Recently, two men I don’t know from a crack in the sidewalk really fucking pissed me off.

Yesterday I had to haul an ungodly amount of laundry to the dry cleaners about five blocks up the hill from my apartment. The overflow of dirty dress shirts and sweaty silk dresses had gotten so bad I was forced to stuff everything in my old-lady grocery shopping cart instead of the eco-friendly-because-I-reuse-it-so-much Ikea bag from like four years ago. Yes, I looked homeless.

I knew walking past the bus stop would be problematic as it’s the equivalent of a construction site. I got maybe three cart wheels away when a man yelled out how beautiful my hair was. I smiled, nodded, said “Thank you” and keep on pushing. But, of course, it didn’t end there.

“Do you fix it yourself?” I doubted the seriousness of this question, since it was coming from a balding man with paint-splattered jeans. I just ignored it and continued on my way. I’d already been polite enough. More polite than I had to be, since being polite isn’t the law. He kept yelling though, even when I crossed the street and I tuned him out like so much of the white noise in the urban jungle — cars honking, people cursing, etc.

“Miss? Miss! MISS!! Do you speak English?”

At this point, he was right behind me waving a wayward dress shirt in my direction. Apparently, in my haste to mind my business, one of my boyfriend’s shirts got lost to the cause. The man was pissed I didn’t sit and talk with him long enough to figure that out.

“I mean, these are your clothes not mine. What do I care?”

I thanked him again, grabbed the button-down from his fist and yanked my cart full of laundry the rest of the way. Did he deserve a “thank you”? I don’t know. Perhaps. But I was still annoyed.

The next morning, as I performed my daily routine of scrolling through tweets before taking my dog Miles for a walk, I came across something almost eerily prescient. It was a snippet of an interview with author Junot Diaz and NPR: “I grew up in a world…where largely I wasn’t really encouraged to imagine women as fully human.”

I contemplated the power of that quote while out on the street with Miles. Diaz is taking responsibility in a way for his own actions, even though he says they are involuntary. Just as I’ve been conditioned to be polite to men even as they overreach, men have been taught to ignore my discomfort because my value in our interaction is inherently less than.

And wouldn’t you know, while thinking thoughts in my own head, my sacred space, and therefore not being truly aware of the people around me, another micro-sexist incident walked right into my line of sight.

A large man who looked to be sane and in his mid-40s walked a fluffy white dog down the street Miles and I were about to cross. Still contemplating the meaning of Diaz’s quote and how men need to reevaluate their cloudy perceptions of privacy when it comes to women, I glanced at this dude’s dog, smiled and kept on contemplating. I had a running dialogue going in my head that I didn’t want to disrupt.

“Hey. Hey! HEY!” he called from the street. Thinking there was some emergency happening in the millisecond it took for our paths to cross, I turned ever so slightly.

“If I’m not afraid to speak, then why are you?”

Are you fucking kidding me? Could this really be happening? That as I was mulling over the imbalance between men and women in the public square, some strange man who I have never seen before demands that I speak to him only because he would like to speak to me?

Of course I was so mad that I smiled. “Oh,” I said through gritted teeth. “Hello.” Because that’s exactly what he wanted, I guess. To get an insincere greeting from a woman he doesn’t know only because he could.

Fuming, when I got home I immediately Googled the rest of Diaz’s quote.

“I was in fact pretty much — by the larger culture, by the local culture, by people around me, by people on TV — encouraged to imagine women as something slightly inferior to men. And so I think that a lot of guys, part of our journey is wrestling with, coming to face, our limited imagination and growing in a way that allows us not only to imagine women as fully human, but to imagine the things that we do to women — that we often do blithely, without thinking, we just sort of shrug off — as actually deeply troubling and as hurting another human being.”

None of the microaggressions that I experienced in the last two days were life threatening, not in a physical sense anyway. I wasn’t touched, but I still felt threatened and  reverted back to the safe baseline of feminine politeness when all I wanted to say was, “Mind your fucking business,” or, “I’m not afraid of talking to you, I simple don’t want to,” — or silence.

I’m ready to wrestle with my own limitations and to start re-imagining my part in this screwed-up social hierarchy. First, I’m gonna figure out a stock answer, a go-to, for when I don’t want to speak or otherwise engage with men. I’m gonna recite it like a mantra until it’s written on my bones. I’m thinking something assertive and lady-cop sounding like, “Your attention is unwanted. Stand down. Now.” But I’d rather it rhyme because I’m ridiculous.

What do you say to men who try to make you play by their rules?


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena on XOJane! 

  • Dave

    Ummm yeah…

  • Greg Dragon

    Yet if we ignore you because you seem like an angry black woman that’s a problem too. It’s a wonder so many black men have given up.

  • Patience

    What do I say to men who try to make me play by their rules? Usually I just ignore them, but the most recent incident I could not. You see, I was walking over to my bank when a man walking toward my direction told me to smile. I told him, “Don’t tell me what to do!” He became upset by my response and said, “Well, frown then!” I told him that I would and thanked him. I get so tired of being objectified every time I leave my house and don’t have the time or patience to respond to everything that is said to me.

    Most recently I was in the credit union and overheard a male customer tell the teller, “Yea, a smile!” when she asked him if there was anything else that he needed. The teller was confused and asked him what did he say. He again told her to smile, so she and her trainer both put those fake smiles on their face that women have learned to do. I know for a fact that if they were men, he would have never told them to smile.

    But yes, whenever men tell me to smile, I always ignore the request and keep a straight face.

    Another story – One time while at work (former job), I was walking to my desk and this annoying as heck guy told me, “Smile, it is Friday!” I heard him, but did not acknowledge him, and he says to himself, but was actually loud enough for me to hear, “She didn’t hear me.” Thing is, I did hear him, but who was he to tell me how to feel?

    Telling women to smile is sexist. Men would never tell other men to smile or even question them the way that they feel entitled to do to women.

  • Patience

    I can already see this turning into a bunch of people missing the point. There is nothing wrong with the actual act of smiling. What is wrong is when men order women to smile, because a woman who isn’t smiling is seen as unfeminine, threatening, and not playing her ‘role’ as a woman. As I said above, men don’t tell other men to smile or question strange men about their emotions, so what makes women so different? If a woman isn’t smiling, then so be it.

  • clericalerror

    There’s nothing wrong with smiling – that’s not the point. There IS something inherently wrong with thinking that other people are obligated to do something to make you comfortable – especially when they’re minding their own business, and not bothering you or interacting with you in any real, tangible way.

    Sure fellas, be friendly – but also recognize that maybe your attention might make someone else feel intruded upon, uncomfortable or threatened, even if that’s not your intent. It’s a human response to ask for privacy – not one invented by black women, or women period.

  • Beautiful Mic

    And I thought the older I got, the less of this I would have to go through. It still happens and it makes me angry, so angry that it’s a good thing I don’t carry a gun. Although, I plan one getting my license, soon.

    And it’s not just the older ones that do this. We need movement, ya’ll!! for real!

  • Ange B

    I wish there was a standard way to acknowledge but keep it moving like a nod perhaps? I too am annoyed when people presume that because I am outside that I must be looking for conversation while waiting for the bus or the light to change…I don’t get that….and I think telling anyone who is not your family or friend to smile is rude. You don’t know what happened to them that day or what they are dealing with and if they are not willing to share that information with you then keep ion moving. I recall meeting some friends for brunch at a fancy restaurant so slightly dressed up. And I was running down the stairs to catch the train and this random man came up to me and was like why you so mad. I did NOT appreciate that comment! I was in a great mood..just running for the subway train…after that I was slightly annoyed to say the least.

  • S.O.B.

    The “you wouldn’t say that to a man” line is one I’ve used before. I tend to get the “smile, you look mean” comment. My answer “obviously it didn’t stop you from opening your mouth”. I’m tired of men dictating my personal actions in a public space. I’ve been run up on, chased down, stared down, harassed at my job, etc. and then demanded to smile. I’m not a puppet. This isn’t a minstrel show. I promptly correct them with a quickness. Usually the insults start flying or the bitter woman comments commence. I don’t ‘owe’ you a smile because you have an outtie and I have an innie, it’s sexist and demeaning. Sad thing is it’s already happening to my 14 year old daughter with boys in her school telling/demanding her to smile. Ugh.

  • Echi

    I’d hate to minimize the author’s perceptions, but while reading the article, I was waiting for the punch line, for something slimy to happen. To sum it up, the author took offense to a stranger who eventually helped her out with her laundry and a fellow dog walker trying to make chit chat.
    What’s wrong with this culture? We smile for cameras and Facebook but we scowl at our neighbors.
    I’m not naive, either. I’ve been heckled passing large groups of men and I’ve gotten the “Girl, smile” when it’s obvious that their gaze lingered elsewhere. It’s gross, it’s embarrassing, and we should fight against such things. But what was described in the article didn’t really seem like such.

  • C

    I used to hear “smile” or “why do you look so mad” all the time for like 6 years. It was almost always men who said it. It used to annoy me so much, because sometimes I really was having a hard day and did not feel like smiling. Or sometimes I was ok, but still didn’t look happy. Now, I don’t get those comments anymore. Can’t remember the last time I did, and when I look back, it was because I was generally unhappy (depressed, actually) and it showed all over.

    Let me ask this question, though. Who actually walks around smiling when nobody is speaking to them?

  • libpatriot

    So walking outside and thinking or planning make us look angry?

  • Chika

    You know, since it’s a Friday, I’m just gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and hope you’re actually not that dense

  • ChillyRoad

    Men tell other men not to cry or be afraid when they are.

  • Patience

    Quite often I hear and see women and men state that smiling makes a woman more approachable. That is fine, but my experience has been the exact opposite, where I am told to smile and have men approach me frequently despite having body language that indicates I am not open to conversation. These same men will go on to tell me that I am ‘mean’ because I didn’t play their game of flirting.

  • libpatriot

    In the city I live, the mitigation for this issue is handled by most people both men and women wearing earphones. Whether connected to phones or music players, no one can hear anyone else. This works wonders on issues such as this. I recommend it.

  • libpatriot

    Do they expect and demand compliance?

  • libpatriot

    Street walkers, strippers and the like. Thats who.

  • The Antifash


    The ideal thing to do would be to lean in closely with a nice low voice and tell these men to A. Shut the fuck up, or B. Grow a dick (recently used by Rude gal Rih via twitter) with a pleasant smile of satisfaction to follow. How awesome would that be?..

  • Patience

    Wearing headphones/earbuds isn’t a 100% solution. I have a pair of the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, headphones that are very visible and while having the music playing low; I could hear men speaking to me despite me having on the heaphones. Some would even speak more than once. I have even had men request for me to take off my headphones for them. For me, I can always tell when someone is wearing headphones/earbuds because of the chord hanging from their head. Again, I have had men still try to talk to me.

  • The Antifash

    People STILL bother me while wearing earphones, and my hair is short, so you can clearly see them. I don’t get it! I have resorted to the classic ignore tactic. I’m boggled by the fact that they still do it though smh.

  • Jp

    I will first start by saying as a male I do not and can not understand the perspective of a female being imposed upon by a male unwarranted with total disregard to her personal space or comfort level. I will be honest and say sometimes men struggle with knowing how to approach women correctly and I think you are well within your right to either indicate that a behavior or act is unacceptable or choose to ignore it. I would stress that as human beings not just men and women we strive to not see all acts of communication as slimy or agressive or demeaning. Sorry if I sound all flower power. My personal experience is that sometimes I get uncomfortable giving a woman a compliment on their attire or hair or something that is non-sexual and have them scowl as if I stared at them lustfully or I was trying to “spit game” as it were. Sometimes people just want to be nice and we should acknowledge that as a possible motive as well.

  • Nestafan2

    I’ve experienced this a few times. If you respond to their calls, you run the risk of further harassment. If you don’t respond, you are sometimes subjected to name-calling and accusations of having a bad attitude. Unfortunately, headphones will not alleviate the problem, nor will looks of annoyance as they will only become more aggressive to save face. I wish I could suggest a solution, but since we can’t control other people, I would simply say just keep walking and pretend to be preoccupied, or mentally insane by talking to yourself.

  • Ange B

    And women do too! Just saying..I have experienced people just ignore headphones and keep on talking. They give you the annoyed glare when you the music listener don’t respond because well at least in my situation I have my music turned up quite loud. Hmmm I don’t know find someone who doesn’t have headphones on to talk to them.. I’ve seen these people there are plenty of them out there! Some people.

  • Jasmine

    Whenever a random nobody tells me to ‘smile’ I usually respond with ‘My puppy just died”. Crude, untruthful, and extreme, but when a complete stranger requests that I act on their whim, consent isn’t an option.

  • Ange B

    I think being nice would be to smile yourself(speaking to the men that ask women to smile just because they are women)..telling a stranger to smile is not being nice. It’s rude. I do hear the struggle of the fine line between compliment giving and coming across as slimy…that can be a tricky line to define.

  • Simone L

    Wait…don’t headphones mean “I want to have a long winded conversation with you, while you enjoy your music and think about things?” because…in most places, that’s what it translates to.

  • libpatriot

    I guess I keep the volume at full tilt and have mastered the 1000 yard stare, so I don’t see anyone closer than the next block.

  • libpatriot

    I keep the music up. Look at the next block and keep it moving. So far so good.

  • Beautiful Mic

    Being that I am a product of a single mother household, I always wonder whether this happened to me because men could sense that about me.

    I wonder if I would be more confident in saying something, and could think of something to say other than being offended, if I had a better sense that type of bounder. The only boundary that I realize is that I’m being imposed upon, but sensing that this man, as well as others, feels it a societal norm to do so.

    If it stick my middle finger up, with people around to see it, would they come to my defense if this man attacked me for not doing as he demands.

    I try to ignore these bastards because, for me, even the slight bit of cooperation validates their right to impose of women, on me.

    A similar type of thing is when strange men ride by you in their car and wave or beep at you as if they know you. I don’t wave or beep back. I really want to throw my middle finger up, but I don’t own a gun, yet. And I know the police won’t see my side should I call them.

    If the world had more women like me in it, this type of thing wouldn’t even happen. If I had army of women like me, I’d shut these type of mofos down nation-wide. For real.

    It’s times like those where I wonder what a bunch of butch corrupt lesbian TSA officers would do to such a man, if allowed to have him to themselves in some isolated room .

  • S.O.B.

    And therein lies the problem. They want us to be approachable…period. How dare this woman not be ‘on’ 24/7 with full access when she sees an XY chromosome! I’m almost hunted down for my lack of smiling. I always assumed that NOT smiling or having closed off body language made people leave you alone. Not the menfolk they will not be deterred from their prey. And that’s exactly what I feel like when it’s not an equal exchange of pleasantries, like a carcass being stalked by vultures.

  • Patience

    Libpatriot – I guess it depends on the level of harassment one has dealt with. For me, I’ve had too many men and boys (who mistake me for being in their age group) follow me to not be aware of who isn’t immediately around. I also think the how attractive the guy perceives the woman determines how far he is willingly to go to pursue that woman.

    Ange B – I have not experienced women ignoring social cues to not bother me. My experience has been that women who approach me do so because it is for a good reason.

  • ChillyRoad


    Don’t be flippant. The point is society has expectations on the way men and women are meant to behave in public. Men are taught to be stoic, silent and brooding while women are meant to be sweet, comforting, and feminine. Women have to smile and men can’t cry. Its a trade-off.

  • Jasmine

    I also have a pair of Beats solos, and I used to wear them as a solid excuse to why I wouldn’t answer a man’s advances. But that can be quite dangerous so I don’t recommend it excessively.

  • ChillyRoad

    I agree.

  • Ms. Information

    I smile and say hello to those who speak to me…but some men overdo it. What is never addressed is the level of street harassment that black women go through on a regular basis….I think the frowning face is a defence mechanism….we ALL have experiences black men who catcall, who yell about body parts and then who call a woman out of her name when she ignores all of it. I have yet to see other races of men do this to their women on the same level of some black men.

  • Beautiful Mic

    “..telling a stranger to smile is not being nice. It’s rude. ”

    Please, someone, make a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT and air it on national TV!!!

    Thank you.

  • Apple

    Cackling like an old witch ! This writer is hilarous! I feel you! I hate it! Why can’t men just leave me the hell alone ! When I’m out jogging or listening to music or reading I have to worry about some random man coming up to me to tell me something as a way to hit on me. Argh leave me alone!! I’m unfriendly can’t you see ! Sometimes i don’t want to be bother ,let alone by some man I don’t know

  • NTG

    Many people walk around with smiles on their faces. Some just so happen to be in a good mood most of the time, and it will show on your face.

  • clericalerror

    You’d be surprised how much a broad smile and locking eyes can do – especially when your legs keep going in the direction you were originally headed. It probably makes us feel great, you communicated what you were trying to get across, it’s likely no one was offended. Winners all around.

  • Pingback: Friday Rundown and What’s up with Me |

  • clericalerror

    While I agree that these things are true, we’re ALL responsible for creating spaces that are safe for people of all genders to have human responses, and eliminating outmoded models of social behavior. Men aren’t exempt.

  • Denise

    After living in NYC for four years now (I grew up in NC) I’ve mastered the art of ignoring men with my headphones on. I go so far as to sing to myself to emphasize “I can’t hear you, please go away”. Men in NYC (Bklyn especially) are far bolder then the dudes in NC so anyone who proceeds to interrupt my personal jam session gets The Death Stare which scares them enough to bugger off.

  • Echi

    Plenty of people do. Not everyone is mean mugging 24/7. Even while jogging and huffing and puffing – I make it a point to wave at fellow walkers/ runners. Now a days, when I do walk in my neighborhood or downtown and someone glances in my direction in an attempt to get my attention, I will proactively smile before hearing them out – whether it’s someone coming out of their Mazzarati or a panhandler with like three teeth. And I will engage in conversation – it’s just a neighborly thing to do. If things are going in an ugly direction, I will shut it down.
    I know several people may ridicule me for this, but I did alot of mean mugging before, especially as a teen – but as I got older and got more serious about my faith, the joy in the inside came out and manifested on the outside. But yeah, faith and maturity. And a thing about maturity, I do admit that it’s hard for teenage girls – at such a young age, we shouldn’t have to be fielding the advances of older men. As a society, we have failed woefully in protecting our young girls from such predators. As a woman in my 20s, I can handle myself and know how to adequately assess risk. However, as a teen I wish there were more people – men and women – to stand up for us. I was dodging cat calls and public comments about my body as young as 12, and because we adults are with earphones in our ears and busy “minding our own business,” I can’t remember a time in which adults nearby came to my rescue at that age.
    I know independence is a essential American virtue, but at the end of the day, we all go back and live within a community.

  • Serita

    Dude Jp,

    You’re asking women who have been cat called for the umpteenth time in their lives to take a moment in their busy urban strides to attempt to distinguish a “spitter of game” from an innocuous “spitter of compliments”.
    And because she can’t see that you’re the .01% who is just trying to be nice, you’re going to be surprised to receive a scowl?
    Here’s my rule of thumb: If a dude is trying to flag me down in any kind of why while I’m trying to get from point A to point B while I’m either moseying or speed walking down the street, I should and will keep walking!
    Because the law of averages states that 9.5 times out of 10, dude is trying to
    There’s a time and place for compliments.
    If you don’t want yours going to waste, then stop complimenting women on the streets.

  • Rosey

    This article is hilarious. Many old black men (most of which appear to be homeless) wanna come up to me and tell me to smile and carry on a conversation. I think its a generational thing (?). It just annoys me when they try and spit game. This dirty old man tried to ask me out when “he gets his check”. Leave me alone!

  • chanela17

    i think my fellow clutchettes should refer to this video and use this the next time some strange dude tells you to

  • Patience

    *MASERATI, not Mazzarati.

  • Jamila

    My oldest was telling her sister thats how she keeps the guys from trying to talk to her during track practice. She throws them the face! Love it

  • C

    Echi, but I mean, those are extremes–”mean mugging” and smiling at nobody in particular. I think it is very normal to have a neutral or pleasant look on your face. But I (or anyone else) would look crazy walking down the street alone and have a grin or smile plastered on my face unless someone looks me in the eye, nods their head, or says hi.

    I just never see anyone–male or female–walking around with a permanent smile for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s where I live…

  • steve

    As the Joker would say “Why so serious?” cause its really not

  • lookatmeimagirl

    Thank You Helena!
    Signed you haitian sawrah!!

  • gwaan gyal

    LOl@ do you speak english!

    The reason why I love my headphones and panic when the battery gets low..never fails…some dude over 50 tries to holla

  • E.M.S.

    I don’t necessarily see it as a sexist thing, sometimes guys just enjoy a smile from a woman they consider attractive, it brightens their day. At least, that’s been my experience. That, and my mother has always taught me to be kind because you never know who you’re talking to, it could be someone of importance at another time (future employer, friend’s friend/fiancee etc.).

    And if you’re really not in the mood to talk, politely excuse yourself and say you have somewhere to be. Most respectable human beings will let you go. It’s worked for me in several less than desirable conversations with men.

  • binks

    I don’t have to problem to much because I’ am naturally kind of smiley and cheery so I would have to be going through something or be in a mood if you don’t see a smile on my face so I can’t particularly relate to this problem. But I have the opposite problem of people asking me “why are you so happy” or people telling me to “lift my head up” when walking. But as a comeback I would either ignore and try not to engage or say “I have no reason to right now you want to hear my 99 problems and you happened to be 1….”

  • T. j.

    Amazing! Speaking to women in everyday facets of life is something all men of various cultures do (excluding possibly the middle east). PSA announcement received.
    By the way, why has smiling/non-smiling become a black issue in the past 10 years?

  • Rakel

    I’m a very pleasant person it shows in my face and demeanor. But I’ll keep that for family and friends i’m not going around Brooklyn or Manhattan smiling all day. I have no problem responding to “good morning or hey how are you?” I respond back. It’s when some dude tries to sell me something, or cat call me that’s when I have a problem. That’s when I’ll mug. The other day, this Hispanic guy tried to get my attention on the train. I ignored him but than he started banging on the seat. I answered so he could shut the hell up. Or another time also this week I was tired walking back home I see this guy trying to sell something everybody passes him by. When I pass him, and don’t even glance his way it’s a big deal. “damn, I’m like can I get a smile?” I don’t know you. And why is it a problem only when I didn’t smile? Smh, this is not how you talk to people.

  • CF

    I truly appreciated the complete sentiment of this post. I too have a PROBLEM with not only men attempting to demand my attention, but women too. People in general seem to have a greater since of entitlement these days. I often think to myself, “(1)I don’t know you. (2)We did not arrive at this place “together”. & (3)I wish this person would “give me 50 feet.”” Usually, I try to avoid eye contact, don’t comment when strangers attempt to have unwarranted conversations or simply just stare straight through them. One of my biggest pet peeves is when folks say random stuff outloud while standing in line (anywhere), then they get irritated when I don’t respond at all. Surely, I am NOT the only one. >>>Back to the subject at hand… to further solidify what you said about men’s blatant dehumanization of women, I have also heard men say things like, “I gotta get me some of that” or when speaking about a guys GF, “Is that you, man?” instead of asking “Is SHE your girlfriend?”. Men tend to regard females as objects. I am rambling, but you get my point. One thing about it though, if we as women don’t demand respect… we won’t get it EVER.

  • D.T.

    Because women blow everything out of proportion.

    I bet the same women get mad when we are labeled “the angry black woman.”

  • Pseudonym

    A guy who gave you your shirt when you dropped it and would have lost it pissed you off? and a guy who said “Hi” while walking his dog pissed you off by giving a standard greeting?

    Where I come from, if you’re walking down the street and a man, woman, or child says hello to you, you just say “Hello” back or at least nod in acknowledgement if you’re an anti-social mood. If I’m in a “Hello” mood and I say “Good Morning!” to a man, woman, or child (but not so much for kids- they might be shy), they should say “Good Morning!” or at least smile or nod in acknowledgement. That’s just common courtesy. and not a dehumanization of my womanhood if I acknowledge that someone has spoken to me or an attempt to dehumanize another woman b/c I said something to her and expect her to acknowledge that another human being just said something to her.

    It is not at ALL that serious.

    and the guy who commented and got all the thumbs down is right: if men stopped saying “Hello” to black women on the sidewalk, there would be a bunch of articles about how we’re “Invisible Women,” no one loves or appreciates our beauty, blah blah blah. I think a great realization is the fact that with all things in life you gotta take the good with the bad b/c nothing is perfect. In this case, some days someone compliments your new hair style and you brighten up and say “Thank you!” and others people compliment your hair/outfit/beauty and you’re not in the mood, but you just smile, say thanks and move on with your life.

    It’ll take 2 seconds.

  • Mademoiselle

    Thank you Pseudonym, Greg, & Jp!

    I have no clue how “Smile.” became such a huge display of chauvenism. I see men greeting other men they don’t seem to know all the time (usually black people, though). Why is it a problem when they greet women? Whatever happened to general courtesy and neighborliness?

    I like saying hello to people (there’s a sweet little old man who says hello to me every morning as he powerwalks past me waiting for the bus to NY–and he’ll say it twice to make sure I heard it if my back was to him or if my headphones are on).

    I also like smiling back and waving at people (with the sheer number of people who live in NY, I have yet to understand in the short time that I’ve been living in the area why getting a chance to share a mutual smile is so unbelievably difficult, so I appreciate it even more when I come across a pleasant stranger).

    I understand that street harassment happens all the time, but I never let it put me in a default funk towards men who have the “gall” to speak at all. Not every man who speaks to me is trying to get in my pants. I know because a lot of the “hellos” stay at hello, and a lot of the “Smile, why you look so mad” end with a smile and two people continuing on their path. And for those that don’t, my end of the conversation always sounds like “nah, I’m good,” while their end no longer matters to me after I’ve shown my disinterest and kept walking–as long as I don’t feel unsafe.

    There’s a difference between hello and harrassment. I don’t let the existence of one get confused for the other.

    What kind of world would we live in if no one ever spoke to anyone they didn’t know? It would be very silent and lonely, I know that much, because every friend you have was a stranger until one of you spoke and the other responded.

  • clericalerror

    I should mention that my comment was directed to JP, not my fellow ladies.

  • Courtney**

    Why are women obligated to brighten stranger’s days because we have vaginas? Why are we not allowed the full range of privacy, respect, and human emotions that men allow each other?

    That’s fine if you don’t mind taking time out of your day to entertain and engage with every random Tom, Dick, and Harry to demands your time and attention. But clearly many of us (myself included) have no desire to waste our time and energy on strangers when all we’re trying to do is go for a walk/go to the bus station/pump some damn gas/go grocery shopping/inhale/exhale…

  • Courtney**

    **Who demands your time and attention

  • Patience

    Yes, Ms.

    One time I was in the market, picking up a box of aluminum foil. A guy who I had seen in another aisle sees me and then says, “I’m glad you reminded me!” after he picked up his own box of aluminum foil. I could see out the corner of my eye that he was waiting for a response from me. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think his remark required a response.

    Oh yea, when a man asks another man regarding a woman, “Is that you?” I get irritated too.

  • lol

    my eyes must be playing games with me…

    did QON just agree with a black woman ??????????????

  • lol

    i don’t think you want to anger certain dudes, some of them are unstable, or worse , have fragile egos and carry guns…with nothing to lose, bad combination…

  • anon

    It’s not a law, and if people don’t want to be bothered, even in greeting, they shouldn’t be. I don’t care where you come form. Don’t impose upon me.

  • Horatio Fox

    Excellent response. It really isn’t that serious. Disrespect is, but common courtesy isn;t.

  • so what?

    So basically you’ve missed the entire point of this article.

  • so what?


  • lol

    is there no middle ground between angry black woman and smiley black woman?

  • RObleu

    And THIS is one of the main reasons that men continue to feel justified in doing this. Thanks for making it clear Dawn.

  • Patience

    Someone who imposes themselves on you doesn’t deserve common courtesy.

  • simplyme


    I’m gonna have to completely disagree with you….

    I was taught growing up to smile and greet everyone, but if you don’t get a greeting in return it shouldn’t affect you because you never know what someone is going through (ie struggling with 50 lbs of laundry). When someone is “nice” or “polite” and gets angry when it isn’t returned its a clear sign that their greeting actually isn’t genuine kindness to a stranger but a way to manipulate a situation to get something they want and think they deserve…whether its attention or ultimately sex. And when they don’t get what they think they deserve they get mad. Its just like when men harass women on the street and don’t get a response for whatever reason, the comments turn from “compliments” to insults quickly. Thats because he wasn’t really complimenting you genuinely. He was trying to get something he thought he deserved…and many women have now picked up on that and respond accordingly.

    I consider myself a pretty polite person. I smile and greet strangers on the street all the time, but I can definitely tell the difference between when a guy genuinely greets you because he’s a kind person or he just wants to meet you and say “hi” VS. a man who seems to be demanding something from you…whose greeting feels almost like an intimidation. I don’t think women should respond to the latter (even if it takes 2 seconds) because besides the fact that your feeding into something really messed up, from personal experience it sends the wrong message and can get you into sticky situations.

  • lola_z

    I have used the “I don’t understand English very well” and then I would just begin a long spiel in French that made whoever it was really believe I didn’t understand English all while I keep walking.
    I think someone talked about the “angry black woman above”.. Well the truth of the matter is, black men approach us 90% of the time, and they are not very polite and/or have the worst timing.
    And yes, the permanent frown when I pass a group of guys, is not because I am really angry, but a defense mechanism that I have used from the day I found out that it worked. It says: “I don’t want to be bothered” and saves me from having to waste my breath. And sometimes, I really AM thinking about something and I usually have a “pleated forehead” when I think too hard. I probably didn’t even see the guy.

    It was very traumatizing when I was in my early teens and these older, weird men would pass me on the streets or look at me from the street corner. The ppssssssst (as if they were a tire deflating in front of me) the “hey big batty gyal” or other rude comments – no matter what I had on and stares-that-made-me-feel-naked, were not things that I encouraged nor wanted at such a young age, they were embarassing. Heck, at times they made me take detours (that were out the way).

    Men need to learn the difference between courting and intruding, complimenting and harassing.

  • SJM

    I tell them to “fuck off!” Not really but it’s pretty much close to that. I let them know to mind their own business. I don’t sugar coat a damn thing. I can’t stand a loud-mouthed Black man. My dad is a well-respected man and would never talk to a woman in a disrespectful manner. And to the person who said that women only take issue if the man is not their type, you are right…these men are definately NOT my type!

  • Jeanette

    I just tell them to “fuck off!” Not really, but I make it a point to let them know to mind their own business. I can’t stand an ignorant, loud-mouthed black man. My father is a respectable man and would not behave in a disrespectful manner towards a woman. I guess it all depends on the upbringing. Some men were raised by wolves. And to Dawn who said that women only take issue if the man is not their type…you are right….these types of men are definately NOT my type!

  • Echi

    @pseudonym – thank you for injecting some common sense into this conversation. I thought I was going mad when I finished this article and thought the men she encountered were simply expressing normal human behaviors.

    Yeah, I understand, the author may have not felt like responding to their friendliness – but helping someone with their laundry or saying hello to a fellow dog walker does not a sexist make.

    Honestly, I can only imagine what these men probably looked like. They probably were not on her level in terms of socioeconomic class. “Balding man with paint-splattered jeans” reads blue collar and being too busy thinking about some NPR program and having your complex thoughts being interrupted by everyday life reads, inflated self-importance.

    If anything, in this article, I read more classism than sexism.

  • E.M.S.

    Wow, you guys completely and utterly misunderstood what I was saying, I’m really shocked at the negative response to my comment, and the assumptions made about me as a person because I choose to be nice to others as often as possible. I really don’t even know how to respond to this.

