Street harassment, often referred to by the less threatening term "catcalling," is sometimes dismissed as harmless flattery. But one viral story is now showing just how scary it can be for the person experiencing it — and how quickly it can escalate to something more sinister.
Redditor Jesus-slaves shared her experience on TwoXChromosomes, a subreddit for women:
"Yesterday after work, I stopped to buy laundry detergent and a couple grocery items," she wrote, "I barely registered my surroundings as I was in thought and a little tired. I half-heard someone say, 'Smile.' but it didn't compute he was speaking to me."
That's when things turned scary.
Then I heard, "I know that bitch didn't just ignore me." Hearing someone curse in the Wal-Mart line gets my attention 100% of the time. I love shit shows. I looked up. This man is looking me dead in the face.
"Smile," he said.
Normally, if someone says this politely (men and women commonly do this here to both sexes), I oblige and tell them I'm in deep thought. It's quick and it gets them to leave me alone. Everyone gets what they want. It only puts me out a couple cheek muscle movements that I do all day anyhow for work.
But if they're rude, I have a default response. "You smile," I replied.
"You're the one walking up with that look on your face. Smile."
"You first," I said. He started shaking his head and telling the cashier how rude I am. He goes outside and I do my polite exchange with the cashier. I apologize, smile at him, and say I don't like when people act that way toward me. Cashier says the guy was a dick.
I'm on my way out to the car with my two bags and I see the guy from the line walking toward me. He's walking with attitude. I'm like, OK, WTF there buddy?? He's seriously crossing the parking lot in a straight line for me with this look on his face like we're gonna have a come-to-Jesus or something.
Jesus-slaves goes on to explain that she (legally) carries a firearm and, feeling unsafe, took it out of her purse and put it in her back pocket.
"I've never done this before yesterday," she wrote.
"He spun on his heel and walked back to his car. I don't know what I avoided, but I'm glad I did."
This story only serves to reinforce the implicit threat behind a catcall, even one as seemingly innocuous as "smile."
Author Kate Harding perfectly summed it up in a viral tweet back in May: "Why don't we think harassment is a compliment? Because we know "fucking bitch" is on the tip of your tongue."
And because behind every "smile" could be lurking an implied "or else."