Handling unwanted advances

In high school, college, and beyond, I’ve had many conversations with female friends about street harassment, and the conversations have almost always been disheartening. It usually goes something like this:

  • Woman is minding her own business on the street, on the bus, in a coffee shop, in a store.
  • Random man makes a lewd sexual remark or gesture or begins talking to her when she clearly does not want to talk with him, and then he begins staring at her cleavage or otherwise making her physically uncomfortable.
  • Woman’s only instinct is to be polite even though she really does not want to deal with this man. She wants to say something clever to get him to piss off but she freezes up in the moment.
  • Woman is pissed the rest of the day that that guy intruded on her space and she had no foolproof way of dealing with it.

I don’t really know what exactly can be done about this. Of course, sometimes it happens that you think up a witty retort that evening or the next day, but by then it’s too late, and you can’t really know if it would have worked to drive the guy away or if it would have just provoked him more (perhaps someone like him, who is not able to pick up on basic social cues, may take your ingenious way of shooing him away as some kind of twisted flirtation?).

What’s the solution? If you try to ignore the guy, you appear rude and/or you still feel violated. If you try to tell the guy to go away, he may feel egged on anyway.

I’m not a woman, so it’s easy for me to say this, but I think in this situation it’s best to avoid wit or politeness and just say something firm and, well, “bitchy”:

“I don’t want to talk to you. Quit staring at my breasts or face the consequences.” If that doesn’t shut up him, yell loudly, “I said ‘Leave me alone,’ asshole!” so that others nearby can hear you. If he still doesn’t, kick him in the nuts—hard.

I guess you could argue the guy was just in a pathetic way looking for attention, so that would just feed into his game. Can a woman in this situation win? Any strategies to share?


  1. I’m not sure threats like “…or face the consequences,” are a good idea. Loudly pointing the rude behavior out sounds like a good idea, but vague threats and actual violence like “kick him in the nuts,” seem like a good way to get into legal trouble.

    This is of course based on the statement that the woman in question is in a public area with other people around. If she’s alone and feels threatened, then I would not have a problem with her using violence to defend herself. It just seems like the use of violence or the threat of violence for rude behavior is going a bit overboard.

  2. The construct recognized as “woman” represents the dominant social order’s successful attempt to otherize an entire class of people for the purpose of oppressing them.

    The unwanted attention is the way that “not-woman” reinforces their dominance over the “woman” class.
    Because feminisation is among the first steps taken to socialize children, and because it is so readily accepted, deeply internalized, and staunchly defended by women, it is just about the most difficult thing to do to prevent the dominant class members from acting out their role as oppressor.
    The woman herself is the only and the best judge of how to deal with this kind of dominance display.
    If the woman returns any behaviour that can be interpreted as aggression by a member of the dominant class, he can feel priveleged enough to return the lack of appeasement with escalated violence.
    This behaviour can be as little as a ‘please don’t do that’ – or even a move away from the oppressive actions.

    The concept of woman extends to the full set of unique behaviors performed by the sex class to appease its oppressor, where failure to appease can have repercussions from a a snarky glance to a knife in the gut.
    Becoming a woman entails taking a thousand petty dominance acts by the dominant class on the chin and replying with a suite of appeasement acts that will preserve that inequality.

    Some women have privilege enough to repudiate their membership of the “woman” oppressed class without suffering life-threatening consequences. These women are very rare.

    I suggest that a first step towards changing the behaviour of these aggressive men is for other men to intervene as a normal behaviour.
    I have no hopes that this will happen soon.


  3. That’ll teach me to not proof a post.

    What I meant by the woman being the best judge of how to deal with these unwanted behaviours is that each single act in each single situation carries a whole lot of nuance that only the woman in that **particular** place and time can accurately parse for what next steps to take – – any recipe or general strategy for one situation could be disastrous in any other.


  4. What is the matter with just saying FUCK OFF? I don’t feel any need to be “polite” to some asshole who is in my face. It isn’t about attraction anyway, it is about power.

  5. Who said anything about attraction?

    In your experience does saying FUCK OFF actually work in terms of making the guy go away? Or does he just consider you feisty and then want to make more advances and lewd remarks?

  6. [i]Woman’s only instinct is to be polite even though she really does not want to deal with this man. She wants to say something clever to get him to piss off but she freezes up in the moment.[/i]

    This is perfect. I’ve had this happen too many times before. And, you know, what… it makes me mad that I have to feel like I need something witty to say. Go away asshole, should be more than enough. But it often doesn’t.

    I wish we had some kind of cure for each individual situation, but often times even a witty response or strong kick only provokes a guy further. I think what really needs to change is the culture that teaches a lot of guys that it’s okay to treat women in this way.

  7. I think what really needs to change is the culture that teaches a lot of guys that it’s okay to treat women in this way.

    Oh, I totally agree, but how do we do that?

    I mean, that’s like saying the best way to deal with muggings, instead of self-defense and being aware of your surroundings, is to teach muggers not to mug. That’d be great in theory, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any practical strategies.

