Saying Hello As a Form of Harassment

We, the women, are victimized by everything. Which is why it is very easy to write an article about yet another instance in our daily lives that makes of us perennial, distressed, abused, coerced, miserable, powerless victims. Anything at all that happens is, by default, evidence of your subjection. (Why anybody in their right mind would want to think of themselves in this way is a subject for another discussion, of course.)

I know all this, but I’m still floored every time when I encounter yet another article on how women are abused by the universe. Reader Julie has alerted me to a post that discusses how being greeted can be abusive, offensive, harassing, and wrong:

So hello leaves me unsure, constantly second-guessing myself, not wanting to be all “uppity” but not wanting to leave myself open to uncomfortable situations. When I hear a vulgar comment on the street, I know how to react (or, rather, not react). When I hear hello, I feel caught. For as much as hello is a greeting, hello can also draw the lines clearly. Hello can mean: I am a man, you are a woman, and I am saying hello to acknowledge not your humanness but your womannessHello can mean: I feel I have a relationship with you, even though we’re total strangers, and the entire extent of that relationship is that I am in a role in which I am allowed to try to start a conversation and your choices are limited to appearing to ignore me or to play along with this conversation you made no indication of wishing to start. Hello assumes a familiarity; hello asks for acquiescence.

I have to ask at this point: is it possible for a man to breathe in a way that does not make a woman feel harassed? Observe also how the post’s author neatly inscribes herself into the very patriarchal stereotype of women as delicate flowers who cannot go through the simplest tasks without suffering an emotional collapse:

I’m tired of—literally, I am emotionally exhausted by—feeling as though I need to parcel out attention to people merely because they’ve asked. And because it’s not people but men who make up the vast majority of the askers—and women their answerers—it becomes a feminist issue.

If a woman is “emotionally exhausted” from saying “hi” to people on the street, what will happen to her if she has to lead a country, manage a huge corporation, conduct a triple bypass, fly an airplane? The poor little lady will surely just fall apart completely. Let’s just keep these weak, poor creatures locked up in the kitchen lest the emotionally exhausting business of having a life strains their puny little energies too much.

People have suggested that I react to things differently because of my autism. That might just be true. So I’d like to ask my neurotypical readers: do you also analyze every casual greeting at such length and see what you can read into it? I usually have so many things to think about that anybody’s “hello” barely even registers. If this is not the same for most other people, I’d love to know that.

Also, I want to draw everybody’s attention that all these posts about how a woman is victimized every second of the day come from completely different, unrelated blogs. So please don’t tell me that it’s just one freaky website that produces this garbage. It isn’t. This is what North American feminism has turned into. What’s tragic is that actual victims of harassment – which is a really nasty crime that hurts countless people – have their very true suffering trivialized by being put in the same category with folks who are victimized by a “hello.”

65 thoughts on “Saying Hello As a Form of Harassment”

  1. You know, I’m coming around to your hypothesis that some people love being cast as victims because it can be so psychologically satisfying.

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    1. You need to step into her shoes before you judge smugly and unfairly. Many women have answered to “hello” only to have it followed by verbal vomit in her face from the boy on what he has picked out on sexual grounds.

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      1. And some people have answered to hello and became victims of Rwandan genocide. So she’s totally justified in fearing genocide every time somebody greets her.

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  2. What I absolutely love about this country is the ability and willingness for people to make small talk with complete strangers. Having mini-conversations with the cashier at the grocery store, saying hello to someone walking their dog on the street, or talking to other people at the playground when I’m taking out my nephew and niece out to play, these are the things that really make my day.

    This woman is clearly overreacting but then I’m a man, so I could be just be blind towards my own hello-initiating privilege.

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    1. Then I’m a man, too. OK, I just checked, and no, I’m not. 🙂

      I also love it how here in the Midwest people are so open and always find a moment to say something nice to you. The last time I was on campus, 2 strangers complimented me just because they are nice people. The strangers were female.

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  3. So I’d like to ask my neurotypical readers: do you also analyze every casual greeting at such length and see what you can read into it? I usually have so many things to think about that anybody’s “hello” barely even registers. If this is not the same for most other people, I’d love to know that.

    I’m told that I’m more or less neurotypical, but your takes on normal social interactions mesh so firmly with mine that either I’m not as neurotypical as I think, or maybe you aren’t all that atypical. Or maybe the people you’re blogging about (who can’t stand “Hello” or “I like your writing”) are even more atypical than either of us.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

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  4. The potency of hello relies upon its seemingly benign face: It’s a worldwide greeting, after all, and few of us want to live in a world where we can’t acknowledge one another’s existence. But the word itself originated as a call for attention (from the Old English holla, meaning to stop or cease), not mere politesse

    Now this is something I see a lot in some feminist blogging: An obsession with etymology. For the purpose of communicating with people, I usually don’t care what a word meant a hundred years ago (unless we’re discussing a book from that era, or talking to a person who favors archaic usages). I usually don’t care what a root word might have meant, at least for the purpose of interacting with people. No, what I usually care about when interacting with people is what the word means to the people I’m interacting with here and now. If “stupid” was once a term reserved for disparaging people with learning disabilities, that is completely irrelevant to the fact that nowadays it’s a term used to accurately describe university administrators, politicians, and a lot of TV shows. Yet I’ve seen feminist bloggers argue against using the word “stupid” in ANY context because its origin is ableist.

