Cassandra Stone
September 11, 2014 12:24 pm

Have you ever found yourself waiting at a bus stop or in a checkout line at a store, or even just sitting at a bar with a friend when all of a sudden a stranger strikes up a conversation? Of course you have. Usually these conversation are harmless. Maybe you’re talking about the weather, or commenting on how late the bus seems to be today. And that’s totally normal and fine. But sometimes, the conversation doesn’t stop there. Before you know it, the person you don’t know—most likely a man— starts making unwanted advances and asking inappropriate questions. He might move in too close or even get aggressive. You really just want to get back to the silence or return to the night you were having with your friend. You desperately don’t want to keep talking to this stranger, but you do. Because you feel bad. You want to be polite. Maybe he’s lonely? Maybe he has a hard time picking up on social cues?

Or, actually, maybe he’s being a total jerk by not respecting your personal space.

Men play the role of Irritating Stranger with young women often. Too often. I’m not talking about just an irritating small-talk exchange between two people going about their days, I mean the kind of Irritating Stranger behavior that involves a sexual agenda, the kind of men who approach women like something is owed to them, even if their attention is clearly unwelcome. Even if I rack my brain, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been out with a girlfriend and a man sees two girls alone at a bar or restaurant and (I imagine) thinks we’re not fulfilling enough company for one another so we must be dying for his attention. Gentlemen, if you’re reading this by chance, let me just go ahead and let you know the truth up front: NOPE.

Unless I’ve made direct, engaging eye contact with you or signaled to you in some obvious way that I would love the pleasure of your company, I absolutely do not need or want you to approach me, interrupt my conversation, and give me your attention. But even when you do, even when you interrupt my night, when you say suggestive, inappropriate things about how I look to you, I am always polite. I always say, “That’s OK” when you apologize for taking up so much of my time. Why? Because I think it’s ingrained in women to “be nice.” Sometimes I genuinely feel badly for you, and sometimes I’m polite because I don’t want you to know I’m actually scared. But now that I’m getting older, I’ve realized I’m done empathizing with Irritating Strangers. Because it’s not “flattery” you’re bestowing upon me. It’s harassment. There’s a difference between polite small talk and “making a move”—and I am tired of pretending the latter is in any way welcome or OK.

Just like catcalls aren’t compliments, invading someone’s time and space to “flirt” when it’s not reciprocated is, to me, harassment. I should be able to wait in line, ride a subway, and have private conversations with my friends in public places without permitting or excusing an unwanted and, at times, threatening interruption. I know I certainly don’t make it a habit to approach and harass members of the opposite sex, so why should I allow it to happen to me? Why should I feel like I have to say, “I’m married” as a way to end the harassment?

My own voice should be enough. Yours should be too.

And we should start using them without fear of being impolite.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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