With her permission, here is a reader’s email I recently received. While I don’t usually post things that aren’t specifically Korea-related, I thought I’d make an exception this time!
Dear Mr. Turnbull,
I thought you might be interested in this video since your blog is about gender studies (Apologies for the long e-mail, but I want to explain myself thoroughly).
I was just curious about your and others’ thoughts on it. I remember watching the Korean street harassment video with the bikkis (nightclub workers?) and thought this was an interesting contrast. It’s not often that you can see a compilation quite like this.
One of my subscriptions posted a video called “Cute lines for Cute Girls” with the description “Everyone dreams of using corny but sweet pickup lines on random unsuspecting women. My friend and I show you the reactions we got :)” (My emphasis added)
I watched it and instead of making me smile, it just made me cringe. The video consists of him and his friend approaching random women in the street and in buildings with corny pickup lines. What made me uneasy is that I couldn’t help but see that some of the women did not seem to enjoy it. Sure, the background music makes it seem light-hearted and fun, but mute it and look at their body language. Some did have fun with it and laughed, but to me most 1) couldn’t walk away fast enough, 2) gave an uncomfortable laugh and smile (that “what the hell just happened” smile).
I think most people can see that whistling and making lewd comments are wrong. What complicates things and divides opinions is that these are “nice guys.” They are not your typical catcallers lurking in a doorway, but “regular, non-threatening” guys on the street. But does this make it ok? I would say not.
Perhaps I was wrong about the video, but his replies really disturbed me. Even if you do not agree with me about the video, the conversation we had was really telling about attitudes about street harassment today.
I don’t know if he’ll remove my comments or not, so I’ll paste the conversation here (my emphases throughout):
Me: I don’t know about this. I mean, you’re going after women you have no interest in other than to make a video so people can laugh at them. Most of them just laugh uncomfortably and walk away. This is like one step above cat-calling.
Him: Hey waterlily6782001, this is an exercise in overcoming false constraints that many individuals place on themselves. Also, many of these girls played along when they heard these lines because they were cool and fun girls who knew how to banter back. If anything, this is a great profile on the decent quality of women at University of Pennsylvania.
(Almost feels like he’s saying I’m not cool or fun or of decent quality because I do not like his “exercise”)
Me: Yes, I understand and I do like your other videos, but this one… From your videos, I don’t think you’re a mean person and I don’t think you ever intend to hurt anyone, so I wasn’t too upset. Yes, some of them bantered back, but can’t you see that some were also clearly uncomfortable? It’s just that when you have to deal with totally insincere guys chatting you up all the time as a dare or just to get a reaction, it goes from flattering to tiring.
Him: They could’ve been having a bad day; school could’ve been stressing them out. Even if our lines caused the discomfort, my friend and I were simply giving them compliments. If they can’t take a compliment, then their frame of mind needs work. For example, I love your constructive criticism. But I could easily have said, “This person is a hater. I should delete the comment.” But if I did that, we wouldn’t be having a great discussion. Frame life positively. You’ll be much happier =)
Me: Please read this, it explains it better than I ever could ^_^
I think what we have here is just that you, as a man, will never experience life as a woman. So it’s difficult to grasp that what you see as “compliments” can mean different things to different women. There’s just no way for me to make you fully understand, but I appreciate your replies and wish you the best. ^_^ (end)
He implies that I’m 1) a hater 2) pessimistic and 3) unhappy because I do not like his video. I’ve read hater comments before and I thought my commentary was pretty tame. I’m also pretty sure haters don’t promote your videos on their blogs as I’ve done with his in the past (He did a student documentary on Asian male and white female relationships).
It was clear that I couldn’t make him understand, and he implies that he made no one uncomfortable (“Even if our lines caused the discomfort”). But you can’t tell me that the girl at 0:53 is not uncomfortable while she’s speeding past, head down, eyes averted, walking around him, and not even stopping. The girl at 2:10 is also clearly not amused even though you can’t see her face. Listen to her voice! I also wonder if the girl at 2:30 was really having fun having a guy 1) corner her at work and 2) continue to talk to her even after she emphasizes TWICE that she has a boyfriend.
This in particular really disturbed me: Even if our lines caused the discomfort, my friend and I were simply giving them compliments. If they can’t take a compliment, then their frame of mind needs work.
…which is probably the #1 argument guys have for when girls don’t like their advances. It’s a COMPLIMENT and if you’re uncomfortable YOU need to change. So if I don’t like a guy following me along the sidewalk giving me an insincere “compliment” I need to change my attitude.
Do I hate compliments? No. I appreciate heart-felt compliments.
Do I hate jokes? No. I make them all the time.
Do I hate corny pick-up lines? No. In fact, they can be cute and are good ice-breakers.
What I do hate is a stranger who has absolutely no genuine or honest interest in me, and:
- 1) cutting in front of me
- 2) following me
- 3) giving me a completely fake compliment just to see my reaction,
- 4) walking away,
- 5) laughing
- 6) recording the whole thing, and
- 7) posting it on the internet.
So what do you think? Do these guys get a free pass because they aren’t dirty old men hanging on the street corner?
Thanks for reading this long e-mail and have a good day!
James: What do readers think? I’m in complete agreement myself!
Update 1, Feb. 3: Just for everyone’s interest, here’s something I stumbled across in a review of a book on the history of online dating:
Of course, single people have always had means to boost their odds. You can move to a city, where the population of as-yet-unclaimed hearts will be larger. You can lower your standards to broaden the radius of your dating pool. You can also just toss out game 24-7 with utter indiscretion. One acquaintance likes to tell random women on the street that he thinks they’re beautiful. “Like 1 in 5 will slow their roll a little and give me a smile,” he says. “And like 1 in 5 of those stop and talk to me and let me hand them my business card. And like 1 in 5 of those actually call me.” I would assume that at least 2 in 5 women he approaches think him a frightening skeezball. And I think, for better or worse, he’s OK with that ratio.
Update 2, Feb. 5: See some related reading in “Korean Girls Be Scared of Me (And Every Other Dude)” at Gyopo Keith.
Update 3, Feb. 7: And some more in “How to Talk to a Woman Without Being a Creep” at Jezebel.
Update 4, Feb 14: Jerry Liu, the maker of the video, has asked me to ask what readers’ reactions to this one by “Simple Pickup” are.
- Korean Poster: ETIQUETTE FOR MEN AT NIGHT
- Quick Hit: Living as a female smoker in Korea
- Victim Blaming: Why “she should have just moved” isn’t a solution to harassment on public transport
- Groping in Korea: Just How Bad Is It?
- Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”
- Sexual Assault on Subway Caught on Camera
- Seniors Routinely Sexually Harass Juniors during “Membership Training”?
- Slutwalk Korea (잡년행진): 2011; Follow-up Report; 2012