How to Talk to Women in Public

In societies of gender inequality, men and women may have different views about what is appropriate stranger interaction in public places. Thus men may not know (or care)  how to interact with women in ways that will be the least offensive or threatening. For men who do care and do not want to offend or threaten women, the following tips can guide their interactions (and if this sounds too dumbed down, I agree but it seems to be necessary given some men’s attitudes about commenting on and harassing women in public):

  • Treat women like human beings, with respect and dignity.
  • If you want to say hello to a woman, just smile and nod or say hello. Do not whistle, honk, or make kissy noises at her. Do not say, “Hey baby,” or “Hi cutie.” Those are disrespectful and inappropriate actions and terms to use with a complete stranger.
  • The way a woman is dressed does not tell you if she wants to be commented on. If she looks dressed up, do not assume it is to gain the admiration of all men she sees and that you should say something to her. She may enjoy dressing up, she may be dressed up for an event, or she may be dressed up to gain the admiration of a specific person or persons. Unless she has a sign on that says, “Please comment on my looks,” do not do it.
  • Stranger rape and harassment are real threats for women. If you find yourself alone with a woman in a deserted parking garage, road, or park, especially at night., keep a respectful distance and do not approach her.

Unless the comments or actions of men who want to flirt or meet a woman in public to date or “hook up” with are welcome by the woman, they constitute harassment. Here are several things to teach men so they can avoid being a harasser:

  • Do not assume all women are single, heterosexual or bisexual, or interested in male attention or in forming a relationship.
  • Differences or similarities in race, class, and age between you and the woman and the woman’s sexual orientation can cause her to interpret attention a certain way.
  • Women deserve the same right to privacy in public that most men enjoy, and many women will view a man who approaches her for any reason other than a gender-neutral one, such as asking for directions, the time, or to offer assistance, as violating their privacy, and they may be rude or hostile.
  • Most of the time, women do not want to be approached for a date by a man in public places like the street or at a bus stop. Women are usually in public for a reason: to commute to school or work, to run errands, or to get exercise, not to meet men. There are times when a woman may be open to meeting someone in public, but they are rare, so keep in mind that chances are great that if you approach a woman, she will not want to meet you to form a relationship.
  • If you do approach a woman, try not to do so if it is dark out, if it is a deserted area, if there are no other people around, or if you are with your friends while she is alone. All of these factors can make women feel threatened by any man approaching them.
  • Never follow a woman without a good reason, like she dropped her wallet and you are trying to return it. Aside from assault, men following women is the behavior women feel the most threatened by when they are alone in public.
  • Only approach a woman when she does not appear to be in a hurry or preoccupied. Initiate the interaction by smiling at her and/or saying hello. If, and only if, she smiles and/or says hello back and then does not hurry away, look away, or otherwise try to ignore you, then you can say something else to her that is respectful and polite, including flirtatious remarks.
  • If you say hello and/or smile and the woman hurries away, ignores you or responds rudely, leave her alone. She may not have the time or desire to talk, so be respectful of her schedule and feelings. She may have had a bad harassment or assault experience and now is wary of all men who approach her. You may be the third or fourth person to approach her that day and even if done politely, it can become wearisome and annoying.
  • If a woman initiates a conversation with you, be polite and respectful in your responses. If at any point during a conversation a woman looks uncomfortable, gives you one word answers, looks away, or tries to leave, follow her cues and stop talking. If she does not resume the conversation, leave her alone.
  • If in any doubt about your behavior, ask yourself the following questions, adopted from Dr. Bernice Sandler’s guide “How Men (and Women) Can Tell if Their Behavior is Sexual 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?
    • When a person objects to my behavior do I apologize and stop, or do I get angry instead?
    • Is my behavior reciprocated? Are there specific indications of pleasure and not “she didn’t object”?

Further Reading:

8 Responses to How to Talk to Women in Public

  1. I want a t-shirt with all that tips, so I can say to guys: “Have a look here, that’s what you’ve done wrong.”

  2. StickCantC says:

    @thoughtsunderconstruction, not that I’m trying to be a pain, but I thought the last thing you’d want to do is tell a man to look at your chest…

    Seriously though, I’m quite glad I somehow managed to find myself a significant other already- in public no less-, because after reading this I’d have trouble shaking the thought that every woman I saw was afraid of me.


  3. @StickCantC You probably know how to talk to women with respect and in a nonthreatening way if you’ve met your significant other in a public place. Women are most threatened when they are alone and it’s a deserted area, so otherwise, we mostly are not that frightened in public. Also, women who have been assaulted before will be more wary of any men in public and that is something important for ALL men to know.

    I note in the opening paragraph that the suggestions are dumbed down and I’d say almost insulting in their simplicity. Unfortuantely, I find it necessary to still list them this way given the number of men who claim they think commenting on women’s looks or calling them baby or sweetie or telling them what sex act they want them to perform is just a pleasant interaction and totally a reasonable way to “say hello” or meet someone. It sounds like you don’t need this advice and I’m glad there are many men who don’t. We just need to get to a point where none do.

  4. @StickCantC I got more under my shirt as boobs! I also got a back and a belly (- just to give you an idea of the shape of my body.

    @administrator: I’m also afraid of annoying men by daylight and in crowded areas. I guess that the situations with a feeling of insafety differs from women to women.

  5. a man says:

    Why won’t women just say right to our faces!
    If someone is annoying you then be straight up for peace sake! WE CAN’T READ YOUR MIND! I had made myself very sensitive to the expressions and hints given by women. I thought this would help me better myself, but instead it’s driven me to utter confusion. Please, we men are not insulted by honest criticism. We are always driven by the desire to improve and better ourselves. If some guy is speaking inappropriately then do correct him in a concise manner. you’d spare him from hours worth of self criticism and confusion!

  6. @ a man

    That honest criticism thing works until the man whose being an asshole decides to chase/grab/attack/threaten you for telling him to cut it out. Why should I have to police boorish behavior just because some pricks want to objectify me? Men need to be responsible for policing themselves. They’re not children.

  7. Dave says:

    It’s a shame that this article is even necessary, but street harassment is a big problem in our communities. As a pro-feminist heterosexual male, I think it should be common sense to treat women with respect and dignity. However, this may be able to get the message across. The more men that can be reached, the better. Best wishes in your campaign.

  8. […] is flattering? Now I believe that people have freedom of speech, and that men have the right to politely and respectfully ask a girl out once. However, there a few things that men consistently seem to mess up. First of […]

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