  8. It’s a monumental task, undoubtedly, and I think because cultures (our culture in particular) are designed to resist change it’ll be a long time before we can say we’re at a good place. I can’t think of any practical strategies, aside from designing our stuff so that it tasers muggers specifically upon contact. Oh, man, I totally want my stuff to be taser-ready now…

  9. I think just getting people to recognize there is a problem is a good start. You can’t even begin to work on a problem people don’t acknowledge exists.

  10. This happened to me yesterday. I took my son to the barber shop to get his hair cut. Right when I sat down, this drunk guy, (apparently the owner) started breathing all over me, and he would not leave me alone. I did not want to make a scene. I made the mistake of being politem because I did not want to be bitch in front of my son and embarrass him.

    The encounter got worse and worse. I got up and left, went to the back room where he followed me, and continued his drunken dance and invading my space. I talked to the other people and tried to ignore him. One woman, finally said, “stop harrassing this woman!” and he got all belligerent.

    I left, and went back to see my son. I took out my cell phone and called my husband, and then after I got off the phone, just pretended to be engrossed in my blackberry and totally ignored him. I gave this other guy the eye, and the drunken guy says, ” hey you know him?” and again I just ignore him. He then starts harrasing the guy, “hey you know her?” and he nodded yes, and he finally went away.

    I paid the barber and walked out, where the guy harrassed me saying something verbally, but I pretended he wasn’t there.

    Today, I am pissed off that I did not handle the situation properly. I feel violated. I know being polite was wrong, but I did not want to make a scene at my son’s hair salon.

    What kind of business lets drunk employees harrass the customers? The word on the street is that he was the OWNER.

    How could I ‘ve handled this better?

    This is not just a problem with women, but men too.

    Me and my husband were in Vegas, when we were accosted by this obvious crack addict. We are a mixed couple, so there will be times when usually drunken men, will approach my husband, and accuse him of “stealing our beautiful women”

    Well, we were in Vegas, and this happened. This crack addict yelled at us, and we ignored him. He got more belligerent. “Hey, I am talking to you mother fucker!” and we ignored him. He then started walking fast to catch up to us.

    We ducked into a wedding chapel and pretended to be looking at wedding dresses, the crack addict followed us inside, and started yelling at us for being rude for ignoring him.

    Again we ignored him, as he was yelling and screaming at my husband.

    I just turned to the deranged guy, and said, “excuse me, we are trying to shop” and the guy said, “man, you did not have to disrespect me like that. all I wanted to say is that you had a beautiful wife”

    My husband was really pissed off the whole trip, because he felt like he did not protect me or us. But honestly, I do not know how to deal with these people.

    I would rather not get into an escalated argument, like kicking him in the balls. He obviously would’ve acted very violently to “hey leave us alone ASSHOLE!” but not standing up to someone who violates you, “hey you, look at me motherfucker!” is also how criminals assess submissivness.

    So what is the answer? Learn karate? Go around and be a bitch, and embarrass people?

    My son later thanked me for not being a bitch and embarrass him. I just told my son, that this guy obviously had problems, and I let this one go.

    But today, I am seething!

  11. Well here is what works for me. I pretend to be so engrossed in my blackberry and pretend I can not hear anything. All in all, that by far, has worked the best. Indifference is the answer.

  12. This blog has got me hooked. I have been out with my daughter and spoken to guys who have offended me, if not her. She just seems amused, and I suppose she can deal with it perfectly well herself, after all I am not normally around. But I have a problem. I find people attractive, but I hate the thought of someone thinking “is that old guy over there leering at me”. I usually avert my gaze and trip over something.

  13. I just got back from a walk with my dog. I went online and googled this: How to deal with unwanted advances from men. I came to a blog that very truthfully depicted a far too common scenario of a man aggressively invading a woman’s space and how it can make us feel. I felt I needed some advise because this was the third time this happened to me today, and something that I’ve struggled with since I was 12/13. (I’m 24 now). I’ve talked to girlfriends about it and seemed to come to the same conclusion that we don’t really know the best way to respond aside from ignoring them because we don’t wont to engage in any sort of interaction with them. But no matter what I do, I always feel shitty afterwards and question my reaction. I’m sure when I was young I was overly polite, then in my later teens probably acted angry and flustered which provoked them or showed them they had the ability to effect me which never left me feeling good. Lately I’ve ignored men who are straight out harassing me or if they are calling out to me, asking me for my number, making comments on my appearance I seem to always end up shaking my head or making some stupid remark meant to be witty but then I feel embarrassed. My conclusion is it is best to ignore because you have no obligation whatsoever to engage in conversation with someone or waste any of your energy on someone who doesn’t respect you enough to ask, and even if they do ask to talk to you, you can say no, because that is your right. And maybe someday a well meaning man may come up to you intending to ask you for directions saying “may I ask you something?” and you say “ no” or “I’d rather you didn’t”, that’s ok. He should respect that; a decent person should respect your space. It doesn’t make you a bitch. The last thing I’m going to say is please, if you haven’t already, sign up for a self defense class or get a professional to show you some basic defense moves so you can feel a little more confident when your by yourself and have a better chance of protecting yourself if you need to. Unfortunately I don’t think we can protect yourself with words when it comes to aggressive men so it’s good to be as prepared as you can.