    I do not think women have to be nice to men who want their attention. My point was that we can choose to be more positive and handle ourselves in a positive manner when someone tries to talk to us, and that has nothing to do with being female, that’s just a good trait to have as a human being.

    Perhaps I should’ve written better, but in my defense you could’ve asked for clarification rather than jumping down my throat.

  • Echi

    This is why, in this culture, a woman can get beat up or murdered in the middle of an apartment complex, and neighbors who witness this, will turn their eyes away because they are, “minding their business.”

  • Echi

    My bad – my ignorance towards the finer things in life is showing. Yeah, cars are not my thing – except to get me from point A to B.

  • Echi

    I didn’t exactly mean plastered smile a la Michelle-Newsweek-cover type smile – but more as you describe, a pleasant look. And like you said, unhappiness shows on the face. Content with self and with life, also shows as well.

  • E.M.S.

    Even looking back and reading my comment, I really don’t understand the hostility. You guys are fully welcome to your opinions, but my goodness don’t explode at me because I have a different view than you do. Yikes.

  • Melanie

    Yes. I deal with this everyday with a man who works in a hardware store near my apartment. I’ve cursed him out once, but still, men sometimes just don’t care.

    One time, a guy asked me for my number and I said no. In his attempt to “negotiate”, he responded with: do you have a man? Are you married?

    I said, “No”. And he was like, “well why don’t you want to give me your number”. And I said, “because I just don’t want to.”

    His face was priceless. It’s like “no” from a woman is an open invitation to a negotiation on changing my answer. And also as if I have to have a reason as to why I don’t either want to A) Speak to you. Or B) Give you my number.

    It’s like many men feel entitled to get whatever they want because, their men. Um. No.

    I look through men all the time. Completely cold at moments, but I’m human and I have my days when I don’t FREAKING FEEL LIKE BEING BOTHERED.

  • Melanie

    I’ver cursed so many men out (and thrown a drink in one’s face) that I am surprised I haven’t been smacked. Don’t know when I got so bold, but I’m so over men with the entitlement attitude.

  • Patience

    I agree and I think that it is all in the tone of voice.

    Unfailingly, when a man on the street speaks to me, it is done in a lascivious tone. And when I don’t respond, they’ll speak a few more times, which goes to show that them greeting me wasn’t done out of courtesy, but because they wanted something from me.

  • Marisa

    I dont owe anybody an expression just because you demand one, I get that too sometimes. My thing is I’m usually tend to be focused and in thought and sorry thats not gonna result in me cheesing up. If its kids or an elderly person or someone just random we might make eye contact. Sometimes they smile or nod and I do in return. Done be demanding I smile or whatever crap they spout calling themselves spitting game. We never know what someone is going through so who is any jerk to tell someone to smile. How about go about your business as long as I’m not running up trying to rob,assault,cuss or murder you some woman not smiling at you has NO affect on your life. I’m getting real sick of this sense of entitlement some people have in society thinking their owed this or that just because, have a seat.

  • U.N.I.T.Y

    It’s so easy to throw the “It’s not all that serious” card, and just call it a day!

    It IS serious!
    (See the number and content of the responses to the article, for example.)

    I’ve worked a number of angles in response to men calling out so-called compliments to me on the street (and, mind you, it’s always a group of men; I’m ALWAYS outnumbered):

    - I nod in appreciation and keep it moving
    - I smile and say “Thank you” while still continuing to walk away
    - I wave a hello and keep it moving

    If these men were to stop at “hey beautiful,” then there wouldn’t be much of a problem. I AM beautiful, after all. And I sure do appreciate folks acknowledging the truth that shall set them free anyway. BUT it never stops there! They always want to take my politeness as an open sesame to ask about my relationship status, to ask for my phone number, or to comment salaciously about one of my many juicy body parts. NO THANK YOU!
    So the writer who was pissed off by these “polite” guys was obviously experiencing something like straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back syndrome. Enough is enough!

    The writer is NOT the problem!
    Don’t blame the victim!
    If these men were indeed polite and felt slighted in any way shape or form, then they have the thousand sleazy men before them to blame for ruining their chances at coming across as nice guys. These sleazy men CREATED the women who write these articles, the women who walk through the urban jungle with protective armor, the women who have to cultivate defense mechanisms just to walk down the street in peace!

    You know what kind of men on the street I appreciate? The men who appreciate me in SILENCE with their eyes — not salaciously, not in a sleazoid kind of way, but with an acknowledgment of my put-togetherness, of my beauty, of my self-respect. What the heck happened to brothers just doing the double take and scoring their “eye candy” points in SILENCE? Now THAT’s the kind of male-to-female urban quickie sensual communication I can deal with. ANYTHING ELSE IS BORDERLINE TO FULL-BLOWN SEXUAL HARASSMENT!

    Y’all remember that Queen Latifah song from back in the day?
    Well, it’s still relevant today!
    “Tryna make a sistah feel low?
    You know all o’ that gotta go!

  • Courtney**

    Though many people gave you a thumbs down, I did not. And seeing as how I was the only one who actually responded to you, I have to assume you’re talking to me but I do not see all that you read into my response. I didn’t attack you nor insult you. I understand where you are coming from, but I wanted to give you a response from someone coming from a different perspective. I’m not sure if you have experienced the level of sexual harrassment that many of us have, or maybe if the level that you have experienced simply isn’t enough to make you want to alter the way you respond to strangers going forward. But as someone who doesn’t really even like people in general, having to constantly deflect unwanted attention gets tiring. Having those deflections occasionally escalate to threats is traumatizing. Being a female in a public space (in BROAD DAYLIGHT) should not be fraught with such danger.

    Maybe I assumed that you engage with everyone who you encounter, but I thought that was evident from your own post. Aside from that, I can’t see anywhere where I assumed anything about you. I don’t read hostility anywhere in my response, nor anything that could be remotely construed as an attack on you.

  • Hello

    What does it hurt to say simply say Hello to a stranger….come on Geez. Get out of your to scared that an ugly dude is going to try and hollah attitude….woman we are peculiar creatures and can be just down right rude at times. Learn to smile sometimes it looks a lot better than you looking like you are sucking on lemons.

  • Lady-who-Doesn’t-Speak

    And people like many of the commenters here are the reason I don’t say hi to most people anymore. I used to say hi to random people because my father always taught me that it is polite to say hi to people, especially those who surround you on a daily basis. Well, I got SICK and TIRED of being nice & opening my damn mouth to be polite and neighborly to people and I no longer speak to people unless they say hi to me. It hurts my damn feelings when people are that rude. I think that the *I don’t gotta say hi and you’re in my space attitude* is primarily an Eastcoast and sometimes Midwest one because I’ve never experienced that in the south.

    Me and my husband on 2 separate mornings said Hi to a late 20-something mother who lives down the street walking her kid to school . Both mornings she said nada and averted her eyes, so we both stopped saying hi to her. Then guess what, a week later, she knocked at the door & asked if at dismissal, I could make sure her son got across the street safe because she had to work until 4:30 that day. Guess what I said? I said “Um, I really don’t know you like that. I tried to say hi last week and you didn’t even want to, and uh I don’t really want to be responsible for your child when you can’t even say hi…I don’t really know you like that…”. She was all “Oh, I’m sorry, well…I probably didn’t hear you, blah blah”. Whateva.

    As a woman who’s been harassed more than once, I understand not wanting to say hi to a random guy who’s been looking at your butt or is all in your personal space, but sometimes people don’t want crap from you but to say a quick hi. People have the right to not say hi back, but some attitudes are just plain nasty and ugly, (and lord forbid you ever need one of those people’s help who you ignored because they might not help you) and to avoid these people, I no longer say hi first. It’s funny some have that attitude, but then wonder why people think they have a problem.

  • anon

    I think it depends on your culture and where you live.

  • anon

    I was raised to speak and smile, too. But carrying the stigma of coming from a fatherless background, in a community where child sex abuse was rampant, being friendly to strange males never work for me.

    It brought on uninvited hands touching me in places where they didn’t belong, be it from my school mates or the men who entered our home – those ‘come-sit-in-my-lap-I’ll-give-you-a-dollar’ types…

    I’ve been advanced upon by old ass men as a teen. No one came to my defense.