    In a strange way, it’s not so different from some strains of fundamentalist Christianity. I’ve heard of fundamentalists who get upset over Halloween because once upon a time it was pagan (we’ll discuss the roots of Christmas and Easter some other day) even though in the here and now it’s about candy and costumes, not the worship of pagan deities.

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    1. “Yet I’ve seen feminist bloggers argue against using the word “stupid” in ANY context because its origin is ableist.”

      -I haven’t heard that one yet. Wow. This is just bizarre. Or does the word bizarre discriminate against weird people or circus workers?

      “In a strange way, it’s not so different from some strains of fundamentalist Christianity”

      -I knew they reminded me of someone!

      As a philologist, I’m as appalled at language being treated in this way as you are. The word “bad” in all probability comes from bæddel, meaning an “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast.” So am I being offensive to the gay community by saying ‘This novel is really bad’?

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      1. Clarissa, you would probably be surprised to know that “stupid” is far from the only word you can’t say anymore due to ableism. You also can’t say crazy, insane, bonkers, “see what I mean?”, “stand up for yourself,” or any variation thereof.

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  5. Or the writer isn’t American. I’ve been repeatedly told by foreigners both male and female that saying hello, asking how are you, remarking on the weather, to a person to whom I have not been formally introduced is intrusive. So, I only do it if I can tell the person is some sort of native speaker of English, Spanish, or Portuguese – languages in which I’m sure it’s considered normal to do this – or if I am feeling especially brave or magnanimous.

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    1. Autumn Whitefield sounds kind of more English-speaking than I ever could. 🙂

      It took me a while to get used to the American way of greeting people all the time. It’s definitely not something we do in my culture. However, I never called it “harassment” or “emotionally draining.” My point is that harassment is a very heavy word and should not be bandied around indiscriminately. Why not say “it annoys me” instead?

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  6. Oh, I see — she’s talking about street harassment, where “hello” can actually be a menacing kind of sally. Those situations can be tricky and hard to read, yes. Speaking as someone who, where I live, have been in the vicinity of gunfire and various types of holdups … I deal with that menacing kind of hello on a case by case basis. Sometimes it’s better to respond and disarm, but other times any response is interpreted as engagement. But you really have to size up the situation. I’m not talking about the regular greeting kind of hello.

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  7. I’m extremely shy. I have never in my life encountered or heard of anyone whose shyness came anywhere close to mine. Every social interaction is unpleasant. That said, I still don’t see where this person is coming from.

    I don’t really get random hello’s from strangers, so I can’t comment on that. From acquaintances, yes, but I never see it as harassment. I just say hi and continue with whatever I’m doing at the time. It never occurs to me to see this as a feminist issue because I’m aware that most of the world doesn’t share my neurosis and people everywhere aren’t trying to freak me out. And because women say hello to me just as much as men.

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  8. There’s every greeting in the universe, and then there’s the creepy version of every greeting in the universe. Depending on where you live in the world and the world’s perception of you…you may never get the creepy version. The creepy version can be the one where they stare at your chest (and never see your face), crowd your space, or turn and follow you…behaviors like that.

    Back when I was young and cute (which is when a girl or woman is most likely to get it), I rarely ever got the creepy version (I think because I make a lot of eye contact, more than most people are comfortable with)…in addition, apparently I looked pretty clueless. I got/get a lot of “hellos” because I’m a smiley person, so people smile back and most say hello. I had friends, though, who got the creepy hello on a fairly regular basis.

    It’s really a type of bullying behavior. If you look like you’d be hard to bully (or worse, won’t even notice), they are likely to leave you alone.

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  9. Having gone over and read the post, I would say that what she is talking about is being confused about how to interpret the tone in which the “hello” is being said. It’s about when a potentially-threatening-but-maybe-not stranger says something to you on the street, you have an instant to decide how to respond to them, and and you can’t quite gauge their intention in saying it to you.

    Personally, I do find those kinds of situations stressful and I sometimes wish I could be oblivious to things like tone and the unspoken social implications of a situation, but I can’t.

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  10. Wow.

    I sympathized to an extent with the woman in that whole blogosphere-fueled elevator fiasco a couple weeks ago…but this is another thing entirely. Everything I’ve read indicates that she’s talking about ANY hello regardless of circumstances, not just creepy-sounding ones. So like….if anybody acknowledges your existence as a consciousness-bearing individual occupying space nearby …that’s harassing? I don’t know.
    FellBeast mentions being shy. I’m not shy, but I’m terribly introverted (not technically the same thing), and frequently a bit misanthropic. Simply put, I like to be left in the peace of my own inner world. So yeah, greetings sometimes DO irritate me. But it’s not a gender issue at ALL.

