"Not Interested!" - Your one-stop, all purpose, predetermined, first response to street harassment

The majority of street harassment that is either visual or verbal and comes from men whose intentions range from seeking your attention, provoking a reaction from you, involving you in a visual fantasy, intimidating you, to testing your suitability for predatory behavior.

The problem with this type of harassment is that it makes you feel powerless and not in control of the situation. The problem with a knee jerk angry reaction such as “Fuck you, asshole”, is that it has the potential to escalate the harassment further. It also requires you to be angry in order to say it. In addition, “Fuck you asshole”, would seem out of place in response to the commonly used comment of “Hey, smile baby!” and is not appropriate around children.

Therefore, what you need is simple phrase that works for almost every situation. You need a response that puts you in control and in the position of power. It must be predetermined response that you can say quickly without having to formulate a sentence. A response that lets the harasser and any bystanders know that you are:

Not interested in talking to him.
Not interested in what he thinks.
Not interested in what he does.
Not interested in how he feels.
Not interested in seeing his actions.
Not interested in what he has to say.
Not interested in being victimized by him.

Not interested in explaining why you are not interested.

Not interested in becoming upset by him.

Not interested in feeling violated by him.

The response of “Not interested” is natural to say because it is most likely how you feel. Therefore, you are assertively communicating your feelings. “Not interested” is an unambiguous rejection of whatever the harasser has to offer or communicate. Therefore, you reject his "compliment" in the same manner that you reject his insult. You reject the harasser and his ability to have power and control over you. You let him and everyone else in the immediate vincinity know it.

Your statement of “Not interested” informs potentially helpful bystanders of the true nature of the situation and creates an opening for their intervention. Your statement allows you to refute the harasser and continue moving away from him. There is no need to stop and confront unless you choose to. You can simply look at the harasser coldly, say "Not interested" and continue on your way. "Not interested" is the first step of physical assertiveness.

Let’s see how “Not Interested” stacks up to commonly used harassing phrases and situations:

“Hey mama!” - “Not interested.”
“Do you need a ride?” – “Not interested.”
“Why don’t you smile baby?” – “Not interested.”
“I like the way you walk.” – “Not interested.”
“I’d like to hit that!” – “Not interested!”

For added dramatic effect, you can add a dismissive wave of your hand.

Kissing noises, hooting, hissing – “Not interested.” (dismissive wave)
A car honking next to you as you walk – "Not interested.” (dismissive wave)

Feeling witty? You can add a second sentence.

Going my way?” – “Not interested. You’re not going anywhere.”
Can I be your boyfriend?” – "Not interested. Not in this lifetime anyway."
“I just want to say hi.” – “Not interested. I just want to say - bye.”
“Why don’t you smile, beautiful?” – “Not interested. It's because of people like you.”

Masturbating in public. - "Not interested. But the police will be." (as you take his picture)

“Hey honey, come suck my dick!”

Feeling angry and aggressive and want to throw caution to the wind? You could always add an insult qualifier such as:

Not interested. You piece of shit.”
Not interested. Dickhead.”
Not interested. You low life creepy fool.”
Not interested. Go fuck off!”

(NOTE: Using an insult is NOT the suggested response. These are examples that demonstrate the flexiblity of the "Not interested" response. Safety must always be your first priority.)

“Not interested” can always be followed by a verbal warning such as “Back off!"

Come here and let me touch your sweet ass!” – “Not interested. NOW BACK OFF!!”
Ah, come on over here, baby.” - "Not interested. I SAID I WAS NOT INTERESTED!!”

Find yourself in a work related or social situation and don’t want to come off too strong?

“Boy, you are beautiful.” – Not interested. Let’s focus on the getting the job done.”
“Wow! You look fine.” – “Not interested. I don’t need compliments."

"Not interested" also works for non-street harassment situations.

Annoying phone calls. – “Not interested.”
Aggressive sales people. – “Not interested.”
Pesky men at a bar. - “Not interested.”
Unwanted invitations – “Not interested.”

