The Politics of “Hello”

One of the stumbling blocks I repeatedly have over discussions of street harassment is that much of the time, on paper, it’s doesn’t look like harassment. Hell, much of the time what makes me uncomfortable isn’t harassment.

Much of the time, what makes me uncomfortable is hello.

Hello doesn’t get a lot of attention in discussions of street harassment. And why would it? When women get to hear gems like “I can smell your pussy” (that’s a link to Clarisse Thorn, not a link to l’eau de pussy) or even the cries of “beautiful, beautiful” that might seem like compliments but that take about two seconds to deconstruct as male occupation of public space, hello seems relatively harmless. Hello seems innocent, polite, open—even welcomed in a sea of harsher interactions. Hello seems friendly.

But as many women in urban spaces well know, hello isn’t always as friendly as it seems. I’m not talking about the kind of hello that helps build community; for example, hello has a history of functioning as a sort of verbal handshake in tight-knit urban neighborhoods—particularly neighborhoods largely consisting of traditionally marginalized people. Hello can serve as an understated way of saying: I see you, and you see me, and we’re in this together. (I should make it here that I am talking about urban environments, not rural or suburban ones in which it may be common to greet one another even if you’re strangers.)

That’s not the hello that bothers me. I’m talking about the hello that has an undertone of You, Woman, owe me, Man, your attention—an undertone that’s usually so subtle as to be difficult to define, leaving me wondering if I’m just being a misanthropic New Yorker who can’t play well with others. I’m talking about the hello that slides up and down the scale, the echo of a wolf whistle, its tone indicating what its denotation cannot. I’m talking about the hello that happens just as I pass a man on the street, the hello that is not a greeting but a whisper, the hello that puts me in a position of reaction—to turn my head in good faith to acknowledge the existence of a fellow human…or to hurry past, knowing full well that there’s a good chance it’s not my human existence, but my female existence, that’s being acknowledged.

The potency of hello relies upon its seemingly benign face: It’s a worldwide greeting, after all, and few of us want to live in a world where we can’t acknowledge one another’s existence. But the word itself originated as a call for attention (from the Old English holla, meaning to stop or cease), not mere politesse—and when directed from Anonymous Man to Anonymous Woman, you’re not always sure which hello you’re getting.

Therein lies the problem of hello: It’s not like I can’t be bothered to mutter a singular word to my fellow citizens, right? Nor do I believe that my presence on planet earth is such a gift to humankind that anointing a passerby with a mere word of my precious attention is some great act of grace on my part. Unless a hello was one that was spoken directly at my breasts with a wolf-whistle slide, whenever I sail by a hello-man without returning the greeting, I often have a moment of: What, you’re too good to say hi to him? At the same time, over the years I’ve learned that sometimes hello indicates you’re willing to have a longer conversation—and that often that longer conversation quickly enters the realm of what is unquestionably street harassment. (And even street harassment can bring conflicted reactions, as I examined at The Beheld earlier this year.)

So hello leaves me unsure, constantly second-guessing myself, not wanting to be all “uppity” but not wanting to leave myself open to uncomfortable situations. When I hear a vulgar comment on the street, I know how to react (or, rather, not react). When I hear hello, I feel caught. For as much as hello is a greeting, hello can also draw the lines clearly. Hello can mean: I am a man, you are a woman, and I am saying hello to acknowledge not your humanness but your womanness. Hello can mean: I feel I have a relationship with you, even though we’re total strangers, and the entire extent of that relationship is that I am in a role in which I am allowed to try to start a conversation and your choices are limited to appearing to ignore me or to play along with this conversation you made no indication of wishing to start. Hello assumes a familiarity; hello asks for acquiescence.

Sometimes I’m happy to acquiesce, even when I sense that it’s the kind of hello that wouldn’t happen if I were a man. (I asked some New York men about hearing hello on the street, and men who live in primarily Black areas said they exchange hellos in the neighborhood—other than that, it was a rare occurrence, I’m guessing about as frequent as when a woman I don’t know says it to me. Which is probably annually, not daily as with the hellos I’m addressing here.) My neighborhood is home to a bevy of elderly Greek men, and if returning their hellos means that I can bring a smidgen of joy to their day…well, in my personal calculus, the cost-benefit analysis of a silent schooling on the politics of public space loses out to a shared moment, a mutual smile. One skill I’ve cultivated over years of having a friendly, open, female face is sensing loneliness in people, and soothing that loneliness for a split second with a hello feels somehow morally compulsory.

And, of course, it’s that moral compulsion to be a “good girl” that has put me, and a lot of other women, in situations where we’re easily cornered, badgered, harassed, and endangered. I’m not arguing that a simple hello is harassment, but I also know that it’s often not simple or benign. And even when it’s nothing more than an old Greek man putting in a bid for a morsel of attention, I’m tired of—literally, I am emotionally exhausted by—feeling as though I need to parcel out attention to people merely because they’ve asked. And because it’s not people but men who make up the vast majority of the askers—and women their answerers—it becomes a feminist issue.

So, Feministes, I ask you: What is your reaction to hello?
What cues do you look for that indicate how simple a simple greeting really is? Do you say hello to strangers? Do you say hello back to them? What are the dynamics of hello in non-urban environments, or in urban environments that don’t live as publicly as New York?

262 comments for “The Politics of “Hello”

  1. liz
    August 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

    If it’s “Hello!” all on one or two high notes, friendly greeting, I respond. If it’s “Hellllloo” over several notes, with smarmy undertones, I don’t.

    I respond more often to “Good morning”.

  2. AK
    August 5, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I live in a very rural area, and here it is common for everyone to greet everyone. It feels weird to me to pass someone on the street and *not* greet them, even if I don’t know them.

    Even so, though, there are a couple of guys that say hello to me in a way that creeps me out. I don’t respond to them. If I get the vibe that there’s something more to it than just friendliness then I don’t generally acknowledge them, or if I don’t want to totally brush them off for some reason I’ll just give a brief nod or something.

    I definitely agree that “hello” isn’t always just “hello.”

  3. August 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I tend to navigate ‘Hello’ with the “I’m clearly in a hurry but I still want to acknowledge your existence so as not to be a snob” head nod.

    I’m a small towner though, so getting hello and such is pretty common. Still occasionally squicks me out.

  4. feste
    August 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

    This makes me feel very self-conscious—I don’t say “hello” to everyone I pass ont he street, and now I’m wondering why.

    Sometimes I hate being a man.

  5. Amarantha
    August 5, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Maybe I’m too suspicious, but if a dude says “hello” to me on the street, I just walk on by and don’t make any effort to be friendly back. It usually just seems like the first step in their initiating unwanted contact. Women never say “hello” to me on the street–they may smile or nod, but that’s it. That makes me think the “hello” I get from men is not just a friendly, hey-we’re-in-this-together thing, but something more nefarious/entitled/obnoxious in its intent.

  6. feste
    August 5, 2011 at 11:44 am

    …not always, mind you; but knowing that my mind is working in ways contrary to my principles is disturbing. I never mean “hello” in a hit-on-you sort of way, but I’m suddenly aware of how many circumstances in which it could be taken that way.

    Good post.

  7. Ellie
    August 5, 2011 at 11:51 am

    When I am out alone in public, I am usually either walking somewhere very deliberately, or am occupied with my Kindle or iPod. When someone says hello under those circumstances, I do not respond; I clearly have something going on, and an attempt to converse with me is to devalue what I am choosing to do with my time, whether that’s getting somewhere quickly, or enjoying a podcast.

    I do, usually (and especially at bus stops), have a moment where I prepare myself to articulate why I do not need to say hello, for the rare occasion where a man keeps trying. The few times that it’s happened, I’ve mostly chickened out or gotten afraid, and just given short, non-conversational responses; but what I’d really like to say is, I’m busy right now, I don’t want to talk, and it’s not my responsibility to talk to you, so I appreciate you respecting my space.

    Once in a while, if the guy seems harmless or well-intentioned, I’ll acknowledge him with a smile or a nod or something, but won’t stop what I was doing.

    On the very rare occasion that I am just hanging out, by myself, in public, and someone says hello to me, I’m much more conversational, within my judgment. Most of what bothers me about “hello” is the implication that talking to this stranger who’s greeted me is supposed to be more important than what I was already doing with my time when this person interrupted me. But if I’m hanging out on a park bench, watching people go by, someone can say “hello” without expecting me to stop what I was doing and humor them.

    Probably at least 95% of the greetings I get from strangers are from men. When women do talk to me, it usually has more of a purpose. They want to know something, they want to tell me they like my earrings, something like that. It’s usually not an open-ended “I’m here, I said hello, now you have to converse with me.”

  8. sweetcraspy
    August 5, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I try to greet everyone I make eye contact with. Hello is pretty standard, but Good Morning might be better if it’s less associated with harassment. I can definitely see how anything that wasn’t quick and light and friendly would be creepy and gross and threatening.

  9. August 5, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I usually nod with a half smile to acknowledge the hello, but don’t respond with one of my own. It seems to work out ok.

  10. dk
    August 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This post is incredibly timely for me, since just yesterday I had all of these thoughts running through my head after ignoring a “hello” from a man when walking to work. I immediately felt like an uppity bitch, and almost wanted to go back and say hi. But I didn’t because I too am literally exhausted with all the men that reach out to me on a regular basis, every morning and evening, during my 2-minute walk from bart (San Francisco subway) to my office. This is not because I’m some amazingly gorgeous specimen – this is just because I’m a woman.

    It’s considered a sketchy block, and I’ve received a TON of blatant street harassment, so I now just walk quickly, staring straight ahead, ignoring absolutely every person who says anything to me. And that includes “hello.” And I felt bad about it yesterday, but then I recognized how exhausted I am at having to shield myself on a daily basis. And to stop to think about what someone has said – whether they’ve said “hello” in a friendly manner, or whether they’re blocking my path and saying “I’m going to attack you, and you’re going to like it,” which is what happened last week – means dropping the shield and then picking it right back up again because the few times I *have* responded to “hello” I’m answered with some sort of sexual request. And I’m just too tired.

    So, they get ignored. And I’ve decided that I just don’t care. The few men who legitimately wanted to be friendly may get denied and have hurt feelings, but I think that minor cost is worth me not having to deal with another morning where I’m left feeling violated and disgusting because I dropped my shield for a second to respond to a stranger.

  11. August 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I’m talking about the hello that has an undertone of You, Woman, owe me, Man, your attention—an undertone that’s usually so subtle as to be difficult to define…

    This is what I have the most problem with, explaining why a simple “hello” usually isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it was intended as a courtesy if ultimately the message behind it is , “Hey, acknowledge me.” It becomes pretty obvious when the ignored “hello” then turns into “Hey, didn’t you hear me bitch!” Someone on another board suggested wearing earbuds everywhere — easier to ignore what you can’t hear in the first place — but I hate being tethered to my iPod.

  12. August 5, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I wonder if this is a cultural thing – this may well be male/passing privilege talking, but I can’t recall anyone ever saying ‘hello’ to me on the street, even back when I presented as female. I’ve witnessed and/or been the subject of catcalls, once or twice, and I’ve had the usual “excuse me mate, have you got a light/spare change/any idea where I ought to go to get to such and such a place” interactions with strangers, but the idea of greeting somebody you don’t know just seems bizarre. It’s common enough for passers-by of all ages and genders to smile at each other if they catch each other’s eye by chance, but I would think that here it would be seen as a strange invasion of someone else’s space to just go up and talk to them without an obvious purpose.

    I’m British, btw. Could any British women back me up that it’s not something that happens often in the UK, or have I just been blissfully oblivious all these years?

  13. August 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    First read of this i thought “lucky me! I *only* get overt harassment” then thought about it some more.

    I have seen or been in situations where “hello” leads to really intrusive or threatening conversation, but not specifically woman-being-approached-by-dude threatening. For some reason iowa city was filled with folks trying to convert folks and i’d frequently have these types use “hello” as foot in he door for jesus. Despite the fact that i wear very clear non-christian and serious about my own faith markers. (The best is when mormon males approach me when i’m by myself after nightfall. Really?) Outside looking in though, i recall hanging out with a genderqueer friend and if they responded to hello the other person took it to mean “yes! I am going to ask you a bunch of screwy questions about your gender performance!”

    Idk, i think it’s similar or coming from the same sort of I Am Entitled To Your Time and To Humiliate You b/c You’re an Other place. Anyone else?

  14. ks
    August 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I’m a woman and I usually, at minimum, smile and nod to pretty much everybody, man or woman, I pass when walking. Sometimes I go with a hello or good morning or whatever, sometimes not, but it feels weird and rude to me *not* to acknowledge others in a friendly way when I’m out and about.

  15. August 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Love this post. It really speaks to the vulnerability women feel in public and the defenses they must put up, to fend off the implications behind something as simple as “hello”.

    There is a sense of obligation in “hello”… that as a “good girl” you must be friendly, and meet a “hello” with a smile. This impulse and expectation conflicts with the need to protect yourself from harassment. I typically respond to a potentially hostile “hello” with a quick glance and brief toothless smile. Sometimes I feel sorry to have responded that much, fearing it gave the illusion of an invitation for further communication. However, I have not conditioned myself to be completely cold, even when I know I should be.

    On a slightly different note, it’s a shame that I do not feel free to initiate “hellos” of my own, fearing that they will be taken out of context. Not being able to say “hello” or greet a man on the street stifles women’s access to full membership in a community.

  16. Nobody
    August 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    As others mentioned above, the expectations about this are culture specific in many ways.

    I’ve spent most of my life in large Northeastern cities in the US where in situations such as waiting at bus stops & etc. “aggressively ignore each other” is the custom, and trying to chat someone up is considered intrusive.

    Friends from the South tell me that such behavior would be considered anywhere from rude to outright creepy where they come from: some attempt at casual chit chat is expected.

    Never having lived in the South I have no idea whether or not this is accurate.

  17. Iris
    August 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Mmm-hmm – I know what you’re talking about.

    I live in a mid-sized town. It’s pretty friendly. For me, it depends on the situation. If I meet someone’s eye when I’m running errands, I usually give them a nod. If I’m on the river path participating in the over enthusiasm for exercise, I greet everyone with a neutral Good Morning/Afternoon/ Evening.

    Unless it’s more than one person and they are having a conversation – it seems rude to interrupt. Also, if it’s a mixed gender couple, I meet the eyes of the woman, not the man.

    I am usually the greeting initiator as I like to set the tone – neutral.

    Smarmy hellos I do not acknowledge. Though sometimes the smarmy detector is on the fritz.

    I greet people for my own pleasure at contributing what I think to be a sense of community and connection.

  18. Aisling
    August 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I live in a fairly small town in ROI; greetings are pretty usual most of the time. I hadn’t actually thought about it until I read this post, but I actually do respond differently to men and women. If a woman greets me, I tend to smile and/or say ‘hi’ back, but with fellas I tend to say ‘howaya’. It’s more of a masculine sort of greeting, I suppose. Looks like I’ve been trying to equalise these sorts of situations without even realising it.
    (Although if it’s a bunch of teenage lads heckling as I walk back from school, they’ll get a fairly swift ‘feck off’. Probably an awful assumption on my part, but I rarely answer/greet a lad without swearing at them.)

  19. susan
    August 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I generally wear dark glasses when out in public so as appear not to notice the eye contact that leads up to a “hello.” you’re right, it can be uncomfortable. my default response to a (male) stranger who says “hello” on the street is “excuse me.”

  20. Sam
    August 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I’m not sure what the point of this is. Subtext matters, context matters. It’s probably not usually possible to start a well intentioned conversation/flirt with “I can smell your pussy”, although I imagine there are also places where that is contextually ok, something *like that* can probably be performed in a non-harrassing way depending on the way it is done, just like “hello” get be performed with a harrassing subtext.

    Of course, the former is more difficult to do than the latter, but I don’t really see the fundamental difference. Just because a word is commonly acceptable doesn’t preclude it from being used in predatory contexts, and something that is more often used in predatory contexts can also be appreciated if done the right way.

  21. William
    August 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I generally avoid greeting people I don’t know out in public unless we somehow make eye contact. Then it ranges from a hurried nod to a “hey” to a “heyhowsitgoin?” or ‘heyhowyadoin?” without breaking stride. Its more of an I’m-not-ignoring-your-existence-but-I-don’t-want-acknowledgement-to-be-imposition than anything else.

  22. Arkady
    August 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    @Frank M

    It’s probably highly dependent on where you live in the UK. The small town where my parents live, most people say hello (but then, they’re usually at least passing aquaintances anyway in a town that size), and when on walks in the countryside it’s generally normal to say hello to strangers, especially if it’s a narrow path and someone has to stop to move past each other. Cities? My experience is hardly ever, and when they do it’s often a prelude to them wanting something from you (charity ‘muggers’ are the ones most likely to try to strike up a conversation, along with religious evangelists). Did once have a man say ‘hello’ apparently as an excuse to get all angry when he didn’t get an immediate friendly response, just walked on and checked he didn’t follow.

    I do get asked for directions a lot though, and old ladies on trains always talk to me. Must just look like an approachable person I suppose…

  23. Sheelzebub
    August 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    So, Feministes, I ask you: What is your reaction to hello?

    If I acknowledge it at all (assuming this is from a stranger), I react with bemusement because I don’t frickin’ know you. And where I live, these greetings are kind of, um, well, weird. Guys do it to get into your space, but it’s not like they can try to argue they’re just trying to be friendly* because the people here (myself included) are renowned for our unfriendliness. So I’m more like, WTF are you playing at? Out of my face and let me go about my business.

    *This “I’m just trying to be friendly BS is irritating. Look, I don’t require strangers of any gender or background to greet me or make small talk with me if they don’t want to. I’m fairly outgoing, but I assume that people going about their business–who I do not know and who I’ll never see again–do not need or want the pleasure of my company. They just need to get to where they’re going and see the people they know and they want to see.

  24. Sheelzebub
    August 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve spent most of my life in large Northeastern cities in the US where in situations such as waiting at bus stops & etc. “aggressively ignore each other” is the custom, and trying to chat someone up is considered intrusive.

    You said this way better than I did! It’s seen as intrusive, rude, and kind of presumptuous.

  25. Caperton
    August 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I spend a lot of time as a pedestrian in a largish city in the Deep South, which means a lot of “hello” just out of politeness and a lot of “hello” just because Hey, I’m hanging out around this fountain and don’t have anything better to do. In my mind, it gets binary: I can decide if it’s friendly or salacious, I can decide if I’m freaked out or not, and I can decide if I want to respond or not. Sometimes I ignore, sometimes I say “hi,” and sometime I just give a little head jerk–not a nod, like I’m acknowledging one of my subjects, but kind of half a nod, with or without “hey.” It satisfies any sense of guilt about not responding while leaving no doubt about whether I’m open to further engagement. Generally, I land in the region of Whatever and decide it’s not worth the mental gymnastics.

    I figure that at any point, if not at this exact moment, someone is going to be acknowledging me as a female rather than as a person. They may actually express it to me, or they may keep it to themselves. It isn’t worth it to me to worry that it could be this moment, or maybe this moment–I can’t let someone else’s image of me bring that kind of anxiety into my life. Actually say something to me, though, and it’s on.

  26. LJ
    August 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    In suburban Australia and country England (where I live) I smile and nod or hello/good morning when I make eyecontact with people. It’s something that I think is polite in that social context. In the city, I’m usually with friends or earphones and apply the “you don’t get to devalue what I do with my time” rule unless someone asks for help or directions or contributes to an existing discussion. Having said that, I very rarely have an issue with it at any rate (short, fat chicks are pretty much invisible).

  27. August 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Hellos were fine in NC. I miss them in Moscow. It all depends on place ant context. Over here, if someone randomly tells me “hello” – I’d probably get worried.

  28. August 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    @Nobody:

    I think it’s true for most part. When I moved from Georgia to New Jersey, I was surprised that nobody acknowledged each other on the street because I had grown up thinking that when you pass by someone, you smile, nod, or say hello. When I told this to my friends and family down south, they all thought it was “weird.”

  29. Lolagirl
    August 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I think how one reacts to a stranger offering a hello in passing must really varies by location and culture. Here in the midwest where I currently live, it’s just really common for people to be friendly and talk to strangers without really giving it a second thought. I often offer hellos to people in passing when out walking my kids to school or whatever and also often encounter other total strangers offering me a hello. The chances are actually pretty good that people I perceive to be strangers are actually a neighbor, or has a kid who attends school with mine, or played bunco with my mother in law, etc.

    But in places like NYC, my experience has been exactly the opposite. Offering a random hello to a stranger (or even a neighbor) is usually construed as a imposition or even viewed with suspicion or even alarm by whoever is on the receiving end. Blame it on my midwestern upbringing, but it actually made me kind of sad that New Yorkers often seem so unfriendly at times, because that just isn’t what I’m used to. Uunless a person otherwise appears menacing I can’t imagine reacting negatively when a stranger says hello to me.

  30. catfood
    August 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Good observation about predominantly Black neighborhoods.

    Where I live, which is fairly racially mixed, Black people often even proactively respond to an assumed, “Hi, how are you?” I’ll just be walking down the street, doing my thing, being a white guy, and a Black person (usually a man) is likely to say, “Doing great, thanks, how about you?”

    It doesn’t seem creepy in that context. I think a greeting is so anticipated that it’s automatically assumed and responded to.

    YMMV, obviously, and of course it’s much different for women. I’m just observing the bit about men in Black neighborhoods always exchanging hellos. True from what I see.

  31. Mike
    August 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I find articles like this very frustrating.

    I do not want to minimize the problems of women who feel strain from what is apparently constant street-harassment (I don’t know, as a man I don’t experience it, and frankly didn’t believe it still happened until my female friends assured me it did).

    But at the same time, I find people placing demands on my attention all of the time, and I never read sinister actions into it.

    I can say, in all honesty and without exaggeration, that every single time I have been shopping in the “warehouse” part of Ikea (where you grab the actual boxed furniture) I have been approached by someone and asked to help them lift a box or get a box down from a shelf.

    More often than not it has been a woman, and while sometimes she will be easily in her 60s or older, at least twice it was by women who were in their 20s.

    And never do I assume “Oh, she’s hitting on me,” instead I assume “Oh, she must need help.”

    I want to be clear: I live in San Francisco and women will often say things to me on the street without invitation. Just last Friday I was asked by the woman standing next to me at a crosswalk for the time. I did not assume “Oh, she’s hitting on me,” I assumed that she wanted the time.

    When someone says hello to me, I assume they are being friendly.

    Yet, because I know how people feel about being approached by a strange man, I never say things to people I do not know. Over the past few years (I’m in my late 20s now), this has led me to feel like I am not allowed to be a full participant in society. I can speak, but only when spoken to.

    I do not have an easy answer: I have never catcalled, and I’m in a stable committed relationship, I have no interest in hitting on anyone. Yet my gender, coupled with the attitude displayed in this piece, keeps me on the sidelines.

  32. August 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    When I lived/worked in downtown New Orleans, I got a lot of the smarmy sort of “hellos.” Often I would say “hi” without looking at the guy (just kept walking and looking straight ahead). So I technically responded but didn’t actually give him my attention. Ha.

    Now I live in a more country/suburban area in Louisiana and often go for walks around my neighborhood, and it is a totally different vibe. So I will exchange a smile, hello, or “good morning” with anyone I see.

  33. Diana
    August 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    This post really resonated for me. I can feel a ‘I deserve your attention and I’m going to get it’ hello, and have many times been called a bitch – by men and women – for declining to answer them.

    The most personal victory I’ve been able to eke out of such situations is to show no reaction or interest whatsoever in the rebuffed man’s opinion of me rebuffing him.