    When I didn’t smile, and was hard and stoic in my facial expressions, males tried me less – people came at me with less bullshit. It was hard dealing with a mother who did not acknowledge men who crossed the boundaries with me then, basically, suggest that she would blame me if anything would happen to me. It was pretty scary. People sensed that I was basically ‘out there’, and they could probably do anything to me and get away with it.

    I know I still carry that damaged aura – that energy. Because, now, as an adult, having moved far away from that place, I go through the same type of unwarranted b.s. with strange men. Maybe it’s because I still feel that fear and uncertainty when being around strange men.

    Humans smell/sense fear and prey on vulnerability (or potential vulnerability) just like any other animal. They poke around to see ‘what happens’. As far as I’m concerned, I think that is part of the issue.

    I hate it when another woman tells me to ‘call down’ – “Oh, they just find you attractive.” Oh, so when he starts stalking my ass is your father, brother, cousin, husband, etc… gong to defend me, protect me? Hell no. Did your father, uncle, granddad, etc…mold me and teach me the rights and wrongs in this thing called male/female relationships…

    They just assume that we have the same type of schooling, conditioning, understanding and protection because we both have vaginas.

  • anon

    True, but consider that people evolve into being that way out of experiencing the same type of dismissal.

    I used to speak to everyone. That’s how I was raised. But as the foreign, poor, black kid from the single parent home who lived in the hood I was stigmatized, even, among middle class black students. They snubbed me something hard. Their parents snubbed my parent. After a certain number of years, I got fed up, I stopped speaking to them and snubbed them just as they did me, even though some of them started to open up to me a little bit. But we were almost out of high school by then. I was tired of being told that I needed to turn the other cheek. I was tired of the expectation that I should take their treatment because I was poor. I was supposed to be waiting for them to be nice to me, then over joyed when some of them finally included me, even if done in a derogatory and mean girl sort of way. They had, then, started developing pity for me because they saw me as someone who worked hard. Their parents started vying for me where they could, even without me or my parent asking them to. Despite that, I grew to hate them and didn’t even appreciate their help. I would snub them just as they did me. After all, they never did apologize, directly, for being that way. They just started treating me like a charity case, and I was supposed to be appreciative of that.

    After than, I developed a really bad perception of people, I didn’t like people, I didn’t owe anyone a hello, help…nada. If they helped me, I deserved their help. I’d say thank you, but don’t ask me for nothing else.

    And for a long time, where I should have otherwise been very, very friendly and humble towards people, I didn’t bother speaking to people. For one, when people didn’t speak to me, there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t get on a social pedestal and put them on blast for not speaking to me. What did they owe me? They didn’t owe me any type of humanity since I was at the bottom of the totem pole – even for trying to speak to them, or loaning them things they didn’t return to me….

    On the other hand, I owed the world for my existence, and that meant saying hello to every single person. That was the gratitude i had to pay for being poor, and a charity case – even where I didn’t ask to be a charity case.

    Some people just have issues, socially. Yeah, it may be rude not to speak, but some people have legitimate reasons for the way they think.

    Where I live, now, I’m selective in who I speak to because, there are those types that think a hello is an invitation into your life rather than just a simple acknowledgement. And I only know who to speak to from living there and observing the people for some time.

  • Señorita

    This may be the least of any concern regarding this story but the article states that the guy was waving your boyfriends dress shirt letting you know you dropped it. Now if you’re hauling you and your boyfriends laundry down the street, it sounds like your displaced anger stems from your boyfriend for…maybe not being available to help you carry his and your clothes to get washed. Where was HE in all this?? He could’ve 1) helped you haul or drive you where you needed to be and 2) could’ve curbed all the questions and comments made by strangers. Now as for the young mother who doesn’t respond when you speak but want you to do her a favor, I would’ve responded the same way.

    We all have those “mind your business” type of days but instead of coming off rude, just be upfront with the person if they continue to come on strong by responding like, “I’m sorry but I’m not in the best of moods today but I appreciate your compliment.” Maybe some people do need a few choice words for them to get it but attitudes like “mind your f****n’ business” unfortunately makes some situations worse because nowadays you don’t know the mindset of folks and any small thing may make them SNAP. Plus it keeps ME out of that “all y’all women…” category.

  • deb

    if you don’t get a greeting in return it shouldn’t affect you because you never know what someone is going through (ie struggling with 50 lbs of laundry).”

    When someone is “nice” or “polite” and gets angry when it isn’t returned its a clear sign that their greeting actually isn’t genuine kindness to a stranger but a way to manipulate a situation to get something they want and think they deserve…

    5 thumbs up :)

  • deb

    “Learn to smile sometimes it looks a lot better than you looking like you are sucking on lemons.”

    THEN LOOK AWAY…LOOK UP AT THE SKY, It’s always nice to look at right? jeez…

    What’s so hard to understand? Noone no man, woman, child or animal OWES YOU a fucking smile. You have no clue what people are going through in their lives and they don’t owe some stranger a smile if they don’t want to give one!

  • libpatriot

    You will hear of the violence we contend with in our community. You refuse any acknowledgement of attacks or violence much the same as these men.

  • hh

    this cunt doesnt speak for anyone bu himself, no one’s givin up on anyone

  • chinaza

    Sometimes we undervalue basic human interaction and common courtesy. I’m not a smiley, friendly person myself but I’ve learnt over time that It’s a good and positive thing to be pleasant to people, share a smile or a joke sometimes and life goes on.
    Some individuals are intrusive and rude and we have the right to our privacy but that is different from being surly and unpleasant and that attitude can become a habit that blocks our own growth and relatonships.


    My response depends on my mood. Most of the time I just grin and bear it. I’ll say a quick, “Hi,” and not even make eye contact and keep walking. Sometimes, rarely, but it has happened, i try to reason with them. I’ll ask something like, “Do you really think that a woman walking alone and who doesn’t know you wants to entertain the 100th cat call within a 5 block radius? Furthermore, how would you respond to a stranger demanding that you do something you don’t want to? Imagine how you would feel if it were your daughter, mother or sister being treated that way.” Every single time I’ve done that resulted in me getting cursed out. Sigh.

  • Joanne Craft

    A few years ago I suffered a near fatal heart attack. I recovered, but one time I was out and about and I didn’t feel well, in fact I felt like I was having another heart attack. I was walking to the hospital, which was about 2 blocks away, when a guy ACROSS THE STREET, just had to say, “why don’t you smile”. Why did he think he had to say ANYTHING to me? I’m trying not to die (which of course he didn’t know), but can’t you at all see that this human being smiling or not smiling, has NOTHING to do with you. MAYBE THAT PERSON IS NOT SMILING BECAUSE SOME SOME PEOPLE DO NOT GO AROUND SMILING LIKE AN IDIOT, YOU IDIOT! Did I ask you to like my face. Did I even look at you? They can’t just walk on by, they always have to say something. Well, in all my anguish and pain, I screamed across the street, Fuck You You Stupid Fuck. I don’t curse in normal circumstances, I was raised to be a lady, but at that moment I lost it. I really just wanted to call him stupid, because that is what he was and probably continues to be to this day. Stupid. Leave me the hell alone. I’m walking down the street minding my own business, why do you think you have to say anything? If a guy does that, I immediately know he’s a moron. I don’t have to smile, and I don’t have to speak to you, and I won’t.

  • Erin

    After going to college with people from all over that didn’t have any manners, the most I do is smile and keep it moving… If you look completely in my face, I’ll speak and even then that might not even get a response which pisses me off and is extremely weird to me. Like how hard is it to say hi to another human being that you actually have acknowledged is there? Or speaking as you continue to keep it moving… especially to people that you see every single day in your work space or in your neighborhood. Certain people are so strange. Either way, just greeting another human being, doesn’t give them an open invitation to think they can have a whole conversation with you, or try to harass you into talking to them. That’s what I believe certain men, especially older men, don’t seem to understand. Just because I’m minding my own business, either working out or running errands, and I happen to speak politely to you, doesn’t mean offer to take me out. SMH. I’ve had that happen a lot lately. It’s annoying.

