When I heard about Luke Howard harassing and secretly video taping women in Ottawa, and the Twitter response on #CorneredInOttawa, I had to jump in.
“Pickup artist” videos are all over YouTube and easy to find. Most are sad attempts by men to out-peacock each other and dominate as many female victims as possible to prove how much of a “player” they are. Like Luke Howard, they often use the excuse that it’s to help teach guys how to get over social anxiety. They secretly film women, try to get their phone numbers, and try to “score” as much physical contact as they can by whatever means necessary including coercion and harassment. They call it things like “Day Game” and brag about doing these things “in broad daylight.”
I was never approached by Luke Howard, but I can relate to what being harassed and intimidated feels like. And I know how important it is to hear, validate, and support the women who he’s preyed upon.
This goes beyond one creepy guy in one city.
“Pickup artist” type harassment is just one example of what many women deal with throughout their lives whether it’s recorded on video or not.
It’s a difficult thing to explain. So, to illustrate, here are a few examples of things I’ve personally experienced throughout my pretty average life.
When I was a little kid, someone standing behind me touched and stroked my head and body in a crowded room during a public meeting. I was too afraid to turn around to find out who was touching me.
When I was in elementary school, an older boy I didn’t recognize stalked me on his bike as I walked home from school one day. He kept riding around the block to pass me again and again, glaring at me. As I finally approached my street (1 km away from my school), I could see through a patch in the trees that he was sitting on his bike waiting. As I got closer he spotted me and rode past me one last time, muttering something at me. I couldn’t make out what he said, but I could tell it wasn’t friendly.
When I was a university student, a drunk guy I didn’t know put his arms around me as I was trying to let myself into my apartment building. His friend pulled him back and apologized for his behaviour, even as the guy continued to try to reach out and grab me. Both guys came into the building with me and as they got in the elevator the drunk guy tried to convince me to come over for drinks. I declined and took the stairs so they wouldn’t find out what floor I lived on.
When I was in my 20’s, a man I worked for sexually harassed me. He found excuses for us to be alone in the office together so he could say and do things he wouldn’t have, had there been others to witness it. At the same job, another male coworker asked me in front of other staff if I would clean his house for him. He was serious, and offered to pay me.
When I was in my 20’s, a man I was sitting across from on a crowded commuter train touched his toe against mine. I pulled my foot back. He touched my foot again with his. I moved my feet as far away as I could, but he would move his foot closer to keep touching my foot. I sat there, uncomfortable, questioning whether it was really on purpose, or if I should say something. And then it went from a touch to a stroke. He was stroking my toe with his shoe. I was horrified, but paralyzed. I didn’t want to cause a scene because – by all outside appearances – he had simply touched my foot on a crowded train. I wanted to scream and punch him in the face, but I just stared out the window. By then we were almost at my stop. I got up to leave and said “excuse me” – he let me pass and I said “thank you” to him. I felt angry at myself that I had not only failed to confront him, but that I had actually thanked him.
When I was in my 20’s, I left a friend’s house late at night to walk home. The clocks had just changed, so instead of leaving her house at at 2:00am, it was now 3:00am. I felt a bit nervous, but it was a safe neighborhood and I didn’t have too far to go. About 1/4 of the way home a cab slowly crawled up to me on a quiet side street. The window came down and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. I said no thanks, I’m fine. He insisted, and eventually offered to give me a ride free of charge because he said he was worried about me walking alone at night. I thanked him and got in. After I told him where I was going, he hit the lock door button and I heard all four of the door locks click closed at once. I suddenly felt uneasy. He drove very slowly, and started asking me personal questions. He asked me if I was single. He asked me if I liked to party. He asked me if I wanted to “party” with him. I wondered if I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. I told him to stop the cab and let me out. He did.
When I was in my 20’s, a drunk man got on the bus and stood next to my seat even though the bus was mostly empty. He reeked of alcohol. He rubbed his fat belly against my shoulder, pretending that it was the movement of the bus that was pushing him into me. I told him to stop touching me and he moved away.
When I was in my 20’s, a construction worker hollered down at me from the side of a building he was working on. He called me baby and made kissy noises at me while his friends laughed. I gave him the finger and told him to fuck off. Later that evening I was walking back and I saw the same worker coming towards me on the sidewalk. I confronted him. Once he realized I was angry and disgusted, and not trying to get his number, he became embarrassed and quickly crossed the street to get away from me.
When I was in my 20’s, I passed a dirt construction area surrounded by sidewalk. Two giant dumptrucks were parked next to each other and the guys inside were chatting. When they saw me passing by one driver honked the horn and it startled me. They saw me react. Then both trucks laid on the horn full blast for about 20-30 seconds as I walked past them. The noise was deafening but I did my best to ignore them. When they finally stopped I heard them laughing and hollering at me.
When I was in my 20’s, I walked through a short alleyway me and my coworkers often used as a shortcut. I’d walked through 100s of times on my way to work. It was bright and sunny and about 8:45am. As usual, just to be extra careful, I looked ahead to make sure the path was clear and it was. Not even halfway through, a man with some kind of accent (I couldn’t place it) caught up with me from behind and said “Hi” and started a conversation with something like “How are you?” I replied that I was fine, kind of wary but trying to be polite. I can’t remember what else he said but he kept chatting and asking me questions. As we reached the end of the alleyway, I turned the corner to walk up to the front door of my office’s building. There were a few people around the doorway and I met the eyes of a coworker. We exchanged hellos, and in that moment when I was distracted the creepy guy grabbed me around my ribcage for a moment before running away at top speed. It happened so fast I barely had time to process what had happened, and it didn’t fully sink in until later in the day that I was really upset by it. I downplayed the incident, and didn’t report it, and then wrestled with guilt later when I realized that he was likely practicing. It’s probable that this guy escalated to a full sexual assault with someone else.
This isn’t an exhaustive record of all of the harassment I’ve experienced throughout my life, just a few of the more memorable moments.
It doesn’t matter whether all of these violations were legal or illegal. It matters that the guys involved felt comfortable, even justified, in their actions. And that my experiences are not extraordinary – they are to be expected.
I hope this helps to shed some light on why street harassment and “pickup artist” intimidation tactics are so harmful. They represent a small piece of a much larger issue.
Guys. Listen. Being shy can be terrible, yes, but fearing for your personal safety because of your lived experiences as a woman is something else entirely.
Harassing, intimidating, or forcing yourself into a woman’s personal space is never your right. If you’ve been led you to believe that you’re entitled to dominate conversations, physical spaces, or women’s bodies because you are a guy, it’s time to question that assumption. If anything, bullying women just proves you’re desperate.
If you’ve been harassed and want to share your story, check out Hollaback. This organization is working in 92 cities around the world, including Ottawa, to end street harassment. Look up your city and share your story – it might help someone in your neighborhood.