  34. August 5, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Mike: I do not have an easy answer: I have never catcalled, and I’m in a stable committed relationship, I have no interest in hitting on anyone. Yet my gender, coupled with the attitude displayed in this piece, keeps me on the sidelines.

    No – the guys who are ruining things for the rest of us and the patriarchal system that supports and encourages them are keeping you on the sidelines. Privilege – you are soaking in it.

  35. LZ
    August 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Good stuff here (and in the other posts, too). I find that some of what determines my response, if any, is my mood at the moment and whether I’m in a rush (= bad mood). I’m a “curvy” blonde chick, which somehow ends up meaning that I get a fair amount of hellos from black and Latino men. When I was younger, I was pretty intimidated by this sort of attention and never replied, just put my head down and jacked up my pace, but now, as long as the hellos are enunciated in a relatively quick two beats without the sound of leer, I will respond in kind. And generally, those tend to be the hellos I get these days. I have learned to tell myself: It doesn’t matter, this is a human being and so are you, and it’s just a greeting, so say it back and keep walking, no harm done. It seems to work. My fear of a follow-up comment has never been realized (except, now that I write this, watch it happen).

  36. Kim
    August 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Mike,

    I’m an asian female living on the west coast and I get the same feeling about the article. I’ve worked in male dominated professions in the military and as an engineer. I’ve seen plenty of unwanted attention, but it just boggles my mind that “hello” can be seen as so negative. I guess I’m just an optimist or maybe naive but when I receive a hello I don’t think its going to be negative, unless there is some context that suggests it, like “hello, baby” being said by a complete stranger, in which case, that person is going to get an earful or ignored depending on the situation!

    I guess I find it sad that some have come to a point (or had experiences such that) that they need to contemplate the hidden meaning or street harrassment possibility of a simple hello.

  37. August 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    @feste: I think it’s hard for feminist-minded men sometimes, because it IS so contextual but then when you rely on cues from feminist women’s experiences you might feel like there’s a set of rules that are invisible to you because you’re a man. But remember that it is contextual, and it depends on attitude and intonation and time of day and size of city and all sorts of things. I think the best you can do is be aware of these issues and take cues from others around you. It doesn’t sound like your mind is working contrary to your principles to me!

    @Ellie: Good point about there being a sort of point between most woman-woman interactions on the street–there’s a goal to starting a conversation, not having a conversation in and of itself be the goal.

    @dk: You bring up a point I didn’t get into but that I think about–that we’re socialized to think that somehow hearing a simple hello is a comment on our looks. And though even though we know it’s about our gender, not the height of our cheekbones or whatever, there’s still this sort of idea that we have to qualify talking about this–and thus we have some pretty conflicted reactions to it. It’s so easily internalized.

    @Kathy: Oh, but then sometimes people will touch you on your arm and ask what you’re listening to! (On the subway; that’s never happened to me on the street.) Never fear, there’s still a way through the earbuds!

    @FrankM, @Nobody, @Arkady @Lolagirl (and others who addressed this): Absolutely a cultural thing, both internationally and within large countries like the U.S. I studied in London in college, and now that I think about it, this wasn’t a problem there for me. In fact, it was difficult to talk to ANYONE there! It is certainly a cultural thing that varies widely–I’ve heard Italian men say they think it’s nearly an insult not to comment on a woman’s appearance when she walks by, whereas I spent three months in Prague with never a word.

    @marnijane: Yep, that’s exactly it–it’s an entitlement issue. There are plenty of friendly men, certainly, who are just plain old friendly, and then there are men who seem to think I owe them my time because I’m a woman.

    @Rachel Piazza: “Not being able to say “hello” or greet a man on the street stifles women’s access to full membership in a community.” Fantastic point, thank you.

    @Sam: There’s no “point” in that I’m not trying to urge anyone to banish hellos. I’m more bringing up the question of where hello belongs on the street harassment spectrum, since I personally have felt guilt for not responding to every hello I hear on the street, and I’d like to explore why in a feminist space.

    @catfood: Heh, that’s funny–proactively responding! And yes, I think it has to do with overall environment–one of the men I talked with who lives in a Black neighborhood is white, and the other isn’t, but they reported similar experiences.

    @Mike: Can you think about why you haven’t read sinister actions into people placing demands on your attention? To me the answer seems pretty clear, but truly, if you can’t answer that, I urge you to brainstorm some reasons why I, a woman, might have that experience whereas you don’t. Of course people ask me for things on the street all the time in New York–spare change, signing a petition, time of day, how do you get to Carnegie Hall. That is absolutely NOT what I am talking about; I’m talking about the demand for my time *because I am a woman*, not because I’m human. It’s unfortunate that awareness leads to a silencing of anyone, of course–see what I wrote to Feste above. Silencing of human interaction is not the goal. I’m capable of having lovely interactions with strangers–including men–on the street. But in my eight-minute walk home from the gym just now, three men I didn’t know said hello to me (yes, I counted, because it was on my mind). That’s not friendliness; that’s a comment on their sex, and on mine.

  38. August 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Autumn, I just want to say thank you a thousand times for this post. I’ve felt so uncomfortable with this on various occasions and could never articulate the reason for my discomfort. I often told myself it was presumptuous and conceited to assume this stranger was interested in me simply because he said “Hello,” regardless of the fact that it’s the case every single time. I thought I didn’t have the right to be put-off and annoyed, and that I was just being a total bitch.

  39. August 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    @Kim: I’m not talking about “hello” among coworkers, who of course I’d say hello to! I’m talking about the very “hello, baby” that you say would get an earful. The “baby” is sometimes spoken; sometimes it’s implied; sometimes it isn’t there at all. I’m trying to get at how to articulate why it can genuinely make me uncomfortable sometimes while other times it does seem like a friendly community gesture. I don’t think you’re being naive; in fact, I’ve been told I’m naive on this very front.

    @LZ: The race aspect is certainly interesting, and I’ve had to question my own reactions sometimes. Black and Latino men do tend to speak to me on the street more than men from other racial or ethnic backgrounds, and that’s part of why it was interesting to hear about my (white) male friend’s experience in Black communities. I sometimes wonder if my recoiling from hellos is my own way of being wary of “the Other,” you know? But then I think of conversations I’ve had with women of color on this, and their experiences are like mine but with an added element of feeling pressured to acquiesce to unwanted attention from men of their race in the name of racial solidarity.

  40. Rachel
    August 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    For that type of hello, I generally look at the guy, wait a couple of beats and then say hello, a little more slowly than normal, without inflection and a straight face, no smile. It basically get across the point “I know your game and I’m not playing it with you.” Of course, if a man is hellbent on starting a conversation with you, you could say “Fuck off” to him and it wouldn’t stop him (this has happened to me).

    As far as the questions about the South, from what I’ve experienced, it isn’t a requirement of polite behavior to say Hello to random strangers but it isn’t considered suspicious either. In fact, it can be pleasant, in my opinion.

  41. human
    August 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Before I say what I’m going to say, I want to draw a very clear line between harassment/leering and other kinds of greetings. Harassment, leering, and that sort of thing are always rude.

    But, other kinds of greetings are NOT always rude. What I rarely see articulated in conversations about navigating these public social interactions is the role that class plays in our expectations around privacy.

    There is this middle class idea that it’s rude to invade people’s privacy, and that when people are out in public they have a bubble of privacy around them that it’s rude to cross, even by saying hello. That idea is NOT shared by everyone, and I think that those of us who do hold that idea to one degree or another would do well to interrogate ourselves about which kinds of people we do and do not allow to penetrate our bubble of privacy. When I did this interrogation myself I found some unfortunate results. One of the chief ones being that I didn’t mind so much if well-dressed middle-class-presenting men spoke to me in public (in a non-leering way!) but that I DID mind if older working-class-presenting men did the exact same thing. Even if their attempt to start conversation obviously had no sexual or threatening intent whatsoever.

    The conclusion that I have arrived at after a great deal of thinking about it is this: these social interactions are a negotiation of sorts. Somebody wants my attention, for whatever reason. Maybe they thought my shirt was interesting and want to have a conversation about it. Maybe we’re in a museum and they’re really excited about the piece of art I’m looking at and want to tell me this. Maybe we’re on the bus and they’re bored and want to talk to somebody. Whatever. In any kind of case like this, it’s possible that maybe I want to talk to the person, and maybe I don’t. If I don’t want to talk to them, I have ways I can signal this (short answers, nod instead of saying hello, moving away, saying so directly). Would it be rude for someone to expect or demand I talk to them when I am communicating I don’t want to? Sure. But are they rude for trying to talk to me in the first place? I really have to say that no, initiating a social interaction in public is NOT universally rude — and that it’s kind of fucked up to claim it is.

    That said, I absolutely agree that people have the right to make decisions in individual cases about who they do and don’t want to talk to. But conflating the initiating of conversations with street harassment is fucked up, and I suspect one reason it happens is because of this middle class privacy bubble which is meant to exclude working class people.

  42. August 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    human:
    When I did this interrogation myself I found some unfortunate results.One of the chief ones being that I didn’t mind so much if well-dressed middle-class-presenting men spoke to me in public (in a non-leering way!) but that I DID mind if older working-class-presenting men did the exact same thing.

    This is something that bothers me as well when I self-examine how I react to social interactions with strangers, especially as a single woman who is *generally* open to meeting people. Sometimes unpacking that particular knapsack involves self-reflection on my own class prejudices.

  43. gidget commando
    August 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    and even when it’s nothing more than an old Greek man putting in a bid for a morsel of attention, I’m tired of—literally, I am emotionally exhausted by—feeling as though I need to parcel out attention to people merely because they’ve asked.

    Interesting, and touching, point. The world can be cruel and lonely, so I try to say hello or respond to those bids for a morsel of attention when I can without feeling drained. It’s the kind of world I would like to live in, so I try to contribute to it. If that morsel of attention I can spare helps someone, doesn’t harm me, and maybe gives a contact buzz to people who witness it, then I’m happy to give it.

    But I do that when I can do so without hurting myself. It all depends on my own state and the context of the situation. The cues can be subtle, but with practice, they become clearer more quickly. This guy says hello someplace with lots of witnesses, plenty of personal space, and I’m okay. That guy’s body language creeps me out. This other guy refused to read my blatant cues that I’m not interested in conversing. I’m energetic. Or I’m tired. Or I’ve had my force-field tried too many times today. Or I’m just preoccupied with my own damned life.

    You know what really exhausts me? Doing the constant math, all the time. Having to expend so much friggin’ energy calculating every step on the tightrope that is a patriarchal culture. If my boundaries aren’t strong enough am I going to be drained/vulnerable/attacked? If my boundaries are too strong, am I going to get punished for being a “cold bitch”? No wonder we’re tired.

  44. August 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    @human: Excellent points about the intersection of class and the idea of privacy and our rights to it. There’s also a race intersection that I didn’t get into in the post but that I touched upon in my comment to LZ above. I am utterly agreed that not all greetings are rude–and that very belief, actually, is part of why navigating the world of ostensibly benign greetings is difficult and leaves me doubting myself pretty much constantly. I remember walking down the street and this guy crossed my path and gave me this wink and then wiggled his eyebrows–and I giggled. I giggled because I thought he was good-looking, and because his attitude was amusing, and, you know, he also had markers of being middle-class like myself. (And, for the record, he didn’t leer; we went our separate ways.) But then I questioned myself: Would I have had that reaction if he were a different color? (He was white.) What if he were wearing a plumber’s shirt?

    I agree that we do need to interrogate ourselves so that we’re not just living in our own bubbles. That’s what I’m trying to do here, and part of that interrogation means asking myself why my time and energy feels so precious–which is in many ways a middle-class American concern (more so in New York, which practically invented “time is money”). It’s not fucked up to try to have a human interaction–something that I think readers like Feste are struggling with. I don’t want people to be hyper-self-conscious for fear of offending women; I don’t want the natural spontaneity of street life to dwindle.

    I also don’t think it’s fucked-up to know that I am approached an OVERWHELMING amount more frequently than men, and to question the sociological reasons for that. It’s a constant negotiation, as you point out. And I’m not trying to conflate the initiation of every conversation initiation with street harassment, and I’d hoped I made that clear; perhaps I didn’t. That said: The social negotiations you speak of rely on certain cues, and a major–MAJOR–cue in these situations is: I am a white middle-class woman of child-bearing age, and when a man of any color or class approaches me and appears to only want my time, not “the time” or anything in particular, but wants to know about me, or to talk about himself, there’s a reasonable assumption that he is doing so because either A) he’s hoping it will lead to a further relationship of some sort, or B) he doesn’t have that intent, but sees my social markers and believes that my womanhood means I owe him my time. And in certain situations that’s okay–at a museum, say, there’s a shared interest if we’re both there. In any case, the fact that this happens much more often to me than it does to any man I know says that while there might not be rudeness involved, there are social expectations involved, and to treat it like a neutral situation is disingenuous. (In fact, when I asked male friends about this, inevitably their response began: “You mean, like to ask me the time?” Because that is a neutral-to-friendly human interaction.)

  45. August 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    gidget commando:
    You know what really exhausts me? Doing the constant math, all the time. Having to expend so much friggin’ energy calculating every step on the tightrope that is a patriarchal culture.

    Oh my, that is perfectly put. And thank you for including the idea in your comment that it’s okay to not engage simply because your personal limit has been reached for the day. It’s not license to be rude; it’s license to not engage. I’m going to remember your phrase “without hurting myself.”

  46. Complicated
    August 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    In a situation where there’s a reasonable expectation that I’ll meet the same people over and over again, like at work or in my building, then I don’t mind when people say hi and I’ll usually say hi to any person I run into. But when I’m out on the street and I’m walking somewhere purposefully I hate having random people interrupt my thoughts or my podcasts with “hello”. Its always men and its always annoying, because I never sit around in public doing nothing, so they’re always interrupting something. In fact I wear earphones all the time even if there’s nothing I especially want to listen to, because it makes it easier to ignore those intrusive strangers.

    However, I live in a big city. I can see how in a much smaller town the dynamic might shift to something where you do see the same people over and over again and then saying hi makes sense, just like at work.

  47. human
    August 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    @Autumn,

    Thanks so much for the response. I basically agree with everything you just said. I should have been clearer in my comment that I wasn’t responding based only on your post but also on other conversations about the same topic here and at other feminist blogs. I think your post does a much better job than usual at acknowledging the complexity behind these interactions. And it certainly seems to have sparked a productive discussion!

    I especially want to acknowledge what you said about the cue of being a woman of a certain color, age, class, etc. and what that says about your relative availability for social interactions. Yes. This is true. And @gidget is absolutely right about how exhausting it can be to navigate and deal with this.

    I guess, in the end, though, there are worse things than a presumption that one is always available for conversation. And, for me, viewing these social interactions as an opportunity that I can either accept or decline, depending on what seems best to me at the time, is a much better way to handle it than throwing up a “do not talk to me in public” barrier. (And if someone doesn’t accept my refusal, f&*$ him.) I speak as someone who used to be excruciatingly shy. Not being willing/able to talk to people in public kind of sucks, actually. I would never want to go back to that and sometimes the fact that other people tend to initiate conversation with me makes life easier. I like talking to people, and I get to do that without having to start a conversation myself! But this is all my experience and others, of course, will differ.

  48. August 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    @human: I’m just glad to see the artful way in which you introduce class into this discussion. It can be difficult sometimes to be able to do that sort of self-inventory and see where we fall–and, yes, I am highly protective of my time and privacy, much more so than I’d like, and that’s partly to do with the demands particular to womanhood–and partly to do with my middle-class expectations of privacy, that I can sail about the public sphere and dictate its terms. It’s easy for me to see where someone else is dictating their terms for me–as in, well, this whole post!–but it’s harder to see where I’m dictating the terms, try as I might.

    “Hello” is certainly different than straight-up harassment (unless it’s the wolf-whistle kind of hello I mentioned in the original post) in part because while harassment is about the act of the perpetrator, the “hello” thing also has a lot to do with the target. My mother–who, like you, is also friendly but shy–would tell me about these conversations she had during a three-month stint in New York, and I was amazed that she was having these long, drawn-out conversations with total strangers. I think part of her welcomed the opportunity that the blatant “let me occupy your time” attitude I’m writing about here offered her–and she’s a feminist and certainly not of the “men speak, women listen” camp. So that makes it particularly difficult to suss this out as a sociological issue.

  49. Kim
    August 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Autumn,

    I guess my assumption and experience with unfamiliar men saying hello or trying to talking to me in public is that its usually 50/50 for A) and vary rarely for B). The rest of the time its usually just small talk between two people about a situation in which they might have something in common, like waiting at a bus stop, or for an elevator or at the deli counter, with no element of gender involved. I guess that I don’t read any male expectations or assumptions into it. I think that its unfair to make a judgement on a man’s motive from a single word and a single interaction. I’ve been known to randomly initiate a conversation with strangers, including men, if I see something we might have in common, like I see someone has a book in their hand that I really liked.

    I think the difference is that when someone says hi or makes small talk, I don’t make the assumption that someone is trying to start something with me or demand anything of me. If I don’t want to talk, I’ll walk away or pretend to be busy with something. Perhaps, I’ve had different experiences than most. I do usually walk with a purpose and can seem aloof. Or maybe I’m just not as attractive ;-)

  50. Becky
    August 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Oh, yes. I find even friendly and polite ‘hello’s from strange men fraught, because it’s been my experience on more than one occasion that when I smile and say “hello” back, the guy gets this look on his face like: “Aha, she’s interested!” and proceeds to start hitting on me. I don’t want to signal that I’m interested. But I do want to be polite and friendly! It’s challenging.

    And for reference purposes… I live in a city in Canada where people are generally polite but not particularly friendly. Strange women very rarely say hello to me. It’s almost always been strange men, and they usually go on to hit on me. Although now that I’m older, fatter, married and rarely take public transit, I find I have to deal with this a lot less than when I was young, single, more conventionally attractive and took transit a lot.

  51. August 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    @Kim: Like I was just commenting to Human above, I think part of what makes both these interactions and the discussion of them difficult is that unlike assault or harassment, these DO have to do with the person’s reaction or state of mine. As Gidget Commando said, some days my resources just aren’t there. Other days they are, so some guy’s comment will seem like less of an intrusion and more of a genial thing, and I’ll also have the resources to be politely protective of my needs. Other times I don’t have that, and I sort of shut down. It sounds like you’re more welcoming of these interactions than I might be–so I wouldn’t be all, “But Kim! You’re being harassed!” even as I’d invite you to think about what it means that a man thinks you owe him your time (and to think about how often it’s men approaching you versus women). You know when you’re being harassed, and this isn’t it, not for you–and that’s totally legit. (Also, I wouldn’t really classify “hello” as harassment most of the time, even as it has a place in the discussion.) I’m not sure if you read Human’s first comment but she nicely articulates how conversation can just be conversation for its own sake, and it’s a good point.

    I’d also like to say that even when the “hello” leads to a conversation and not a request for a date or whatever, that can still be an encroachment.

    Also, I’m gathering from your wink that you were teasing, but I’d also like to say that harassment has little to do with attractiveness. I’d say “nothing to do with it,” but I’ve heard from women who say that they feel invisible because of some marker–being disabled, for example–and I don’t want to dismiss that invisibility as being nothing, when in fact it’s a comment on how we assess and distribute “attractiveness” in our culture. We conflate attractiveness with harassment sometimes because we still socialize men to be the aggressors even in benevolent dating situations–so if he’s hollering at me down the street, he’s just doing a boorish version of what we expect from men in “proper” situations too. But harassment isn’t about attractiveness; it’s about power.

  52. Cactus
    August 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Frank M:
    I’m British, btw. Could any British women back me up that it’s not something that happens often in the UK, or have I just been blissfully oblivious all these years?

    I’m British and live in a Yorkshire city. The only passing hellos I get are quite obviously intended to be non-threatening – it’s something that I hear occasionally when I’m walking in the dark or in an isolated area and the meaning seems to be along the lines of
    ‘Hello, I’m a man and I realise you might feel vulnerable so I’m letting you know I’m here so that you don’t think I’m following you/hiding in wait.’ There never seems to be any expectation of a reply.

    I’m no stranger to street harassment but in my experience it’s rare that it takes the form of/starts with Hello.

    • August 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm

      Cactus, this is so fascinating to me! Certainly we Americans aren’t known for our gentility overall so it’s interesting that “hello” is a common opener to street harassment. (Though really I’m here more talking about “hello” as an expectation that women owe men our time, not so much that it’s a port of entry to harassment, though it can be that too.)

  53. Dopegirlfresh
    August 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Oh, Autumn. Thank you for this post.

    I bristle at the “hello,” the “hi,” the “how you doin’?” when I am stationery and the other party is, too. That is, if I know I may have to figure out a way to physically remove myself from the situation, I panic. It may not be a big panic. But, it happens. And I feel very strongly that location plays a big part in how these situations pan out. If I am walking and the other person is, too, then I tend to say “hi” and keep it moving, sometimes increasing my pace or turning the music down a wee bit on my ipod just in case they want to keep things going. More than once the fact that I simply did not hear the man who was speaking to me resulted in my being called “mean,” “nasty,” or “stank.” The people who approach me out in the street — benign and otherwise — are always black men. I am a fat black woman who is femme presenting. The assumption is almost always that if you are femme, you must be straight. How wrong! Also, the idea that if you are fat, you are likely to be satisfied with whatever bones life throws you. Again, wrong. Wrong as all fuck, actually.

    By and large, we are taught by family and/ or larger social structures that a polite greeting is “hello,” “good morning/ afternoon/ evening,” no matter what the setting. I think that because of the polite greeting — which can seem harmless enough at first — some men who tend towards more menacing or harassing behavior believe that whatever comes after the hello is acceptable. No matter what fucked up shit comes out of their mouths, they believe that your response to “hello” means you’re completely open to whatever it is they want to say. And that is simply not true.

    I’m from Philly, where it is perfectly normal for a stranger to speak to you. They may not strike up a conversation, but if two women are at the same bus stop at an odd hour (especially in fall/ winter when we have less daylight), you’d best believe a “hello” or a “how you doin’?” will be exchanged. Because we know that we may need to speak again to this person — to ask if they know whether the bus is on time, or, to bum a light for our cigarette. But, also, to acknowledge that we see them, that we know they are there. Philadelphia in general is a working-class city full of black folks, many of whom are descendants of The Great Migration — which means US Southern social norms are woven into this Northeastern identity we claim. Speaking to your neighbor — and acknowledging their presence in the space you’re in — is, IMO, distinctly Southern and most certainly a norm amongst black folk. This is why it bugs the shit out of me when I am approached by a man with the expectation that I will carry on in conversation about myself exclusively. When I do not know this person. Asking me my name, where I am from, what I do, etc. And when I politely decline, in most instances the persistence does not wither. The campaign continues.

    And I’m wondering how the hell to get away, or what I can say to shut the shit down.

  54. CassandraSays
    August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    “whenever I sail by a hello-man without returning the greeting, I often have a moment of: What, you’re too good to say hi to him?”

    This, in combination with this…

    “One skill I’ve cultivated over years of having a friendly, open, female face is sensing loneliness in people, and soothing that loneliness for a split second with a hello feels somehow morally compulsory.”

    Pretty much sums up the whole issue. Men do not generally feel morally obligated to brighten the days of strangers. But they do expect and demand that of women, as does society as a whole. Why?

    The “do you think you’re too good to (say hello, whatever)” is the bit that makes me cringe most because it’s pretty much a textbook example of unwittingly participating in your own oppression. Forget the debate about makeup – if you don’t want to interact with a man, but you feel like maybe you’re being arrogant if you don’t, you have accepted a totally sexist framing of that interaction. Society has succeeded in making you feel like a bad person for having boundaries.