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    1. That’s the thing. I’m autistic and greetings always jolt me out of my inner absorption, so I just stare at people wildly. But I always know that they are not trying to be mean, just the opposite.

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    2. Does everything you’ve read include the original post and the full context of those quotes? Because several things she says indicate that she isn’t talking about every hello, and that this a is as much about her personal mental process as it is about the person saying it:

      “Hell, much of the time what makes me uncomfortable isn’t harassment.”

      “I’m not talking about the kind of hello that helps build community; for example, hello has a history of functioning as a sort of verbal handshake in tight-knit urban neighborhoods—particularly neighborhoods largely consisting of traditionally marginalized people. Hello can serve as an understated way of saying: I see you, and you see me, and we’re in this together. (I should make it here that I am talking about urban environments, not rural or suburban ones in which it may be common to greet one another even if you’re strangers.)”

      “Unless a hello was one that was spoken directly at my breasts with a wolf-whistle slide, whenever I sail by a hello-man without returning the greeting, I often have a moment of: What, you’re too good to say hi to him? At the same time, over the years I’ve learned that sometimes hello indicates you’re willing to have a longer conversation—and that often that longer conversation quickly enters the realm of what is unquestionably street harassment.”

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  11. There really are different kinds of “hello.” My experience jibes with what Jodie and Z (in her second comment) have said. I don’t mind chatting with people in the grocery store or the gym—briefly and fairly impersonally, about weather, say, or a new piece of equipment at the gym. But then there is the “hello” on the street or on public transportation, from someone I’ve never seen before, that is instantly recognizable as a “hello” that expects attention, that is going to lead to personal questions that are not welcome, and to a request for a date, that will not take “no” for an answer, and that will take offense if I don’t want to engage in conversation, and will lead to me being called “stuck-up bitch.” I know that “hello” the second I hear it. It tends to happen in situations where the woman being greeted is at least somewhat stuck, like on a subway car between stops. That alone is a sign that it is bullying. And getting it is stressful.

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    1. Why can’t you just say, “I don’t want to talk to you” or “Leave me alone” or “Bye”? Or not say anything and turn away?

      Also, I wonder why nobody addresses the part of my argument which talks of how this kind of rhetoric about women is a return to the times when women were not allowed into the public sphere at all. If I can’t deal with being greeted without feeling traumatized or exhausted, how can I argue that I will be able to be Commander-in-Chief? Or a neurosurgeon? Or a police officer?

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      1. Well, that response is possible, and also leads that much faster to the “stuck-up bitch” comment, which feels threatening. I don’t want to provoke some sort of attack in a situation I can’t get out of, like the subway car.

        As to your questions, if it weren’t for the autism, I would say you were being disingenuous. The kind of greetings Feministe and some of her commenters and I are talking about are not really greetings. They are veiled threats. And, actually, now that you mention it, those of us who both perceive them that way and don’t feel we have a good way of defusing the situation may not be suited to being police officers or Commander-in-Chief. Certainly those are not professions I have the slightest interest in. I would not be good at them, and I would find them terribly stressful. The stress that confronts a neurosurgeon, however, is of a different kind, and I don’t really see what dealing with street greetings has to do with delicate surgery.

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        1. “And, actually, now that you mention it, those of us who both perceive them that way and don’t feel we have a good way of defusing the situation may not be suited to being police officers or Commander-in-Chief”

          -How about a salesperson? A daycare worker? A teacher? Those professions can potentially bring a lot more stress if one can’t even deal with a “hello.”

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          1. The woman from the original post isn’t talking about those kinds of hellos. She even says it. She’s not talking about community building, nice, polite hellos, but the kind of hellos that are meant to be mean or nasty or precursor to something else that’s not quite nice.

            I’ve dealt with a few situations where someone said hello and I did not respond to them in the way they felt was “appropriate”.

            I’ve gotten those hellos that are the kind she’s talking about. A man saying “hello” with innuendo in his voice and never looking at my face, only my cleavage and then down my body and back up – to my cleavage. He wasn’t being pleasant or nice. I didn’t feel that he saw me as a person but only as a sex object.

            A guy does that and I feel creeped out.

            If a guy looks me in the eye and says Hello and it’s a nice tone of voice that’s different. But sometimes it can be hard to figure out if that nice tone of voice is going to stay nice or turn into something more.

            A long time ago when I was young I worked retail and had an assistant manager who made women uncomfortable. Not all women, but he was creepy about the way he treated women he considered attractive. An attractive woman would come into the store and he’d go over to “help” but he’d stand a little too close, or be a little too personal in comments or make a compliment that should be innocent but the tone of his voice made it creepy.

            He wasn’t vulgar or make threats and if I transcribed what he said (not that I remember this was nearly 20 years ago) it wouldn’t sound bad. But it wasn’t his actual words but the vibe he gave off – the tone of his voice, his body language, the way he looked at them.

            He really stepped over the line one time and a customer came to me and asked for the district manager’s name to complain. He’d made her feel uncomfortable but she hadn’t said anything at the time because she wasn’t sure how he’d react and she’d paid by check (some of what made her feel uncomfortable happened after she’d paid). She was complaining because he’d taken her info off the check and called her at home.

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            1. ‘She’s not talking about community building, nice, polite hellos”

              -Me neither! There is nothing I abhor more than community-building of any sort. I’m completely opposed to those hellos. I don’t see them as harassment but I really dislike them.

              “A long time ago when I was young I worked retail and had an assistant manager who made women uncomfortable. Not all women, but he was creepy about the way he treated women he considered attractive. An attractive woman would come into the store and he’d go over to “help” but he’d stand a little too close, or be a little too personal in comments or make a compliment that should be innocent but the tone of his voice made it creepy.”

              -This was obviously a case of harassment. Because you depended on him and couldn’t push back appropriately.

              “She was complaining because he’d taken her info off the check and called her at home.”

              -You are describing an obvious criminal here. I don’t think anybody would disagree that the guy was guilty of harassment.

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              1. The point I’m trying to make here is that it wasn’t his words that made women feel uncomfortable it’s how he said them.

                He could make women feel uncomfortable just by saying “Hello, Welcome to Store Name.”

                So I can see in a situation where he would say “hello” to a woman on the street and she might hesitate and think “is this a nice hello or his he being creepy?”

                Plus you asked “Why can’t you just say, ‘ I don’t want to talk to you’ or ‘Leave me alone’ or ‘Bye’? Or not say anything and turn away” Well – sometimes a woman can be in a situation wondering if her response will escalate the situation.

                I’ve had the experience of hesitating when a guy says hi. Because based on my past experiences with men/boys I’m not sure if it will just end with me saying Hi back. OR if he will respond to my “hello” with “anyone tell you you’re beautiful?/You are looking fine today/you got a nice ass/any other form of harassment”

                AND I’ve also been in the situation of deciding not to acknowledge the hello and gotten the “why don’t you say hello/why are you rude to me/you think you are too good for me?” sometimes with additional physically threatening movements – like walking closer, forcing me to back up or having a guy walk into me, or trying to corner me.

                I try to just say “hello” back but sometimes I do hesitate because based on my personal experiences “hello” from a man can be more than just “hello” it can be the start of harassment.

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  12. bloggerclarissa :
    Why can’t you just say, “I don’t want to talk to you” or “Leave me alone” or “Bye”? Or not say anything and turn away?

    Because a lot of us feel that we are being overly hostile if we do that, and worry that others will as well. We may be thinking of a time we made an overture and were rejected and thinking about how it would hurt if someone said that to us. That’s why I wouldn’t say those things, anyway.

    Also, I wonder why nobody addresses the part of my argument which talks of how this kind of rhetoric about women is a return to the times when women were not allowed into the public sphere at all. If I can’t deal with being greeted without feeling traumatized or exhausted, how can I argue that I will be able to be Commander-in-Chief? Or a neurosurgeon? Or a police officer?

    Because you are oversimplifying what the writer is saying. For one thing, it looks like she is talking about her own reactions and not necessarily about those of women in general. She is also talking about a situation that is more complicated than being traumatized by a single greeting.
    I can identify with what she is saying because public social awkwardness and how to interpret the remark of strangers is an issue for me that I sometimes find emotionally draining, even to the point of avoiding walking in certain places, but that doesn’t mean that I think I should be excluded from the public sphere. I go where I need to to live the life that I want to live, but it is not always easy.

    I envy you Clarissa, and everyone else for whom this situation seems simple and clear cut. Maybe it’s out brain chemistry, and maybe it’s our socialization, but it is clear that we are very different people.

    Also, I would say that this is a gender issue simply because gender roles inform the way that people behave in public. If I were a man, I would probably have a completely different set of neuroses on this issue.

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    1. “I envy you Clarissa, and everyone else for whom this situation seems simple and clear cut. Maybe it’s out brain chemistry, and maybe it’s our socialization, but it is clear that we are very different people.”

      -I don’t believe in brain chemistry. As for socialization, we are adults, we can always at least try to spot the areas where we were socialized in incorrect ways and try to repair them.

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    2. The point is that these things don’t work in these situations. You turn away, they tap you on the shoulder. You say “I don’t want to talk to you,” etc. and they move closer and say “Why?” (Once I crossed the street to get away from someone like this and they, after being detained in traffic, ran after me shouting, “Why did you cross the street to get away from me? What was your motivation?”)

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      1. Unwanted touching and being chased after in the street are completely separate issues that were not discussed in the original post or here. When my new neighbor says “hi” to me, he can turn out to be a criminal who’d chase after me with an axe. Once he starts doing it, he’ll be a criminal. However, that criminal act cannot be predicted on the basis of him saying “hi.”

        ” You turn away, they tap you on the shoulder. You say “I don’t want to talk to you,” etc. and they move closer and say “Why?””

        -When I turn away or say these things, “they” don’t. Maybe you should have said “I turn away” instead of “you turn away.”

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        1. A hello can be a precursor for harassment. And it can be hard to tell if a hello is just a greeting or if it’s going to lead to harassment.

          For me, personally, I’ve had enough situations where a man (or teenage boy) was saying hello or hi not to be polite, but to start harassing behavior that it colors my thoughts. I don’t necessarily want it to, but it happens.

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  13. Honestly, I keep feeling that the initial post is some kind of a joke and the commenters who support it are making fun of me and I just can’t catch on. (Autistics often have this feeling).

    It’s either that or we live in completely different countries here. One is this horrible place where any human contact is a potential threat and every other person is a criminal waiting to take advantage of you which is why even walking down the street is an act of bravery. Another one is a place where people are mostly nice, kind, open and very accepting.

    I’ve never been to the first one and I really don’t want to visit it.

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    1. FWIW, I think it has a lot to do with neurological impulses, whether or not they are “typical.” And this cuts both ways: just as you don’t perceive other people the same way I, a “neurotypical” do, neither do people react to you in the same way. I think the country I live in is, indeed, mostly populated with people who are nice, kind, open, and accepting. But sometimes someone says “hello” in a way that implies they are going to be trying to get something I don’t want to give, and because I perceive that as a threat, however much I may try to act unconcerned, there will be small signs of my alarm. And neurotypical people who are not a threat will perceive those signs and back off, while people who are a threat will perceive them and try to raise the threat level. BUT, because you genuinely don’t read these people as a threat, you throw them off balance. They can’t threaten you because you don’t see the problem, and so you change the terms of engagement. IF I were capable of genuinely not responding to a perceived threat, I too could change those terms, but I have a high-volume nervous system (that is, probably beyond that of many neurotypicals), and so my pupils dilate and I exhibit other small signs of nervousness. The kinds of “hello” you usually get in sales, daycare, and teaching are not the kinds I am talking about, although the threatening kinds occasionally happen there, too. But the thing is, if you can’t read the signs of threat, you really aren’t in on the non-joke, and I can’t explain it to you. I’m sorry, and actually I envy you, because the world probably really does look very different to you. No, it doesn’t just look different, it IS different. It’s all in the subtleties. But I can see how it seems like we’re talking about different worlds.

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    2. “I’ve never been to the first one and I really don’t want to visit it.”

      It could in fact have something to do with the places you’ve lived. In some cities, like New York, attractive young women are approached, spoken to and stared at constantly when out in public. And as every human being on the planet would probably agree, having to ignore someone who is close by, looking at you and speaking to you, can be uncomfortable. The situation cannot be 100% avoided. So someone you don’t know is putting you in an awkward social situation, however briefly. This happens over and over, throughout the day. You really can’t imagine why it would seem oppressive at times, and how someone might want to bitch about it from time to time? And how it might have something to do with feminism? Anyway, the writer does not seem to be “traumatized” she is just talking about something that bugs her and feels like harassment. She is venting and at the same time trying to work out exactly what it is that is so annoying about the situation.

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        1. This is a ridiculous statement. I suspect you simply haven’t been in this situation and lack empathy. Anyway, you are the one making a big deal about the whole thing and blowing it out of proportion. Not to mention telling other people how they should experience the world. Why does it bother you so much Clarrisa? I am very curious.

          And yes, I agree with the other commenter who said you are being disingenuous. No one was “traumatized” for starters. And you must realize that all social interactions are exactly the same…I mean you do realize this???

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            1. How many times in one day? How many in a row days total, or over any period of time? Over how long a period of time (did you actually live there?) Which neighborhoods? All these things are extremely important and will make a big difference in your actual experiences. It is not unreasonable that there would be a variety of legitimate reactions to these experiences.

              I still think it is silly to lump all types of interactions together and say things like “this person is traumatized by people saying hello in a friendly fashion, and would collapse under the stress of being a child care worker or neurosurgeon”

              Yes, the writer “was traumatized by a simple hello” is your story and you’re sticking to it!

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              1. “How many times in one day? How many in a row days total, or over any period of time? Over how long a period of time (did you actually live there?) Which neighborhoods? ”

                -No, I did not keep a record. I have other things to do with my life. 🙂 🙂 🙂

                “Yes, the writer “was traumatized by a simple hello” is your story and you’re sticking to it!”

                -Substitute “traumatized” with “emotionally exhausted and very tired”, it makes no difference.

