women, but also verbally by giving women piropos – compliments that can range from the polite and poetic to the vulgar” (Fayer, 216).

“Piropos are typically given on streets by a man or a group of men as they pass by a woman or women they do not know or as the women pass them…Today piropos are usually given when walking, but it also possible for males to shout from cars to women who are walking or who are themselves in cars. Although they are more common from young men to young women, there are no age restrictions. Some men give piropos all their adult lives; however, there are some men who never give piropos. Although class distinctions may be a factor, there are men of all social classes who would never make comments about women in public” (Fayer, 217-218).

“The conventional female response is to ignore piropos, both verbally and nonverbally. The woman may be flattered, offended, or feel sexually harassed, but to respond in any way is ‘to ask for trouble.’ Women who are offended by piropos may, if possible, avoid areas in which piropos are common. Avoiding piropos ‘areas’ thus limits the access women have to public space. Recently, there has been a change in the response women make to piropos. Some female teenagers who receive vulgar piropos now turn to the males and say, ‘Would you say that to your mother/sister?’ ‘Go to hell,’ and so on. These young women are claiming more equal access to public streets; they do not just avoid piropos ‘areas'” (Fayer, 218).

“Piropos given by women on the streets can also be vulgar…however there are differences in the way women give men piropos in public space. Women almost always give piropos when they are in groups on the street or when they are in cars. For a woman to say something when she is alone would be too dangerous. The group or the car insures protection and prevents the male from interpreting the remark as an invitation” (Fayer, 219).

“Public space can also become a hostile environment when women become targets of both piropos and other types of verbal and nonverbal harassment” (Fayer, 220).

Fayer’s conclusion for the article as related to piropos is that they are largely male to female and thus permit “men to intrude and sexually harass women in their personal space in public areas. This hostile environment serves to restrict the access women have to public space…The gendered use of public space in Puerto Rico indicates that although there have been recent changes, social organization and public space continues to be male dominated” (Fayer, 223).

Does anyone know more about piropos and the way it impacts the way Hispanic men treat women in public spaces? Also, the article focused on heterosexual piropos, but are same-sex piropos ever given?

North London

June 29, 2009

The road close to my street in London is a constant location for harassment. Men hang out in the cafes on the road and leer at passing women in a sometimes threatening, always horrible way. My housemate understandably refuses to walk down the road, I refuse not to.

On Friday night I was walking home at 1 a.m and I was pursued by a man who kept calling out to me. He then started shouting abusively when I became nervous and sped off home, somehow he was offended that a woman walking home late alone would become nervous when pursued by a random stranger. On Sunday, returning from the shops a couple of guys harassed me and turned verbally abusive when I told them where to get off. Action really needs to be taken about this, I’ve considered complaining to my local council. Otherwise I might end up flykicking a stranger in the street!


Location: North London, England

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Street Harassment Round Up – June 28

June 28, 2009


Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

In the News:

  • The Telegraph in the UK had an article about colleges in India who are banning certain women’s clothing in an attempt to cut down on the “eve teasing” women students receive from men.

Street Harassment Resource of the Week: