Unfortunately, being a woman in today's society can often be a harrowing, scary and anxiety-fuelled experience. Simply just existing in public spaces gives people, often men, the impression that they can invade our personal space to catcall, hit on us, or even worse, get aggressive when we stand up for ourselves.
"I love visiting the park near the botanical gardens and spending time with the ducks and birds. The last two times I've tried to have some peaceful alone time in broad daylight, I've had to leave the entire park early because I keep getting approached by men who don't leave me alone unless I make an excuse to go."
"Two days ago, I was there and a young man with a baby in a pram was walking past me in the distance back and forth. I didn't think twice about it because I've never seen parents with children as a threat. He ended up approaching me with his baby and asked me some questions about the birds and seemed friendly. I was expecting he just wanted to show his baby the wildlife and then he would move on and leave me be."
"We had some small talk and I would allow for long awkward silences, so he'd catch that I just wanted alone time. The fact that he had his baby in-between us made me feel strangely uncomfortable. He kept sitting really close to me (squatting in front of me) while his baby was trying to interact with me (she was adorable), but I sensed that he was trying to find a way to pick me up and using her as a tool to show me that he was a nice guy."
"I finally made it clear that I wasn't interested and pretended I had to make a call and talked to my 'friend' on the phone while saying things like 'Where are you? We have to meet up now.' I told him I had to leave and he asked me for my contact, so we could get to know each other more and meet up again. I felt so uncomfortable and told him I don't use social media. He persisted and I stupidly gave him a contact so that he would let me go. Finally I left, blocked him and felt really grimey for some reason."
"When I got home, I was suddenly very angry, because I felt that I'm not allowed to have my own space in public, or enjoy a sunny day to myself. I already had two other men this week approach me in the park and ruin my day by forcing me to go back home while I was alone in the park."
"By the evening, I had a full blown panic attack in my apartment, fuelled by rage and helplessness. I know it sounds dramatic as fuck, but it happened and I feel that I've been getting way more affected by these continuous experiences, and past experiences throughout my life. I don't know what to do."
In response to this Reddit user sharing her story, others came forward about how they've been approached, terrified and assaulted by men in public spaces.
"I was once on a fairly empty bus, with only four or five other people on it. A tall man got on and sat in the empty seat next to me. He sat with his legs wide open, his leg against mine, and I was basically pressed up against the window to get away from him. I couldn't get out of my seat even if I wanted to. He kept opening his legs wider. My heart started racing and blood was pounding in my ears. I lost my shit and loudly told him to please move as he was in my personal space."
"He looked at me like I was a fucking idiot and I repeated it again, this time almost yelling. Everyone was staring, but I didn't care. This guy was testing my boundaries and I guarantee he would have tried to touch me if I didn't say anything. Fuck men who think they can get away with this shit."
"I had a similar incident in the bus. I was in an area where the seats were facing each other and an old man decided to sit next to me. I didn't think much of it until he extended his arm around my chair. I froze in fear as I felt him touch my shoulders and almost pat my hair and I couldn't find the words to tell him to stop. Thankfully, I made eye contact with someone sitting in front of me and they had their eyes locked on me and the old man. The old man was in the same position until the passenger in front of us leaned forward and stared at the old man. The old man decided to leave after a couple of minutes of intense staring."
"I almost wanted to cry in relief and frustration since I was terrified in this almost-crowded bus. I just wish I found my voice or had an ounce of anger to tell the old man off. To the stranger that helped me, thank you."
"This happened to me in an empty train carriage. The man was visually impaired, which he used to get my friends to help assist him to the platform. My friend stupidly volunteered that I was travelling on the same line as him. He ended up blocking me in a train carriage and groping me. He tried to kiss me as we arrived at my stop and I volleyed and ran out onto the platform. I tried all the polite tricks we use to excuse ourselves, but he was so much larger than me and I remember not knowing how to get myself away with the realisation I was utterly alone on this early afternoon train."
"Even when women try to help men who are physically disabled, it does not guarantee our safety. There's no way to really describe that hot, sick feeling in your gut when you can just sense the ill intention."
"I was at a nightclub in Sydney and while there, a man saw me, came over and said hello. He asked me if we could 'team up' because he saw two women he wanted to talk to. I said okay. So, we got a drink each and off we went to find the women. We approached the two girls. He started trying to chat to them. I just smiled at them — I'd been happy on my own anyway and was just there to help him out. The girls glanced at him, looking bored, listened for a moment and then one of them said 'No thanks, we just want to be by ourselves.' Not rudely, just like that. The guy went berserk."
