Recently, I was walking home from a pickup soccer game, happily listening to great tunes and daydreaming about my soon-to-be new apartment.
As I was zoning out, I watched a guy suddenly walk up and hit on a woman in front of me. He leaned into her, over her, asking something with a wide smile. However, her headphones stayed in, she kept shaking her head, verbally said no several times (by this point, I had paused my music), and after briefly looking up at him to calmly reiterate her desire to be left alone, continued to stare down at her phone.
He kept doing it for a good ten seconds. Then, he reached out and grasped her arm.
Oh, hell no.
I moved between them and firmly (but gently) pushed against his chest and said, "Sir, she said no. She's not interested. You need to back off."
She sped-walked away, and the guy looked at me like I had just called him a rapist. He ranted for about five seconds of colorful language but -- and this is key -- looked seriously hurt. Not just offended but emotionally stricken.
The point is this: more often than not, if a woman rejects street harassment (or if another woman speaks up against it) in this way, it's easy for the guy to call her a "bitch" or "you're not that hot, anyway," etc. and move on and do it again.
If a guy calls out his harassing behavior, it can be a wake-up call. He can rationalize women rejecting him through sexist logic. It's much, much harder (in his mind) to explain away why another guy thought he was being predatory.
It's important for men to realize that the average woman encounters sexual harassment on a daily basis in many forms, from the seemingly-benign-but-wrong (a coworker casually calling her "baby") to the outright horrible, things easily categorized as sexual assault (such as what the man did above).
As writer Soraya Chemaly points out: "Tell me the difference between a man that calls me a 'dumb b***h' for not smiling nicely to him on the street and one that refers to Hillary Clinton as emasculating while recapping her debate performance or Sarah Palin as a MILF after hers? Both are predicated on the idea that all women's bodies are available and accessible to men."
These actions are bred out of -- and reinforced by -- a culture that generally portrays women as weaker, objectifies them by sexualizing their existence (rather than respecting their right to express sexuality on their own terms), and consistently makes light of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment as acceptable and even charming or attractive.
It makes it easier for men to view women as less than human, as commodities to be gained or won, as unworthy of the right to define what "safety and dignity" looks like for them.
I believe women should absolutely step-in, but from a psychological standpoint, it is crucial that men stand beside women in solidarity and confront this behavior directly. Although a specific situation can be (and commonly is) successfully negotiated solely by women, it is that psychological wound that will stay with the harasser. He will dwell on it. It will make him reflect.
And that will make him think twice before he does it again.
Don't be an inactive bystander. Say something. It matters, and it works.