What’s Wrong With Saying Hello?

Content Notice for Street Harassment, Sexual Assault, & Violence

Disclaimer: The 100-catcalls-in-a-day Hollaback video making the rounds has its intersectional (i.e. racial) issues. I think it still serves well in starting a conversation and makes a point about an experience with which very few men are familiar.

Most of these men said seemingly positive things to the subject of the video: compliments and simple “hi”s and “hello”s. So what’s the problem here?

The problem is that, if you are or are perceived by society to be a female person and are walking alone, there’s no good way to react to random male strangers greeting you on the streets.

If you choose to ignore them and continue walking, as shown in the video, they might get angry with you for being stuck-up or ungrateful.

If you say “hello” back to them, they often take that as an invitation to solicit sex. Refusing a man’s advances can have severe consequences; at the very least, it tends to be an unpleasant experience where you are verbally berated and physically intimidated.

If you say you have a boyfriend or wear a wedding ring as a deterrent, it might be taken as a challenge or seen as a lie. Also, people on the Internet might get mad at you about it.

If you confront them, things may not go well for you (although I’ve done it more than once with non-violent results).

The only way to avoid street harassment in certain areas if you look a certain way is to walk around only when accompanied by a man, if you leave your house at all — a positively Sharia-esque prospect if there ever were one.

What’s wrong with saying hello, indeed.

If you are a man, consider all that when you choose to cold-approach a female or female-appearing stranger. If you truly believe that the very faint, approaching-zero prospect of friendship, a date, or sex is worth contributing to the daily deluge faced by the female and the female-perceived, then by all means.

What’s Wrong With Saying Hello?

23 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Saying Hello?

    1. 1.3

      So the problem isn’t that the men feel entitled to women’s attention and time, it’s that women don’t know how to turn the guys down. Gotcha.
      I keep forgetting that the targets of bad behavior are the ones who have to adapt, rather than the perpetrators.
      I also keep forgetting that men are forces of nature that are just going to keep doing these harmful things and are incapable of changing.

      (hmmm, I seem to remember a woman saying “guys don’t do that” and the misogynistic eruption that ensued)

      1. Suggestion 1 – Just say no.

        Tried that. He screamed at me that I was a fat cow and he didn’t want to fuck me anyway.

        Suggestion 2 – You’re a nice guy, but I’m just not into you in that way.

        Spent the better part of an hour following me around demanding I explain to him exactly why I wasn’t into him that way before accusing me of being like a ‘typical bitch who only dates assholes’

        Suggestion 3 – Sorry, but I have a boyfriend

        Called me a cocktease for daring to be at a bar and unavailable then proceeded to keep ‘accidentally’ running into me and ‘coincidentally’ having his hands end up on my breasts until I left

        Welp, those are all the ‘guy approved’ ways to turn a guy down (http://www.glamour.com/sex-love-life/blogs/smitten/2013/11/guy-approved-ways-to-turn-down, first link on your google search)

        So no, really, what could I possibly be afraid of? What possible reason could I have to not want a guy to put me in that situation in the first place?

  1. 3

    I guess I’m one of those women who doesn’t know how to ‘turn down’ a guy.

    Part of this is, I shouldn’t have to have any skill in this area. I have no obligation to respond or even acknowledge every random jackass on the street who wishes to say “hello” to me. I have shit to do, and Random Jackass should be able to figure this out. If Random Jackass is the one approaching me, in any way, Random Jackass isn’t owed a response.

    I also have no obligation to do anything, since I have no idea how mean or nasty Random Jackass might be. Random Jackass needs to realize that approaching random women in the street is pretty much a worthless strategy.

    1. 3.1

      Yeah, no reason to know how to interact. No reason to learn about other cultures. No reason you have to have any skill in driving, walking is just great and burns calories. Might as well stay home though, no reason for you to interact with half of the human population.

      1. It isn’t interacting, Tiffany, and you know it, so why are you being dishonest?

        We aren’t complaining about guys ‘interacting’ with us. We are complaining about guys feeling entitled to make unwelcome advances, and especially complaining about guys who get annoyed/hostile when we don’t respond to those unwelcome advances by falling over and spreading our legs for them.

      2. I can interact with people just fine. I interact with a diverse group of people on a regular basis. When I am out in public, I am often going from One Group of People to Another, and during these trips, I do not like to be sidetracked by men who clearly are only interested in making me uncomfortable.

        These are people I got to know through different ways that are a better way to get to know someone than some guy randomly approaching women in public.

        Hassling random strangers you know nothing about is rude and intrusive. These guys need to get the memo that *this is not how you meet women, or anybody.* I’m not the person being clueless when it comes to social norms.

  2. 4

    I think Tiffany would like us all to know she’s a Cool Girl…
    Sweetie, I’ve turned down guys in the most gentle and polite ways and
    still a number of them reacted with hostility and aggression.I’ve had one arsehole
    trying to follow me home a couple of months ago. Their arseholeishness isn’t on me, it’s on them.
    Seems to me you are the one here who needs a good googling…

  3. 5

    Yeah, no reason to know how to interact. No reason to learn about other cultures. No reason you have to have any skill in driving, walking is just great and burns calories. Might as well stay home though, no reason for you to interact with half of the human population.

    Funny how this standard never gets applied to the people who engage in the bad behavior toward strangers on the street.

    If you watched that video and think *her* problem was not being able to deal with half the human race, then maybe you should be the one to stay home.

  4. 6


    I presume from context that you’re okay with men approaching you cold. That’s great! Good for you. 🙂

    However: Other women feel differently, and have had different experiences to you. Waggling your finger at them for ‘not knowing how to turn down a guy’ isn’t very charitable of you. You’re assuming that they are somehow less competent than yourself. That may or may not be true, but even if it were true it’s entirely beside the point. These women are having to put up with something that they really shouldn’t have to.

    Leaving women I walk past in the street alone is easy. It’s an absence of effort and realistically the most courteous option available to me in those circumstances.

    Women aren’t asking for much when they ask to not be catcalled. It shouldn’t be a controversial request.

  5. 7

    Tiffany, you should know for personal safety reasons that no woman should ever engage, in anyway, with any strange man who’s decided to grab her attention on the street. It’s always a losing proposition. The last man who tried approaching me while I was shooting hoops actually followed me off the playground, and I had to hold a stick at him to get him to leave me alone. These guys aren’t looking for politeness. They’re catcalling as a way of showing their power over you, and you never give them the dignity of a response. Especially when you’re outnumbered. I completely second WithinThisMind- the second you refuse, these guys get extremely nasty, and compliments turn to obscene insults real quick. Stop giving women advice that makes them less safe.

  6. 8

    The strategy of ignoring strange men is safe, and so is any other method of keeping strange people in general at bay and not inviting them to interact further with you. I think that it is extremely easy to appeal to strangers by disarming them first with a smile and a hello, the problem is I don’t WANT to live like a person who is constantly paranoid because of strange people approaching you and saying hello. Then again, I would still rather live.

    My philosophy is, and I am not really recommending this I’m simply stating that it’s worked for me so far, if somebody does that on the sidewalk in a public street, and attempts to engage me with a smile and a hello, I do tend to generally respond back with a hello, no smile, or a smile that doesn’t reach my eyes, because I do not want that person to feel ignored, but at the same time I want them to know that I am not going to be easy to ‘reach’. If the next thing that comes out of their mouth indicates to me they are trying to pick me up (meaning they are bad at picking up social cues, or choose to misinterpret them), I tend to say: I’m sorry, but I need to be somewhere (which is always true), and simply walk away (in a way that doesn’t completely have me feeling vulnerable by exposing my back to them). The nice thing (or maybe not so nice, depending on the perspective) is that that mostly happens, and then the person ends up handing me something I forgot at a shop or a restaurant, which I tend to be thankful for and appreciate, and they end up moving on their way.

    I think what I’m trying to say is that if I don’t feel safe in my gut, in any interaction, walking away is always best. However, being polite and being safe don’t need to be completely mutually exclusive, but I think that is more of a choice that a person makes based on their own comfort level when interacting with strangers.

    I agree with Heina, in the sense that I think there is a time and place for getting to know and meeting new people, and expecting that to be reciprocated in a context where everyone feels comfortable and safe. Random chance meetings that occur between strangers on the street rarely, if ever, evolve into anything meaningful, and expecting that to be the norm rather than the exception is deluding yourself as a man into thinking that women walk around expecting to be picked up by strange men.

  7. 9

    Great post!
    Also, there is a variety of ways to say “hello”, and they don’t all mean the same. I live in this nice Australian state capital that’s more like a small town with a few high-rises in the centre and where it’s perfectly normal to say “hello” to strangers, reply and smile to strangers saying “hi”, or start a conversation while waiting for the traffic lights. But having watched the Hollaback video, I can say that that’s a totally kind of “hello” than the catcall-type. A friendly hello is part of an respectful interaction between people (trying eye contact first, not pushing on if the other person doesn’t return it, etc.) regardless of the genders involved. The video’s type of hello is a man saying the first word that comes into his head to grab some woman’s attention after he’s stared at her ass and boobs, in a pretty sleazy tone and without respect for her obvious disinterest in contact, and that first word happens to be “hello” instead of “damn” or “niiiiice!”. This is why there’s no good answer to the sleazy hellos: Because it’s interaction with an asshole who’s disregarding you anyway, and will do that regardless of content.
    It is possible to make actual compliments to strangers , ones that make the other person feel good instead of threatened. People manage to do so quite frequently on the subject of my bike, and sometimes even on looks. It’s dead easy to recognise respectful appreciation and goodwill when someone shows it. A classic “I know it when I see it” situation.
    Catcalls aren’t compliments, they’re just worded as such for plausible deniability.