"'Who the fuck do you think you are? You think you're too good for me?' he started shouting. He then smashed his drink against the iron railing (we were on the second floor), splashing drink and ice all over them and then stuck the broken glass in his mouth, chewing on ice, drink and glass. Then, he lifted his face up, now slightly bloody, and started shouting at them again.
The girls were frozen in fear and shock, as was I. The bouncers threw the guy out. They left me alone; I'm a regular and have never been in trouble.
You may be thinking this story is bullshit. Even as I read it, I find it hard to believe it could happen, but it did. He went nuts, sheerly because they didn't want to talk to him. Like, he thought he had a RIGHT to their attention and they had NO RIGHT to say no to him. When women say some men don't handle rejection well, they aren't exaggerating. It can be DANGEROUS to reject some men."
"I was at Chapel Street, in Melbourne, at night, waiting for a male friend to meet up with me. An older guy approached me and started flirting with me and commenting on my looks. Soon after, another one of his friends swaggered over laughing and they both backed me up against a wall so I couldn't get away. The first guy commented on how he was going to 'Fuck me like an animal' etc. At one point, he asked for my name, so I gave my go-to fake name. His face immediately turned aggressive and he said, 'What did you say?' I repeated my 'name' and he was like 'You told me to fuck off!'
"He was getting SUPER pissed and scary and I was like 'No, no, I would never say that!' I remember a taxi driving past and urging me to get in because he could obviously see how uncomfortable I was. In the end, their car arrived and they left me when I promised I would meet them somewhere the next day (obviously no)."
The Reddit thread also prompted both men and women to have an important discussion around consent, respect and advice on what to do if uncomfortable and potentially harmful situations like this happen.
"As a bus driver in Melbourne, just make it known to us and come sit by us at the front. I know they are taped off, but just sit there anyway. I am a woman and honestly, if I saw any passenger get on and sit by a woman when the bus is near empty, I would be making conversation with you immediately to find out what's up. We are there to help you in situations where you don't feel comfortable. We have a button that makes the whole operations crew back at base be able to see what is going on and alert police should you need it."
"As a woman, aged 42, do not hesitate when your gut is saying get the fuck out of there. Get up and move, make a racket. If you don’t feel comfortable, come sit right near us — taped off or not. Just say hi and say you feel more comfy being there and I can tell you any decent driver will be fine with that."
"You don't owe these people anything. If they are putting you in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, then you have every right to tell them in a polite way to fuck right off. To clarify, I'm not completely against the idea of approaching strangers, however, I also feel that you have every right to tell somebody to fuck off if you don't want to deal with them."
"I'm a man. I was at the park with a male friend. A woman entered the park [...] with a dog she was obviously taking out for exercise. I was chatting to my friend, but noticed he was no longer facing me. He was facing the woman — and everywhere she moved in the park. 'Will you stop that?', I asked after about a minute of this. 'What?' he said, without looking at me. 'Stop staring at her!' 'I'm not staring at her.' 'You'll make her feel uncomfortable. You had a look, now leave her alone.' 'I'm not bugging her. You're imagining things.'
"At that moment, the woman, who had only just entered the park with her dog, turned around and left it again. I had a talk with him about this after she left. He's convinced he did nothing, I'm convinced he freaked her out."
"We [women] just wanna be ourselves in public and enjoy the little things that we should all enjoy and shouldn't have to adopt a resting bitch face just to enjoy public space. I like to tailor the response to how the person is approaching me. Be it persistence, pervy behavior (which I don't tolerate) or if the person just wants to have a chat. There's always gonna be pervs/intrusive personalities that can't take a hint. It's scary to tell someone bluntly 'I came here to enjoy the day by myself' because we don't know how they'll react. It's 100% fair enough to say 'Thanks for the chat, I'd appreciate some space' or 'I appreciate that chat, I'm here just to chill by myself though.'"
"Work your confidence up to say it if you're struggling on that front. Practice it on a friend, family member or such — the more you practice, the more confidence you'll build and establish. If they're really persistent and pervy, I'll say 'Leave me alone' or 'I'll call the police.' I'll call someone I know immediately, tell them where I am and what's happening. It's fucked we have to resort to things like this, but we have to keep ourselves safe."