    A lot of the time I avoid the whole thing by listening to music (living in London trained me well in how to avoid interacting with strangers whose motives are unknown). I will take out my headphones and interact if someone appears to need assistance (looks lost and wants directions, etc), but if I do take them out and it turns out the guy “just wanted to say hello” and was really insistent about it, well, that guy is at the very least going to get a scowl and me walking off without any further interaction.

    This stuff is 100% gendered. As several people said, women don’t generally do this. Generally if a woman talks to me in public, she needs something, or she’s actively trying to make friends. The practise of men saying “hello” and nothing else is basically just “I want your attention, and I am entitled to it, so give it to me, now”. The old dudes in your neighborhood…yes, they probably want acknowledgement rather than sex. But they’re not entitled to acknowledgement either if you don’t feel like giving them that, and not wanting to do so doesn’t make you a bad person. You should never feel guilty for not going along with those kind of heavily gendered social interactions.

    There are a few rare occasions where a man says hello to me and I can actually tell it’s just a friendly greeting, and in those cases I usually smile and say hi back. But I’d estimate that those particular cases are maybe 5% of total cases of men saying hello to me in the street.

    This was a big thing in the early 2000s on the San Francisco craigslist, men posting random rants about women refusing to smile at them and say hello, and reading those rants made it crystal clear just what those interactions are really about. And it’s not about wanting to make society a warmer, friendlier place at all, so don’t let anyone guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do by trying to get you to buy into that mental framework. Because that’s not what’s really happening at all.

  55. August 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I deal with it with headphones. I make sure they’re visible – that way, it’s easy to ignore the assholes, and polite people (I presume) won’t be offended. I also pay attention to body language, facial expression and posture – this way if someone is trying to ask me a question (usually about the bus, since most of my walking is to/from it) I can answer them. It’s worked out a lot better for me (and my anger) than when I didn’t wear them.

  56. August 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    My feet keep moving. I turn, smile, nod and keep moving. Their hellos are dangerously loaded with the potential for direct patriarchal oppression if they should not like my response. I never forget that. So, I go with my gut and the raised hairs on the back of my neck. They’re never wrong.

  57. August 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    @Dopegirlfresh: Ah, I’m glad you brought fat activism into this. I think that to whatever extent attractiveness comes into play in street harassment, this is also a major concern on the spectrum–that by playing on the idea that unwanted conversation is a comment on a woman’s attractiveness by assuming that fat women would be grateful for that conversation, there really isn’t a way to win, it feels like. And I’m also glad to read your experience as a black woman, because race is certainly one of the trigger cues in these situations. Being seen is essential, and to see how people can turn that basic need into somehow faulting us for not wanting to be seen in the way they perceive us…ugh.

    @CassandraSays: Well, I’d like to think that I’m not *accepting* a sexist framing of that interaction, hence the entire post! But certainly I am internalizing it…hence the entire post.

    There was a wonderful workbook called “Self-Defense From the Inside Out” by Nadia Telsey that I looked around for to share here but much to my chagrin can’t find. It led the reader through exercises in exactly this: looking at our reactions to social situations that made us uncomfortable and asking us how our responses reflected ideas of what women were “supposed” to do. I am a polite, accommodating person and like that about myself, but when I saw how often that accommodation led to me getting into situations that were uncomfortable, it was a wake-up call. It actually was part of why I developed a sort of “sound barrier” around me…but that training goes deep, and that’s where that twinge of “what, you think you’re too good to say hi back?” comes from.

    I do believe in the joys of spontaneous sharing in public space–it’s actually one of my favorite things about New York, actually, the sort of street dance we all do here. But as you point out, there are ways to truly tell when it’s a friendly greeting versus a bid for attention beyond simple human visbility. I hesitate to say that because of all the sociological cues I might have internalized about that, like Human’s excellent point about class. That said: I do know it when I see it, or at least I think I do, and the best I can do is engage when I feel okay doing so…and ignoring it when I don’t.

  58. miga
    August 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    There’s definitely an imbalance of who does and does not say hello to me, which makes me leery.

    Very rarely do women say it. When I make eye contact with a woman or girl there’s usually a nod and a smile, and then we move on.

    But when it’s a man- older than me, usually. Of my same race, usually- they say hello. And I don’t know what to do.

    On the one hand, you want to acknowledge your fellow human beings participating in “the struggle.” And I was always taught to respect my elders. And this NYC neighborhood i’m in is a lot more like my old midwestern neighborhood where people are more cordial (but there’s still that danger inside the hello). But it’s true- many times it’s a ploy for my attention, or an unwelcome conversation starter, or a prequel to some comment on my looks. And I’m tired of being deceived by faux-courtesy.

  59. CassandraSays
    August 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    “There is this middle class idea that it’s rude to invade people’s privacy, and that when people are out in public they have a bubble of privacy around them that it’s rude to cross, even by saying hello. That idea is NOT shared by everyone, and I think that those of us who do hold that idea to one degree or another would do well to interrogate ourselves about which kinds of people we do and do not allow to penetrate our bubble of privacy. When I did this interrogation myself I found some unfortunate results. One of the chief ones being that I didn’t mind so much if well-dressed middle-class-presenting men spoke to me in public (in a non-leering way!) but that I DID mind if older working-class-presenting men did the exact same thing. Even if their attempt to start conversation obviously had no sexual or threatening intent whatsoever.”

    This assumption bothers me, because it’s not actually a universal experience and it seems to be being presented as one. In fact, often the men I find most intrusive and unpleasant with their hellos are rich white guys in suits, to the point that whenever I see a man like that my guard is up. Here is San Francisco the financial district is one of the worst places in the city for this sort of subtle street harrassment – I can’t walk a single block there without some be-suited financial dude or lawyer getting in my face. In fact I think their social status makes them feel extra entitled to attention from women, thus making them even pushier than the norm. Whereas the elderly black security guards in the last building I worked in there also said hello all the time, but that was OK because it registered as A. just something they did as part of their job and B. I want acknowledgement, but not in a skeevy sexual sense, in a please don’t treat me like I’m part of the furniture sense. Which is totally reasonable and not at all rude, and those guys I said hi to every day.

    Also, going back to culture – I have a fairly large privacy bubble not because of class, but because I’m British and lived for a long time in London. Where no one says hello to you unless they want something or they’re about to harrass you or otherwise do something unpleasant to you. This applies to working class Brits as much as rich ones – culturally we’re just a rather reserved lot, and the only time you see people greeting each other in the street is in small towns, which is mostly because generally anyone you see on the street in a small British town is not actually a stranger.

    Also, I’m not shy, so if I want to talk to someone I will. So I don’t see being assumed to be avaliable for conversation by random men as a plus at all. If I’m not smiling and displaying “feel free to approach me!” body language, then it means that I do not want to be approached, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t expect other people to respect that.

    (In places where that’s the cultural norm. Obviously in places where the norm is for everyone to greet each other things are different, and in fact in those places I don’t mind everyone saying hello, because it actually is everyone saying hello, not a prelude to harrassment.)

  60. stonebiscuit
    August 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I’m currently living in Bumblefuck Nowhere, population 17, but my home is Atlanta. I greet people when I’m in some sort of legit interaction with them–checking out at the store, for instance. I feel like it’s polite to acknowledge them, usually with a simple “hi, how are you?” and then an appropriate response to their reply. I also feel, having worked any number of crappy retail jobs, that it’s important for me to acknowledge the humanness of the person serving me, whether at the checkout counter, the bank, the drive-thru, or whatever. I liked it when people took the time and attention to have a polite chat with me when I was handing them their change, so I try to do it as well.*

    Conversely/hypocritically, I often react poorly to being greeted, whether by men or others. Nine times out of ten I’m paying only enough attention to my surroundings to avoid tangling my hair in a low-hanging branch**, if that. When people greet me first, I have to wrench my mind back from whatever flight of fancy it had taken, and I usually say something completely inane as a result.

    *Anecdotally, I’ve found this practice generally well-received in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Dallas. On the other hand, I’ve found the opposite to be true in New York, Chicago, and Orlando (with the notable exception of the theme parks). LA, when I visited, went both ways.
    **this happens more often than I care to admit

  61. Sheelzebub
    August 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Actually, I do think I have the right to expect a bubble of privacy when I am out and about and surrounded by people I do not know, I do not see every day, and I will never see again. And I think it is a big deal to have demands placed on my time by perfect strangers (overwhelmingly men) who expect me to make conversation with them whether I want to or not.

    When I’m in my town or neighborhood (or a neighborhood I am in frequently to see friends, etc.), Passers-by and I will nod at each other or say, “how’s it goin’?” or “s’up?”. We’ll acknowledge each other because even if we aren’t on a first (or last) name basis, we know each other. We’ll nod at each other in acknowledgement if we’re waiting for the same bus or subway train (especially if there’s only a few of us) but that’s about it if we don’t know each other. If I’m walking around in the financial district–a place I never go to and where the people I’m walking past are not people I see every day–no–I’m going to be rather bemused if some random dude says hello, no matter how he’s dressed or how he presents.

    And really–every single goddamn time this comes up, we get people complaining about how all folks want to do is make conversation and is that really a big deal, blah blah blah. Well, I can tell you, that my friendships and relationships haven’t ever come out of random encounters on the street. I’m trying to get from point A to point B, and sometimes I’m too fucking tired and I’ve got too much on my mind to be company for a random guy that I don’t know from Adam.

    It doesn’t feel particularly friendly to me, it feels intrusive. And I’m really tired of the shaming that goes one when women say that something isn’t okay with them. Fuck that overprivileged bullshit.

  62. Sheelzebub
    August 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    And before someone pulls the Awkward Guy Trope–because I know someone will, we’ve already had a What About the Menz complaint–as someone who was a very socially awkward girl, those random greetings and demands for attention were actually not helpful or welcome at all. They freaked me out when I was a lot younger. (Yes, I know socially awkward women and girls exist. SHOCKING I know.)

  63. CassandraSays
    August 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    @Sheelzebub – Thank you. I’m sitting here going, really? We’re going to have this same “but it’s OK because…” conversation again? Should I just link people to the Shapely Prose thread?

    Apparently “but it might just be prejudice against working class people and maybe wanting to not be harrassed is an unreasonable middle class idea” is the new Awkward Guy. Which, well, my working class Scottish relatives would no doubt have a fascinating response to that, but the level of profanity used would be unlikely to make it through the comment filter. I still remember when my mother found an older man “just saying hello” to teenaged me and told him what she thought of his attempt to be “friendly”. I learned many new swear words that day.

  64. stonebiscuit
    August 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I also acknowledge people with whom I’m sharing an elevator, especially if I’m solo at the time, with eye contact and/or a nod. This makes me feel more secure, in that I now know what they look like, and it keeps me aware of their presence. It also prepares me, mentally, to stand up for myself should the need arise.

    Elevators, business interactions, people who are holding the door for me, apologies, and running into someone I know are about the only times I initiate greetings, though.

  65. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    For various reasons, I don’t like hellos in public from men I don’t know at all. The big reason is that I am a survivor of a sexual assault that was basically a badly escalated incident of street harassment. The other big reason is that I’m both shy and introverted, and I have learned over and over again that if I let people get a foot in the door by responding to them when they say hello or whatever, it’s virtually always men who ignore that I am uncomfortable and would like to be left in peace with my iPod. Women eventually get a clue and respect my desire to be left alone.

    I take public transportation everywhere, and sitting at bus stops has produced a variety of extremely uncomfortable situations ranging from men hounding me for my phone number; men I have never seen before in my entire life telling me that their wife had an affair, that they’re lonely and looking for someone who won’t cheat (and that I look like that someone); men trying to shame me into buying the diet pills they sell; men that I can’t recall ever seeing before in my life but who apparently know way too much about me proceeding to lecture me that the way I lead my introverted life is all wrong, etc. etc.

    Men that I only know a tiny bit aren’t much better. There is one who stares at me whenever we are both on the same bus, and when he happened to be at the library at the same time as me one day, he followed me *everywhere*, even when I tried going to another aisle or room to get away from him.

    On occassions when I am out in public but don’t have my iPod with me, I feel like I can’t relax or breathe out a sigh of relief until I am home.

  66. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Sheelzebub:
    And before someone pulls the Awkward Guy Trope–because I know someone will, we’ve already had a What About the Menz complaint–as someone who was a very socially awkward girl, those random greetings and demands for attention were actually not helpful or welcome at all.They freaked me out when I was a lot younger.(Yes, I know socially awkward women and girls exist.SHOCKING I know.)

    Amen Sheezlebub. I’m still sorta awkward myself, and being approached in that manner makes me more awkward to be around, not less.

  67. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Mike: I find articles like this very frustrating.

    I do not want to minimize the problems of women who feel strain from what is apparently constant street-harassment (I don’t know, as a man I don’t experience it, and frankly didn’t believe it still happened until my female friends assured me it did).

    But at the same time, I find people placing demands on my attention all of the time, and I never read sinister actions into it

    *blood boiling* Privilege, you are indeed swimming in it.

  68. August 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Annaleigh: *blood boiling* Privilege, you are indeed swimming in it.

    Boy, for a group that’s almost entirely affluent college-educated people from sheltered suburbs, you guys LOVE saying that!

  69. raya
    August 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I actually do think that a simple “hello” is a common opener to street harassment, at least that’s what I experienced. Sometimes, men on the street start asking where they can find a certain bar or whatever, which is okay IMHO, and then ask if I want to go with them, say that they’ll pay me drinks, or ask where I’m going and if they can come along – or they just fucking FOLLOW me. (…which I asked for by responding to “hello, where can I find..?”) And often, not responding in the first place ends in verbal assault.
    But what freaks me out the most is men who want to start a conversation/hit on me/whatever in public transportation – and honestly, this happens all the time to all my girlfriends I talked to about this when you’re taking a bus, metro or else at night and alone. I seriously can’t grasp how anyone could think it’s a good idea to hit on a stranger at night, drunk, in an enclosed space, when nearly nobody else is around. I have yet to meet someone who just wanted to be nice by saying hello, and who didn’t seem like an ill-minded creep.

  70. Tony
    August 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    This reminds me of an old PUA boot camp guide I read a long time ago. It advised men, as a way of building confidence, to try to make eye contact with a fixed number of women each day (it was at least 10 to start, then higher as you moved along). Then to try and say “hello” to a fixed number of women each day. Then to try and start a conversation with a fixed number of women each day. I never implemented this boot camp (honest! it was too awkward) but it’s stuck with me.

    Isn’t it really all a part of a larger a continuum though, with the kind of “hello” we’re talking about here on the most minor end of the spectrum, to full blown “romancing” or “pursuing” a woman on the other end. Eye contact –> greeting –> small talk –> pursuing/romancing. At the pursing/romancing end of the scale I would put the scene in Vertigo (1958) where James Stewart knocks on Kim Novak’s apartment and asks her to go out with him, or the entire second half of the Graduate (1967) up until the wedding scene. What bothered me about those movies was that there was a presumption that once the man decided that the woman owed him her affection, we were supposed to root for his ‘success’, even though the men were in no position to make such demands and the women were highly resistant, in at least Kim Novak’s case with good reason, and arguably so in the Graduate as well.

  71. sarah
    August 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    great post! Autumn- maybe ‘goodbye’ is the only good response?

  72. August 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Could any British women back me up that it’s not something that happens often in the UK, or have I just been blissfully oblivious all these years?

    I don’t know about the UK, but I lived in NYC and then in Dublin, and it doesn’t happen at all in Dublin, but it is quite obnoxious in NYC. There’s definitely a cultural difference.

    For my part, I ignore hello from strangers unless it’s about me being a person and not a woman. The difference is clear, and I don’t feel the least bit bad about ignoring the latter. I also don’t really feel bad about the rare judgment call that gets it wrong. I am not the person who made that person feel bad–all the guys who harass women are responsible for that.

  73. Angryblackguy
    August 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I being a feminist means you can’t say hello toma person, male or female, that you would like to meet then I think you can count the majority of people on the planet out of the game.

    What this means is that no two strangers will ever get to meet. I met my wife with and uninvited hello followed by a great ten minute discussion of the event we were both walking to and I don’t think she took my hello as ownership of her body or space.

    It was just a greeting that nice people of almost every culture do when they either want to acknowledge or engage someone.

    Now if it is lecherous in tone or threatening or angry or is followed up by unwanted discussion or advance then I am right there with ya about it. Shut that down with the quickness.

    But just the basic “hello”? Cmon people. Women are made of sterner stuff than that (and so are men who get and receive hello’s).

    I don’t want to live in a society where the basic greeting given to another in a kind spirit is off limits. I don’t think many people will share this opinion and I don’t want them to.

    Every once in a while a hello from a stranger is a pick me up that I need to get me through a day of mean people.

  74. Angryblackguy
    August 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Lost in all of this is the male point of view in a world where men are the ones to make first contact with someone they like in many situations.

    If you like someone you see and want to engage them, is the answer that you just can’t. That seems all sorts of wrong. There should be some respectful middle ground where you make a neutral gesture and if the other person responds with interest you have some ability to follow up with the ever offensive “how are you” or something evil like that.

    When I talk to other guys about what is offensive and they give me crap about feminists being extreme I am offended and give them an earful. Banning hello is making it harder for me to fight them.

  75. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Lettuce:

    Actually, I’m a working class person who lives in and gets harassed in a working class neighborhood, so you can go fuck yourself.

  76. August 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    No, according to this thread, making first contact is fine as long as you are middle or upper class, and white. Other than that, it’s “omg creepy!”

    Angryblackguy:
    Lost in all of this is the male point of view in a world where men are the ones to make first contact with someone they like in many situations.

    If you like someone you see and want to engage them, is the answer that you just can’t. That seems all sorts of wrong.There should be some respectful middle ground where you make a neutral gesture and if the other person responds with interest you have some ability to follow up with the ever offensive “how are you” or something evil like that.

    When I talk to other guys about what is offensive and they give me crap about feminists being extreme I am offended and give them an earful. Banning hello is making it harder for me to fight them.

  77. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Angryblackguy: What this means is that no two strangers will ever get to meet.

    Not every person walking down the street or sitting at a bus stop wants or cares to find their goddamn soulmate while they’re there.

  78. Ellie
    August 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Sheelzebub: Well, I can tell you, that my friendships and relationships haven’t ever come out of random encounters on the street.

    This is what I was thinking… my closest friends are people I’ve worked with, or gone to college with, or lived with through some random arrangement, or known through other friends. If I look through my phone book, there’s not a single number that I just got on the street. And maybe that’s because I’m so reluctant to talk to people, or maybe it’s the case with most people; I don’t know.

  79. Ellie
    August 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Angryblackguy: If you like someone you see and want to engage them, is the answer that you just can’t. That seems all sorts of wrong. There should be some respectful middle ground where you make a neutral gesture and if the other person responds with interest you have some ability to follow up with the ever offensive “how are you” or something evil like that.

    I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’ve certainly never talked about “banning hello”. I think this is more about recognizing when your well-intentioned hello may be intruding on someone else’s space, or sense of security; not on getting rid of it completely.

    If I’m standing at a bus stop and I don’t make eye contact with you and I’m listening to my iPod, do you think you have a right to interrupt me to start a conversation? Knowing that, given the situation, my options are more or less to be “rude” to you by not talking back, or to take out my headphones, turn it off, and stop doing what I was really enjoying, just in case there’s some possibility of us having a magic connection? No, I don’t think that’s a reasonable presumption. Now, if I’m sitting there, and I make eye contact with you as you walk up, and I’m not doing anything, maybe then. But I am just too used to men walking up to me and presuming that what I am doing is not worthwhile or valuable, and that they may as well just insert themselves into my day.

    What your argument lacks is nuance. It’s not always okay to interrupt people to say hello. It’s not never okay. But you need to stop thinking like you are entitled to my time and attention, even when I’ve given indications that I don’t want to talk.

  80. Complicated
    August 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    I also feel, having worked any number of crappy retail jobs, that it’s important for me to acknowledge the humanness of the person serving me, whether at the checkout counter, the bank, the drive-thru, or whatever. I liked it when people took the time and attention to have a polite chat with me when I was handing them their change, so I try to do it as well.*

    I see this a lot – am I the only person who had the opposite experience? I was only a cashier for a couple months, but I never liked it when people would stop to chat with me. I almost always wanted to just do the transaction quickly and get through the line without having to chat with random people. I guess that’s why I’m not cut out for that kind of job, but honestly, after a long day standing up at a cashier it was more work for me to chat with strangers than to just accept their money. I certainly didn’t want people to be actively rude to me, but just efficiently handing me the items and the money or card and then walking away was a-ok.

    I especially didn’t like it when people would read my name-tag and say things like “how are you today Sally”. It would always startle me that they knew my name. Does this seriously not bother other people who work those jobs? I’d say maybe the people who feel the way I do don’t keep those jobs, but then, I don’t think most people work as a cashier because its fun.

  81. Ellie
    August 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Complicated: I especially didn’t like it when people would read my name-tag and say things like “how are you today Sally”. It would always startle me that they knew my name. Does this seriously not bother other people who work those jobs?

    This has always creeped me out, too.

  82. Complicated
    August 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    So, when I buy things, I don’t make small talk with the cashier. Unless there’s a specific reason to say something else, I usually just hand them my items, swipe my card, say “thanks” and walk away without waiting for a response. Maybe I say a quick “hi” at the beginning. I hope that doesn’t offend them, but that’s how I wanted to be treated when I was a cashier. I hated being forced to make small talk with strangers, and I still hate it, and I don’t want to put other people in that position. I don’t think its rude to avoid starting vapid and pointless conversations with strangers.

  83. haley
    August 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I really don’t understand the implications of this article /perspective.

    I will start by stating that I am a young female living in a working class majority non-white neighborhood on the SW side of Chicago. Cat-calls, hey mama, hey baby girl and holaaaa are not uncommon. With “hello” even if it is said with sexual undertones I generally say hello back. I think its more useful to acknowledge people than it is too pretend they don’t exist, even if you don’t approve/like/know them. But thats just me.

    Bosses, teachers, parental figures, these people have some direct social or contextual authority, so I can understand how their sexually charged words/implications can be violating. But some guy on the street saying hello has no authority over me, regardless of what he may or may not think. So maybe he wants to have sex with me? Well….ok….. as long as he doesn’t try to act upon that desire without consent, I don’t care. Good for him.
    I can only control myself, I can control my actions and how I choose to respond to other people.

  84. haley
    August 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    I have had an experience of street harassment turning into violence. I was walking home from work one night and passed by a guy at a bus stop who made a sexual comment. I simply nodded and kept walking. He took this as rejection and escalated the situation by threatening to rape me, throw me into traffic and “show me whats what”. Yeah, what he said was scary, but him FOLLOWING me, my hearing his shoes on the pavement quicken behind me, knowing I was alone, wow, that was horrifying. I had to stop running and confront him with pepper spray (thank goodness for mother-in-laws).

    When I think about that guy, about that situation, and then I think about the random teen or old man on my street who in broad daylight says “hello”, even if in a lecherous way, I really don’t feel scared or violated. Once again, his sexual ideas, fantasy, preference, whatever, doesn’t bother me unless he demonstrates a willingness to non-consensually act upon it.

  85. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Ellie: I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’ve certainly never talked about “banning hello”. I think this is more about recognizing when your well-intentioned hello may be intruding on someone else’s space, or sense of security; not on getting rid of it completely.

    THIS. Thank you. Thank you for saying what I would have liked to have said but couldn’t. I just get very angry when the “what about the menz” brigade starts up on this issue that they have fucking clue or appreciation or understanding about.

  86. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Annaleigh:
    I just get very angry when the “what about the menz” brigade starts up on this issue that they have fucking clue or appreciation or understanding about.

    Whoops, this should read “no fucking clue or appreciation or understanding about.”

