Is it harassment?

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”

5 Responses to Is it harassment?

  1. Great list! If a clueless guy could answer even two of these questions I think it would stop him. I wish we could post this list on subways!

  2. It’s amazing that this list is a true today as it was around 20 years ago when Bernice Sandler helped to transform a revolution into a solid reaction plan for administrators. These days harassment is looking a lot like bullying (or rather we put bullying on a continuum that includes sex harassment). Maybe we should add. would you mother or your sister be offended by that text message? as sexting is showing up these days. What I found during my years at Caltech is that the men (boys) weren’t thinking about women or girls, or parents, or sisters, they were just rifting off each other when they wrote horrendous things about the women at the school. Bringing them in one-on-one to discuss brought they to great shame but it was obvious they just didn’t think!

  3. Sohan says:

    It is kind of pointless to ask certain men, especially from certain patriarchal cultures, these questions. They would respond that if a woman or girl is not escorted by male relatives in public, they are fair game. They keep their female relatives at home, allow them in public only if escorted, and marry only cloistered virgins.

  4. Caza says:

    Male harrassers have no right whatsover to harrass a woman walking down the/road by herself. They’re SCUMBAGS of the highest order!!!!!!! It’s not their turf!!!! There should be more cop son the beat.

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