My roommate came home last night extremely mad and shaken up. She was waiting for her food to come out at a fast food restaurant when a man came up and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you that you are very beautiful.”
Every woman I know seems to have a unique opinion on catcalls and pickup lines–when it’s revolting, when it’s frightening, when it’s forgivable, when it’s appreciated. My roommate gets them all the time, and based on our conversations I know that her knee-jerk reaction is anger, whereas mine is amusement. Not to say I don’t think it’s disgusting and uncalled for 99% of the time, but unless my way of dealing with most things awkward/weird/ugly is to laugh first. It also doesn’t happen to me as often, whereas men have literally followed her for blocks.
Of course, it depends on who’s doing it, when, where, and how. In this case, it was 11pm, she was alone in the city, and he was twice her age. She brushed his comment at first, which he most likely thought was just an innocuous compliment. But he didn’t leave.
“You look familiar. Did you go to Cal?”
The mood suddenly shifted from uncomfortable to unsafe, for her. Maybe he was a nice guy trying to make conversation, but the fact is that she walked into the restaurant looking forward to eating a burger, and left feeling on edge and worried for her safety, and remained that way until an hour later when she got home.
Yes, women react in a variety of different ways to male attention, but every decent male should have the awareness to know what might make a woman–especially a stranger–uncomfortable and try to avoid it to the best of their abilities. That doesn’t mean you should never chat up a cutie at a bookstore or cross over to the other side of the street when you see someone approaching, but sometimes it does. Context people. If she has headphones in and a hoodie on, don’t talk to her. If it’s the middle of the night and no one else is around, consider crossing the street. I can’t stand it when people say they “don’t see gender/race.” It’s a thing, it affects people, and we could all make an effort to avoid making people feel unsafe, especially if we don’t know them.
Side note: Earlier that day I walked into a cafe where a guy was chatting with the barista. Instead of moving away from the counter, the customer, who wasn’t very fluent in English, continued talking and watched me order. “Hi,” I said, in my typical friendly but slightly reserved way.
“You are so cute. You have a good personality,” he said. Although I felt awkward, I didn’t feel unsafe given the context. One thing I’ve noticed since accidentally getting my hair cut much shorter than intended is that I get much less male attention (almost never) and when I do, it’s always “cute.”