Why am I always targeted by men? (2024)

I’m genuinely confused and curious as to why I seem to always be the target of creepy men and predators.

My friends actually say that I look intimidating and don’t always look approachable, so I can’t wrap my head around it. Just in the past six months, I’ve been stalked by a man I met online in my city and accosted on the streets in a “very safe” Asian city as a traveller.

The latter incident happened just this week as I was minding my own business, walking on a busy street of Taipei city. Guy comes up to me and says a bunch of disgusting things in my ear and grabs my shoulder. Ended up in a police station because I did not feel safe walking back to my hotel. En route to the police station I hid in a shop and the girl told me she’s never experienced anything like this, and speaking to friends who actually live in this city, “this is very unusual”, and “never happens”. The f*ck? Also, I know this will come up but I was not in a skimpy or outlandish outfit. I dress like the locals.

If I’m intimidating, what makes me a good and suitable target for these predators? What is the mechanism in their heads that makes me the prime target, because nobody else I know experiences crap like this on such a regularly basis, and I need to know so I can change that part of myself. I’m tired of not feeling safe wherever I go.

posted by antihistameme to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: Sorry, I forgot to add that the most recent creep followed me for a few streets and ran away after I went inside the police station. He didn’t just say sh*t in my ear he was actually scaring me by following me.
posted by antihistameme at 5:43 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

I’m not sure how you should approach the problem, but I thought you would like to know that I’ve met a few people like yourself over the years. They’re not doing anything different from anyone else, but apparently they have a big sign over their head calling all the creeps.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:50 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]

Anything that makes you look different seems to call them, unfortunately. :(

A friend of mine who was short and looked about 12 years old when she was a fully qualified barrister got targeted a lot because of her looks/height. In her case, wearing a full face of makeup and business suits helped somewhat, but not 100%.

I've also heard of people being targeted because of having brightly-coloured dyed hair; or walking with a walking stick.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 7:08 PM on June 30

How obviously aware are you of your surroundings, when you're out? I mean, are you looking in various directions on a routine basis, or are you more, um, "focused"? If someone exits a building up ahead of you, do you briefly swivel your head to notice them?

...I have noticed that people who read as "oblivious" (even if they're not) can tend to attract the wrong types of people.

This is merely an observation, not an implied criticism.
posted by aramaic at 7:29 PM on June 30 [4 favorites]

On the other hand, being more vigilant than other people means you're more likely to notice creeps and are less likely to assume good intentions from men being "overly friendly."

I've heard the "this never happens" line a thousand times. Well actually, it does happen. It happens all the time. It's not our fault other people are missing it.

You're a woman in her 20s living life in a (presumably) femme body. That's all it takes. That's all it takes to be targeted. I am confident you're doing nothing to make yourself a target. How do I know? Because I'm confident that I have done nothing to make myself a target.

(N.B. I have stumbled into a successful three prong method for reducing these unpleasant incidents, which are 1) go into public less, 2) age into my late 30s, 3) get fat. Note that this has still only reduced men being creeps at me, it hasn't eliminated it.)

Anyway, since you're not doing anything to cause this I will instead share my actual tip for feeling safer in these situations, and that is: yell at these men. Make a f*cking scene. Be messy about it. Make sure everyone in a 50' radius hears about it. This can be as simple as NO or as unladylike as GET THE f*ck AWAY FROM ME YOU f*ckING PERVERT or a more gently accusatory YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW ME. It's hard to change your behavior to react strongly like this but once I did it made me feel like I had so much more power.
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 PM on June 30 [49 favorites]

Sorry this is happening to you. I would say that this has been my experience my whole life as a woman wherever I go. So I don't think it is anything special or different you are doing, or anything you can do to get it to stop.

nobody else I know experiences crap like this on such a regularly basis

That is the more interesting thing, because I don't know any women who don't experience this.
posted by Toddles at 8:35 PM on June 30 [22 favorites]

I agree with everyone here. I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. I would be curious if you feel you are aware of your surroundings. I’m so vigilant that I often take evasive measures pretty early on. I don’t walk near people that look unstable. I cross the street, I avoid eye contact. And then if someone does assault you, do make a fuss and get to the safest place quickly. I’m sorry that all happened. I think it’s just bad luck.
posted by amanda at 10:24 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]

I feel like while some creepy dudes catcall women who seem very approachable, other creepy dudes view the non approachable ones as more catcall-able, either because they view the interaction as some kind of challenge, they want to tear a woman down, or they view themselves as unable to “successfully” catcall approachable women.

