20 Ways to ‘Talk Back’ to Street Harassment

Reclaim the street from street harassers

Do you ever have those days where you think you might just explode if you have to endure one more wolf whistle, cat call, or “hey baby?” Do you feel your face fuming but instead just walk on by, head phones in ears, pretending you don’t hear?

While that is certainly the most common and least confrontational response, it doesn’t do anything to reverse the culture of impunity that allows street harassers to do what they do without even a hint of shame. The truth is, all forms of sexual harassment and disrespect towards women—whether it’s a simple inane comment or an act of violence—come from the same place: the idea that the female body is a publicly owned entity, there for all men to comment on and use as they please.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Anti Street Harassment Week (April 7-13), EcoSalon gives you a list of “Talk Back” ammunition. The truth is that we still live in a world where talking back can also be taking a risk. However, there are certainly instances when speaking up directly and confidently is a powerful tool to challenge the wide acceptance of this tired form of oppression. Riding a bus or walking through a public place or a busy street are good examples; a late night walk home perhaps isn’t.

Organizations like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback provide resources and encourage both women and bystanders to confront, report, and record this kind of intimidation. Tips include speaking in a neutral, yet assertive voice; not losing your temper or swearing; and to decide when you’re done making your point to avoid a back and forth battle (for more very useful tips see here).

Despite what some men—and even some women—will tell you, street harassment is not a compliment. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or objectified or just plain irritated, it’s not okay. Remember that you have a right to talk back, whereas many other women in the world may not.

Go on and give some of these replies a try:

1.”You look like someone whose opinion is irrelevant.”

2.“I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone whom you think you can speak to that way.”

3.”It’s funny you should say that, because I don’t recall asking for your opinion on my appearance.”

4.”Can you please think of a more imaginative way to assert your threatened masculinity.”

5.”You should save that for your girlfriend—oh wait, you probably don’t have one because you clearly don’t know how to respect women.”

6.”God, you are just so clever and original. I bet your friends just love you.”

7.”Do you disrespect all the women in your life, or just ones you’ve never met?”

8.”Sweetheart, please stop perpetuating the patriarchal dividend. It’s so over.”

9.”Honestly, it’s too early in the morning for misogyny and patriarchy.”

10.”Please evolve before you speak to me any further.”

11.”Can I ask you who granted you the right to comment on my appearance?”

12.”Has that ever really worked for you?”

13.”You must have a solid track record of saying stupid shit to women.”

14.”Have you really not evolved past the cat call/wolf whistle/hey baby?? Get with the times, bro.”

15.”Would you like your wife/sister/daughter to be treated the same way you are treating me right now?”

16.”You need a new line, man—and also a lesson on how to respect women.”

17.”Wow, you’re the first man to ever say that to me!”

18.”Look at me any harder and your pants might split.”

19.”If I was trying to track down a good time, I would have been a little more creative.”

20. And for the guys who want to speak up: “You’re making women hate men. Stop it.”

Image credit: TED Conference

Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.