Not interested” is your one stop, all purpose, predetermined, first response to street harassment. It puts you in control. Because it takes no conscious thought to say, you can say it quickly and while under stress. With a little practice, “Not interested” will become your automatic assertive response to most forms of street harassment.

Try it today and then pass it on!

Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.

Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.

Why street harassment is so harmful to your well-being.

Street harassment encompasses a wide variety of inappropriate behaviors. Therefore, for the sake of discussion, I will focus on a single commonly used phrase “Hey why don’t you smile, beautiful?”

This innocent sounding statement is packed with negative implications:

1. Your are not happy.
2. You need to smile to show you that you are happy.
3. You are subject to the appraisal of strangers based on your appearance.
4. You are subject to comments from strangers about your appearance.
5. You are being told what you should do (smile) by strangers.
6. Strangers can impose themselves and try talk to you any time they choose.

This statement puts you into a box. If you smile to show you are happy, then you are “obeying” a command of a stranger. If you don’t smile, then you are an “unfriendly” or “unhappy” person. If you make a comment such as “stop harassing me”, your mood reflects your verbal irritation and you feel “bitchy”.

If you express anger in the form of retaliating with name calling such as “Shut up asshole!” you risk escalating the situation. In addition, in most situations anger is not a desirable emotion and involves losing control. Therefore, it tends to be suppressed. Anger also requires that you confront the person. Confrontation requires more intimate contact with the person. The reality is that you want less contact with the person.

As a result of all these negative connotations, the easiest course of action is to ignore the comment as “if you didn’t hear it”. In this case, you are pretending the incident “didn’t happen”. While this form of denial works occasionally, it fails when you repeatedly encounter the same situation.

You are now in a situation where you are unhappily aware of the problem, but you have no effective solution. This situation leads to unwanted stress, anger, feelings of powerlessness, apathy and more, or attempts to deepen your efforts to ignore the comments. You look down when approaching men, you wear head phones with music playing, and you become conditioned to be non-responsive to when you encounter unwanted situations.

Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.

Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.

Why it is usually so hard to respond to street harassment. Why “Not interested.” makes it easy.

The nature of verbal and visual street harassment makes it difficult to respond effectively. When the harassment comes in the form of a single unexpected comment or behavior, it most likely catches you by surprise. Therefore, you must mentally make the switch from whatever your were doing to determining what exactly is going on, and then formulating an effective response.

This process is known as acknowledging and assessing. Unfortunately, this process takes your conscious mind a few seconds to accomplish. As a result, in many instances, it is too late to respond effectively. Therefore, you end up ignoring the harassment.

When you are able to foresee that some type of harassment is most likely forthcoming, you most likely attempt to deter the onset of the harassment by making a conscious effort to ignore the harasser. This effort combined with your uncertainty and apprehension about what might happen makes it difficult for you to think clearly and formulate an effective response. As a result, despite the extra time, you are still effectively “caught by surprise”.

The solution to both these instances is to have an automatic predetermined response that requires no conscious thought. One that eliminates the relatively slow mental process of acknowledging and assessing. In order for such a response to be used with confidence, the response must work for most types of visual and verbal harassment. In addition, the response must have minimal negative side effects associated with it. Having minimal negative side effects is critical, because that fact insures that you can safely use the response at the spur of the moment.

“Not interested!” is that response. It allows you to instantly respond and continue on your path away from the harasser. In the unlikely event, that the harasser was not directing his behavior at you, it doesn’t matter. No harm done. Continue on your way. If it was directly at you, then you have just let your harasser know that you are uninterested and unaffected by his behavior.

Unlike an angry retort, you have not provided the harasser a reason to escalate his harassment. If he chooses to continue, then he most likely would have done so anyway regardless of your response.

Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.

Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.

Understanding the Communication Continuum: Visual, Verbal, and Physical Communication

Face to face interpersonal communication can be roughly divided into three methods. These methods are visual, verbal, and physical. These methods also escalate in intensity with visual being the most indirect and physical being the most direct method.