  • KristinaT

    I’ll smile and say Hi when I’m spoken to but sometime they take that as excuse to try and take it to the next level. I’ve even had some guys still try and talk to me after I tell them that I’m married! Which is why most of the time I have my headphone on like most women said before me.

    I’m not in a good mood 24/7 and I’m not going to smile all the time. Get over it!

  • Nico

    When you smile at a stranger, men and women take that in very different ways. A woman thinks it’s just polite and friendly, whereas a man thinks that if you smile at them, that you must be “into them” or like them. Especially desperate men at bus stops. And some days I just don’t have time to deal with fending them off, so I totally relate to what you are saying. And when you walk down the street and you get a honk or two from guys driving by or a strange guy pulls up to you in his car and asks you if you want to “hang out” or “be friends”, sometimes that gets old real quick and you just want to go into your shell. I recognize, now that I live in a smaller town, that this rudeness I developed was purely a defense mechanism from living in the big bad city. It’s not rudeness to some, it’s survival.

  • godivabap

    Pay close attention to brothers greeting one another on the street. Take note of how often they say to one another “Hey man, smile! It can’t be that bad brotha” in passing.

  • Smilez_920

    It’s annoying but not that serious, as long as you don’t put your hands on me or get within my personal space, I’ll say hi or wave really yuck and keep it moving . Something’s aren’t worth the stress. When someone says hi to me in the am, I say hello back just because.

    I will say that i hope women don’t go around trying to be smart asses because they don’t want to say ” hi back”. Yes you have right to not respond , but some of theses men have no common sense, especially if their with their ” boys”. So he says something like ” smile baby” and you turn around and say ” fu*k off” your going to have some trouble on your hands.

  • Bekah

    DearMen: I don’t always come with a smile. I’m not the not most docile. I wasn’t made to ensure your time here is worth your while.

  • Bekah

    Not the most*

  • ?!?

    I think it’s the environment that you’re in. If I’m walking down the street, and I make contact with someone, I will give them a small smile. If they respond, then I greet them because some folks don’t want to even speak so I wait to see I’d they are receptive. Where I’m from people will raise their finger to wave at strangers in cars they meet driving on the two lane lol. I don’t see smiling or greeting people as a problem, but I do understand what the commenters are saying.

    Some of these men feel that women exist only to please them. They think it is your duty to smile at them because you are a woman. I smile at all people because I’m trying to be nice.

    I can understand how other commenters who deal with major street harassment and catcalling would put on a neutral face or mean mug to keep the men away. It’s funny that some of these catcalling men demand that you smile when they are part of the reason you don’t.

    But…..the author was just mean to me. I am appreciative of people who compliment me in nice ways. Most men who compliment me do so in a nice way. Again, maybe that’s because of the environment that I’m in, but if a man would have told me that my hair looked nice and crossed the street to hand me a piece of laundry that I dropped, I would have been happy and kind. Also, the dog walker simply greeted you. I find it so rude to ignore people when they greet. As a person who greets people trying to show some human kindness, it makes you want to stop when people don’t respond. And I’m not constantly smiling. I have a friend who thinks that I don’t smile enough! She is ALWAYS smiling and greeting people. She says that I look mean because I don’t greet people as much as she does or smile at everyone especially people who don’t respond. I think that is a bit extra.

    So I found the author of this piece rude. I see no problem with being nice to or greeting strangers if they are non-threatening, but I can definitely understand why many of the commenters hate the smile demand. But most people don’t walk around smiling so I don’t know why men say that. I have a neutral look on my face, and when I’m approaching someone, then I give a small smile. I don’t walk around with a smile on my face. Most of these men say this and complain because they want the women that they are attracted to to turn their smile on them. When a woman doesn’t, I think this is their way of approaching or trying to get her attention.

  • kamille

    can i get an aaammmeeennnnn????

  • apple

    i’m going to try the different language thing!.. i know spanish so i’ll do that one!

  • chanela17

    i’ve been discouraged by working in customer service. i’ve said “good morning/afternoon/evening” to people and they look at me as if i just said ” your mom is a bitch” i don’t get it. people also are lost on saying please and thank you ESPECIALLY teenagers and college kids.

    i would greet people at my job and mainly the college and high school kid’s response is ” um yeah”. it urks that hell out of me! “hi how are you today?” “um.. yeah” . i want to slap people sometimes! sooo rude!

  • Courtney**

    FREQUENTLY those “non-threatening” interactions turn into lewd/threatening situations. THIS IS HOW PREDATORS ACT. They see who is responsive to them and then they make the leap for the kill. It seems like from the majority of your post, you understand and acknowledge this – in fact, I agreed with most of it. But your last two paragraphs calling the author’s responses rude, after already reading and empathizing with her previous experiences that created her aloof attitude? Has me a bit confused.

    “Most men who compliment me do so in a nice way. Again, maybe that’s because of the environment that I’m in, but if a man would have told me that my hair looked nice and crossed the street to hand me a piece of laundry that I dropped, I would have been happy and kind.”

    It’s the environment that you’re in. Many of us live in environments with a preponderance of much less classier men and this is pretty evident from the comments alone. If someone got punched in the face 99% of the time after they walked through a doorway, would you call them a wimp because they flinched when they walked through the next one? These responses and guards develop for a reason – a very valid reason that KEEPS not being addressed in any meaningful way by the men in our community. Not that it’s really being addressed in any community.

  • chanela17

    did anyone already mention the pink elephant in the room? that it’s usually black dudes who do this? i don’t groan or brace myself whenever i see other races of men pass by me. they actually are respectful and talk to women in a nice way most of the time. whenever black guys pass by me they just HAVE to say something. when a guy says ” how you doin?” that’s how you know hes ready to start asking ” where yo man at?” why is it always only the ratchet junky classless black guys who decide to talk to me? why are all the good black guys only with white and hispanic women? WTF

    i don’t want a hood black guy! i want the dorky,nerdy black guy but they seem to want everybody BUT black women. ugh!

  • Jennifer

    Dorky, nerdy blacks guys! I’m right there with you, girl! ::swoon:: Sorry this post and comments have been heavy. I needed a little levity.

  • Patience

    No one mentioned it, but I think most of us know. I understand about the “How you doing?” thing, which is why I almost never respond when it is said to me by a man because I can always hear in their tone of voice that they aren’t speaking out of courtesy, but rather because they are interested or want an ego boost to be acknowledged by a woman who they deem attractive.

  • rejinl

    I couldn’t even count how many men told me to smile in the weeks following my husband’s death, when every time I left my house I was just desperately making an effort not to cry in public.

  • theinfamousl

    OMG. YES YES. Nothing irks me more than when I’m in deep thought, I’ve had a long day and someone demands I speak to them. The other day I was walking to the train after getting off of work and some older 50-something man keeps saying “SMILE, SMILE, SMILE” to me. Dude, STFU. What if my dog just died? What if I had a bad day?! Furthermore, who the hell walks around all day long with a smile plastered on their face? I’m a woman, not a CLOWN!

  • hoodparvenu

    I am so sorry. I Which brings up another point…if a woman isn’t smiling, then it’s quite likely that she has a good reason not to be.

    I remember being very sad after my brother died, and I got a ton of “Why don’tcha smile” comments from strange men. One day, a man walked up to me and said “I hope it gets better” and walked away. That made me smile.

  • Echi

    @libpatriot – I made previous comments about how we fail to protect our young women when they are harrassed on the street by some of these older predatory men. Because women like the author and some of the commentors are forever in “I mind my business” mode with their Dr. Dre headphones, they ignore the harrassment around them. Douchebags will forever be among us. For us, like you and I, that are sane – men and women – let’s be more mindful of our environment and be a little nicer to our neighbors and protect our children and teens. When I was growing up – even before hitting thirteen, I had older men gawking at me and making comments. It was disgusting. But you want to know what else was disgusting – that there were other adults around in the neighborhood who didn’t stand up for me or other young girls because they were too busy “minding their business,” or telling friendly strangers to STFU.
    Like I said, in my twenties, I can better assess risk and figure out when a situation veers into ugly territory. I just wish that when I was a teenager, simply taking a walk to the grocery store in the afternoon, a woman or man in their twenties would have told some of these older predators to back the hell up.
    Like seriously, whatever happened to the concept of community and knowing who your neighbors are?