"It's fine just to be straightforward, like 'Sorry, but I want some private space' and it's okay [to say this] to 'ordinary guys.'"
"We're all raised to be people pleasers and some people use that against pretty much anyone they can use it against. It's not good. Guys should really get it into their heads that most of the time a woman alone is gonna be scared of being harmed almost as a default — and no amount of being 'a nice guy' is going to make them feel safe."
"I'm a guy and I walk around a wildlife track near my house all the time. Most women don't look comfortable when we're passing each other, so I just give them a smile and nod at most and then look the other way. If I'm walking and find myself approaching behind a woman, I will take the nearest turn so that I'm no longer following her or find a good spot to stop for a rest and then turn back the other way. I'd never stop a random woman for a chat unless she wanted to chat to me first. That just seems obvious to me, and I wish I didn't have to do it all so consciously when I'm just trying to spot some wildlife, but I always will just in case."
"I do the same — allow plenty of space between myself and a woman walking in the opposite direction or cross the street if it's really quiet out. I'm a 6'3" dude and I get that I'm intimidating. If I find myself walking behind a woman (or women), I'll stop and look in a shop window or check my phone or something, until there's a decent gap between us. And fuck, if you do break all the rules and try to chat someone up in a park, read the fucking cues! It's really not that hard. Err on the side of caution, and understand that for a lot of women, this is unlikely to be a comfortable situation. Put yourself in their shoes. Understand that trauma exists. Really think about your actions and how they might be perceived."
"A big part of the problem is that people socialised as men tend not to understand the underlying power dynamics at play because they generally have no experience or concept of feeling threatened and endangered by someone hitting on them in the same way that people socialised as women tend to. So, they will do things that make women particularly uncomfortable and then blame her for not putting a stop to it — and ironically a lot of these same men will often also get angry and belligerent towards women who firmly rebuff their advances.
"Men need to understand what it's like to be constantly sexualised and objectified and harassed and to feel constantly afraid of being verbally or physically assaulted. Keep in mind that we live in a society where 97% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men, and one in six women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15. Men do not have a clue what it's like to walk in those shoes, and to put it frankly, they need to wake the fuck up and start treating women accordingly."
"I once had some guy friends jokingly catcall me from a car at night while I was riding my bike home during college. They couldn't understand why I was furious and yelling at them when I found out it was them. Guys don’t understand that being approached, 'hit on', cat-called, etc. when we're alone means that we're constantly having to do the math about how much of a threat they are, what our escape routes are, if anyone would hear us scream, if something we're carrying could be used as a weapon. Even if it's pleasant at all, usually it’s also scary."
"I'm 35 years old and still struggle to find a good way to deal with this nonsense. Like, it’s all well and good for people to tell you to just bluntly tell the guy you're not interested. But when you're alone and on the spot, it can be really difficult to do that sometimes — just due to the fact that from the time we were little girls, we have been so socialised to be polite etc. I have definitely had times where I have bluntly told a strange man I'm not interested in talking to him and he has responded super aggressively and that is a really scary situation."
"I try my best to avoid strangers talking to me in public by wearing earbuds (often without actually even listening to music on them), having a resting bitch face, pretending to be engrossed in my phone and pretending not to hear/notice when some random guy is trying to talk to me. It’s not foolproof unfortunately...and obviously it's how fucked up our world is that women have to do/worry about any of this bullshit."
And lastly, "I am a six foot tall, heavy built, intimidating-looking guy with a Middle Eastern appearance. I have had women approach me on public transport because they were followed by men in the train carriages. More than once, I had to confront idiots because of this. How sad is it that women have to trust total strangers for safety as a last resort because they have no other options? Men — this is our problem. We are not entitled to a woman’s body or time, neither their attention. If you see a woman alone in trains or parks, leave her alone. She is not there to deal with the fact that you are single or horny or in a sexless relationship because of your lack of social skills or failure to comprehend the fact that women are people like us and not objects that exist for your pleasure. Stop this shit."
"I am an introvert. I go to parks and gardens for peace and quiet, to read a book or to have some 'me time'. I wouldn’t like it if some weirdo approached me for whatever reason and disturbed my peace. Why do you think women would be okay with you approaching them? If you need a date, jump on the zillion dating apps that suits your needs. It's not hard to get a date in this day and age, unless you are a douchebag or a misogynist. Stop acting like cavemen. It's 2021. Bloody evolve already!"
Note: Some Reddit responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.