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              2. “-No, I did not keep a record. I have other things to do with my life. 🙂 🙂 :-)”

                Nice way to get out of answering the question 😉 😉 😉

                *obviously* I was not asking for an exact accounting. Just an idea. Did this happen to you on a few visits to midtown Manhattan, or did you ride the subways through ordinary neighborhoods over a multi-year period?

                “I have other things to do with my life”

                Such as write blog posts about what crybabies other people obviously are.

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    3. Hi Clarissa–I’m the writer of the Feministe post, and truly I’d like to assure you that my post was utterly in earnest. I do feel conflicted on a lot of hellos, and in part it’s because of the confused social cues that I imagine might only be heightened in cases of autism. Like, “hello” is a friendly word! So then why does it genuinely make me feel uncomfortable sometimes, and other times I welcome it? That’s what I was getting at–I wanted to deconstruct what makes it okay sometimes and not okay other times. Is it just me and my mood? Well, then, that seems sort of whiny. But I was pretty sure it was a lot more complicated than just *my* response; it’s about gender, and race, and class, and sociological cues, and community, and perception.

      The very reason “hello” is of interest to me is that it’s not a cut-and-dried thing in which I can just be like, “Hey bucko, quit harassing me already.” No, I don’t feel victimized by every “hello” I heard, and no, I don’t think women need to fear hearing hello–we’re hardly that delicate or off-putting. But it speaks to the use of public space, which is very much of concern to women.

      In any case, it’s been interesting reading your post here and the reactions of your readers. Thank you for finding my work interesting enough to comment on thoughtfully, even through our disagreement.

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  14. -I don’t believe in brain chemistry. As for socialization, we are adults, we can always at least try to spot the areas where we were socialized in incorrect ways and try to repair them.

    You don’t believe in brain chemistry? I though it was a pretty well established scientific fact. You seem to have no trouble believing that you have autism, which is at least partly what I was referring to. I think that may be part of the reason you can’t understand a post about the problems people have interpreting subtle differences in tone of voice, and yes, I believe the problem is that you don’t understand it.

    Being worried about how to react to men on the street is not “yet another instance in our daily lives that makes of us perennial, distressed, abused, coerced, miserable, powerless victims.” It is something that some women stress over, and I think it is an understandable source of stress. It does not make men evil victimizers, and the author was not implying that it does. In fact, she makes that very clear in other parts of the post.

    I’ve been trying to figure out the “correct” way to react to various situations for years. I either find myself acting completely oblivious to things that I should have reacted to (which come back to bite me in the butt later) or overreacting to the slightest changes in everyone’s facial expression. I’m not saying that my life is impossibly horrible or anything, but these things do present complications. I don’t think I’m going to solve all my problems just by acting and thinking the way you say to.

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    1. ” You seem to have no trouble believing that you have autism, which is at least partly what I was referring to”

      -My autism was caused by an intolerable family environment of my early childhood that caused me to retreat into my inner world to avoid further trauma.

      ” I think that may be part of the reason you can’t understand a post about the problems people have interpreting subtle differences in tone of voice, and yes, I believe the problem is that you don’t understand it.”

      -I so dig the neurotypical condescension. 🙂 🙂

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  15. This is my definition of harassment:

    In my opinion, normal, healthy flirtation becomes sexual harassment in two cases:

    1. After you have asked a person to stop and they continued nevertheless.

    2. If a person showing sexual attention is somebody on whom you depend: a boss, a professor, a doctor, a creditor, a prison warden, a judge.

    Nothing else is harassment, in my opinion. Branding other actions as such trivializes the actual crime and ends up hurting its victims.

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  16. -I so dig the neurotypical condescension.

    I apologize if I came across as condescending. I have actually been diagnosed with aspergers as well, though I’m not sure to what extent I have it or how it compares to yours. I have, however, seen how other people with I know aspergers can be oblivious to things that seen obvious to me.

    I sometimes wish it allowed me to ignore people’s tones of voice as I thought might be the case for you, but the truth is that I had that in the past and gave it up willingly. In the past I have been oblivious to things like this in ways that felt like a gift at the time, but as I have tried to make myself more social I have also become more sensitive to what people think. With that has come certain advantages, but also pitfalls like stressing over whether I behaved appropriately in this or that situation.

    I still don’t understand how you can not believe in brain chemistry. I’ll admit that this isn’t my area of expertise, but I thought most scientists who study this kind of thing were pretty sure of its existence, if not the extent to which it causes certain mental conditions.

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  17. I’m feeling bad about this now. I apologize if I insulted you. I didn’t mean to, but this topic gets under my skin and the autism/aspergers thing is also something that I have been trying to figure out in my own life.

    I came here because I found your writings interesting, not to pick fights with you. Or at least not this kind of fight.

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    1. It’s OK, don’t feel bad. I apologize too if I was too fast to jump to conclusions. I would have answered sooner but I had a small family emergency and was away from a computer.