  8. 10

    “Catcalls aren’t compliments, they’re just worded as such for plausible deniability.”

    This this this.

    I think it’s very much worth emphatically noting that the reason for catcalls not being explicitly aggressive at the start (at least, when this is true), is that is an effective STRATEGY, not a kindness. As you say, #9, it maintains plausible deniability, which means a greater chance to be able to keep pulling this shit without being called out on it, and as reactions to the video demonstrate, it is a very effective tactic at fooling bystanders into thinking nothing inappropriate is going on.

  9. Ed

    Yes, I’d been thinking along similar lines as Ysanne that there is such a thing as a basic social greeting or acknowledgement that’s appropriate in some settings. Though I’d normally not see the streets of s city like New York as an example because of the density of pedestrian traffic.

    In other words it seems suspicious because it violates the anonymity which is the only source of privacy in a crowd and raises the question as to why are you noticing me and not the other few dozen people in the immediate area; thus implying some ulterior motive even if there’s nothing sexual or aggressive about it.

    But in a different setting with fewer people and a slower pace it`s sometimes normal to engage in brief greetings and small talk with people of either sex. A lot of it depends on culture and context.

    Even in a large city there might be little areas like a neighborhood, office complex or shopping area often frequented by the same people where there are a lot of familiar faces. This can lead to the normalization of talking (within limits) to people who are technically strangers. Before cell phones and other mobile devices became available (showing my age….arrgh!) people sometimes talked in planes, trains and busses out of boredom.

    Where I’m sometimes unsure about the proper etiquette is a situation where someone, especially if they’re a woman and I certainly don’t want to come across like the guys in the video, shows signs of sharing some sort of common interest or values.

    An obvious example would be a person wearing a symbol of humanism or atheism or reading something like Free Inquiry. Or browsing the usually empty besides me philosophy section of the bookstore, waiting to see the same obscure art film as I am, or in a museum clearly enjoying the same widely despised modern art I love so much. And of course, if they showed signs of not wanting to talk I’d stop.

  10. 12

    Ed: I can break those down for you pretty easily:

    An obvious example would be a person wearing a symbol of humanism or atheism or reading something like Free Inquiry.

    A symbol is not a sign of a desire to interact, without some other indicator. And someone reading is focusing on their reading, not looking to strike up conversations with strangers. Neither of these should be treated as an invite.

    Or browsing the usually empty besides me philosophy section of the bookstore,

    Here, a small, polite inquiry is probably not horribly intrusive. Keep it on-topic, though, and start at the impersonal level of inquiry, only advancing the conversation if she does. “Is that author any good, do you know? I was thinking about reading him.” Short, curt answers or deflections should be recognized as a boundary-setting tactic; expansive answers, even of the “I’m not sure, this is what I’ve heard, though” sort, can be taken as an okay to continue conversing.

    waiting to see the same obscure art film as I am, or in a museum clearly enjoying the same widely despised modern art I love so much.

    Again, here, the topic pre-set; keep initial conversation focused on it. If she’s enjoying the initial talk, then feel free to bring up similar shows/pieces/artists, etc, talking more broadly about the field.

    And of course, if they showed signs of not wanting to talk I’d stop.

    Good, but make sure you’re keyed to more than just an excuse to leave the conversation. Make openings for her to bow out gracefully, so that she does not have to overcome the intense socialization that women face telling them to ‘be polite’. Indicate that you’re taking a break (say, to go to the concession stand) but would love to continue the conversation if she doesn’t need to rush to her seats (assume she’s there with friends, even if they are not present). This gives her the ability to say, “Well, actually, I do need to rush, but it was nice talking to you.” If she wants to continue things, at this point, SHE will make the move, and you can respond accordingly.

    The idea is that you must regularly create points where the ball is in her court–essentially the opposite rule of the always-needs-control PUAs.

  11. 13

    There are only three appropriate times when it’s okay for a man to “just say hello” to a woman:

    1. When she says hello first.
    2. When you two accidentally lock eyes and quickly flash that smile strangers flash each other when they lock eyes. Then just keep walking.
    3. When you two actually know each other.

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