Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Let’s Talk About It: Approaching women in public

Posted on February 13, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Johnna Ossie, News Editor

A recent Facebook interaction I saw has me wondering what it is that makes some people feel entitled to approach women in public. Does me being in public mean that I am welcoming people to approach me? If I’m listening to music at the bus stop or reading a book at a bar, does that mean that I am welcoming someone to strike up a conversation with me?

I think most women have had the experience of being doing something in a public space (reading, writing, studying, listening to music, walking, standing, breathing) and had an unwelcome interaction with a man. I’m not saying that all men are creeps. I’m not saying that I hate men (goddess help me that I even have to interject that). I’m saying that in our society, men feel entitled to women’s time and space, and that’s nothing new.

Here’s an example. I was at a bar a while ago with my friend and she left to use the bathroom. A few minutes after she was gone, a man who appeared ten to fifteen years older than me approached me while I was scrolling through my phone in the corner.

“Why are you here all alone?” He asked.

“I’m not,” I responded. “My friend is in the bathroom.” He stood there and stared at me while I continued to look through my phone.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He asked.

“No thanks, I already have one,” I said, showing him the full drink in my hand. Now he was getting upset with me. How dare I not want to interact with him, let alone not accept his very thoughtful and kind offer of a drink? My friend came back and he proceeded to ask to buy us both drinks, and when we declined again, he pulled out his wallet.

“Have you ever seen one of these?” he asked, haughtily. We looked at him inquisitively. Had we ever seen a wallet? We exchanged glances and then responded that yes, we had seen a wallet. He went on to tell us how much money he made per year, how we would be lucky to have him buy us a drink, how we would never make as much money as him (maybe true– looking at you, wage gap). Then his phone rang. Low and behold he said, “It’s my wife.” His wife! He proceeded to become more and more agitated that we wouldn’t talk to him until he had to be escorted from the bar.

I’m sure many, many women have stories like this. Perhaps there are some who would say, “Maybe if you just accepted the drink he would have left you alone.” To which I would say: false, if I had accepted the drink he would have expected much more from me than to engage with him in conversation. But that’s not the point. The point is that I, or anyone, should be able to say “No, thank you” and have that be the end of the conversation. The world “No” should mean something other than “try to convince me” or “get upset with me and yell at me in public.”

Since the word “no” doesn’t always seem to work, I’ve looked up some other words to use instead. You could try: Nay, never, under no circumstance, by no means, nope, nah, nuh-uh, no way jose or ixnay. Or you could try some other languages: No, non, nein, net, nau, nei, or ni.

Does being in a public space mean that people are entitled to approach you and strike up a conversation? Some would say yes, I would say no, no way, nein, nah.