  87. CassandraSays
    August 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    It’s amazing how every time this conversation happens it goes the same way. Original post makes it clear that the person posting is not suggesting that no one talk to each other in public ever, and male commenters (and a few women who apparently lack reading comprehension) respond with “OMG why are you trying to stop people from ever talking to each other in public, you evil antisocial creature?”. Other commenters point out that this is not in fact what was said. The same commenters as before respond with “OMG you’re trying to kill love! How are men supposed to meet ladies? If we followed your rules the human race would die out!”. More logical commenters point out that randomly chatting someone up in the middle of the street is not actually the only way to meet people. Increasingly stubborn and/or deliberately clueless commenters bring out the spectre of the Awkward Guy. Everyone else sighs and rolls their eyes, and points out that some women are equally awkward and also can we get back to the point? And so on.

    I have to admit though, “if you want privacy you must be middle class and you only want it because you hate poor people and/or POC!” is a new twist.

  88. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    CassandraSays: I have to admit though, “if you want privacy you must be middle class and you only want it because you hate poor people and/or POC!” is a new twist.

    Yup, following that kind of logic, the fact that I want to be left alone in public now means that I hate myself.

    Ya learn something new everyday. :S

  89. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Tony: or the entire second half of the Graduate (1967) up until the wedding scene.

    Gavin De Becker actually talks quite about this movie in The Gift of Fear. I wish I could find the passage online, but I haven’t been able to. I would quote it here. But he talks about the movie in the context of how women are harassed or even stalked because men are taught to ignore us when it’s clear we’re not interested.

    I might have it in my Kindle library…if I find it I might quote it.

  90. Annaleigh
    August 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Annaleigh: Gavin De Becker actually talks quite about this movie in The Gift of Fear. I wish I could find the passage online, but I haven’t been able to. I would quote it here. But he talks about the movie in the context of how women are harassed or even stalked because men are taught to ignore us when it’s clear we’re not interested.

    I might have it in my Kindle library…if I find it I might quote it.

    Ok, here’s a choice quote from The Gift of Fear about The Graduate:
    “…what happens? He gets the girl. She runs off with Dustin Hoffman, leaving her family and new husband behind. Also left behind is the notion that a woman should be heard, the notion that no means no, and the notion that a woman has a right to decide who will be in her life.”

    I think these very basic notions are violated in women’s lives all the time, sometimes in smaller ways, like the asshole who insists on a conversation with you because he’s entitled and you might be “the one”, and in bigger ways as well.

  91. metaneira
    August 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    @Complicated

    I can usually deal with the chit chat. Sometimes. And then I hit my personal human interaction limit for the day and there is no more pleasant conversation. My logic goes something like this: “I am working. I am paid to be nice to the customers. I am paid to smile, make sure you buy lots of things, and want to come back to buy more things. No, I do not want to go to the sketchy side of town to see your crappy cover band.”

  92. Sheelzebub
    August 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I have to admit though, “if you want privacy you must be middle class and you only want it because you hate poor people and/or POC!” is a new twist.

    Especially when some of the posters here who have talked about how it bothers them are women of color and working-class women. But like Awkward Women, women of color and working class women don’t seem exist. Besides which, what’s a little fake ally bullshit and shaming between people who seem to think that women are public property?

  93. Matt
    August 5, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Amarantha:
    Maybe I’m too suspicious, but if a dude says “hello” to me on the street, I just walk on by and don’t make any effort to be friendly back. It usually just seems like the first step in their initiating unwanted contact. Women never say “hello” to me on the street–they may smile or nod, but that’s it. That makes me think the “hello” I get from men is not just a friendly, hey-we’re-in-this-together thing, but something more nefarious/entitled/obnoxious in its intent.

    I totally agree with this quote except switch out women for men. I even tell them don’t say hello to me, if it’s someone I know, and they still do it. Even if I have ignored that person, known to me or not, several times.

    As for the person in the original post feeling obligated to do certain things to be polite, that is not a pressure only for women.

    Also, I get about 1000x more crap from black people I ignore than white people. They get aggressive and angry, even though I am treating them the same as everyone else.

  94. Sam
    August 6, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Autumn,

    “I’m more bringing up the question of where hello belongs on the street harassment spectrum, since I personally have felt guilt for not responding to every hello I hear on the street, and I’d like to explore why in a feminist space.”

    I don’t know, but do you really think that guilt is related to the word being used? I think you put the finger on the problem here – “You, Woman, owe me, Man, your attention”. Except that it doesn’t only work in that direction. Everyone will feel bad if s/he feels cornered in that way, regardless of the wording. So in that respect I see mostly two gender related issues: a) women are generally kinder in their response as long as they don’t think it’s a come on, even though they may be annoyed and b) women are generally (yes, that is a generalization which may or may not apply to you yet corresponds with my experience) looking for displays of precisely *that* kind of “commanding” subtext when it *is* about flirting. And that puts them in a weird double bind, in which they are likely to both dislike and like the same behaviour, which, in turn, makes it exceedingly complicated for guys, as not everyone is a “context master”… and it puts guys in a complicated position where they have to commandingly open themselves up to rejection. Try it, it’s not *that* easy.

    Anyway, there’s no reason to feel guilt for not responding, ever. If I said hello to you and you didn’t respond, well, that would be sad for both of us, but that risk is part of the cost of doing “business”, of trying to approach people one doesn’t know.

    While you may miss out on an exciting new friendship, or lover, there would be no reason whatsoever to feel guilty. You could feel sorry about missed opportunities or happy about having avoided annoyances. But there’s really no need to feel guilty about anything. Guilt really is the wrong category here.

  95. CassandraSays
    August 6, 2011 at 12:25 am

    @ Sam – Women are looking for a “commanding” subtext from men while flirting? Really?

    Nice that you added in the “results may vary” postscript, but that doesn’t in any way ameliorate the ridiculous sexism in the initial statement.

  96. August 6, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Annaleigh: Ok, here’s a choice quote from The Gift of Fear about The Graduate:
    “…what happens? He gets the girl. She runs off with Dustin Hoffman, leaving her family and new husband behind. Also left behind is the notion that a woman should be heard, the notion that no means no, and the notion that a woman has a right to decide who will be in her life.”

    Wow, I never knew someone so prominent viewed that plot the same way I did! Cool.

  97. August 6, 2011 at 12:36 am

    CassandraSays:
    @ Sam – Women are looking for a “commanding” subtext from men while flirting? Really?

    Nice that you added in the “results may vary” postscript, but that doesn’t in any way ameliorate the ridiculous sexism in the initial statement.

    To be fair, a lot of dating advice says the same thing. Women are looking for the man to take charge, take care, prove himself, etc. If you don’t you’re not being strong or masculine. Sexist or not it’s pretty much the norm, and men are often subject to overwhelming pressures to conform to it.

  98. CassandraSays
    August 6, 2011 at 12:45 am

    @ Tony – yep, it is standard dating advice. It’s also outdated nonsense. But what I really object to is the way our friend Sam is framing his argument, ie that he’s constructed it in such a way as to suggest that of course the occasional strange outlier who this does not apply to may exist, and if you don’t buy into his theory that all women love being commanded then you must be such an outlier. It’s a classic example of circular logic, and it’s intellectually dishonest. So, yeah, in a blog with a less intellectually minded commentariat composed of people who are strangers to feminism that kind of framing might fly without anyone calling it out, but here? Nope.

  99. Sam
    August 6, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Cassandrasays,

    “you don’t buy into his theory that all women love being commanded then you must be such an outlier.”

    Except that I didn’t say that women “love being commanded”. They don’t, really, at least I don’t think so. Being “commanded” and – as I said – “looking for displays of … commanding subtext” – is something quite different. If you call me intellectually dishonest, at least get your quotes right, ok?

    Experience – my own experience – has convinced me that women – to the extent that I can rely it – are indeed looking for said subtext. Yet, as I already said, that subtext is something quite different from *actually* being commanded… and that is part of the difficulty of the performance that I alluded to.

    Most women seem to be looking for some sort of playful performance of dominance rather than *actual* dominance. The difference is palpable when you see it, when you feel it, yet it’s hard to explain in words.

  100. CassandraSays
    August 6, 2011 at 1:32 am

    @ Sam – I understand very well that what you’re referring to is a show of dominance that isn’t real. Attempting actual dominance on a first date without prior negotiation would probably get you arrested (or at least so one hopes). What I’m saying is that you are incorrect in the idea that the vast majority of woman want that, and it’s sexist to assume that they do. And obnoxious to act like if they don’t they’re some sort of unusual outliers.

    Women are unique individuals, and different women like different things. There are very few things that are preferred by all women, other than possibly “have good personal hygiene”. Shocking idea, I know.

  101. haley
    August 6, 2011 at 1:41 am

    @ comments about service industry

    I feel the same way in regards to people trying to chat while I am handing them change, or calling me by my name (which is why I try to avoid wearing name tag at all costs).

    When you are working in the service industry, you are serving others. Whether you’re serving food, coffee, clothes or products, your in a position of inferiority and vulnerability. The customer knows your name (you don’t know theirs), they know where you work (you don’t know theirs), they can call your manager or boss. They have the power to see that your reprimanded or maybe even fired should they not like the way you converse or act.

    Talk about people thinking they have a right to your time! Well the way our economy is designed, they do….the customer is always right, right?

    I don’t want people to be rude to me while I’m working, but I don’t like it when customers pretend to care about how my day is or who I am. Especially when they say ” oh hey how are you?” and I start to happily respond and they interrupt “ugh, uh-hu great, is my ….ready?”. GRRRRrrrr.

  102. Shaun
    August 6, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Complicated:
    I especially didn’t like it when people would read my name-tag and say things like “how are you today Sally”. It would always startle me that they knew my name. Does this seriously not bother other people who work those jobs? I’d say maybe the people who feel the way I do don’t keep those jobs, but then, I don’t think most people work as a cashier because its fun.

    Weird, I actually really liked having people call me by my name because it felt like they were acknowledging me as a person. The context may have been different though–I present as male and the people I remember doing it tended to be older women.

  103. Shaun
    August 6, 2011 at 2:15 am

    @Haley OK that makes sense. I actually find it less charming now than I did at 18-19 (my first cashier job), but the kind of jobs and the location has changed since. The last time anyone called me by my name it was just to try to charm me–and not very well–into giving them free stuff.

  104. August 6, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Thank you for this post. I couldn’t agree more.

    A male friend asked me yesterday: what do you see as men’s role in feminism. I was ashamed to not have answer ready for him, but the one point I did make was, ‘I wish men could understand that there is a power dynamic at play when you greet a woman on the street, that ‘hi hun’ is not friendly, and ‘morning beautiful’ is not a compliment’.

    There are two indicators I consider in deciphering whether hello is friendly or not. Firstly, if the man waits until I am almost equal with him, or more commonly, past him and then says hello without attempting eye contact, this indicates to me that he wasn’t speaking to me but at me. Not friendly.

    The second extends on the point you made above, when I feel that a man is not saying hello to me as a fellow person, but as a woman – and furthermore as a woman worthy of saying hello to. To me, it always feels like a judgement: I have assessed you, and you have passed, you are worthy in my eyes because of your looks, build, dress, gait, appearance of availability, whatever, of saying hello to. If I had assessed you and you hadn’t passed, there wouldn’t be a hello. Obviously I don’t care at all about the outcome of the judgement, but the judgement and the consequences themselves worry me.

    I rarely acknowledge these kinds of hellos, but I feel much happier with myself if I manage to get out a ‘fuck you’.

  105. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 3:14 am

    haley: When I think about that guy, about that situation, and then I think about the random teen or old man on my street who in broad daylight says “hello”, even if in a lecherous way, I really don’t feel scared or violated.

    I’m not snarking when I say this, but I am glad for you that you feel relatively safe in the daytime.

    However, your experience is not every woman’s. I alluded earlier to a street harassment incident that got very ugly, and well, basically it was a sexual assault/attempted rape that happened in broad daylight when I was trying to walk with my friend from our high school (I was 17) to a bus stop so we could go home to my house. What I learned from that horrible incident, among other things, is that it’s actually not safe in broad daylight. That someone can try to pluck me off the street in broad daylight and no one will intervene.

    I have even experienced sexual harassment in my own home. I am turning 30 in a couple of days, but when I was in my early 20’s, I had a scary harassment incident with a UPS delivery man who behaved wildly inappropriately with me (I was worried when he asked for a glass of water, by the time he asked for a hug I was scared shitless), and it turned out he had harassed or scared many of the women who live in the trailer park that I lived in. What I learned from this is that nowhere is truly safe.

    So, when I am out around town trying to do my daily errands, I have to be aware and on guard with every man that I do not know well enough, and goddamnit, after everything that has happened it’s my right. But it’s exhausting to have to worry all the time. I know that I can’t ban men from saying hello or initiating any contact, but I have a right to be left alone once I demonstrate my lack of interest, because if they don’t leave me alone, I have every reason to distrust or even fear them. And I don’t need or deserve that kind of stress.

  106. Interesting
    August 6, 2011 at 4:11 am

    I read this article earlier today, and had nothing to say, but now something just happened that I would like to share.

    I take public transit to and from work, including a ferry ride, every day. Today I took an 11:00 pm ferry home and since the bus system on my side of the water does not run after 8:00 pm I resigned myself to making the 45 minute walk home. On the walk home while heading down a deserted street in a sparsely populated suburb two guys in a Subaru slowed down and the passenger side dude called out to me something along the lines of how he would give me a ride to where ever I was going for a blow job. I declined him with something along the lines of that not being my style and he replied with a ‘well fuck you then’ and drove away. I expected that was just the last of those two slim shady wannabees so was quite surprised when they drove past me for the second time (they must have circled around the block) and started heckling me again; asking me several more times if I was sure I did not want to take them up on the deal, and telling me to take off my headphones and listen to them, asking me what music I had going and telling me ‘that’s like the most emo ever’ intended as an insult when I told them. After a minute they drove off again.

    There was quite a power imbalance in that situation: I am quite weaker than average (exceptionally so), there were two of them, they had a car, I think I was a few years younger (19 vs maybe 22-23), and I am just there for the summer so I was on foreign soil. It was indeed a disconcerting encounter and the rest of my walk home I spent day dreaming about tracking them down and destroying their property (with arson), but you know what, that was just because I was bored at the time. That was only an hour ago and already I don’t care. I’m not even sure if I wish that incident hadn’t of happened, slightly more interesting than a usual midnight trek you know. Just two fools being foolish.

    Stoicism is the only virtue, so I have zero sympathy for people who complain about being greeted with hello as if it were more than a matter of personal preference.

    Yes, I have privileged. Being a man is pretty fantastic, all of it. I know that things have different meanings for different people. But not all interpretations are equally valid. Women have a justified greater fear of rape, and thus deserve greater accommodation, but not infinite accommodation such that everything that could possibly annoy them is all part of society harshest taboo.

    Not all fears are reasonable. 60% of women over sixty say they are afraid of being attacked and raped in their own homes, but the rape for people over 60 in the United States is approximate 0 per 1,000 persons (CITE1).

    I wouldn’t really know, but I would suggest that if feminists want to make progress on street whatever they stop supporting such opinions as “fuck you” being an appropriate response to “hello” (FourColouredStripes) or people figuring out your name when you have it glued to your chest (Ellie, Complicated, et. al.) –because, well, its sounds bad, and probably is, but right now I’m to preoccupied about imagining being told “fuck you” in response to “hello” to care about victim blaming. But no worries, I will get back to caring about that soon, just have to survey the bizarre when its fresh.

    Complaining about people telling you “hello”? Get over it. An issue of preferences, not gender dynamics.

    ——-
    CITE1. http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED446834.pdf pg. 3

  107. rejiquar
    August 6, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Hate it.

    Wish I were invisible, most of the time.

    Oh sure, once in awhile, it’s a genuine, friendly exchange. But those aren’t worth the other. Because as you say, it’s always men.

  108. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

    When you are working in the service industry, you are serving others. Whether you’re serving food, coffee, clothes or products, your in a position of inferiority and vulnerability. The customer knows your name (you don’t know theirs), they know where you work (you don’t know theirs), they can call your manager or boss. They have the power to see that your reprimanded or maybe even fired should they not like the way you converse or act.

    Exactly. I see people saying they think its rude to not make chitchat with the service people, because you come off as entitled, but personally I think its just as entitled to make chitchat with someone who is forced to respond and make vapid chitchat back with you even if they don’t want to. Its not as bad, but to me it seems a little bit like flirting with the waitress – its not fair because she isn’t free to respond honestly, so you have no way of knowing if she hates it but feels like she’ll lose her job if she expresses that.

    It also depends a bit on the situation. For instance if its clear the person has been sitting alone and bored all day at their workstation with nothing to do, and they start up a conversation, then I’m more inclined to talk a bit. But in a busy store with a line of people behind me, I want to be in and out quickly without a lot of pointless chatting and I assume the cashier wants the same thing.

    I guess some people just like small talk more than others. I’m actually quite a talker once we get going on something interesting, but I hate small talk, and I refuse to feel obligated to engage in it just because some person that I don’t know may or may not want me to.

  109. Sheelzebub
    August 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

    When it comes to service people–cashiers, baristas, servers, etc.–I’m very polite, I greet them, offer the information they need/ask for, ask whatever pertinent questions I have, and thank them. I’ll make small talk if the cashier does (the only time that’s happened is when the cashier at my local grocery store makes small talk or says something like, “Oh, so *that’s* fennel”). At the grocery store, I’m often busying myself bagging my groceries if there isn’t someone there to bag or if it’s really busy and they’re stretched for staff, so chit-chatting is kind of moot.

  110. Sheelzebub
    August 6, 2011 at 8:10 am

    And again, I don’t make small talk with the cashiers, etc. because I assume they’d rather not (though if they do, I’m happy to oblige, since they’re the ones who are providing a service and I appreciate it). I’m friendly and polite but I also figure they’re just trying to do their jobs efficiently and probably do not need to hear the hundredth opinion of the weather for the day.

    The only service people who make small talk are the cashiers at my local grocery store, and that’s because we recognize each other. So there is some level of familiarity, and they know me enough to joke with me about what I’m preparing for dinner that night.

  111. Lolagirl
    August 6, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I know I already offered my opinion on this subject, coming from a more small-town, midwest POV, but I’m finding it interesting that the general tone of this discussion as it’s gone further seems to be limited in perspective to those who live in major U.S. cities like NYC, LA, etc..

    I don’t mean to get all folksy about this topic, but it does bother me that the big city perspective seems to be getting universalized unfairly to all human interactions. I think that it does matter to clarify that one’s POV may very well be limited to one’s own set of personal circumstances. The bigger picture here is actually a feminist issue, where men are culturally groomed to assume that women owe it to them to be open to interaction and by extension to being treated as sexual objects by them. A strange man walking down the street may very well use the offering of a hello to women as part of this sort of power dynamic. But, here is the really important part, he may also be from a different geographical area and/or different culture from you where it is actually considered rude and socially unacceptable to not acknowledge a stranger in passing. Now that doesn’t mean that we women owe him a response in kind, but I do think it means that we shouldn’t always work from the assumption that his hello is being offered in bad faith.

    As feminists, I think it is important to pull out the bigger issue at play and not ignore the nuances involved. And I want to stress that I’m not saying that women ever owe it to anyone to be nice or friendly or whatever if they don’t care to be. (Although as a side note I wonder what some of the women commenters here who do react negatively to strange men saying hello to them unbidden think about women doing the same thing. Is that also off limits and considered intrusive? Where I live, it’s considered socially appropriate and even expected for both sexes to be open and friendly to others regardless of who is offering the hello or who is receiving it. So, women saying hello to other women or men, men saying hello to other men or to women, etc.)

  112. Sam
    August 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Cassandrasays,

    “What I’m saying is that you are incorrect in the idea that the vast majority of woman want that, and it’s sexist to assume that they do. And obnoxious to act like if they don’t they’re some sort of unusual outliers.

    Women are unique individuals, and different women like different things. There are very few things that are preferred by all women, other than possibly “have good personal hygiene”. Shocking idea, I know.”

    Look, I’m talking about my experience. Blame it on messed up internalised dating scripts, blame it on culture in general, blame it on biology, I don’t really care about the origin thereof, but *in my experience* what I say is true. If your experience suggests otherwise we’re left with the problem of having to decide what our subjective samples/experiences mean with respect to the female population in general and whether/to which extent extrapolating from our experiences is useful/helpful.

    Of course, women are unique individuals, and so are men, and I for one am a guy who couldn’t be happier if women actually didn’t appear to like this performance as much as they appear to do. In my experience personal hygiene, however important, isn’t the only thing that, in my experience, most women seem to have in common when it comes to attraction to men.

  113. Sam
    August 6, 2011 at 10:27 am
  114. Mr. Kristen J.
    August 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Sam,

    Excellent. Except now you have met women who feel otherwise. So I assume you will no longer say “in my experience” women want a commanding subtext.

  115. Miss S
    August 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I live in Maryland. Everyone north of us considers us the South, but most people in the Baltimore/DC metro consider us the north. I work in a very small town though, where most people don’t mind the “Southern” label. Here, it’s rude to not say hello back, but there’s not really alot of fear of harassment or assault here. Seriously, it’s a Harley Davidson/rifle owner-hunter culture where the women are bad-ass. It’s just as likely for a woman to have a rifle in her pick up truck as a man.

    I usually say hi or smile when people say hello, but I work in a service related field so it comes naturally. Even in the city people are pretty friendly. There is a large Hispanic population in the city where I used to work, and most of them said hello if you passed them on the street.

    I usually go by vibes or instinct when I meet people. If someone comes across as weird/creepy I trust my instinct. If they do, I’ve learned that staring at them/dirty look does more than looking away- it makes me appear more aggressive I think. Considering I’m 5 feet tall and 115 pounds with a baby face, I don’t know how aggressive I can really appear, but I try. My size is a big disadvantage when I feel threatened.

    Drunk men, men on drugs, men who appear in any way unstable get a dirty look and then ignored. Drunk men make me far more nervous than sober ones.

    Women here greet other women too, so maybe it’s a location thing. It’s the kind of area where you can approach a stranger and compliment them on their shoes/earrings, etc.

  116. August 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I’m not torn on this at all – a ‘hello’ is just an undercover wolf whistle. I had an argument with my mother over this the other day. I was saying I wanted to go to a women’s only gym because I was sick and tired of the unwanted attention from men. She just couldn’t understand WHY I didn’t want men thinking I was pretty. I know it’s just a generational thing because she’s been brought up believing to be grateful for anything you get, but it was so frustrating!

  117. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Lolagirl: Although as a side note I wonder what some of the women commenters here who do react negatively to strange men saying hello to them unbidden think about women doing the same thing. Is that also off limits and considered intrusive?

    I am a shy and introverted person, so a lot of the time I uncomfortable in conversations with women I don’t know just as I am with men I don’t know, but women are different for the simple reason that that if women realize that I don’t feel like talking, they will leave me alone. I can literally count only two women in my lifetime who completely ignored the fact that I was busy doing something else and just kept right on talking to me. The men who have done that are too numerous to count.

  118. Sheelzebub
    August 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    OK, first of all, I live in the Boston area, but not Boston proper. Not all people from the Northeast live in cities. And even in the suburbs (I live in a very blue-collar suburb) and small towns out in rural areas, it’s considered a little weird and intrusive to go greeting people you don’t know (unless you’re a cashier or something). No matter what gender you are.

  119. C
    August 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Hmm. I’m a white cis woman who lives in the Southern U.S., where it’s considered normal, friendly, and non-threatening to wave and say hi when you meet someone else walking along the road. But I’ve also experienced “hello” as a prelude to harassment, or harassment in itself, here in the South and elsewhere. And I can usually tell the difference. The first feels good and happy, a positive human connection. The second feels icky, makes me angry and scared.

