‘You Are Sexy’ and Other Great Lines from Men on the Street

“I love you,” he crooned, in English and just loud enough for me to hear.

I stopped in my tracks, unusually incensed, and in a split second had spun around. Enough was enough.

“Hey,” I spat. “You know what? Fuck. Off.” I turned and strode off, not waiting to glimpse his reaction.

Ordinarily I do not respond with such fury to street harassment, opting instead to take what my father would call “the high road” and simply ignore the calls that inevitably come my way and that of most girls here in Amman, no matter how covered we are.

When I asked one of my Jordanian roommates what she thought of the constant catcalling, she shrugged and, barely looking up from the text she was writing, said, “It’s normal.”

“You don’t think it’s annoying?” I pressed.

“Of course it’s annoying,” she said, this time looking up from her phone. “But here, it’s normal.”

It’s tough to know what direction to take this topic. Do I embark on a diatribe about the double standards for men and women here? Do I focus on what it means that harassment is considered normal? Or do I just vent, because sometimes that’s what blogs are for, and give more examples to demonstrate how this is a norm that bodes very poorly for women’s rights in what is frequently labeled one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East?

Earlier today, as I was walking and contemplating this blog post, I passed a young man on the sidewalk. He lengthened his stride.

“Hello,” he called out.

I ignored him.

“What’s your name?”

I walked faster.

Silence. Then, “Okay.” I thought he’d given up, until he burst out, “You are sexy.”

It is always the same debate—do you dignify his crudeness with a response, even if that response is, “You’re pathetic?” What is the most effective way of communicating that such attention is unacceptable and unwanted? Moreover, is there any response that will actually get him to snap his mouth shut the next time he opens it to holler at a female?

Although I am lucky because I have yet to feel physically threatened by this harassment—I know American women in Jordan who have been grabbed as they’re walking down the street, while stories out of Cairo are truly horrific, worse than just harassment—I’ve learned that no space here is truly free from what feels like constant verbal assault.

Not a café as I write (total stranger approaches my table: “Can I sit here? I just want to sit here with you”), nor my inbox, where I actually found one answer as to why men think it’s okay to do this. An email from someone who, to be clear, is neither a stranger nor a Jordanian, informed me that I was involved in “the sexiest dream [he had] ever had” and that the reason he was telling me is because, “hey it’s a compliment – that was more the reason to share.”

A compliment?

Here’s a nice story of how one woman in Zarqa, east of Amman, dealt with her harassers. My favorite line is this understated one, “Passers-by believe the unidentified woman must have had martial arts training.”


One thought on “‘You Are Sexy’ and Other Great Lines from Men on the Street

  1. I tried so many times to decipher the behavior of such men. The best I could come up with is this: sexual repression is the main cause. Men in Jordan, over 99% of them, believe so strongly in tradition. They may feel they have the right to break the rules themselves (perhaps procure a prostitute from the well-known venues) or do something insane when traveling abroad. But they could (and would) never accept such excursions for “their” women (daughter, wife, sister, mother, cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, neighbor, et al.). As I said, they believe so strongly in tradition that in their eyes the perfect “good” woman is one who never gives men a reason to harass her (since it’s always the woman’s fault that she is being harassed). But why do men, then, harass women in the street? It’s the same reason why a shoplifter shoplifts: because they believe they can get away with it. They are almost never held responsible for such behavior, since it’s always the woman’s fault — “Had she been covered, this would not have happened.” But if she was covered, they would say: “Had she not been walking alone in the street, this would not have happened.” Then if she walks with a friend: “Had she not been walking with a company of females only…” And if she is walking with another man: “Had she stayed at home, this would not have happened.” It seems the only time a man is at fault is if he breaks into a house and attempts to sexually assault a woman inside. But then even if that happens, they might say things like: “Had she had the windows and curtains closed, this would not have happened.”

    In a nutshell, men harass women in public because there is almost zero repercussions for their behavior from society or the law. One Jordanian girl told me that when two men attempted to steal her bag while she walked from her home to the car, she called the police and told them what happened, asking for help. The policeman’s response was: “It’s your fault. Why are you out at night all alone?”

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