Reclaim Your Voice: Responding to Unwanted Attention from Men in Public Spaces

Black assertive woman
As women, we’re subjected to the unsolicited advances of men on the street, in the store, in the gym, etc. You get the point. Basically, we’re seen as fair game to men’s comments in the public sphere. They feel the need to let us know how sexy we are or how we should show them our “pretty smile.” This topic of street harassment has surfaced in recent articles from Jezebel and XoJane.

Like any woman, I receive my fair share of comments from men – trust me. It’s not something I enjoy, but neither am I easily offended. However, perhaps after talking to my white co-worker about being harassed in public spaces I should be more outraged.

In talking to my co-worker and actually witnessing it with my own eyes, I’ve realized that white women don’t take being hit on in public spaces lightly – especially by black men. Let’s start with the facts. The black man/ white woman dynamic in the public sphere carries historical baggage. It brings to light the fear of the hypermasculine black man who will potentially “taint” the purity of a white woman.

I think it’s appropriate to consider this dynamic in the historical context, but I also think it’s important to also consider that white men and black men approach women very differently. Black men are bold. They don’t hold back in letting you know how they feel about you. On the other hand, I’ve heard that white men are much more subtle when it comes to approaching women (of course these are generalizations and don’t reflect all black men and all white men). So perhaps white women are truly thrown off by such outspoken men because that is often times not their experience of being approached in such a direct manner.

The other issue is the perception that it is appropriate to say anything to woman because she is in a public space. This is where things get tricky. In talking with my co-worker, it really became apparent that these advances are a violation (even if they weren’t life-threatening or physical). In listening to her experiences and talking to her about her responses, it made me see that I’m way too passive when I’m being harassed by men on the street. Why is this? Is it because I’m just used the way the black men approach me? It is because I’d rather not say anything than to rebuff their advances in fear that they’ll call me a “bitch?” Is it because every aspect of a black woman’s existence is “up for grabs” so to speak in our society -- from our hair to our bodies so really what should I expect?

I think it’s a combination of all the aforementioned reasons and none of them are okay. It is okay, however, to feel outraged because I don’t like the way a man approaches me. The lesson I’ve learned in talking to my co-worker about her experiences that it is appropriate to speak out against inappropriate advances on the street or anywhere else. Personally, I think I’ve just been stuck in the “that’s just the way black men are” mindset, but that honestly doesn’t make it acceptable.

I think we as women shouldn’t have to deal with such negative unsolicited attention but we do have a duty to train men how to treat and approach us – if that means checking him on the street because of an unwanted comment then so be it.


Summertime, Sundresses and Street Harassment
Susan L. Taylor: What We Can Do to Reclaim Black Children
Beauty and Butt Shots: Black Women Battle for Body Acceptance

Brandi M. Green is a communications professional by day, writer by night.Her articles have appeared in Madame Noire, The Root and Clutch Magazine. When she isn’t busy writing, planning events, daydreaming, taking exercise classes or focusing on albinism outreach she is probably catching up on episodes from her favorite reality T.V. shows (her guilty pleasure.)

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