    So, no I am not some kind of woman-hating apologist. I am simply saying, as others had observed, that the author of this post simply came off as rude – whether she were male, female, black, or white. If we want to talk about street harrassment – I’m all there. But being pissed that someone returned your laundry or said hi to you comes off as silly.

  • Echi

    I’ve seen it as well, occasionally.

  • Debbie

    “i want the dorky,nerdy black guy but they seem to want everybody BUT black women. ugh!”

    so not always true. Black nerdy guys usually end up dating interracially because most black women don’t even check for them so they get used to being ignored and check other pastures. I know nerdy black guys that would LOVE to meet a black girl like them they could connect with.

  • MimiLuvs

    Here’s another pink elephant: Do these same men tell non-familiar, non-black women to “smile” as they are walking down the street too?

  • tonisha

    i get the “dayum, whats yo name baby” and the “AYE AYEEEE AYEEEE”! yes it is annoying and i just keep walking. Women can tell even if its a simple hi when men are not necessarily being polite but just trying to get at you

  • Ms. Write

    After I read this article, I got upset. I thought about every time I have been pestered, harrassed, had my personal space invaded or asked to smile by random men on the street. Usually I ignore it or brush it off lightly, but I guess looking at it in retrospect, it does in fact piss me off! I think we should start a street team that can intervene every time they see a woman about to be harrassed. I don’t have a name for it yet. We are going to need t shirts!

  • Blue

    What pink elephant do you see? Guess you need to get out more often & broaden your horizons because I get that from the nerdy black guys & guys that aren’t black.

  • Marlene

    I cannot tell you how much I relate to this scenario. I often am told I need to smile more. I hold a straight face for the majority of the time, it doesn’t mean i’m mad or even bothered i just don’t have anything that will continue to hold my smile unless I’m truly focused on it. I generally respond with “i’m sorry i was just focused or thinking” and because it is usually men telling me to smile then then follow up with “well you can multi-task, can’t you?” Yes smart a** I can but in addition i probably have a million things going on and due to my life and brain being a mess i’m not focused on smiling. If they really want me to smile all they have to do is find a clever way of making me smile.

  • Moni

    The difference is, men generally don’t tell random unknown men on the street to “man up” or “don’t cry” or whatever. In general, they don’t tell strange men what to do unless they’re trying to pick a fight. They recognize that other men are autonomous and it is disrespectful to tell them what to do without some specific context. The issue that they don’t recognize the same autonomy for women is the whole point of this article.

  • Tiffany

    This probably made you smile because this man looked at the espression on your face and saw your emotion on your face. In other words he SAW YOU AS A HUMAN BEING with thoughts, feelings, and emotions, not as just a prop that is meant to please him. Then, he empathized with you in stating that “he hopes it gets better.” I wish more men were like him.

  • taz1983

    I’ve thought about a TShirt that says ‘I’m a dude’

  • Tracey

    “I smiled, nodded, said “Thank you” and keep on pushing”
    “I glanced at this dude’s dog, smiled and kept on contemplating”

    How is this rude?

    I think you are missing her point. She was polite. A smile. A nod. A hello. Those are all polite ways to interact with someone. What you do not have to do is stop and have a lengthy conversation with every single guy who shows interest. What she is reffering to is the fact that you can keep reading your book, keep putting your earbuds back in your ear after you tell them the time or when the next bus is coming, and they still think that it is ok to intrude on your private time when you would rather have that time to yourself. Why get mad if someone keeps walking after exchanging greetings instead of answering every question that they want to ask you in order to get your number? Why call someone a bitch for not giving up the digits?

    Do you know that girl was shot in DC for not letting a guy who was flirting with her have a bite of his sandwich? I know that is extreme but his reaction is the dialed up version of all of the negative comments that we’ve gotten over the years.

    That is not being rude. That is being polite and no man is accused of being rude if they do the same thing.

  • phil

    I am not sure what situation the environment you are in is like. As a guy who observes the way we interact with women, I can tell you we are oblivious to lots of things. I can also tell you we, well me for sure, are pretty bad at offering condolences and that may be their way of saying hang in there, we understand you are going through a hard time. Your vibe may say so. Take the comments positively and use them to bolster your spirit. Hang in there.

  • Jac

    I don’t have to deal with this much, but I have. I think you’re misinterpreting the writer’s view. I don’t think she was trying to be rude – I see her discomfort. But it really does have to do with your environment. There are certain environments that breed men to believe they can talk to any woman and that she HAS to respond to them. She’s talking about men going out of their way, loudly yelling out to her, DEMANDING a response. That is a very uncomfortable feeling and it can be embarrassing especially in public spaces. I’ve had those type of guys approach me and it does feel very intrusive. A few years back a co-worker’s son and his cousin were waiting around in our break room. I went to get a drink and they greeted me, I said “hi” to be polite and I kept it moving. They made me uncomfortable because they were clearly leering and talking about me. I was working when they left, and of course before they went they again tried to pull me into a conversation I did not want to have. Now I say that THAT is rude – trying to force someone into a convo or get in someone’s space when they clearly don’t want you there. These men are only taking into account that they want to talk to you but don’t give a crap about how they are making you feel.

  • Annaleisha

    I have commented on similar articles like this before, but because the issue resonates with me I will say it again. I HATE STREET HARASSMENT AND THE FILTHY PEOPLE WHO ENGAGE IN IT! I personally feel that because I live in a predominantly black area (ie many black men) I am likely to be harassed, the smile comment isn’t something that I hear often, but other nasty and uninvited comments are heard. In truth seeing as I have gained weight recently I have had fewer incidents. I dress modestly, however even this is no protection from some of the filthy males that live in or frequent my area. My long term aim is to not live in a black area. I am sure there will be other issues to deal with in a majority white area but, I’m willing to give it a try.

  • Jac

    “did anyone already mention the pink elephant in the room? that it’s usually black dudes who do this?”

    LOL I didn’t want to say it, but…

    It’s true! It is not all black guys, but only black dudes have done this to me. And just how you said, I actually have to “brace myself” when I’m about to pass that kind of black guy. And oh god, please don’t let it be a group of ‘em…

    But you answered the question: “only the ratchet junky classless black guys..” They don’t know how to act. And that applies to ALL races of classless men lol.

    My first bf was black and nerdy, not ratchet at all…unfortunately it can be hard to find because too many black people have grown up thinking they have to fit some “hood swag” model…
    I say keep looking if that’s what you want!

  • Chocolate Aquarius

    I should walk around today, smiling for no reason. Wonder how many people will call me crazy, and wonder if I escaped from “the hospital”. LMAO

  • MzKane

    I so agree! All that crap they say about “you attract what you are inside” is so untrue! So as a working person or a college student, I have had to rush into my apartment building trying to avoid the leeches that loiter around thinking you owe them your time. The guys that I do know that are successful largely do date exclusively other races.

  • MzKane

    I would like to live in a diverse area with people who work and go to school, do constructive things, etc.These ppl don’t have time to bother other working class folk. There are ignorant ppl in every race though..although the only ppl who I have had to act in this particular way towards me were black. But don’t think just because you move out of a black neighborhood that it will be better. Thats when you could possibly run into racism… there’s bad things on both sides of town.

  • apple

    yasss! its so annoying..sadly i cringe with a see black guys of any age because 9/10 they are going to try that with me..and i’m so used to other race guys telling me nothing that even when they forwardly try to hit on me, i don’t even realize it..either way i just want to somewhere, anywhere, without being harrassed but even church and bookstores aren’t safe.

  • Bayum

    xojane, GURL!!!!

    Ms. Write, please send me a T-shirt.

    taz1983, clever but you may be harassed by a whole new crew…

  • Ai

    I like “Stand down” or “Go to Hell.”

  • Charlotte

    I would say that she is highlighting the microaggressions that women have to navigate on a daily basis. These are representative of a patriarchal society and is the basis of rape culture.

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