Saturday I was judging a high school debate tournment, and going home required a rather short walk to the subway through a not terrible, but slightly sketchy part of Boston. As I was cross the street to get on the path that would take me to the station, I saw a group of about six guys, in that happy excited stage of somewhat drunk. I was like “oh, GREAT. But they stayed on the opposite side of the street from me.
After about a block, one of them walked across the street and called out, “Excuse me, ma’am?” and waited until I turned to look at him, and he said, “Sorry to bother you, but is this the way to the train?” I said yes, it was. He said, “How much further? Someone told us it was like, right here and we were thinking it didn’t look right.” (He was saying this in the slightly over-ennunciated way of the somewhat inebriated.) I said it was about two more blocks and it would be there, he said thank you, and went back across the street to his buddies to give the report.
Now, I admit I have a pretty strong “don’t fuck with me” field, and I rarely get street harassment. But guy, this is how you do it. Let me numerate the ways he and the other guys handled this interaction perfectly.
1: They all stayed on the other side of street. There was no crowding into my space.
2: Only one of them came over while the others waited.
3: He got my attention respectfully, and waited until I was looking at him to ask his question.
4: he stayed a good 15 feet away from me the entire time. He was respecting my space.
5: He asked his question, asked for clarification, thanked me, and moved on. He did not take my willingness to answer his question as license to continue to bother me.
I don’t know if he was consciously doing this, or what, but this is how you do it. It’s a little sad that I find this so remarkable, but if you need a primer on how to ask a question of a woman walking alone, this should get you started.