JUST SAYING HELLO

We’ve all heard it before, amirite, ladies?  We mention an instance of street harassment in conversation, and some ‘helpful’ chap chimes in with “maybe he was just saying hello”, because clearly our experience is worth less than the hypothetical musings of some random man.  So I will start this post with an example of what is not “just saying hello”, which happened to me earlier this week, and then I will finish with an example of what is “just saying hello”, with the aim of clearing up any confusion.

NOT “Just Saying Hello”

This is just one example of many that I could have provided, like the times I’ve been grabbed in the street, yelled at out of cars and from the other side of the road, wolf-whistled and spat at, and told to smile by someone who has no right to my time or attention.  But this is the most recent, and perhaps the most entertaining.  So here we go, lads, this is how to not just say hello to a lady you’ve spotted minding her own business:

Walking home from a friend’s, and on my way to the little Tesco’s, I passed two blokes out for the night. One of them clearly had had enough (of drink, of the night, possibly of his over-exuberant friend) and wanted to go home, but the other was totally plastered and wanted to stay out.  They were discussing the merits of heading to the Northern Quarter, and as I passed the latter engaged me in the banter as to why they should party the night away.  I’m well aware that getting drawn into these situations can be A Bad Idea, but on that night my faith in humanity was at a high, and it seemed fun and harmless, so I obliged.  Besides, the sober-ish friend seemed to have his head screwed on right, so I felt safe.

The pissed-up friend was trying to convince his mate that there would be a naked street party on offer, and it was pretty funny – you really had to be there though – I jpkingly said it sounded great and I’d like to go along too.  His friend, however, was having none of it, and made his excuses and went home after we had walked a couple of blocks down.  We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and parted ways.  What a nice gentleman he was.

His friend decided to continue to walk with me up to the Northern Quarter as I was going that way anyway, and he had some serious partying to do (it’s not very far, maybe three minutes’ walk from where we were).  No problem with that. We got talking about politics and what I do for a living, no red flags apart from he wanted to know about my living arrangements in a little too much detail.  He decides he will also go to Tesco’s as he needs some food.  So far, so normal.  But… then he sort of follows me when I’m looking for bread and milk, and begins a deep philosophical discussion about bread choices.  After some consideration, I come to the conclusion that seeded batch will meet my carbohydrate needs. He approves, and then asks if he can come back to mine for toast and a glass of milk.  I sort of nervously half-laugh, and then realise he’s serious when he remonstrates with me that he played a vital role in my selection of baked goods, and this somehow entitles him to my toaster and, ahem, hospitality.  It got rather creepy and uncomfortable, as he’d set this up just right and clearly expected me to cave, but honestly, I don’t take drunken strangers home with me as a habit, and I prefer a more thoughtful courtship than this.  In spite of all my ‘no, thank you’s, he tries the age-old persuasion technique of asking me ten different variants of “oh go on” / “why not?” and then says “ok, I’m not going to push it” (you already have, mate) and then hotfoots it off into the night… I honestly don’t think he saw the problem with propositioning a random person in the bakery aisle.

So that was how to not just say hello.  Here is the alternative, for comparison:

Just Saying Hello

I was on my way to work in the morning, and I passed by a building site.  There was a labourer sat at the gate, reading the newspaper.  He looks up as I walk past, and says “Good Morning”.  I turn to face him, say “Good Morning” in return, and continue on my journey to the office.  Nothing more comes of this.

And that’s it.  It’s not difficult, right?  No stalking, creeping, manipulating me, literally Just Saying Hello.  We know the difference, thank you – if you need to check that we’re telling the truth then perhaps you need to examine your own behaviour.

WE DON’T GET IT

There’s a cartoon from Robot Hugs that did the rounds recently,  about how sexual harassment of women is a real thing, and explaining why it may go unnoticed and how society implicitly condones it.  It’s a straightforward and reasonable consideration of the issue, with advice on prevention that no decent human being should find problematic or objectionable.  I shared the cartoon on Facebook, as I had seen many of my friends (50+) do with only supportive outcomes.  But my experience was different (identities obscured to protect the guilty):

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Nicely summarised in this tweet from Bailey, but scarier:

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Let’s look at the comments with a bit of context (Haha, probably the word people criticising sexual harassment least want to hear – “context” is a great tool for telling people that they just don’t understand or are being killjoys. Yaaaaaaawn. At least I’m not going to talk about banter. Yeeeesh.)

Anyway, I’m in red.  All other commenters are male, and before you ask, no, I’m not critical of all of them.  Here goes:

Comment 1 (blue): On the face of it, this looks like a noble sentiment.  But it’s falling into the trap of saying that because everyone is capable of being unpleasant to everyone else, that we should ignore cries of sexism because we’ve solved that problem.  Which detracts from the very real issue the comic is talking about.  Dismissing the problem doesn’t make it go away.

Comment 2 (green): Well, women can be unpleasant to both women and men.  It’s unfortunate that some people feel that they have to comment on strangers appearances in public, but this isn’t about “presenting the other side”.  The fact remains that street harassment is experienced by women far more frequently than men. And that’s just the cases that are reported.

Comment 3 (red) is me, and I may have overstepped the line a little here.  I do believe that Mr Green was harassed, but perhaps I shouldn’t have asked (at least on a Facebook thread) about details.  This might have implied that I didn’t believe him, and I’m sorry for that.

Comment 4 (pink) is really easy to dismiss as stupidity and/or wilful ignorance, but just take a look at the comments to any article or post on feminism on the internet, and these attitudes are everywhere.  Why is that?  Is it a lack of education / experience, or a desire for things to remain as they are? Personally I feel much of it  is a misunderstanding of what feminism actually is (i.e. political, economic, and social equality for women and men), rather than a hatred of men.  Some of it will be fear of change.  This attitude is unacceptable but shouldn’t just be dismissed.  Ignoring the disaffected leads to all sorts of problems, and completely fails to address the issue.

Comment 5 (blue): Words fail me at this point.

Comment 6 (orange): A lone voice of sanity.  Robot Hugs is indeed excellent, and you should read more of it.

Click here for Manchester University SU’s policy on sexual harassment.