    But I’m trying to unpack exactly how I can tell the difference.

    Often, but not always, a truly friendly hello happens when both of us are clearly in the middle of something else — jogging, walking the dog, etc. The other person doesn’t slow, stop, or turn to approach me. Their body language is all saying “I’m doing my thing, I’m not going to interfere with you doing your thing.” There’s usually a brisk nod associated with the “hello.” (I think the nod indicates “This is the beginning and end of the interaction.”) They have a genuine, open smile. I get these hellos from women equally as often as from men. Race doesn’t seem to be a factor except insofar as neighborhoods are generally segregated. This kind of hello has more to do with acknowledging someone as a neighbor, someone who’s part of your community. I currently live in a majority-black, working- to lower-middle-class neighborhood and get friendly hellos from my neighbors here, that play out exactly the same way as friendly hellos in my parents’ majority-white, middle-class neighborhood.

    Hellos that unnerve me usually happen while a stranger is physically approaching me, or standing still and waiting or gesturing for me to physically approach them. The smile isn’t quite genuine. There’s no nod. The body language is all “Come here and talk to me, I want something from you.” A variation could be a shouted “Hey! Hello!” trying to get me to stop and look at the shouter. Either way, the message is “Stop what you’re doing and give me your attention.” These hellos almost always come from men.

    I’ve seen men receive these hellos too, from people who are working up to ask for money, or a signature on their political petition, or to tell you about their religion. Women receive them a lot more, though.

    These are two very different things. I see a lot of people trying to say they’re the same just because they both involve the word “hello” coming out of someone’s mouth, and saying that because the first kind is innocuous, you shouldn’t complain about the second. Yeah, no.

  120. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Interesting: Not all fears are reasonable

    Fuck that. As a man you have no right to declare which women’s fears are “reasonable” and which are not. Those fears are based on bad experiences women have had, or sometimes the absence of good experiences. These are experiences you know fuck all about, so you are no one to judge.

  121. junk
    August 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    one time I was on my bike at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green, and from my right I heard about 5 “hellos,” getting progressively louder each time, until I finally looked to my right to see what the commotion was. There, on the sidewalk sitting on a bench, was the “hello” dude. Then he goes, “you’re beautiful.” At this I scowled, told him to fuck off and stop endangering my life (I was trying to concentrate on riding a bike in heavy traffic on a street where drivers are pretty careless)… his response, “hey, I’m just telling you, you’re beautiful – you should like it!”

    The light turned green and I sped off, fuming.

  122. August 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Interesting: Not all fears are reasonable

    Annaleigh: Fuck that. As a man you have no right to declare which women’s fears are “reasonable” and which are not. Those fears are based on bad experiences women have had, or sometimes the absence of good experiences. These are experiences you know fuck all about, so you are no one to judge.

    While I would certainly agree that he cannot claim another person’s experience, I would argue that none of us can. I don’t understand why you think you can speak of the experience of everyone in your gender. I think both of you should take a step back and just speak for yourselves.

  123. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Fat Steve: I don’t understand why you think you can speak of the experience of everyone in your gender. I think both of you should take a step back and just speak for yourselves.

    Wow, I’m speaking for my gender now? For being angry that Interesting wholesale dismissed the concerns of older women and women in general?

  124. August 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Do women bother other women with these unwarranted, out of the blue, faux-friendly “hellos”. No, they do not. Not usually. I get “hello” thrice-weekly on average, and it’s NEVER been a woman. It’s street harassment with a veneer of plausible deniability. When men do it to me, I stare at them like they took a shit on the street. They know better, and that they know better is WHY they’re doing it.

  125. August 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Annaleigh: Wow, I’m speaking for my gender now? For being angry that Interesting wholesale dismissed the concerns of older women and women in general?

    Actually, allow me to apologize for jumping to that conclusion. I had only ready the one sentence you quoted from his original post (in my defence, I can hardly be expected to have read his entire comment as it seemed to exemplify a word which is the exact opposite of his screen name,) but now that I have gone back and read his complete screed, I better understand the context within which you made your comments and realize that I over-reacted.

  126. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Fat Steve: Actually, allow me to apologize for jumping to that conclusion. I had only ready the one sentence you quoted from his original post (in my defence, I can hardly be expected to have read his entire comment as it seemed to exemplify a word which is the exact opposite of his screen name,) but now that I have gone back and read his complete screed, I better understand the context within which you made your comments and realize that I over-reacted.

    Thanks, I appreciate the apology. :)

  127. August 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Amanda Marcotte:
    Do women bother other women with these unwarranted, out of the blue, faux-friendly “hellos”.No, they do not.Not usually.I get “hello” thrice-weekly on average, and it’s NEVER been a woman.It’s street harassment with a veneer of plausible deniability.When men do it to me, I stare at them like they took a shit on the street.They know better, and that they know better is WHY they’re doing it.

    I only say ‘Hello’ on the phone, but if I casually encounter a stranger of either gender, I will say “Hiya” or “g’morning” (if indeed it is morning) if I’m in an enclosed space (like a coffeshop, or something) or if I’m on the street I will always smile. Honestly I find that the only people who look at me like I just dropped a deuce on the street are the men (who seem to think it’s a homosexual thing.) Generally I get at least a half smile back (perhaps only out appreciation that, as a rule, my gaze at a passing female does not go below the neck.)

    Granted, if I saw someone shitting on the street I might smile, but not everyone has as unsophisticated a sense of humor as I do.

  128. katrina
    August 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Ellie:
    When I am out alone in public, I am usually either walking somewhere very deliberately, or am occupied with my Kindle or iPod. When someone says hello under those circumstances, I do not respond; I clearly have something going on, and an attempt to converse with me is to devalue what I am choosing to do with my time, whether that’s getting somewhere quickly, or enjoying a podcast.

    I do, usually (and especially at bus stops), have a moment where I prepare myself to articulate why I do not need to say hello, for the rare occasion where a man keeps trying. The few times that it’s happened, I’ve mostly chickened out or gotten afraid, and just given short, non-conversational responses; but what I’d really like to say is, I’m busy right now, I don’t want to talk, and it’s not my responsibility to talk to you, so I appreciate you respecting my space.

    On the very rare occasion that I am just hanging out, by myself, in public, and someone says hello to me, I’m much more conversational, within my judgment. Most of what bothers me about “hello” is the implication that talking to this stranger who’s greeted me is supposed to be more important than what I was already doing with my time when this person interrupted me. But if I’m hanging out on a park bench, watching people go by, someone can say “hello” without expecting me to stop what I was doing and humor them.

    what a great way to live in your own bubble and not make connections. In Egypt, Spain, Greece, etc there are mass movements for change, you won’t see that here, with this unwillingness to connect

    I found this post so self indulgent. Aren’t there better things to write about?

  129. umami
    August 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Generally I get at least a half smile back (perhaps only out appreciation that, as a rule, my gaze at a passing female does not go below the neck.)

    FS, I believe you when you say that you don’t leer and that you will deliver your Hello to a person of either gender, but if you think getting a smile or half smile means that the woman you’re talking to is appreciative or happy you said Hello to her, then… please stop thinking that.

    A fake smile is often the line of least resistance for a lot of women; it’s like “if I smile at him he won’t start yelling at me for not acknowledging him, though if I smile too broadly it’ll seem like a come on and that could be even worse.” So you smile halfheartedly, even if you’re thinking “please go f*ck yourself.”

    Now, listen, I don’t mean that all the women you ever say Hello to are thinking “please go f*ck yourself.” I’m just saying, you can’t use a polite smile as evidence of what people are feeling.

  130. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Although as a side note I wonder what some of the women commenters here who do react negatively to strange men saying hello to them unbidden think about women doing the same thing. Is that also off limits and considered intrusive?

    I live in a city, and I can’t think of any time a woman has done that, unless they are working for one of those groups where they have a clipboard and they want me to give them money. Even then, it seems like those groups mostly target the opposite gender (maybe hoping that if the target is interested in flirting they’re more likely to stop to hear the schpeil). Anyway, I can’t think of any time some random woman has said hello to me with no other purpose, so I can’t really say how I’d feel, but I think it would probably startle me a bit.

    People, male and female, walk up to me to ask directions, and I have no problem answering them. Usually its very clear they have a specific question. If someone just calls out “hello” I just keep walking – if they wanted directions, that’s not the way to do it.

    Most often, men on the street say things to me that are “compliments” but given the context seem rude and intrusive. They might say “hello” first, but once they have my attention what they want to say is something like “you are beautiful”. Today I was jogging and a man said “hey, you look great, you’re in great shape”. If a friend of mine said that I’d take it as a compliment, but I don’t appreciate strange men on streetcorners loudly assessing my body, especially when I’m wearing headphones and so clearly not looking to chat with them. I usually ignore them, but if I do end up catching their eye I give them a stink eye. I try to convey an exasperated “why would you say that to me?” but who knows if they get it. Sometimes when I ignore them and keep going it changes from “you’re beautiful” to “bitch”, which of course convinces me I was right to be annoyed in the first place.

  131. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    what a great way to live in your own bubble and not make connections.

    I think when you live in a big city, you need a bubble at least some of the time for your sanity. If I didn’t have that, I’d literally never be alone with my thoughts. That’s not healthy.

    When I lived in a smaller, more rural town, I was alone a lot more, and so when people did want to chat I was generally happy to. But now that I live in a city, the constant sound and conversation and stimulation is just too much – I need to have a privacy bubble when I walk around. Even if there weren’t the issue of strange men usually being rude, I’d still want that privacy bubble, but the rudeness makes it even more important to avoid talking with them.

    If you don’t feel that way that’s fine, but strangers aren’t required to indulge you.

    In Egypt, Spain, Greece, etc there are mass movements for change, you won’t see that here, with this unwillingness to connect

    (a) I’d bet there are plenty of times in Egypt when women don’t want to chat with random men on street corners. And I”ve actually been to Spain and Greece and I don’t remember a big trend of strangers in cities stopping what they were doing to have meaningful conversations with each other.

    When a protest like in Egypt recently is actively going on, that’s a bit of a different situation – when everyone is out somewhere for the same rally, there IS a connection, you’re no longer completely random strangers.

  132. August 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    FS, I believe you when you say that you don’t leer and that you will deliver your Hello to a person of either gender, but if you think getting a smile or half smile means that the woman you’re talking to is appreciative or happy you said Hello to her, then… please stop thinking that.

    No, of course, I know the ‘half-smile’ isn’t being happy or apprecviative,’ it’s being polite, and I do feel it’s an acknowledgement that my smile is polite. I don’t think the women are thinking ‘go f yourself,’ more like ‘I don’t want to smile at you because I don’t particularly find you attractive or even feel like smiling, but you giving you the benefit of the doubt, you seem to be more of a friendly goof than a sex-pest, so I’ll not make you feel like a complete dickhead and give you a little acknowledgment.’

    I’d like to think I can tell the difference between a genuine smile and a polite one, but I could be completely deluding myself.

  133. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Fat Steve: No, of course, I know the ‘half-smile’ isn’t being happy or apprecviative,’ it’s being polite, and I do feel it’s an acknowledgement that my smile is polite. I don’t think the women are thinking ‘go f yourself,’ more like ‘I don’t want to smile at you because I don’t particularly find you attractive or even feel like smiling, but you giving you the benefit of the doubt, you seem to be more of a friendly goof than a sex-pest, so I’ll not make you feel like a complete dickhead and give you a little acknowledgment.’

    I’d like to think I can tell the difference between a genuine smile and a polite one, but I could be completely deluding myself.

    I think the logical flaw here is the part where you say that you think a polite smile means the other person thinks you were being polite. Often that is the opposite of what it means.

    Sure, sometimes I give a polite half smile because the guy seems like an ok guy who was just trying to be nice. Other times, I give a half smile because I’m afraid the guy will keep pestering me if I don’t, and I’m not in the mood to get in an argument with him about it.

  134. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    katrina: what a great way to live in your own bubble and not make connections. In Egypt, Spain, Greece, etc there are mass movements for change, you won’t see that here, with this unwillingness to connect

    Yep, there are protests alright, and in particular women in Egypt have said over and over again that harassment on the street is a constant problem for them, including during the protests. Not everybody wants to “connect” while trying to go about their lives, and not all “connections” are positive, wanted experiences.

  135. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    And other times, I give a polite smile or say hi because that’s an automatic reaction coming from having been raised to be polite, but I walk away thinking about how annoyed I am that that guy intruded on my thoughts.

    In particular, one thing that happens a lot is when I’m walking along lost in thought and I’m heading towards a door, and there’s a man ahead of me, but far enough ahead of me that to hold the door open for me he has to stop for several seconds. When he holds the door open for me, I usually mumble “thanks”, but what I’m really thinking is “why did you do that? I can open doors myself, and you forced me to hurry up to keep you from waiting.” Or occasionally “I actually wanted to read the poster on the door before going in, and you made that difficult by holding the door open for me and staring at me while waiting for me to catch up to you.”

    I know the guy is just trying to be nice, which is why I smile and say thanks, but honestly it annoys me and I wish they wouldn’t do it. Its just not worth my energy to explain that to every man I meet.

  136. August 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Complicated: I think the logical flaw here is the part where you say that you think a polite smile means the other person thinks you were being polite. Often that is the opposite of what it means.

    Sure, sometimes I give a polite half smile because the guy seems like an ok guy who was just trying to be nice. Other times, I give a half smile because I’m afraid the guy will keep pestering me if I don’t, and I’m not in the mood to get in an argument with him about it.

    I totally agree and it really sucks that you have encountered so much assholish behavior on the street that you have to make that call.

  137. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    FS – just to be clear, I’m not saying YOU are annoying women when you smile – I’d have to know you in person to be able to tell. I’m just saying that them smiling politely is not really evidence one way or the other.

    If you smile or say hi but don’t break your stride to stop and talk with them, you’re probably fine.

  138. August 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Matt: I totally agree with this quote except switch out women for men. I even tell them don’t say hello to me, if it’s someone I know, and they still do it. Even if I have ignored that person, known to me or not, several times.

    As for the person in the original post feeling obligated to do certain things to be polite, that is not a pressure only for women.

    Also, I get about 1000x more crap from black people I ignore than white people. They get aggressive and angry, even though I am treating them the same as everyone else.

    Dude, this post is about the question of whether or not women have a justiable fear of men using a ‘hello’, as a pretext for a sexual advance or some other harrassment. It’s not about your fucking social phobia, which I can sympathize with, but is totally irrelevant to the issue.

    The point is that we men have the option to be comfortable or uncomfortable with a ‘hello’ without the fear of it turning into something else. I get complimented by women I’ve never met on the subway all the time and it never feels threatening, how many women can say that? You have no idea what this post is about. Or I don’t.

  139. August 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    I found this post so self indulgent. Aren’t there better things to write about?

    Antifeminist BINGO!

    It’s incredible what a nerve this post struck with the Reasonable Men (TM) and how much people think they have a right to decide what personal boundaries are appropriate for women as a class in public space. I’d say that hypersensitive reaction shows that denying women the ability to determine those boundaries for themselves is really, really important to the current order of things.

  140. ZimbaZimbu
    August 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    The meaning of a word is almost entirely defined by its context, including intonation and body language. The meaning of casual conversation is nuanced and often has little to do with the actual words spoken.

    People instinctively know when a ‘hello’ is something to be wary of. Some of the posts here display a paranoid deconstructionism looking for ill intentions where there are none, this is disappointing. Fortunately there are others that are more sensible.

    Some one really smart once said “If you look hard enough you’ll find it, even if it isn’t there”. Guys, a ‘cigar’ is usually just a ‘cigar’, a ‘hello’ is usually just a ‘hello’.

  141. Complicated
    August 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    So you think that people instinctively know when a hello is something to be wary of, but when they tell you they knew a hello was something to be wary of, you say they’re paranoid and its disappointing?

  142. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Complicated:
    So you think that people instinctively know when a hello is something to be wary of, but when they tell you they knew a hello was something to be wary of, you say they’re paranoid and its disappointing?

    Apparently we’re just insensible and unreasonable, us poor darlings. We can’t be trusted to decide for ourselves whether something makes uncomfortable or not.

  143. August 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Complicated:
    So you think that people instinctively know when a hello is something to be wary of, but when they tell you they knew a hello was something to be wary of, you say they’re paranoid and its disappointing?

    I just started laughing out loud to myself and now my housemate is laughing at me.

  144. August 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Thank you for this post, and thank you to all for commenting and discussing! As an upper-middle-class white student living in a working-class black area, I often feel guilty and snobby when I don’t respond to Hello’s, and have always tried to figure out what to do, why, etc. This all is a wonderful contribution to my brain’s debate!

  145. Iris
    August 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Ashley: Antifeminist BINGO!

    It’s incredible what a nerve this post struck with the Reasonable Men (TM) and how much people think they have a right to decide what personal boundaries are appropriate for women as a class in public space.I’d say that hypersensitive reaction shows that denying women the ability to determine those boundaries for themselves is really, really important to the current order of things.

    Nicely said.

    I agree with you and laugh out loud at the next post following yours. It couldn’t be a better example. Nothing to see here folks move along, move along.

    I love irony.

  146. ZimbaZimbu
    August 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Ashley: Antifeminist BINGO!

    It’s incredible what a nerve this post struck with the Reasonable Men (TM) and how much people think they have a right to decide what personal boundaries are appropriate for women as a class in public space.I’d say that hypersensitive reaction shows that denying women the ability to determine those boundaries for themselves is really, really important to the current order of things.

    When considering the plight of some our sisters abroad, eg mass rape, honor killings and a status little better than livestock. The term ‘self indulgent’ is not entirely out of line.

    Women do indeed have to right not to have their boundaries defined by other people, including other women. Women may be a social class but they are not a monolith.

  147. August 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    ZimbaZimbu: When considering the plight of some our sisters abroad, eg mass rape, honor killings and a status little better than livestock. The term ‘self indulgent’ is not entirely out of line.

    Women do indeed have to right not to have their boundaries defined by other people, including other women. Women may be a social class but they are not a monolith.

    If there are 147 comments, only a handful of which are responses from the OP, clearly shows that far from being ‘self-indulgent,’ it is a topic which interests many and is worth discussion.

  148. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    ZimbaZimbu: When considering the plight of some our sisters abroad, eg mass rape, honor killings and a status little better than livestock. The term ‘self indulgent’ is not entirely out of line.

    OMFG, Richard Dawkins, is that you?

  149. August 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Everything you say here is spot-on, and in the last decade or so, I’ve come to face it squarely and have come up with a response that never fails. [Disclaimer: “Never fails” means I’ve used it twice, in Manhattan, and it worked both times.]

    When that indefinable tone of “Hello” is used, I give the caller what he wants: Acknowledgment. I will not scurry away with my head down and pretend not to hear, because that either gets him following (knowing he’s bothering me and enjoying every bit of it, or just being rude and clueless and stupidly insecure) or escalating the verbal abuse, even if the verbal abuse is just a snicker of derision. And I sure as hell won’t walk over to him and let him think he’s going to get anything more. Instead, I keep walking, but look him straight in the eye and say “That’s all.” With a nod, or sometimes with an upraised hand. Not with a smile. It means “The discussion ends here. You said your little thing to me, I heard you, I didn’t ignore you, and now I’m moving on and so should you.” You say it clearly and audibly so as not to get him falling into step with you, saying “What was that, I didn’t hear you?”

    You don’t say “Drop dead.” That’s hostile and challenging. You sure as hell don’t say “Fuck you,” because plenty of them will take that literally as an invitation.

    Oh, and you also make sure not to step in dog shit or walk into a lightpole while you’re looking him in the eye…

  150. August 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    @ZimbaZimbu: There are so many great comments here and I only wish I was able to respond to more of them. But I do want to speak up on the “self-indulgent” front and say that of course hearing “hello” is, in the grand scheme of things, far less important than, say, honor killings. But it is a feminist issue, and it does belong here. It’s a privileged position I have to be able to discuss this, to be certain, and I don’t deny that. There’s always going to be a concern that’s more grave, unfortunately. And frankly, I’m not qualified to discuss a lot of those issues beyond: Wow, this is horrifying, and we need to do something. I can contribute other forms of resources to those causes; I can’t contribute my voice to those dialogues and have any authority whatsoever, though. We write what we know. /defensiveposture

    @Angryblackguy: I think the variety of responses here show that it’s not like feminists want to ban hello. And it’s interesting that you met your wife that way; I’m gathering that there were some other sort of cues that indicated the interest was mutual. I have no desire to cease spontaneous acts of neighborliness–or, hell, of romance, when there are indications that both parties are interested and it’s not just the “You’re so beautiful that I had to come talk to you” line. So I don’t think you need to change your perspective on feminism; I’d encourage you to look at what “hello” means as far as domination of public space, from a feminist perspective. It’s not black-and-white; it’s a process that we’re all working through here.

  151. DonnaL
    August 6, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I work in midtown Manhattan, and on my two-block walk every morning from the subway to where I work, I probably pass at least several hundred people walking in the other direction. It’s extremely rare in my experience for anyone even to attempt to acknowledge anyone else in that setting — where almost everyone is pretty miserable to begin with, thinking about what they’re going to have to go through that day! — let alone try to speak to strangers. Then again, if anyone were trying to nod to me or smile at me I probably wouldn’t notice anyway, since I generally have my nose buried in a book — a habit of reading while walking I’ve had since I was about 7 (I haven’t bumped into anyone yet), and which is probably the source of 99% of the unsolicited comments I do get, generally of the “whatcha reading? is it good?” variety.

    At other times of day, when the sidewalks are less crowded, I see much more of that sort of thing going on. Usually between others, and not involving me. During the years I lived as a guy (an unusually small and unprepossessing one at 5′ 2″, to be sure), someone would smile at me maybe once a year. I don’t recall many times a stranger ever spoke to me unless it was to ask directions (perhaps being so small and apparently unthreatening was the reason that used to happen on an almost-daily basis, and still does) or solicit money.

    Since I transitioned 6+ years ago, smiles and nods are certainly more common (from men and women alike), although I am, despite so-called “passing privilege,” rather ancient and definitely well into the middle-aged invisible-woman stage. I haven’t been subjected to nearly as much street harassment as women I know who transitioned at younger ages. I do generally get the feeling, if I’m alone on the sidewalk at night and a man nods or smiles at me while walking by and continues walking, that it’s intended more as reassurance (as in, don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything bad to you) than anything else.

    I honestly can’t remember anyone actually saying “hello,” at least lately. The only two times a strange man has spoken to me in the last few months (not counting asking for time or directions or soliciting something), neither of them said hello: one was a man who walked up to me on a subway platform, apropos of nothing, and called me an “ugly old bitch.” (I felt like responding something like “you’re no prize yourself,” but kept silent, eyes on the platform.) The other was a guy walking in my direction on Sixth Avenue who paused directly in front of me to say “you’re so beautiful” and, after I froze in abject shock and terror, kept right on walking.

    Both were equally unwelcome.

  152. Iris
    August 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    ZimbaZimbu: When considering the plight of some our sisters abroad, eg mass rape, honor killings and a status little better than livestock. The term ‘self indulgent’ is not entirely out of line.

    Women do indeed have to right not to have their boundaries defined by other people, including other women. Women may be a social class but they are not a monolith.

    Didn’t you just define our boundaries in your first paragraph – i.e. we don’t have it nearly bad enough to complain? Your argument would hold up better if you didn’t contradict yourself in your argument. At this point, fail.

    I will agree that women as a group are not a large, upright, single block of stone. It’s a concept that would boggle the mind, if true, but I am a little puzzled as to why you felt the need to point out the fact it is not true.

  153. ZimbaZimbu
    August 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    @SomeRepliesToMyPost.
    A Strawman is rarely convincing and usually only to those who created him.

