This past Saturday, I settled down in the cafe at the bookstore McNally Jackson, ready to spend a peaceful afternoon reading. But soon after I opened my book, I became distracted by an obnoxiously loud (and obnoxiously confident) male voice.
“So, where you from?” I heard the voice ask someone.
“Oh wow. Austria. I used to be fluent in German. Then I got out of practice.”
I looked up in time to see a pretty blonde girl, politely smiling at the talking guy, who was maybe in his late-30s and leaning all the way over from his table and practically on to hers.
The Austrian girl turned back to her reading, only to be interrupted again.
“So what are you doing in New York?” He asked her.
Again, she gave an inaudible response, and again, he (loudly) told her something about himself, before launching into a follow-up question.
I turned back to my reading, but couldn’t help but be distracted by the never-ending stream of chatter from this guy. “Thank god he’s not hitting on me!” I thought to myself. The dude would not stop with this girl. If he had been saying lewd things or outwardly harassing her, she could have easily left the cafe, or told him to F off, or just ignored him all together. But he wasn’t being especially rude or obnoxious — just doggedly persistent. It’s hard to know what to do.
At one point I looked up from my book and made eye contact with the Austrian girl. She held my gaze for a moment, and almost imperceptibly raised her eyebrows, as if to say, “Dear God, do you see this right now?” And I inhaled and raised my eyebrows back at her, to convey “Yes, I see this, and I pity you, you poor, poor thing.”
I thought about how if this girl was my friend and we were at a party, I would unhesitatingly walk over to her and save her, by pulling her away or engaging in the conversation myself. But I didn’t know this girl, I couldn’t be sure she would want me to do anything, and besides, what could I do? Weirdly walk over to them and say, “Pardon me, I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about Austria….”?
The thing is, if this girl had asked me to, if I somehow knew for sure that she desperately wanted to be rescued from this dude, I would have done something. I would have pretended to know her, or started talking to the guy so she could get away, or something. But I’d have to be sure.
Which leads me to my point: we need to develop some sort of internationally recognized signal that women can use whenever they’re being cornered or hit on against their will, something that sympathetic women everywhere will recognize. Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a concert or a park or a foreign country even, and know that if a guy gets too annoying, you can call on another woman for help?
The question is, of course, what could this symbol possibly be? It needs to be subtle, simple, easy to see and recognize from across a room, and, most importantly of all, it can’t be something that the guy interpret as flirting back. (For this reason, tossing your hair or winking are out of the question.)
Hold your left elbow with your right hand. Seems casual enough, like your arm could have just fallen there, but can also unmistakable for a woman looking looking for signs of distress.
Scratch your eyebrow, repeatedly. It’s not an especially embarrassing place to scratch, like your nose or your arm might be. Easy to do repeatedly, if the first time doesn’t work.
Tap your chin. Looks a little goofy. Do you care? If the guy is weirded out by it, maybe he’ll leave you alone.
Other suggestions? What’s the best way to get across “Help me out, sister!” without using your voice? Leave your thoughts in the comments!