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  18. Trigger Warning for reference to the French Revolution, in case anyone has ever had a Frenchman say “hello” to her:

    In 1792 the revolutionaries were arguing about what to do with King Louis XVI, and one of them – Saint-Just – said that he deserved any punishment because “it is impossible to reign innocently.” It’s interesting to see that a certain section of the hard left hasn’t changed in two centuries: you’re right, it’s now impossible to be male innocently.

    This silliness (as Thoreau says, “stupid” is now verboten: so is “crazy” and “nuts”) presumably arises from the whole privilege obsession, in which the more marginalised you can claim to be the more deference is due to your opinion. In this case, that you can handle being said “hello” to is just another privilege, which means your view is irrelevant.

    These folks aren’t actually representative of North American feminism though. Are they? I’m from the UK, so I don’t quite have a feel for how influential these people are. But they seem like an extremist fringe who are utterly uninterested in actually making a political impact, preferring instead to “call out” fellow feminists who are either unfamiliar with the orthodoxy of their sociology departments or who don’t accept some element of it. Don’t all movements have such people? I’d prefer to see them as the Left’s equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church or of the strain of Islam which would like to see sharia law introduced in the USA – noisy, self-righteous and implacable but essentially irrelevant.

    I hope I’m right…

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    1. Thank you for the brilliant comment, Eva!

      ” In this case, that you can handle being said “hello” to is just another privilege, which means your view is irrelevant.”

      -Yes, exactly. This completely fictitious construct of “privilege” only exists to shut people up.

      “These folks aren’t actually representative of North American feminism though. Are they? I’m from the UK, so I don’t quite have a feel for how influential these people are. But they seem like an extremist fringe who are utterly uninterested in actually making a political impact,”

      – I hope you are right, too, but I’m somehow not finding any other kinds of feminists in this country. I’d like to see feminists who don’t spend all their time examining their privilege or analyzing how somebody breathed in their direction in a harassing, coercive way.

      My hope is that, little by little, feminists who are interested in something less trivial would start finding this blog. And then we could start a conversation about what remains to be done in the area of women’s liberation.

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  19. Well, here’s my take on what’s going on over there.

    The original post itself is about the frustration and stress of how it’s not always clear if a hello is the friendly kind, or a precursor to harassment.

    Some of the comments on the OP are another story altogether. A lot of commenters have not read very carefully and are leaping to wild conclusions and/or bullshit mischaracterizations of what other people have written. One of the more prevalent issues is that commenters are conflating a LOT of possible situations that can begin with a “hello.”

    1) Guy says hello in a harassing way. This sucks.

    2) Guy says hello in a seemingly normal way, but it turns out to be a precursor to harassment. This sucks even more, because if you responded politely, you feel like a sucker who’s been had in addition to getting harassed.

    3) Guy says hello in a seemingly normal way, and it turns out to be an attempt to flirt, which the woman rejects.
    a) He accepts this politely, or
    b) He escalates to harassment.

    4) Guy says hello in a seemingly normal way, and it turns out to be a request for a favor of some kind. This makes these women feel put upon and so they feel bad about it.

    5) Guy says hello in a seemingly normal way, and it turns out he just wants to chit-chat.
    a) Maybe the woman is ok with this, or
    b) Maybe she doesn’t feel like it, in which case she can
    i) tell him,
    a) he can accept this politely
    b) or escalate to harassment
    ii) not tell him and just feel put upon.

    So you see a lot of these possibilities lead to harassment. And so the commenters get pissed at anyone’s attempt to point out that sometimes “hello” is just “hello” because sometimes it’s not. And they’re stressed about hello because they have no way to avoid being harassed (other than just wearing a big sign that says “fuck off,” but even that wouldn’t work).

    So it seems what they have decided as a result is that they do not want to have any polite interaction with strangers whatsoever. Which explains how they behaved toward me in that comment thread!

    Feministe has cool posts sometimes, but I’m really leaning strongly toward not participating there anymore because commenters are just plain nasty.

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    1. ‘So it seems what they have decided as a result is that they do not want to have any polite interaction with strangers whatsoever. Which explains how they behaved toward me in that comment thread!”

      -I’m sorry that happened. I started reading the comment thread but couldn’t deal with so much weirdness.