    @.Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.
    Genuine concern does not preclude self indulgence. Queen Victoria on occasion had genuinely felt concern over the lack of servility of her staff. I defend her right to feel and state that, but I still feel it is self indulgent. \notaggressive

    (btw self indulgent wasn’t my term, I was responding)

  154. Astrophysicista
    August 6, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Sometimes I wonder if the Bay Area is just some sort of magical unicorn land, because it never occurred to me that “hello” was threatening or feminist. I live in Berkeley, where the default way to pass a stranger on the street is to make eye contact and smile at them – man or woman.

    And hellos aren’t just from men to women here. In the sense of an unsolicited hello, it is normally from someone who wants to sell you something, tell you about their religion, or ask you for money. And they certainly don’t discriminate based on gender. Then again, I have never been street harassed out here either.

    Maybe our little acknowledgments of each other, through eye contact and a smile, make street harassment look ridiculous? I dunno. That simple mutual acknowledgment between strangers humanizes us all.

  155. Sheelzebub
    August 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    what a great way to live in your own bubble and not make connections. In Egypt, Spain, Greece, etc there are mass movements for change, you won’t see that here, with this unwillingness to connect

    Oh, FFS. Every damn protest or organizing effort I’ve been a part of hasn’t come about by being greeted by random strangers. It was like-minded people coming together to work for change, not saying hello back to the dittohead who then decided it was okay to inform me that I have nice tits.

    I found this post so self indulgent. Aren’t there better things to write about?

    If this post is so self-indulgent and unimportant to you, why are you taking the time and energy to read it and respond to it? By all means, go and do somthing you feel is worthy of your time.

  156. Emily
    August 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    This is so amazingly timely for me. I also live in NYC and about two weeks ago happened to notice a pattern in my three block walk to the subway in the morning: on the days that I am alone I can usually count on at least one of the hellos that you are talking about, but on the days that I have my two year old son with me I get none. The same men (it is always men, sometimes literally the same people, sometimes not) who say hello to me when I am by myself take a step back and give me a wide berth when it’s obvious that I am a mom. The wide berth reads as respectful, but I am not sure if that is actually the case. In any case it has definitely made me more sensitive to (and, frankly, annoyed by) the hellos that are only offered when I look available.

  157. CassandraSays
    August 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Sam,

    The problem is that, by restating the (admittedly common) idea that women are naturally submissive and prefer men to be a bit dominant, ON THIS PARTICULAR POST ABOUT HARRASSMENT, you are reinforcing exactly the cultural ideas that cause harrassment to happen, and that make a “hello” from a man to a woman in public space problematic. There are very clear cultural connections between the mental script that causes a man to believe that women want him to show a commanding presence (or leadership, or whatever you want to call it) on dates and the script that says that a man approaching a woman in a public space is a positive thing, and women should naturally be open and responsive to this.

    If you really don’t see the connection, and why that was a totally inappropriate thing to throw into this particular conversation, then I’m not quite sure where to start explaining. But the fact that you don’t see the connection doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    Also, I do think it’s probably about where you live, how old you are, what kind of women you’re attracted to and attempting to date, etc. In my circle of friends that kind of show of pretend dominance early in the dating process would piss off even the women who identify as submissive. It may indeed be something that some women look for, but that doesn’t really say much about women as a whole. And it’s still a wildly offensive comment to make on a post like this.

    I also wonder if you’re misinterpreting a preference for confidence or social competence as a preference for a commanding presence. That happens a lot, and that’s part of the cultural script too.

  158. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    ZimbaZimbu, using the suffering of Middle Eastern women to dismiss the very real fears of Western women in our daily lives is a fucked up way to treat both groups of women, and it makes you an asshole, just like Richard Dawkins’ doing the same thing before made him an asshole too.

  159. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    ZimbaZimbu, using the suffering of Middle Eastern women to dismiss the very real fears of Western women in our daily lives is a fucked up way to treat both groups of women, and it makes you an asshole, just like Richard Dawkins’ doing the same thing before made him an asshole too.

  160. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    ZimbaZimbu, using the suffering of Middle Eastern women to dismiss the very real fears of Western women in our daily lives is a fucked up way to treat both groups of women, and it makes you an asshole, just like Richard Dawkins’ doing the same thing before made him an asshole too.

  161. Annaleigh
    August 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Grrr, sorry for the triplicate. My internet connection got wonky just as I hit submit.

  162. Iris
    August 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Annaleigh:
    ZimbaZimbu, using the suffering of Middle Eastern women to dismiss the very real fears of Western women in our daily lives is a fucked up way to treat both groups of women, and it makes you an asshole, just like Richard Dawkins’ doing the same thing before made him an asshole too.

    I agree.

    ZimbaZimbu: Still defining the boundaries for women past and present.

  163. Lisa A.
    August 6, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Delurking to second Annaleigh’s comment at 159 to ZimbaZimbu.

    Also, saying that the legitimate fears that women have every time they leave the house are based on paranoid deconstruction and comparing them to a concern over a lack of servility? Fuck. You.

  164. CassandraSays
    August 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    @ Mr Kristin J – LOL. But you see, I’m an outlier, and so is any other woman who isn’t craving a bit of a commanding subtext from men we’re flirting with. It’s all so simple if you just ignore any data that doesn’t fit your theory.

    Also, in response to the newest Awkward Guy derail (OMG why can’t we be open to interaction like people in Egypt, we’re shutting down social change!)…I’ve been to Egypt, and had friends who lived there. If a man approaches a woman he does not know there and says hello it is in all probability a prelude to harrassment, and most Egyptian women do not appreciate it. You would know this if you’d ever read anything written by any Egyptian woman – it’s kind of a big deal there. In fact, there were women complaining about being harrassed during the protests – I guess those particular women were just antisocial and unwilling to connect, and had wandered into the middle of a protest accidentally.

  165. August 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    ZimbaZimbu:
    @SomeRepliesToMyPost.
    A Strawman is rarely convincing andusually only to those who created him.

    @.Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.
    Genuine concern does not preclude self indulgence. QueenVictoria on occasion had genuinely felt concern over the lack of servility of her staff. I defend her right to feel and state that, but I still feel it is self indulgent. \notaggressive

    (btw self indulgent wasn’t my term, I was responding)

    I know you probably have something against ad hominem attacks, insults, and rhetorical questions, but I have to ask…why are you such a dick?

  166. August 6, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Hmm, having grown up in a very cushy suburban neighborhood where everyone waves and greets everyone else, as well as having worked retail for four years, “hello” has become rather ingrained in my person. But aside from those capacities, I don’t go out of my way to say “hello” to everyone I meet–that would just become very tedious and cumbersome. I can’t imagine the necessity of saying “hello” to a stranger on the street in a neighborhood not my own, as I shall most likely never see them again, and don’t feel the need to oblige them to pay attention to me. But, in my current internship, which is in another city, there have been times where I am walking from my car and am greeted by a stranger, always a man. I’m always taken aback, because I’m not really sure what to say, and I’m questioning the motives behind the greeting, as that’s not something that I’m used to. It could certainly just be a friendly “hello,” but a quick peek at my surroundings doesn’t indicate that aforementioned person felt the need to single out any other passerby to greet…

  167. Miss S
    August 6, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Amanda M, in some places, women are just as likely to say hello to other women as men are.

    In my small town in Maryland, yes. It’s not unlikely to strike up a conversation and share information with a person you just met, especially if you’re waiting together somewhere- like the line in grocery store, the MVA, waiting for a table at a restaurant, etc. This includes other women. I’ve learned about dance classes, master programs, community events, good hair salons, shoe sales, etc this way :)

    However, I spent the weekend in New York recently. Very different there.

  168. katrina
    August 7, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Annaleigh: Yep, there are protests alright, and in particular women in Egypt have said over and over again that harassment on the street is a constant problem for them, including during the protests. Not everybody wants to “connect” while trying to go about their lives, and not all “connections” are positive, wanted experiences.

    I agree that there are big issues regarding harassment of women in Egypt (and Greece, and Spain, and here) but i don’t think a hello is on that level. This notion of not wanting to put up with small irritants is making this a very harsh society to live it. If it is such an imposition on you to reactive a greeting, i shutter to think how you react when standing behind somebody who is taking more time paying for xyz because they’re disabled. We (rightfully) expect religious zealots to put up with other faiths but a “hello” wigs us out? I have rode the bus in LA, and it’s lovely to see strangers exchange polite conversations.

  169. L.
    August 7, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I don’t have much to add to the street harassment discussion, because it’s already been said. But Hi. I’m right there with you.

    As someone who’s worked a variety of customer service positions (out of necessity, not enjoyment) the absolute most irritating and miserable part of my day was when a customer would, instead of just telling me what-the-ever-loving-hell it is that they want from me, try to engage me in a deep discussion in the smokey difference between, say, virginia ham and black forest ham. Hi. Idgaf. Neither do you, really. Let’s just get on with our tasks, thanks.

    I always responded with the appropriate level of fake enthusiasm. But… I really, really wanted you to piss off, because there’s 18 people in line behind you and they just want to pay for their shit and go.

    I see this a lot – am I the only person who had the opposite experience? I was only a cashier for a couple months, but I never liked it when people would stop to chat with me. I almost always wanted to just do the transaction quickly and get through the line without having to chat with random people. I guess that’s why I’m not cut out for that kind of job, but honestly, after a long day standing up at a cashier it was more work for me to chat with strangers than to just accept their money. I certainly didn’t want people to be actively rude to me, but just efficiently handing me the items and the money or card and then walking away was a-ok.

    I especially didn’t like it when people would read my name-tag and say things like “how are you today Sally”. It would always startle me that they knew my name. Does this seriously not bother other people who work those jobs? I’d say maybe the people who feel the way I do don’t keep those jobs, but then, I don’t think most people work as a cashier because its fun.

  170. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 1:01 am

    katrina: This notion of not wanting to put up with small irritants is making this a very harsh society to live it. If it is such an imposition on you to reactive a greeting, i shutter to think how you react when standing behind somebody who is taking more time paying for xyz because they’re disabled

    Oh please, the fucking world is not going to end just because some entitled jerk doesn’t get to hijack someone’s time and attention.

    And check your extrovert privilege too, while you’re at it. What’s lovely to you is slightly stressful to me, an introvert. As an introvert, mild pleasantries are stressful to me, even if I enjoy them. I have a right to limit that kind of contact, as an introvert, by Friday I am usually pooped with the effort of talking to people throughout the week. When I board that bus Friday afternoon, all I want to do is try to relax (as much as being on public transit will allow, which is often not much) and listen to my iPod until I get home and can really relax knowing I can be mostly by myself until I’m ready to face people again.

    However, mild pleasantries are one thing, I accept those even though like I said, I get tired of it by the end of the week. Being accosted by men in public or hounded at a bus stop is another thing. I described some of these encounters much earlier in the thread, but to repeat some of them, at bus stops I have been hounded for my phone number, I have been fat-shamed by a man trying to sell me diet pills, I have been propositioned by men who tell me their sob stories about cheating wives, and I have had the creepy situation of having someone who knew so much more about me than I knew about him (I have no recollection of ever meeting him before that encounter) lecture me about how the way I choose to my life is all wrong and I need someone to tell me how to live my life the correct (extroverted) way. All of those assholes started their harassment with “hello.” More than once the encounters ended with the infuriating realization that they had no intention of taking the bus. They were there solely to harass me.

    “Hello” is so much more significant than you realize, and I think a lot of the reason you don’t realize it is that you have certain privileges getting in the way.

  171. ZimbaZimbu
    August 7, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s reply, although I am in disagreement, was reasoned and thoughtful as where some of the other posts on this thread. The remainder are merely a ritual of bonding and affirmation of group membership under the pretense of rational discussion, mixed in with a herd instinct to group together and attack the other.

    If threads on a flagship forum of the Feminist movement are merely to be exercises in wallowing in petty and self indulgent anger then the movement will further alienate itself from younger women. Feminism has been struggling to remain relevant to the younger generation and this type off discussion does not help matters.

    Even just 10 years ago Feminism concerned itself with with serious issues, saying hello was not one of them. You have the right to and feel what ever you want, but others have the right to judge you for it.

  172. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

    By the way Katrina, sometimes I am the disabled person taking a while to pay for something (considering my disability is psychiatric and I have a payee which sometimes complicates things), so don’t give me that bullshit. It’s an entirely different situation from an asshole who is forcing a conversation on someone who wants to be left alone.

  173. Kristen J.
    August 7, 2011 at 1:30 am

    ZimbaZimbu: Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s reply, although I am in disagreement, was reasoned and thoughtful as where some of the other posts on this thread. The remainder are merely a ritual of bonding and affirmation of group membership under the pretense of rational discussion, mixed in with a herd instinct to group together and attack the other.If threads on a flagship forum of the Feminist movement are merely to be exercises in wallowing in petty and self indulgent anger then the movement will further alienate itself from younger women. Feminism has been struggling to remain relevant to the younger generation and this type off discussion does not help matters.Even just 10 years ago Feminism concerned itself with with serious issues, saying hello was not one of them. You have the right to and feel what ever you want, but others have the right to judge you for it.

    Hahahahahaha….oh, yes. Please tell us more oh wise one.

  174. August 7, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Like some other commenters, how I perceive a “hello” (and here, a “hello” in the absence of anything that would make it overtly harassing) depends a lot on our body positioning/activities when the “hello” happens.

    If it’s said while we’re face-to-face — for example, if we’re jogging toward one another or if I’m walking past someone who happens to be watching passersby and we make eye contact — I’m pretty good with it. Particularly if it involves 2 parties who are moving and who keep moving, I feel comfortable that I’m not going to be stopped or to have my way blocked. In most cases, if eye contact is made (purposefully or not), where I live, a nod or “hello” is considered the appropriate social response.

    Then there are the “hellos” — usually in the same friendly tone — I receive when the other person is either all the way to my side or behind me a little (assuming I’m walking or running somewhere). Even assuming the kindest intentions, turning my head to talk to them is not so safe for me. I have some nerve issues in my hips, and on uneven ground (including sidewalks that cut to driveways, gravel, etc.) I need to pay good visual attention to where I’m placing my feet or risk jarring the nerves in my hips and low spine.

    And honestly, sometimes I do wonder if those hellos-from-behind aren’t timed that way on purpose in order to elicit that visual reaction from me (turning my body, looking back, etc.) as proof that he’s gotten my attention. I don’t think that with everyone, but even in cases where the only intent is to be friendly, I’m under no obligation to cause myself physical pain in order to respond.

  175. katrina
    August 7, 2011 at 2:21 am

    rejiquar:
    Hate it.

    Wish I were invisible, most of the time.

    Oh sure, once in awhile, it’s a genuine, friendly exchange.But those aren’t worth the other.Because as you say, it’s always men.

    as a disable person, I often have the “privilege” of being invisible/seen as asexual. It not always fun. (Autumn, thanks for pointing this out) Yet, i also have the privilege of being offered genuine help. If I don’t need it, I politely decline, no harm. And, Annaleigh, i will respect your intervertiveness, will you respect that not everybody appreciates foal language in an interesting thread like this one?

  176. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Just some general thoughts before I go to bed…

    I realize that life involves interacting with people, often when I don’t want to.

    If someone wants to make actual polite small talk, I accept that it happens. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but usually I will try to oblige. Sometimes though, my humanity gets in the way. The other day a woman tried to start some small talk at a bus stop. But I had just walked several blocks to that bus stop in our billion degree heat and sat my butt down on the bus bench that was nearly just as hot to the touch. I was physically uncomfortable due to the heat, and because I have a slight disability with my feet, and that much walking is not fun for me. My exasperated reply came out a bit harsher than I would have liked. I meant no offense to the woman, but at least she left me alone and I was able to recover a little from the extreme heat (exaggeration pushed aside, it was over 105 degrees F) in peace.

    I am shy, and introverted, and I also identify as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Things that are fun time wasters for extroverts feel like work to me. Believe or not, I actually kind of like people, and being around people at times. But it’s overwhelming, and any self-care work I do for myself must include plenty of time to decompress and recharge, and plenty of solitude. I attend a community college, and though I enjoy it very much, the tradition of sitting in classrooms all day and interacting with dozens of people every day day in and day out, is just too much of a challenge for me. My personal rule is to take one course (but only one course) on my physical campus, and the rest online, so that I do have some socializing and interactions with others, but I also don’t become to overwhelmed. I tried being on campus all day every day of the week a few years ago. One week into the semester I dropped all of my courses and couldn’t get out of bed because the pressure I put on myself made me literally physically ill.

    So, as an introvert and a HSP, I zealously defend my right to be alone in public when I need to be left alone because it’s necesary for my long term mental and physical health. I could care less if it gets in the way of someone wanting to pass their time talking about nothing and they have the misfortune of wanting to be alone with me.

    I am a sexual assault survivor. Among other things, I am specifically a survivor of an assault that happened in public while I was trying to pass through public space so that I go home. When a man forces his attention on me regardless of me giving every signal that I want to be alone, sometimes that is very uncomfortable. Sometimes it is more than that and it is a PTSD trigger. As a survivor and a person with PTSD, I zealously defend my right to occupy public space temporarily or otherwise and my right not to be harassed, not be abused, and I don’t care if my wish to be left alone ruins some guy’s search for love.

  177. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:26 am

    katrina: And, Annaleigh, i will respect your intervertiveness, will you respect that not everybody appreciates foal language in an interesting thread like this one?

    If you’re complaining about my f bombs, that tells me you can’t justify your argument that men (and also extroverts) have the right to hijack my time and attention and ignore any discomfort they may be causing me. You’re no longer worth engaging with because all you have left is my salty language.

  178. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:29 am

    Annaleigh: I could care less if it gets in the way of someone wanting to pass their time talking about nothing and they have the misfortune of wanting to be alone with me.

    Whoops, this should read “I couldn’t care less if it gets in the way of someone wanting to pass their time talking about nothing and they have the misfortune of having to be alone with me.”

  179. katrina
    August 7, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Annaleigh:
    Just some general thoughts before I go to bed…

    I realize that life involves interacting with people, often when I don’t want to.

    If someone wants to make actual polite small talk, I accept that it happens. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but usually I will try to oblige. Sometimes though, my humanity gets in the way. The other day a woman tried to start some small talk at a bus stop. But I had just walked several blocks to that bus stop in our billion degree heat and sat my butt down on the bus bench that was nearly just as hot to the touch. I was physically uncomfortable due to the heat, and because I have a slight disability with my feet, and that much walking is not fun for me. My exasperated reply came out a bit harsher than I would have liked. I meant no offense to the woman, but at least she left me alone and I was able to recover a little from the extreme heat (exaggeration pushed aside, it was over 105 degrees F) in peace.

    I am shy, and introverted, and I also identify as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Things that are fun time wasters for extroverts feel like work to me. Believe or not, I actually kind of like people, and being around people at times. But it’s overwhelming, and any self-care work I do for myself must include plenty of time to decompress and recharge, and plenty of solitude. I attend a community college, and though I enjoy it very much, the tradition of sitting in classrooms all day and interacting with dozens of people every day day in and day out, is just too much of a challenge for me. My personal rule is to take one course (but only one course) on my physical campus, and the rest online, so that I do have some socializing and interactions with others, but I also don’t become to overwhelmed. I tried being on campus all day every day of the week a few years ago. One week into the semester I dropped all of my courses and couldn’t get out of bed because the pressure I put on myself made me literally physically ill.

    So, as an introvert and a HSP, I zealously defend my right to be alone in public when I need to be left alone because it’s necesary for my long term mental and physical health. I could care less if it gets in the way of someone wanting to pass their time talking about nothing and they have the misfortune of wanting to be alone with me.

    I am a sexual assault survivor. Among other things, I am specifically a survivor of an assault that happened in public while I was trying to pass through public space so that I go home. When a man forces his attention on me regardless of me giving every signal that I want to be alone, sometimes that is very uncomfortable. Sometimes it is more than that and it is a PTSD trigger. As a survivor and a person with PTSD, I zealously defend my right to occupy public space temporarily or otherwise and my right not to be harassed, not be abused, and I don’t care if my wish to be left alone ruins some guy’s search for love.

    Hey, thanks for sharing. I think personal interactions are so complex because people experiences are so different. I am outgoing by nature, never been sexually abused, am thin (but this too is doubled edged thing ie large breasts=sexy). Also, since my speech can be very hard to get at 1st because of my cp, I sometimes envy people who can have small talk with strangers

  180. katrina
    August 7, 2011 at 2:41 am

    whoops, “people’s experiences”

  181. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:44 am

    katrina: Hey, thanks for sharing.I think personal interactions are so complex because people experiences are so different.I am outgoing by nature, never been sexually abused, am thin (but this too is doubled edged thing ie large breasts=sexy).Also, since my speech can be very hard to get at 1st because of my cp, I sometimes envy people who can have small talk with strangers

    And thanks for sharing this little bit too. I apologize for the comment about your not being worth continuing to engage with. We’re not quite agreeing on some things, but I can see that your perspective is different than mine and it doesn’t make your interpretation of things automatically bad, just different. I think a lot of extroverts don’t realize how different life is for introverts, for instance.

  182. katrina
    August 7, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Annaleigh: And thanks for sharing this little bit too. I apologize for the comment about your not being worth continuing to engage with. We’re not quite agreeing on some things, but I can see that your perspective is different than mine and it doesn’t make your interpretation of things automatically bad, just different. I think a lot of extroverts don’t realize how different life is for introverts, for instance.

    thanks for the apology. I am not a HSP in the least, but I’ve dated/love people who have a lower stress tolerance then I have and respecting their need for space/down time while noting my own non-cp-related needs, itsn’t easy, but I’ve learned a lot from it

  183. August 7, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Let me start with a confession – I didn’t read all the comments before commenting, so I could repeat something. There’s a lot of comments.

    My perspective comes from being a mixed person in Oakland, for what it’s worth.

    I walk almost everywhere, so I pass a lot of people on the street. I almost always make a point of saying ‘hello’ to older folks. I have noticed that black folks are more likely in general to say ‘hello,’ ‘hi,’ or ‘how’s it going?’ on the street. And, yeah, the black guys are more likely to say ‘hey baby’ or something, but they usually take it pretty well when I ignore them. I get way more freaked out when white dudes say ‘hello’ or ‘heeelllllloooooo’ because they seem much more likely to get all aggro if I chose to ignore them.

    The first time I experienced street harassment was when I was eleven, 4’11”, and six years away from having anything that remotely resembled tits or ass, so, yeah, anyone who says that this has anything to do with being attractive.

    And, finally, a comment on the idea that everyone says ‘hello’ to everyone in the south. I haven’t spent much time in the south, with the exception of one weekend in an affluent, white neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina. No one said ‘hello’ to me. Not one person. They did, however, stare in the most intimidating way I’ve ever experienced. I might be an asshole for saying this, but I do think that that whole ‘saying hello to everyone’ thing only applies among white folks in white neighborhoods, or amongst other folks that share the same ethnicity in the south.

    In regards to England, in particular the north, it took a little getting used to hearing people greet each other with “are you alright?” Why? Do I look not alright? And then some random person calls you ‘love’ and it is *not* harassment, because they really do call everyone that, particularly in Yorkshire. Yeah….culture shock.

  184. August 7, 2011 at 6:01 am

    You people would feel a lot safer if you acknowledged that stranger rape is very rare and that you have much more change of being hit by a car or being murdered.

    You should also look into research on sexual coercion that includes the forcible envelopment and verbal coercion of men by women and see the gender symmetry in rape.

    Liberate yourselves from your prison of helplessness and fear.

    • August 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Catalogue, it’s not only fear that we’re talking about here. That’s part of the problem, but only rarely do I actually feel threatened on the street. Most of the time I just feel exhausted that somebody is trying to encroach upon my time and space simply because I’m a woman and therefore my time is theirs. Also, don’t you think that the “verbal coercion” you refer to has its roots in the very thing we’re talking about here?

