Many men must know their street harassment behavior is wrong (especially based on how many of them only do it when women are alone or do it in such a way that women can’t react or don’t know which man in the group was the harasser). I think that some men, though, simply have never thought about it and just assume they have free reign to say and do whatever they want because they’re men. But they don’t necessarily intend on insulting and frightening women in the process.
Until there is better socialization and education that stops men from harassing women and until there are more penalties for those who do harass, the first group of men may sadly be a lost cause. For the latter men who are just blissfully ignorant about the damage of their behavior, here are questions* they can ask themselves to determine if their actions/words toward unknown women in public spaces are harassment:
Would I mind if someone treated my spouse, partner, girlfriend, mother, sister, or daughter this way?
Would I mind if this person told my spouse, partner, girlfriend, mother, sister, or daughter what I was saying and doing?
Would I do this if I was with my spouse, partner, girlfriend, mother, sister, or daughter?
Would I be comfortable saying the same thing or acting the same way to my mother, sister or daughter?
Would I do this if the parent, spouse, or boyfriend of the other person was present?
When a person objects to my behavior to I apologize and stop, or do I get angry instead?
Is my behavior reciprocated? Are there specific indications of pleasure – not ‘she didn’t object’ but specific behaviors indicating she is pleased by my behavior?
Would I mind if a reporter wanted to write about what I was doing?
(Keep in mind that if you have to ask, such behavior is likely to be high risk and it is probably better to not do it.)
I realize there are limitations to these questions because some guys disrespect all women, including their mothers/sisters/girlfriends, but they’re a start.
What else would you tell men to ask themselves to determine if their behavior is harassment?
*I’ve adapted these from Women’s Research and Education Institute Senior Scholar Bernice Sandler’s document “How Men (and Women) Can Tell if Their Behavior is Sexual Harassment”