A coworker of mine recently wrote an essay about a creepy guy at a Starbucks who harassed a barista and how the encounter represented something deeply relatable to mostly all women.
I consider myself a decent human being, so I don't understand why guys have this compulsion to catcall women. But (and I'm embarrassed to admit this), until I read her post, it hadn't dawned on me how pervasive these minor encounters are and how constant invasions of women's spaces affect how they must interact with the world.
You see, when you interrupt a woman's day to "compliment" her -- a suggestive whistle or a simple "hey baby," for example -- you're not making her day. You're harassing her. When has a woman ever said, “I knew he was my soulmate when he told me my ass was nice and that I should smile more?”
And when you insist that your unwelcome sexual advances must be received, you create an environment that makes genuinely innocent compliments, or even mild conversation starters, seem nearly as toxic. And you deter guys like me, who would like to make human connections IRL, from saying much of anything at all.
My first response after reading about Creepy Starbucks Guy was defensive, saying -- like other guys who commented -- that hey, we’re not all bad! Not all men! But as Jessica Samakow, the managing editor of our Voices department and the author of the story that started this discussion, pointed out to me, I was totally missing the point.
She said that a lot of guys just don't understand that, since we are not women, there's really no way to know how it feels to be man-gazed upon or to know how constant unwanted attention feels. We should just take their word on it.
Another concern I had after reading her post is this: Is there such a thing as a perfect compliment, or are we in a post-compliment world where it's best for everybody if we all keep our opinions, however nice we think they might be, to ourselves?
"It's about judging a situation. You walk towards someone and compliment them. Do they seem shy? Are they not making eye contact? OK, then walk away. We don’t do enough practice with other people, practice interacting. I know it sounds silly but it’s kind of that simple," Abigail Baird, a professor of psychology at Vassar College, told me.
Plus, as Samakow said, "Women just don't need more reminders that our appearance is constantly being judged -- in good ways or in bad. I think it's all about being perceptive. If you're making someone uncomfortable, you should be able to sense that."
Women definitely don't need a reminder that catcalling sucks, so I'm writing a call to action to guys like me who care. It's up to us to stay alert and speak up when we see guys act out like Creepy Starbucks Guy, and tell him that harassment, big or small, isn't a good look on anyone.