  185. sometime lurker
    August 7, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Hello can mean: I feel I have a relationship with you, even though we’re total strangers, and the entire extent of that relationship is that I am in a role in which I am allowed to try to start a conversation and your choices are limited to appearing to ignore me or to play along with this conversation you made no indication of wishing to start.

    But isn’t that how ANY relationship starts?

    Someone will always make some sort of initial contact. Maybe a glance, maybe an offer of food, maybe a move to shake hands, maybe hello.

    Frankly, I hope that doesn’t stop. I would rather have uncomfortable hellos than walk alone at all times.

    I understand that there’s a huge social burden and I agree with you: it sucks that we don’t know how to respond to a “hello.” But the problem isn’t the hello, it’s the stuff underlying it.

  186. August 7, 2011 at 9:01 am

    katrina: Hey, thanks for sharing.I think personal interactions are so complex because people experiences are so different.I am outgoing by nature, never been sexually abused, am thin (but this too is doubled edged thing ie large breasts=sexy).Also, since my speech can be very hard to get at 1st because of my cp, I sometimes envy people who can have small talk with strangers

    Annaleigh: And thanks for sharing this little bit too. I apologize for the comment about your not being worth continuing to engage with. We’re not quite agreeing on some things, but I can see that your perspective is different than mine and it doesn’t make your interpretation of things automatically bad, just different. I think a lot of extroverts don’t realize how different life is for introverts, for instance.

    Thank both of you for sharing and appreciating each other’s sharing. Too many times around here when people post out of experience they get back the comment ‘It’s not all about you!’ Well, if you’re not going to respond to someone based on your own experiences, who’s experiences are you going to base your responses on?

  187. ZimbaZimbu
    August 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

    @Fat Steve

    “I know you probably have something against ad hominem attacks, insults, and rhetorical questions, but I have to ask…why are you such a dick?”

    You comment is witless and pretentious. It illustrates some of my points far better than I could.

  188. raya
    August 7, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Catalogue:
    You people would feel a lot safer if you acknowledged that stranger rape is very rare and that you have much more change of being hit by a car or being murdered.

    You should also look into research on sexual coercion that includes the forcible envelopment and verbal coercion of men by women and see the gender symmetry in rape.

    Liberate yourselves from your prison of helplessness and fear.

    When some guy says “hello” to me on the street in an annoying way, I don’t fear getting raped (or at least didn’t in the past). I fear getting verbally assaulted if I don’t respond, getting followed and intimidated, getting touched in an inappropriate way by said person etc. Or even if I don’t think I have to fear these things, I’m still pissed off that a comple stranger would think he deserves my attention and time when clearly I didn’t leave my flat just to entertain some random people I don’t know. And I’m pissed off because this stranger thinks I should be glad he finds me fuckable.

    I lived in a small town in Italy, in Vienna (Austria), and in Berlin (Germany) so far and I’d say the numbers of times I got spoken to in an inappropriate way on the street was about the same in all of these towns, regardless of size. Although in Italy, I felt like getting creepy compliments by strangers is not seen as insulting to women at all, and I felt like I had a hard time explaining to my female friends and family members why it made uncomfortable.
    The district where I currently live in Berlin is often shown as really dangerous due to a really high percentage of migrants living here, but I feel like I’m getting street harrassed by entitled white drunk “nice” guys FAR more often, and more often in highly gentrificated districs of Berlin than where I live.

  189. August 7, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Tori:
    Then there are the “hellos” — usually in the same friendly tone — I receive when the other person is either all the way to my side or behind me a little (assuming I’m walking or running somewhere). Even assuming the kindest intentions, turning my head to talk to them is not so safe for me. I have some nerve issues in my hips, and on uneven ground (including sidewalks that cut to driveways, gravel, etc.) I need to pay good visual attention to where I’m placing my feet or risk jarring the nerves in my hips and low spine.

    And honestly, sometimes I do wonder if those hellos-from-behind aren’t timed that way on purpose in order to elicit that visual reaction from me (turning my body, looking back, etc.) as proof that he’s gotten my attention. I don’t think that with everyone, but even in cases where the only intent is to be friendly, I’m under no obligation to cause myself physical pain in order to respond.

    Tori, I too wonder if it’s on purpose, or rather if it’s not calculated but the person has noticed that he gets more of a charge in seeing a woman break her stride to respond. It’s not physically dangerous for me to turn my head or body to acknowledge someone saying hello, and I know there are people out there who would be all, “What, you’re too important to turn your friggin’ HEAD when someone says hello?” But it’s not about me not wanting to acknowledge someone, it’s about the feeling that it’s engineered to coerce me to conform to his idea of how the interaction should go.

    I’m thinking of the last street “hello” I got that seemed genuine and friendly and not an encroachment upon public space, and the fellow gave a broad smile, looked me in the eyes, and said hello when he was still a few feet away. He wasn’t breaking his stride, he wasn’t turning his head to see how I would react, he was asking nothing of me, just simply saying hello. There were all sorts of subtle cues that let me know that saying hello back would simply be a nice human moment on the street: And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Actually, this was the day I was writing my post, so *I* turned around after we’d passed to see if he was then checking me out or trying to play some sort of weird street game–and he wasn’t. He was just walking happily along, being neighborly. (And, for the record, this guy was brown, whereas I am not, so I don’t think this was just me feeling comfortable with people who look like me.) It’s totally possible to have “hello”s on the street that aren’t the kind I’m addressing here–this is not an injunction against hello. It’s more complex than that.

  190. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 10:43 am

    katrina: what a great way to live in your own bubble and not make connections. In Egypt, Spain, Greece, etc there are mass movements for change, you won’t see that here, with this unwillingness to connect

    “What a great way” for me to live in my own bubble? How about, what a great way for me to spend my time in the way I fucking want to spend my time, and not allow other people to dictate that for me? How about, I make connections when and how I want to make connections, and that generally doesn’t occur when some random stranger walks up to me at a bus stop, which I generally don’t have the option of leaving?

    Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. You know nothing about me or my personal life, you have no idea about my friendships or relationships, you have no idea about any of that, so you have no right to judge me for the self-protective steps I take to avoid harassment.

  191. Tasha
    August 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I just want, as a woman, to discuss this little excerpt:
    I’m talking about the hello that has an undertone of You, Woman, owe me, Man, your attention—an undertone that’s usually so subtle as to be difficult to define, leaving me wondering if I’m just being a misanthropic New Yorker who can’t play well with others
    Are we seriously even having this conversation? Do you even understand what it is you are DOING here? You’re searching for things to be pissed off about! This is a hello ffs!
    Do men change the tone of that hello to indicate intention? Absolutely.
    SO DO WOMEN But when we do it, we call it flirting, or ‘sending the all clear signal’ or pretty it up with some crappy buzz words we learned from Cosmo or (shudder) Psychology Today and label it “biologically motivated interpersonal dialogue” or some other ridiculous shite that somehow makes it ok and NOT ‘creepy’ or ‘oppressive’ or whatever the heck you’re on about here.
    You say the undertone is “subtle”…..yeah things that are imaginary dont have a real tangible presence. It’s barely detectable because it isnt effing there
    you talk about compliments as being a “male occupation of space”. WHAT IN BLOODY HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!?!?!?!?! Do YOU even know what that means? Can men not even ‘BE’ anymore? If we pay a compliment to a man are we oppressing him? Are we displaying a “female occupation of space”? Is this bad? Illegal? Immoral? No, when we compliment men, we are being bold and ‘sexually empowered’ and ‘owning our space’ and blah blah blah blah…
    Do any of you realize that because we (women) have, as a group, become so hypersensitve to anything even hinting at ‘oppression’ or sexism or anything that we just plain old dont like, that we have given away any kind of power we ever had? I am really sick to death of being perceived as being a perpetual victim just because I have tits! Women have moved ourselves away from the good things in first wave feminism and become a group of passive cows just waiting for the next “subtle” thing to come our way that we can claim we were victimized by. Im tired of being the group of people who are acted UPON rather than taking action.
    And NO Im not speaking as a feminist, I am most decidedly NOT a feminist, but I am speaking as a woman, and as such, I find you personally offensive. You have taken the joy out of a nice, person to person, face to face, HUMAN interaction, and turned in to something that is somehow fearful, dirty, and harmful to both men and women. I refuse to be as afraid of men as you would have me be. I will not read anything into a man’s words that is not there. I will not be party to the culture of fear that feminism has propagated into HEALTHY male/female interactions.
    I will not be a feminist, because hello is not a word of violence

  192. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 10:52 am

    katrina: If it is such an imposition on you to reactive a greeting, i shutter to think how you react when standing behind somebody who is taking more time paying for xyz because they’re disabled.

    Wait, being annoyed with street harassment and male entitlement to my time also makes me impatient with disabled people? I had no idea I was such an asshole.

    No. That makes no fucking sense.

  193. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Catalogue: You people would feel a lot safer if you acknowledged that stranger rape is very rare and that you have much more change of being hit by a car or being murdered.

    Oh, so I should welcome unwanted impositions on my time because it’s not like they’re actually going to rape me or anything. Okay, I’ll make a note of that.

  194. Sam
    August 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    CassandraSays,

    “The problem is that, by restating the (admittedly common) idea that women are naturally submissive and prefer men to be a bit dominant, ON THIS PARTICULAR POST ABOUT HARRASSMENT, you are reinforcing exactly the cultural ideas that cause harrassment to happen, and that make a “hello” from a man to a woman in public space problematic.”

    Actually, as I read it, this post wasn’t as much about harrassment as about the quesiton of *how to deal with perceptions* of what other people (men, in this case) say. Which is why I think it’s actually quite relevant to mention that male perceptions of female expectations for male behaviour do play an important role for male behaviour.

    “There are very clear cultural connections between the mental script that causes a man to believe that women want him to show a commanding presence (or leadership, or whatever you want to call it) on dates and the script that says that a man approaching a woman in a public space is a positive thing, and women should naturally be open and responsive to this.

    I think that women are are, in general, taught to be more open and kind, I don’t really think that women are taught to be “naturally open and responsive” to male approaches. If they are even though they don’t appreciate the approach, I suppose that’s a matter of being a nice person, and there is always the risk of that being misinterpreted. Works the other way around, too – I’m always nice to women I meet (say in clubs) even though I may not be interested in them – and that attention is not rarely misconstrued.

    “If you really don’t see the connection, and why that was a totally inappropriate thing to throw into this particular conversation, then I’m not quite sure where to start explaining. But the fact that you don’t see the connection doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

    Well, the fact that I do see a connection (as explained above) was the reason for my mentioning it. That you don’t agree with my interpretation of my reality doesn’t mean it’s not there, either.

    “Also, I do think it’s probably about where you live, how old you are, what kind of women you’re attracted to and attempting to date, etc.

    Agreed. There are differences. In general, it seems (to me) that people who are thinking more about gender or sex are more aware of scripts and more likely to accept behavioural “hacking”. That awareness, alas, often goes hand in hand with forgetting about the way most people aren’t as aware and aren’t as flexible.

    “In my circle of friends that kind of show of pretend dominance early in the dating process would piss off even the women who identify as submissive.”

    Which show of pretend dominance specifically?

    “It may indeed be something that some women look for, but that doesn’t really say much about women as a whole.

    Which, again, brings us back to where we were yesterday when we were comparing notes about personal experiences/samples and their respective validity for the entire population.

    And it’s still a wildly offensive comment to make on a post like this.

    Why? It’s an element that contributes to the problem as described. How is not mentioning that making the discussion any better?

    “I also wonder if you’re misinterpreting a preference for confidence or social competence as a preference for a commanding presence.”

    Maybe, but I guess in that case we’d have to get more into detail about what kind of behavior we’re actually talking about.

    “That happens a lot, and that’s part of the cultural script too.

    I don’t really understand that last part. Maybe you could explain it a little more. Thanks.

  195. ZimbaZimbu
    August 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    @Ellie.
    You are an example of the less admirable attitudes of some members of the Feminist movement. You don’t reflect what Feminism means for most women, where I come from we’d call you antisocial.

  196. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    ZimbaZimbu: You are an example of the less admirable attitudes of some members of the Feminist movement. You don’t reflect what Feminism means for most women, where I come from we’d call you antisocial.

    Is it because I’m not a perfect lady to men who want to dictate the way I spend my time? What feminism are we talking about? Because I don’t think it’s the same one.

    You don’t know anything about me, my social habits, or anything about my life outside of what I’ve said I do at bus stops. You can fuck right off with your assumptions and critiques of my behavior.

  197. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Catalogue: You people would feel a lot safer if you acknowledged that stranger rape is very rare and that you have much more change of being hit by a car or being murdered.

    Fuck you. As one of “you people” in this thread I *was* nearly stranger raped as a result of a badly escalated street harassment incident. Just because something is statistically rare (and it’s telling that your perspective on this is fucking statistics and not personal experience), doesn’t mean that it never happens and that women are wrong for worrying or for taking precautions.

  198. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    ZimbaZimbu:
    @Ellie.
    You are an example of the less admirable attitudes of some members of the Feminist movement. You don’t reflect what Feminism means for most women, where I come from we’d call you antisocial.

    Oh wow, I was wrong, you’re sounding more like Allen West now rather than Richard Dawkins. Fuck you, you’re an asshole. Now you can leave Ellie alone and start tut-tuting me for now being a fucking lady.

  199. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    *not being a fucking lady.

  200. Tasha
    August 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Ive tried to put a post through here 3 times that is critical of the OP’s position, that it’s been deleted or not let through says more about this place and it’s members than all the words I could write in 3 lifetimes.

  201. Bagelsan
    August 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    You don’t reflect what Feminism means for most women, where I come from we’d call you antisocial.

    “Why, where I come from, feminists give out free blowjobs and candy on the street! They let themselves get distracted by every dude that opens his mouth! They never swear! Also, they have to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the kitchen–“

  202. Momentary
    August 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    If I can’t be antisocial, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

  203. Kristen J.
    August 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Annaleigh: *not being a fucking lady.

    I dunno…I found that quite ladylike.

  204. Fat Steve
    August 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    ZimbaZimbu:
    @Fat Steve

    You comment is witless and pretentious.It illustrates some of my points far better than I could.

    F off, it was funny.

  205. August 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    @Tasha: I didn’t let your comment go through because you made it clear that you had absolutely zero interest in discussing this from a remotely feminist perspective, i.e. “And NO Im not speaking as a feminist, I am most decidedly NOT a feminist.” This is a feminist forum, and while I’m not going to police comments based on what *I* think somebody’s feminism should or should not be, you made it clear you don’t wish to actually have a discourse. (Yours was the only comment I didn’t immediately let through, not because you didn’t agree with me but because you didn’t seem to actually have anything to say about feminism other than how much it stinks–I let it through here because you seemed to really want a voice.) Also, I made it clear that I’m not talking about eradicating “hello” from public space. I’m asking us to look at the subtext behind it and look at what else it might mean besides a simple greeting.

  206. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Bagelsan: “Why, where I come from, feminists give out free blowjobs and candy on the street! They let themselves get distracted by every dude that opens his mouth! They never swear! Also, they have to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the kitchen–”

    ROFLMAO!

  207. Complicated
    August 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Catalogue:
    You people would feel a lot safer if you acknowledged that stranger rape is very rare and that you have much more change of being hit by a car or being murdered.

    I’m not saying I’m afraid some random guy is going to rape me, I’m saying its annoying and intrusive to have them always interrupting me when I’m busy. I’m saying I have a right to live my life without dropping whatever I’m doing to talk with any random person who likes the look of me. For some reason, all those people seem to be men.

    Then there are the “hellos” — usually in the same friendly tone — I receive when the other person is either all the way to my side or behind me a little (assuming I’m walking or running somewhere).

    I get those a lot too. I generally ignore them, but it takes some mental effort to avoid reacting, and its annoying because it intrudes on whatever I was thinking about. I make the effort to avoid reacting because when I do turn around, I usually regret it (because the guy leers or says something rude).

  208. Bagelsan
    August 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Way back up, from Anna @ 145:

    As an upper-middle-class white student living in a working-class black area, I often feel guilty and snobby when I don’t respond to Hello’s, and have always tried to figure out what to do, why, etc.

    I know what you mean, but I think you really have to put your own health and safety first. There are lots of places to do anti-racist work and engage with classism, but I don’t think the middle of the street with a catcaller is one of them. :p

  209. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Bagelsan:
    Way back up, from Anna @ 145:

    I know what you mean, but I think you really have to put your own health and safety first. There are lots of places to do anti-racist work and engage with classism, but I don’t think the middle of the street with a catcaller is one of them. :p

    I second this. Most of my harassment and uncomfortable incidents happen with men of very similar class and ethnic background to me, but on the very rare occasion that the man in question is African-American, for instance, I do do anti-racist work and consider carefully what happened, but *only* once I’m safely out of the situation.

  210. Complicated
    August 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Oh, another point for all those people saying this has nothing to do with gender dynamics – men say things to me when I’m walking alone or with another woman, but not when I’m walking with a man.

  211. Angryblackguy
    August 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Thoughts:

    There has been a surprising amount of racist stereotyping buried in the comments above. Really surprising given the forum.

    I understand the fears and concerns and there are certainly dangers everywhere, but the question at some point becomes how you an to live. If you wants world where you walk around each day with your head down ready to judo chop the guy on the train who is trying to catch your eye, then yeah. Female Defense Screens up, throw on the IPod and heaven help the man or woman who says hello to you the wrong way. That is a valid choice.

    But that is not what I want. Anymore tellingly, despite the fact that it may mean an unwanted advance occasionally or thend to curse someone out every so often, that’s not the attitude I want my daughters and wife, the most important people in my life, to take.

    Are their jerks and dangerous people. Yes. Oh heck yes there are. And we need to be on constant watch for them. But if their existence means we can’t say hello to each other, they’ve stolen something very fundamental from us.

    I refuse to let the jerks win, and when the guy who looks suspicious on the train asks me the the time, I’ll respond, despite the fact that he may be setting me up to steal my watch because that is the world I choose to live in.

    For those running from the guy or girl saying hello because he may want to ask for a date or whatever, that’s a valid choice as well. More power to you. You make the world fit your level of comfort.

    But I’d be lying if I told you that I thought your world was a better place to live.

  212. August 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    All over that one. Sorry.

  213. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Angryblackguy: I refuse to let the jerks win, and when the guy who looks suspicious on the train asks me the the time, I’ll respond, despite the fact that he may be setting me up to steal my watch because that is the world I choose to live in.

    The guy asking you for the time has at least a very good excuse for a purpose in asking you for the time, and that is to know the time. The man who says hello to me, and waits for a response, while I am busy doing other things on my own time, is only looking for my attention, and at the same time, devaluing what I was already doing.

    There’s a difference between “Where is the nearest post office?” and certain kinds of Hello.

    Angryblackguy: But if their existence means we can’t say hello to each other, they’ve stolen something very fundamental from us.

    Um, who’s talking about not being able to say hello to anyone anymore?

  214. Cory
    August 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I’m glad that your site isn’t very popular. If it was, you might have a chance at ruining the greeting of “hello”. You are showing that you read too far into things, because you can NEVER fully understand what a person, apart from your consciousness is intending. Take hello at face value. It is a greeting. If you are not able to do that and either continue a conversation, disengage the conversation, or just keep walking – then I wonder what damage you inflict on your local community at large.
    Life is about experience, and not just your own. Don’t piss and moan over a word. Piss and moan over someone actually doing something offensive. Hello is an awesome word, and the best way to meet people. Generally, I always am greeted and greeted back. I don’t attach extra intention to a greeting. No one should. Hello is not a menace, it’s not harassment, and to say it is is very childish. What is the difference if a person you don’t like says hello to you – even in a slimy way – and someone you WANT to meet says it – in the SAME WAY? Your personal choice – that’s what. I can’t believe ANYONE would be afraid of the word Hello. What does it say about you that you write this blog? All hello means is literally “greeting”. Anything else shows your personal psychology. Get over yourself already. Just don’t ruin a perfectly safe word because you can’t handle relating to people.
    You misandryst types should find some misogynist types and hate each other all night long until the hate is gone. Your whining is ruining the awesome experience for the rest of us. Don’t be weak, don’t be a victim, and stop with the martyrdom. You make yourself feel bad about things; and trust me – you’re not that special.

  215. Sheelzebub
    August 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    katrina: If it is such an imposition on you to reactive a greeting, i shutter to think how you react when standing behind somebody who is taking more time paying for xyz because they’re disabled.

    You know, I find it ironic that people on this thread will go to any length and pull scenarios that have fuck-all to do with the subject at hand in order to shame the bitches who have the gall to say they don’t like something.

    Here’s a ticket to the cluetrain: someone who’s mentally disabled–or even just struggling to find the correct change–isn’t invading my space or expecting me to interact with them when I’m going from point A to point B.

    There are non-NT women who find the unwanted “hellos” and the demands for conversation and attention stressful on many different levels. Katrina, if you’re going to go on about ableism, check your own. Sheesh.

    Given the other complaints that now we’re anti-social and refusing to connect with people (thanks, ZimbaZimbu), I’m seeing ableism here, but it’s not where you all may think it is. Sheesh.

    In these conversations, ableism or other isms are big matters of concern as long as they can be used to bash and erase the women (many of whom are also coping with other forms of institutional oppression) who have the gall to say that men are not entitled to our time or attention.

  216. Ellie
    August 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Sheelzebub: You know, I find it ironic that people on this thread will go to any length and pull scenarios that have fuck-all to do with the subject at hand in order to shame the bitches who have the gall to say they don’t like something.

    I bet you kick puppies, too. Someone who can’t even acknowledge a “hello” would do that kind of thing.

  217. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Angryblackguy,

    Again, no one’s said anything about banning hello. Even if the people (like myself) who find it uncomfortable for various reasons and would rather it not happen know that it’s impossible to do so because the greeter is not psychic.

    The point of the OP is that sometimes “hello” isn’t coming from a place of true friendliness, and women have the right to decide when it makes them uncomfortable and act accordingly. In addition to that, it’s been pointed out that context is everything. The guy who passes by a woman on the street and says, “Hi, this weather is awesome, isn’t it?” and keeps on walking and goes about the rest of his day is going to be better received than say a man who uses “hello” as a pretext to harass a woman or monopolize her attention at a place like a bus stop or public transportation where she is basically a captive audience and he knows this.

  218. Sheelzebub
    August 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    For those running from the guy or girl saying hello because he may want to ask for a date or whatever, that’s a valid choice as well. More power to you. You make the world fit your level of comfort.

    Oh, for the love of Christ. Look, I’ve never been asked out by some random stranger on the street, let alone developed a relationship with someone that way. I have had men try and force conversations whether I wanted them or not, whether I was capable of carrying one on or not, whether I was in a mental place where I could do it or not. You sound a lot like the guys I know who don’t think it’s a big deal, but here’s the thing–you don’t have to deal with an onslaught of unwanted attention and hostile reactions to rejection (or a reaction that isn’t enthusiastic enough for the d00d in question).

    And contrary to some of the posts here in this thread, I have never had a problem with women trying to force an interaction with me. It’s always been men, who seem to feel entitled to my attention. And it’s telling how some of the reactions here buy into that entitlement.

  219. Sheelzebub
    August 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    I bet you kick puppies, too. Someone who can’t even acknowledge a “hello” would do that kind of thing.

    NO NO NO. I train them, as part of the Great Feminist Conspiracy to Bring Down Mom, Apple Pie and America (and Later Western Civilization). They will set upon any Nice Guy (TM) who only wanted to have a chat with some cold stuck-up bitch who obviously thinks she’s too good for him.