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  20. Ok, I finally read the original post and the comments in the thread. I few thoughts:

    – Location is key. New York is not the Midwest and it’s not Buenos Aires. In the Midwest, a hello from a stranger is usually a courtesy. In Buenos Aires, it never is. Now, in all my time living in Buenos Aires, I’ve been received on the street from nice compliments by strangers to really offensive vulgarities. And also “hello”, which were usually uttered staring at my 38D breast and not at my face. I think the reaction each individual has to that situation is very personal and unique. Myself, I really like nice compliments (which some women would see as a form of objectification and/or sexual harassment), and I really dislike anything else. In my own unique case, if I started thinking about everything that a harassing “hello” means every time it happens to me on the street, I would probably hit my head against a light post because I’m too clumsy and easily distracted (seriously, it has happened to me more than once). That being said, a few personal reflections on the some comments:

    a) Dame Eleanor Hull talks about the potential those situations have to become threatening, and puts as an example a verbal attack in a subway car. It’s interesting. While I would call that situation bullying and harassing, I don’t feel them as threatening. Threatening for me is a situation where I fear for my personal safety. If there is one place where I don’t fear for my personal safety, it’s in a public space surrounded by people. Quite the contrary. By the way, my ass has been groped (once) in a bus in Buenos Aires. I turned around and told the guy behind me very loud: “Would you please stop grabbing my ass?”. His answer was: “Bitch”, and then got off at the next stop. Of course I was shaken by the whole situation. But I saw his reaction as a victory, not as a threat.

    On a more general level, while acknowledging the validity of the original blogger feelings, my problem with that this line of thought is that it leads to viewing the public sphere as a potential threat to women at all times. And that is deeply disempowering.

    b) A few comments say that they don’t talk back to a harassing man for fear of being seen overly hostile. By whom? And what do you care? If you hurt some nice guy feelings occasionally because you don’t want to be talk or approach in the street, it’s not the end of the world. He will survive and you will be more comfortable. If the guys intentions were to harass you on the street, then why do you care that he/passers by might think that you are a stuck up bitch? It’s about you.

    A guy shouting obscenities or calling you names on the street is humiliating and degrading. But if you let it crawl under your skin and start fearing leaving the safety of your own home, then he has won.

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    1. ‘On a more general level, while acknowledging the validity of the original blogger feelings, my problem with that this line of thought is that it leads to viewing the public sphere as a potential threat to women at all times. And that is deeply disempowering.”

      -That is EXACTLY what I’m saying.

      “A guy shouting obscenities or calling you names on the street is humiliating and degrading. But if you let it crawl under your skin and start fearing leaving the safety of your own home, then he has won.”

      -Absolutely!

      Thanks for a great input!

      Like

  21. Okay, “hello” is not a harassing word. If you feel harassed when its said, then there is some harassing behavior accompanying it. This is the key in how so many of us are seeing the issue differently, I think. People who say hello in a harassing way are harassing.

    But how do we get from there to being uncomfortable with greetings? The greeting is 0% of the problem. It’s a circumstance that accompanies the problem sometimes and does not accompany it at other times. It’s worth repeating just how far the original writer pushes her discomfort with hello:

    “Hello can mean: I feel I have a relationship with you, even though we’re total strangers, and the entire extent of that relationship is that I am in a role in which I am allowed to try to start a conversation and your choices are limited to appearing to ignore me or to play along with this conversation you made no indication of wishing to start. Hello assumes a familiarity; hello asks for acquiescence.”

    She actually thinks that hello itself indicates that a person (probably a man) wants to start a relationship in which she has no say, and that the very word hello somehow denies any distance between the two people (the “familiarity”). That’s just bizarre. At best, “hello” in itself is an invitation to a dialogue in which the people can establish that familiarity. Invitations may always be denied.

    I live in the sheltered Midwest, in a neighborhood where you wouldn’t hesitate to ask your neighbor to help you carry groceries, even though it’s one of the “worst” neighborhoods around. I’ve also lived in a couple different places which are violent and misogynistic. I’ve had “hey sexy, hey blond” shouted after me with every step I take, into narrow alleys, and when I found myself alone in strange cities. I’ve had men who won’t stop touching me in bars follow me home, talking to me the whole way, at four in the morning. I’ve definitely felt uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe. But I’ve never blamed the greeting hello for this! Sometimes a hello is just a hello. It’s always the other behavior that makes it a problem.

    And Clarissa, I totally do tell guys to f* off. I have an excellent ice-queen voice, and it’s never failed to get a jerk to leave me alone yet. 😀

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  22. mhhh (such a long time since my last comment, i’m sorry)… Hello!
    so… well I do feel uncomfortable when someone tells “hello” on the street and yes it is worse if that someone is a man… but, oh please, greetings are not harassments! ( weel, maybe they could be, but only in particular cases, like, the guy who raped you smiles at you on the street and sais “hi” = harassment, but…). So my uncomfortability, I think, comes from my autisim, not from “the Universe’s Horrible Patriarchal System”.
    and… I’m sorry about the spelling mistakes, …

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  23. “People have suggested that I react to things differently because of my autism. That might just be true. So I’d like to ask my neurotypical readers: do you also analyze every casual greeting at such length and see what you can read into it?”

    No.

    I came across this article as well and posted it on my Tumblr to see what people think. Only one person responded and they were of the same mindset as you.

    Seriously, if anything, she should be exhausted because of thinking so much and for writing such long posts about one word, not because of saying hi to someone. 🙂

    Like

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