  14. This is life, and how life works… everywhere among most if not all species. How do you expect for people to meet other people?

    We’re not all happy only being angry bloggers.

    I’m an angry blogger too sometimes… but… it doesn’t make up a significant portion of my life, nor does it define me.

    Sometimes you’ll be happy that you have met this person, sometimes you wont.

    You need to calm down.

    The problem is not with these situations, but with women’s lack of self respect and courage.

    Spend less time whining and more time building confidence.

  15. WTF Y T? You are not a woman (neither am I), and you have no right to tell women that “lack of self respect and courage is the problem.” That is the most offensive thing I have heard in weeks.

    The women are not the problem. The problem is that we live in a patriarchy that encourages and reinforces abusive behavior. Did you know 1/4 women are raped? That’s just the reported number.

    I don’t want to hear another fucking word about courage from you until you have spent your entire life scared of being assaulted, afraid of being alone, afraid of going out at night. That is what a patriarchy looks like. Do you have any idea how ignorant you sound?

    And how dare you accuse these women of whining? Your behavior is only reinforcing the system of patriarchy that gets breaks womens lives and turns men into monsters.

    Stop talking and start listening. Maybe you’ll survive the next Ghulabi Gang.

  16. Thank you, Max. It is wonderful to hear a man defend a woman. I am a grandmother and have daughters and they are or have been confronted by insensitive or stupid men most of their adult lives. They were taught to be polite and it always shocks them when some men treat them with no respect. Again, thank you for your comment. Whatever person or persons in your life are lucky indeed.

  17. This post was a long time ago, but I have to say that I agree with Max and NM. People socialised as women (since obviously not all people socialised as women are women, and sexual harassment can happen to any one of these people, in any number of varying forms) are taught to fear this kind of male sexual aggressiveness– because, for one, they’re raised to be polite and non-confrontational and that’s hard to get over.

    People raised as female are not taught to be assertive. If they are, think of all the terms that are made to apply to them. Bitch, whore, slag, dyke, mannish… they’re taught to be polite, be non-aggressive, be passive.

    And that leads to the major factor in this. If the victim of sexual harassment is assertive, the assumption is that anything that happened next was their own fault. They shouldn’t have taunted this person, they should have said nothing or been polite or put up with it. They’re blamed for the violence against them if they try to stand up to it.

    What a fabulous double-bind. They should just be more assertive, right? Silly them. Oh, wait, but you said it yourself in another post– they shouldn’t have put themself in a position where they were playing with fire, should they?

    Is it common sense to be sensible and avoid dangerous situations? Absolutely. I’m not arguing that it’s not.

    Is it chilling that this seems oh-so-much more likely a way to be marginally safe than the possibility that those socialised as male would be taught to not view the perceived female as an object, to be honestly and equally respectful– and, in short terms, not to rape?

    You can find the answer to that one yourself.

  18. Sounds like a few of you ladies could benefit from a small water gun or squirt bottle… the really obnoxious men should be embarrassed by their behaviour… so make it look like they peed themselves! Ha HA HAAA ;)

    More seriously, this has worked for me in the past:

    Look directly at them, make eye contact to show you are serious, and not afraid and say: Completely inappropriate.
    If they respond negatively you can say: I am not interested, you can leave.

  19. More tips and attitude changers are welcome. I am 63, widowed, a grandmother and I still find myself confronted with situations demanding my attention to deal with this. Petite, I am not one to take on an overly assertive man, much less plan for it in self defense course: Two new hips. So, do I pay for a bodyguard? It’s not clear how …. ok, for example:
    – the notary comes to my home. He starts making inappropriate comments during the document signing and then touches me inappropriately. “So, to clarify you are such-n-such race and you are most obviously female,” and, “Oh you really take a nice photo.” This is a time sensitive business matter and I don’t have time to restart this whole process all over again. Then, he calls the next night to say he has to come back over in the morning for one more small piece of paper to be signed and it doesn’t need his notarization. What? That was this month’s dilemma. Last month had its own dilemma. And, so on. All I can think to do is pray, “Forgive them Father, they do not know what the hell they are doin’.” On the Notary, I did let my lender liaison know and he’s going to tell the Title company. But, if this isn’t done properly, it will all get lost in the miscommunications, costing everyone considerably. Not to mention the time and inconvenience. Alas, what to do. I mean why does it have to cost a woman twice the money, effort and time to just handle a business matter efficiently and professionally? I do have video cameras running in and outside of the home 24/7, although there is no audio….. hmmmm, yet!

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