    ALL ROMANCE WILL DIE. MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  220. Sheelzebub
    August 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    The point of the OP is that sometimes “hello” isn’t coming from a place of true friendliness, and women have the right to decide when it makes them uncomfortable and act accordingly.

    This.

  221. August 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    This seems pretty clearly regional/cultural. In some areas, it’s norlam and expected to greet strangers; in other areas, it’s normal and expected to keep to one’s self. Obviously saying ‘hello’ (or ANYTHING ELSE) in a creepy, lewd tone is creepy and lewd. It has nothing to do with the choice of word, and the distinction. Is (or at least should be) clear to the recipient. Hello really does mean hello. Tones are what everyone’s talking about, not the friggen ‘hello.’

  222. Annaleigh
    August 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Sheelzebub: It’s always been men, who seem to feel entitled to my attention.

    Yep, as I’ve mentioned much further up, I can count only two women who completely disrespected my desire to be left alone; the men on the other hand are too numerous to count.

    And to mention again a story that I told here in the Elevator Guy thread to try and get through to Brandon, I was at a bus stop when a woman approached. I paused my iPod figuring I would get the “Hello” and the obligatory comments about the heat out of the way, but this woman was clearly very extroverted and she proceeded to discuss the heat, to tell me she worked in another state, that she worked in a bar in our town, and that her license is suspended. All without a peep from me. And then, she realized what she had done, and she *apologized*. That relaxed me enough to allow me to make a little conversation myself, but it was soooo refreshing to know that I could go back to my iPod if I wanted, and it would be respected.

    And as I told Brandon, that would *never* happen with a man. They will just keep on talking.

  223. igglanova
    August 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Oh look, another thread about unwanted male attention has turned into a fight about the basic principles of street harrassment. How boringly predictable.

    If the OP makes you that defensive, maybe it’s because it touched a nerve, yes? Made you realize that there are parts of you that are a mite dickish? It should be *enough* that women hate something; if you are anything other than a selfish crybaby then you take someone’s comfort into account when you engage them. Oh no, I can’t say a sexualized hello to disinterested strangers anymore, I guess I’ll have a mantrum over in the corner and cry.

    God, people are impossibly stupid. Isn’t the whole point of the OP that aggressive tone and body language are much more important than words? There are people in the world who can say ‘I like your dog’ with naked hostility.

  224. Kristen J.
    August 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Sheelzebub: I bet you kick puppies, too. Someone who can’t even acknowledge a “hello” would do that kind of thing.NO NO NO. I train them, as part of the Great Feminist Conspiracy to Bring Down Mom, Apple Pie and America (and Later Western Civilization). They will set upon any Nice Guy (TM) who only wanted to have a chat with some cold stuck-up bitch who obviously thinks she’s too good for him.ALL ROMANCE WILL DIE. MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    hehehe…my dog growls at random dudes that try to approach me with a bad attitude. Even when she’s in her little doggy bag/purse. Freaks them the fuck out.

  225. igglanova
    August 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Ok whoa, the only thing more awesome than a psychic dog is a psychic dog in a purse.

  226. Complicated
    August 7, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    No one is talking about banning saying hi to strangers. I end up having plenty of positive encounters with random people. The key thing is that there’s usually a mutual openness to interaction – like we’re both just entering a building having escaped a cloudburst, or we’re in an elevator not wearing headphones and both catch each other’s eye, etc. That’s different than when one person is listening to something and not looking at the other person, and that other person still decides to interrupt them despite the obvious lack of eye contact or interest in interacting.

    What I notice is that I have positive encounters with men and women saying hi at about the same rates, but the negative encounters with people saying hi are overwhelmingly with men – almost never with women. (I’m talking about encounters with total strangers here, not neighbors or coworkers or whatever, where of course I’ve had different types of negative experiences with women as well.)

  227. James
    August 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    I understand this perfectly, even though I’m a man. If someone gives me a “Hello.” then I suspect that they want something from me, so I get defensive. I’ve found it’s best to simply hint at a willingness to have a conversation and wait for an invitation.

  228. CassandraSays
    August 8, 2011 at 2:13 am

    @Angryblackguy – No one is saying that what we’re describing is an ideal place to live. What we’re saying is that it is in fact where most of us live right now. See the difference? Idealism versus reality.

  229. Priscilla
    August 8, 2011 at 3:57 am

    I don’t feel threatened by someone saying hello. Hello is not harassment. Maybe this is regional? In Houston, where I live, people are friendly. They say “hello” and “good evening” and “Isn’t this a lovely day?” to each other, regardless of gender. Passing someone on the sidewalk basically requires a hello of you are aware of each other.

    Also, for men of a certain age, they were raised with the notion that *not* greeting a woman when they pass her on the street, or are stuck with her in an elevator for a few minutes, is *rude.* I typically see this in men over 45, especially Black men. They *always* say hello when we pass on the sidewalk, and then they, and I, *keep going.* They don’t slow down, they don’t hit on me, they just greet me politely because it’s the thing to do.

    When a man does try to make “hello” into more, and sometimes lead into harassment, it is almost always either a really young dude and/or a man with some kind of mental illness. Also, it is far more likely that this will happen to me on public transport (bus or train.) There is a sort of man who sees an attractive woman on public transport and thinks of her as a perfect opportunity for extended conversation (after all, she’s kind of a captive audience.) But even then, it’s not “hello” that is the problem: it’s their disregard for the fact that I am, usually, reading a book and am therefore probably not looking to talk with them, or it’s again an issue of some kind of offness in them.

    I am a frequent pedestrian, and “hello” just is not a threat here. If a Houston woman wrote this post I would think she was being melodramatic and ridiculous.

    That’s not to say that harassment doesn’t happen here, just that “hello” is not something that makes me tense or worried. A guy following me, asking personal questions, or complimenting me inappropriately, these are things that worry me.

  230. Rare Vos
    August 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Seriously – is there some sort of Feminist Blog Watch group that dispenses whiny, entitled dipshits to derail every single fucking thread about women’s experiences in public?

    Here’s a summary for you fucking crybabies:

    1) NO ONE IS TRYING TO BAN HELLO.
    2) NO ONE IS TRYING TO BAN HELLO.
    3) NO ONE IS TRYING TO BAN HELLO.

    Do you fucking understand that yet?

    We’re talking about a specific sort of interaction and how THAT can force someone into constantly “doing the math” to gauge how or if to respond. It is fucking exhausting.

    I’m wildly outgoing. I say hello to a LOT of people I encounter. I’m naturally gregarious and extroverted.*

    Yet, it’s still possible to avoid intruding on people who clearly ARE NOT INTERESTED in conversing.

    YOu’re not owed anyone’s time. Women have a right to decide how they will react. You may not like it, but, in case you hadn’t notice, no one gives a fuck.

    * and I’m a black, bisexual woman with mental illness. How very privileged I must be to spend time talking about this.

  231. Rare Vos
    August 8, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I don’t feel threatened by someone saying hello. Hello is not harassment.

    *facepalm* Because that’s exactly what this topic is: being threatened by any and every hello and immediately calling it harrassment.

    *clutches pearls*

  232. Miss S
    August 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I second this. Most of my harassment and uncomfortable incidents happen with men of very similar class and ethnic background to me, but on the very rare occasion that the man in question is African-American, for instance, I do do anti-racist work and consider carefully what happened, but *only* once I’m safely out of the situation.

    How nice of you to reflect on your actions later and decide if your actions were racist.

    Some of the comments in this thread,,,,,

    I also wonder if saying hello and talking women you don’t know is more common for certain races. Just yesterday another black woman and I got to talking about hair products after 5 minutes of knowing each other. You would have thought we were old friends. We wrote down the other’s recommendations for products and stylists, talked about styles we’ve seen, etc. It’s just weird to see people saying how uncommon it is for women they don’t know to talk to them.

  233. Annaleigh
    August 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Miss S: How nice of you to reflect on your actions later and decide if your actions were racist.

    There’s nothing I can say to that, except that I am sorry. I know what what I intended with those words doesn’t matter so I won’t try to explain myself, and they were still offensive. So, I am sorry.

  234. Rare Vos
    August 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Miss S – I hear you. Like I said, I say hello to a lot of people throughout my day. I chat with people at bus stops, in lines at stores, etc. When I’m in a good mood, that is.

    And people constantly talk to me. Genuninely just chat – women and men alike.

    Perhaps it is a largely regional thing.

  235. Bagelsan
    August 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Miss S: How nice of you to reflect on your actions later and decide if your actions were racist.

    There’s nothing I can say to that, except that I am sorry. I know what what I intended with those words doesn’t matter so I won’t try to explain myself, and they were still offensive. So, I am sorry.

    …was Miss S offended? I’m slightly baffled about what point she was trying to make, honestly; is reporting one’s own experiences with street harassment and self-reflection racist now? :p

  236. Steve
    August 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    “no one is trying to ban hello.”

    Well, that’s a tad disingenuous. No one is trying to ban Fox News, but most of us here can still agree it’s a bad thing and wish that it didn’t exist.

    The thing is, the way I understand ‘privilege’ is that there are some things cis men really can’t understand about the experiences of women in today’s society. Therefore, many cis men don’t know, can’t know, what separate the okay “hellos” from the unwanted “hellos,” because they are unable to understand the experience of women, having never “walked a mile in their shoes” as such. Thus, this column seems to suggest that the well-meaning but blinded-by-privilege cis male might be best off by just not saying hello at all, which seems to suggest that due to your membership in the “aggressive/violent” gender, you’re unfit to say hello to strangers.

    Which, even if you don’t say hello to random strangers, because that’s kind of weird, is somewhat of a distressing concept.

  237. Annaleigh
    August 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Bagelsan: …was Miss S offended? I’m slightly baffled about what point she was trying to make, honestly; is reporting one’s own experiences with street harassment and self-reflection racist now? :p

    It sounds like I did fuck up and cause offense. I was only trying to say that life doesn’t happen in a vaccum, just like everyone else I have been exposed to a racist society, so I do want to analyze my reactions carefully.

  238. Annaleigh
    August 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Steve: Thus, this column seems to suggest that the well-meaning but blinded-by-privilege cis male might be best off by just not saying hello at all, which seems to suggest that due to your membership in the “aggressive/violent” gender, you’re unfit to say hello to strangers.

    Which, even if you don’t say hello to random strangers, because that’s kind of weird, is somewhat of a distressing concept.

    Jesus Christ. *headdesk*

  239. MEITTI
    August 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I find it rather conflicting that some feel saying “hello” to them makes them feel like the other one is objectifying or trying to hit on them. I think the problem might also be with the one saluted to, for the “hello” might feel so if the one saluted to feels like she’s a potential sex-object herself. I do realise this train of thought might stem from multitude of men trying to flirt with women, but to generalise all confrontations into potential hitting-ons is both overthinking and over-stereotyping every male who talks to you, -the very same thing feminists fight against when the generalisation is aimed towards women.

    I’m a male feminist myself, but I feel the best way to avoid differentiating gender is to treat every person as human beings, rather than male and female. Concentrate on judging persons personality rather than stereotypes of its gender. I believe the best course of action to bring this train of thought forward is to lead by example, and stop segregating the other gender, despite how slimy/slutty people you think there are in there. So the next time a hairy hobo, rich businessman, a guido, a goth, or whatever man walks by and say hello, answer back and lose your interest afterwards.

  240. Azalea
    August 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

    This is one of those conversations where I am truly a product of my environment. I have had men trying to “talk” to me since puberty made it’s presence with me known to the general public. I am used to it, I don’t think I have ever gone a day even while pregnant, where some man hasn’t tried to approach me on the street starting with usually a “hello beautiful” or “hello ms. lady.” It doesn’t matter where I am or where I am going or how I am dressed, there has always been at least ONE. I have found that saying “hello” and smiling while continuing to walk empowering. It kind of ended the encounter and weeds out the guys who are simply saying hello (with a compliment) and the persistent aggressors who may or may not come to grips with the ring on my left hand not being a decoy. It says a lot that I have often almost by instinct offered an explaination as to why I will not stop and talk.

  241. Azalea
    August 9, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Miss S:
    I second this. Most of my harassment and uncomfortable incidents happen with men of very similar class and ethnic background to me, but on the very rare occasion that the man in question is African-American, for instance, I do do anti-racist work and consider carefully what happened, but *only* once I’m safely out of the situation.

    How nice of you to reflect on your actions later and decide if your actions were racist.

    Some of the comments in this thread,,,,,

    I also wonder if saying hello and talking women you don’t know is more common for certain races.Just yesterday another black woman and I got to talking about hair products after 5 minutes of knowing each other. You would have thought we were old friends. We wrote down the other’s recommendations for products and stylists, talked about styles we’ve seen, etc.It’s just weird to see people saying how uncommon it is for women they don’t know to talk to them.

    I have done this and continue to do it but I think what *some* people are getting at is the hel-lo from men. There is a definite difference in the friendly hello and smile from a passing stranger and the hel-lo followed or prepped by the uttered “Got damn!” In my city women have been shot at or shot outright by a guy because she didn’t give him her number or she was “too rude.” Granted, I have not personally felt unsafe when I have been approached or by a hello but sometimes it can be annoying.

    But I too was rubbed the wrong way by the comment about making sure she was “safe” before figuring out whether or not ignoring a black man who said “hello” was racist. It may not matter much but it seemed like she pretty much ignores all men for fear of her safety who says hello.

  242. Annaleigh
    August 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Azalea: But I too was rubbed the wrong way by the comment about making sure she was “safe” before figuring out whether or not ignoring a black man who said “hello” was racist.

    As I told Miss S, I guess there’s not much I can say, except I’m sorry.

  243. Annaleigh
    August 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    MEITTI: I think the problem might also be with the one saluted to, for the “hello” might feel so if the one saluted to feels like she’s a potential sex-object herself.

    Fuck you and your victim blaming bullshit.

  244. Fat Steve
    August 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    All of you guys who act like there could NEVER be ANYTHING sinister in a “Hello’ are full of shit. If you indeed do manage to have a female partner/wife/girlfriend I’m sure you would be just as suspicious of someone who said hello to her on the subway or on the street, especially if she was with you. I’ve seen ‘hello’ lead to bar fights from guys who looked to be far from feminist. You fucking idiots pretend to have no idea what potential aggressiveness lurks behind any interaction and you should be ashamed that you’re acting as if this is just a matter of being ‘comfortable.’ Absolutely sickening.

  245. August 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I want to follow up that I will smile or even say Hi to women on the street, and in the subway. Never have I even gotten a dirty look. Perhaps because I am such a stickler for my own boundaries,I am somewhat attuned to other’s boundaries. I will only do these things in a safe environment for the woman. If I see a girl who I feel deserves a compliment on a piece of jewelry, cool tattoo, or a band I love’s T-shirt, I will only compliment her on said item, only as and when she’s leaving the train and I’m staying. (i.e. I don’t need a response, I just know how much I like it when I get those sort of compliments.) Conversly, if a woman compliments, say, as happened yesterday, my purple leopardskin shoes, I don’t take it as an ‘in’ to start talking to her. I say ‘Oh, Thank you’ and look away, a bit embarrassed. I wish more women could feel free to compliment men on their dress and style without the guy thinking ‘oooh I’m in there.’

  246. Azalea
    August 10, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Fat Steve:
    All of you guys who act like there could NEVER be ANYTHING sinister in a “Hello’ are full of shit. If you indeed do manage to have a female partner/wife/girlfriend I’m sure you would be just as suspicious of someone who said hello to her on the subway or on the street, especially if she was with you. I’ve seen ‘hello’ lead to bar fights from guys who looked to be far from feminist. You fucking idiots pretend to have no idea what potential aggressiveness lurks behind any interaction and you should be ashamed that you’re acting as if this is just a matter of being ‘comfortable.’ Absolutely sickening.

    Some of us are women ourselves who get an exorbitant amount of hellos sometimes in urban areas without any sexual assault taking place.

    Your comfort level does matter, the chances that every single person saying hello to you having intentions on raping you or sexually assaulting you is low. Stranger rape is not something that happens often . It’s a hell of a lot more common that the person is a jerk, an annoyance an asshole maybe but someone who is going to touch you against your will or worse flat out rape you, not very likely.

    The real question is being to differentiate between someone who is harassing you and someone who is simply saying hello. Remeber this entire fucking thread is about “hello.” There have been commentors here who have pretty much stated they don’t want any males initiating a hello to them least they feel threatened.

  247. Jennifer
    August 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    One time I was sitting outside talking to a friend when a random guy told us, “Good evening.” We were talking about something pretty serious and it was really no time for our conversation to be interrupted, even for a second, so we both ignored him. Then he was like, “I SAID good evening!” It was clear that he was very pissed that two women were ignoring him, a superior man, who was obviously trying to be friendly, and we must stop whatever we were doing to acknowledge him, because what could we have been possibly talking about that’s more important than greeting him?

    I also remember the last time something like this not too long ago when a man was trying to talk to me at a bus stop. It was just me and him. I was very curt and maybe a bit rude to him. Then there was a period of silence. During that period I was thinking that this world is a harsh place and sometimes a person just wants a decent conversation with a stranger and that he hasn’t really given me a reason to be rude to him. I felt a little bad. He started talking to me again and I was a bit nicer. We chatted for maybe 30 seconds before he said, “You’re really pretty.” Cue giant mental facepalm. I don’t respond to random strangers trying to talk to me anymore.

  248. Lucy
    August 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    This text points out an excellent issue. I must say that the constant harassment (even the subtle kind here described) became the reason I prefer to go anywhere by car rather than taking the bus. I frequently feel that walking on the street is uncomfortable – not only because of the words, but also because of the looks. I feel disrespected and I get mad even when I see men glancing at another woman’s body in that disgusting way.

  249. August 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Priscilla: I am a frequent pedestrian, and “hello” just is not a threat here. If a Houston woman wrote this post I would think she was being melodramatic and ridiculous.

    I’m truly happy for you that this isn’t a problem for you (seriously, not being sarcastic) but it IS a problem for many women, as the comments here attest. And “hello” can certainly be a threat in Houston. I live there too, and I’ve experienced hellos that have made my skin crawl, or just piss me the fuck off because they singled me out as a woman to interrupt what I was doing and demand my attention.

  250. Annaleigh
    August 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Azalea: Stranger rape is not something that happens often .

    Sure, sexual assault by strangers is not common, but *neither* is it 0%. As I’ve said several times in this thread, I am the survivor of a sexual assault by strangers that happened when I was trying to get from point A (my high school) to point B (a bus stop so I could go home) in peace in broad daylight. That’s one reason why it bothers me that people are throwing around statistics in this thread as if women should never be weary of unsolicited attention because statistically speaking they might get lucky and never have anything bad happen to them. I am proof that it can happen to them.

    It’s probably not a coincidence that my personal boundaries are a lot stricter than some other women’s in this thread. It’s true that I am uncomfortable with hellos or requests for directions from men that I don’t know. But I wouldn’t ban these things, and it would be unreasonable of me to expect men to use their non-existent psychic powers to figure out that I’d rather they not initiate any contact. I will usually say hello back, or try to help with directions despite the fact I’m not good at giving directions and that I feel more vulnerable being asked for directions in some parts of town rather than others.

    I *don’t* think I am being an awful, horrible, unreasonable ogre for wishing that men would not take advantage of my desire not to be rude by interrupting what I am doing, by trapping me into conversations I don’t want to have, or worse.

    And lastly, for those women who feel safe enough to have less strict or much less strict boundaries than mine, I am honestly happy for them. It would be great if every woman felt that safe in their communities. Sadly, I don’t. And it’s not because I’m hysterical or paranoid.

  251. Annaleigh
    August 10, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Annaleigh: I will usually say hello back, or try to help with directions despite the fact I’m not good at giving directions and that I feel more vulnerable being asked for directions in some parts of town rather than others.

    As one example of this that I just wrote, I was waiting for a bus a a few feet from my home, along a freeway very close to a highway. A man pulled over once to ask me for directions. I did the best I could, but then he decided to comment on my appearance and ask for my number.

    Because I was that close to the freeway and highway, I was nervous and angry with him for doing that there after I thought he’d already gotten what he wanted.

  252. Laurel
    August 11, 2011 at 12:40 am

    It’s odd, but I don’t seem to get the catcalls that other women get. I don’t get the intrusive hellos, even though I spent six months living on the seedy end of the main drag in my small town. If I was feeling confident, I was more likely to initiate a “good morning” or “howdy” while walking past people, male or female. So…yeah. I’ve never been in the situation where I’ve gotten a creepy “hello”. I have been randomly talked at by homeless people about nonsensical things, and while I used to ignore them, I find they respond better (non-hostile) if you smile, nod, and keep walking.

  253. Roter
    August 12, 2011 at 1:35 am

    I just don’t say anything to anybody.

  254. KathleenCat
    August 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    At this point this post has so many comments it’s likely most won’t read mine- but I just want to commend and thank those who have stood up for the rights of introverts to choose not to interact when they feel overwhelmed- especially when the introversion may be tied to a mental condition we cannot help. Some days I would not be able to go out in public at all without medication, while others it is I myself who will talk to strangers. I don’t always know which kind of day it will be when I get up.

  255. Natasha
    August 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Frank M:
    I wonder if this is a cultural thing – this may well be male/passing privilege talking, but I can’t recall anyone ever saying ‘hello’ to me on the street, even back when I presented as female. I’ve witnessed and/or been the subject of catcalls, once or twice, and I’ve had the usual “excuse me mate, have you got a light/spare change/any idea where I ought to go to get to such and such a place” interactions with strangers, but the idea of greeting somebody you don’t know just seems bizarre. It’s common enough for passers-by of all ages and genders to smile at each other if they catch each other’s eye by chance, but I would think that here it would be seen as a strange invasion of someone else’s space to just go up and talk to them without an obvious purpose.

    I’m British, btw. Could any British women back me up that it’s not something that happens often in the UK, or have I just been blissfully oblivious all these years?

    I was coming here to say something along the lines of what Frank said. I’m Brazilian and, tough is common for people to make conversation with strangers in places like the bus, just saying ”Hello” to strangers on the street is very unusual. If smn says Hello to you and you say it back, they’re probably expecting you to engage in conversation. The only exception would be business owners, who sometimes stand at the front of their shops and say Hello to passerbys. So, every Hello I get from men is definitely harassment, even if in the ”I-find-you-attractive-and-wanna-have-a-conversation-with-you-and-don’t-care-that-you’re-obviously-going-somewhere” kind.

    This reminds me of once a business owner calling me ”rude” because I didn’t answer his ”Good morning” when I passed in front of his store. Yeah, dude. You’re the one demanding attention from random people on the street, yet I am the one who’s being rude. Riiiiight.

  256. Natasha
    August 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    MEITTI:
    I find it rather conflicting that some feel saying “hello” to them makes them feel like the other one is objectifying or trying to hit on them. I think the problem might also be with the one saluted to, for the “hello” might feel so if the one saluted to feels like she’s a potential sex-object herself. I do realise this train of thought might stem from multitude of men trying to flirt with women, but to generalise all confrontations into potential hitting-ons is both overthinking and over-stereotyping every male who talks to you, -the very same thing feminists fight against when the generalisation is aimed towards women.

    I’m a male feminist myself, but I feel the best way to avoid differentiating gender is to treat every person as human beings, rather than male and female. Concentrate on judging persons personality rather than stereotypes of its gender. I believe the best course of action to bring this train of thought forward is to lead by example, and stop segregating the other gender, despite how slimy/slutty people you think there are in there. So the next time a hairy hobo, rich businessman, a guido, a goth, or whatever man walks by and say hello, answer back and lose your interest afterwards.

    I’m sorry, I have to answer back because…. It’s not my duty to engage in conversations with random people who demand my atention, dude.

Comments are closed.