Visual communication can be thought of as body language. Body language is a highly effective means of communicating to a large number of people with minimal effort. Many city dwellers use body language effectively as they move through crowded city spaces. Visual communication is also the most ambigious method. It is easy to ignore or mistake body language. Conversely, it is easy to pretend that your language was “unintentional”. You were not really ignoring someone, you just didn’t see him or her.

Verbal communication requires more directness. You are directly interacting with one or more people. Verbal communication takes more effort, but it is much clearer. When combined with body language, verbal communication is a highly effective method to get your point across.

Physical communication involves direct physical contact with the other person. It is usually one on one. Violence is an extreme example of physical communication. While it is possible to ignore visual and verbal communication, it is almost impossible to ignore physical communication.

As a woman moves through a city known for street harassment, she is most likely using body language as a method to communicate her unwillingness to interact with strangers. The majority of men will recognize her body language and leave her alone. But street harassers by definition are not following acceptable social rules of communication. Therefore, they choose to ignore her indirect visual communication and choose to break in with direct verbal communication.

In this instance, the woman’s indirect method has failed. Therefore, she must escalate her communication method to verbal in order to get her original point across. The easiest transition is to simply verbally state the exact same message that her body language has already been indicating. The verbal message is “Not interested!”. This statement is short for “I am not interested in interacting with you in any way, shape or form”.

It is emotionally easier to make the escalating transition to a verbal “Not interested!” than it is to make a more confrontational statement such as “Stop harassing me!”. The second statement is a switch in message. The message now becomes one of “You are bothering me. And I want you to stop bothering me!”. In order to make the delivery of her second message effective, the woman would have to stop and directly face her harasser. This action would require her to emotionally want her to interact with the harasser, when in fact, she most likely does not want to interact with her harasser.

Only in the instance where the harasser’s behavior has made her angry would she want to directly interact with the harasser. In all other circumstances, the harasser’s repulsive behavior would make her even less interested in interacting. Thus, the natural escalation of the message is the verbal statement “Not interested!”. The next step would be to use physical communication in the form of pushing the harasser away in the event he invaded her personal space.

Therefore, the “Not interested!” communication continuum is body language to verbal statement to physical push-away. These are escalating responses designed to de-escalate harassment as it occurs.

Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.

Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.

When "Not interested!" is not enough.

There is no such thing as the perfect response to street harassment. The reason for this statement stems from the wide variety of behaviors exhibited by street harassers combined with the different circumstances of each incident of harassment all compounded by the different feelings and attitudes of the targets of harassment.

The suggested response of “Not interested!” is nothing other than a tool to facilitate assertive communication. And just like every tool, it is not suitable for every situation, but it is suitable for most situations of harassment. “Not interested!” is like a hammer. You can swing it lightly and make it a tap hammer, or you can swing it with all your might and make it a sledge hammer. Therefore, it provides a great deal of versatility.

A loud and powerful “Not interested!” serves the same function as “Back Off!” Remember, it is not what you say, it is how you say it that conveys the message. But sometimes a hammer will just not do. The nail is bent and you need a pair pliers to pull it out.

“Not interested!” works so well because the majority of the time your emotional state is one of repulsion from fear and apprehension. But there are instances where you are in fact “Interested!” You are interested in conveying your outrage at what has happened. You are interested in stopping the behavior. You are interested in seeing that the harasser is punished. This emotional state is not reflected by the “Not interested!” statement.

One immediate situation that comes to mind is public masturbation. If you have learned verbal assertiveness, you might want to use a strong behavior commands such as “Stop that now!” Use the same voice you use when your dog does something disgusting in front of your family or friends. You could also choose a more indirect approach and take a picture as advocated by Hollaback. You could do both. In either case, you have taken a personal interest in dealing with the behavior.

Unwanted touching and groping is another situation where “Not interested!” may not be enough for you. Again, the same tools are available as previously mentioned to deal with this type of behavior.

If the situation becomes more threatening and potentially violent, it is no longer street harassment. It is assault. This higher level of physical danger requires you to be “interested!” You must be so interested in stopping the aggressor that you are able to cause him to disengage and cease his aggression.

Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.

Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.