Also keep in mind that creepy dudes catcalling have a lot of time and opportunity to practice bring creepy, often with little consequence to them. I have found that the catcalling slows down as I get visibly older, although I know that doesn’t help you now.
posted by donut_princess at 3:46 AM on July 1 [5 favorites]

It's kinda the bad luck of the draw when it comes to male creeps. I think, while there is a difference between street harassment (including on transit or other publicly accessible locations) and predatory behavior/stalking from within social groups or acquaintances, creeps target people based on some bizarre internal matrix of their own.

Given that harassment is about power and not communication, some assholes want to go after women they think are weak (look nice), and others want to go after women they think need to be "taken down a peg" (look unapproachable).

In contrast, in my opinion, facial expressions/body language actually matter with general interactions with strangers of all genders; for example, in comparison to other women I know, I am hilariously and dramatically more likely to have strangers initiate random conversations with me.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:08 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]

Women are targets, period.

I'm one of these people too, if there's only one awful creeper in a room, he's gonna make a beeline for me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:09 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]

This happened to me a lot in college. I solved it by getting a spiked collar and wearing it wrapped around my left fist. And since I'm in America, I kept my dominant hand slightly inside my jacket so it looked like I was holding a gun or a knife (it was a flip up 2" ring knife). I wore padded knee high combat boots with a metal shin-cracker in the sole. I cultivated a fast walk, a mean face, and a habit of turning my head slightly to check behind me.

Men would cross to the other side of the street to avoid *me* at night.

It's not enough to not look like an easy target - - you want to look like you will not be afraid to spill some blood if you're bothered. I don't love this part of being a woman, as the angry 'don't mess with me' vibe I had to maintain often lingered even after I was somewhere safe, but it sure saved me from the fate of several of my friends who were mugged, beaten, and worse.
posted by ananci at 8:15 AM on July 1 [3 favorites]

Sooo.... I know I am about to say something potentially unpopular, but I hope that it affirms your point in a weird way.

I am your complete opposite. I am a woman in my 40s who has lived and travelled in many parts of the world, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in my life I've experienced street harassment. I have no idea why. I mean, other than the obvious. I'm white, able bodied, not very attractive but also not conventionally "ugly". But so are lots of women who apparently aren't able to move through the world with the same ease I do.

I have no problem walking myself home, I'm sensible but never particularly worried when I'm out. Sometimes I'm in the mood to greet people and smile as a pass them in the street, sometimes I want to keep to myself... I've not got any bother from men or women whether I choose to smile at them or not. (Well in Chicago anyway. People in England look at you weird if you try and smile at them in the street, lol. God forbid you say 'good morning'!.)

I understand the impulse to say harassment is a universal experience for women. Especially when it seems that would be a powerful way to draw attention to it as a problem But... I think if it's just taken as a blanket, universal experience, then it's difficult to really understand why it's happening, and therefore what can be done about it.

antihistameme, I don't know why you personally might be experiencing more harassment than other people. I have spent years trying to figure out why I don't. But I imagine it must be frustrating and confusing to not know, and to not be able to explain why it keeps happening or know what you can do to avoid it. I'm sorry, I wish I had better answers. But I believe you when you say you are experiencing something other people are not.
posted by EllaEm at 11:04 AM on July 1 [9 favorites]

I'm curious to hear more about the situation with the man you met online. That strikes me as a different situation than with the guy on the street. Perhaps you are missing some red flags early on, or trusting more quickly than others? Or possibly you are just out and about in the world more, and that means you are having more negative experiences along with positive experiences.

I will also add that I am in a woman in my early 50s, and I tend to think that I am lucky and have avoided a lot of these things in my life, and yet! Yet! When I reflect, I can come up with some pretty sh*tty interactions with men that I have had. So, is it possible that some of these things are happening to other people and they are in denial/forget/push it aside?

And yes, you are more conspicuous as a tourist, even if you are trying to blend in. There are always tells to locals (children of immigrants who grow up in the US, for example, can look different than locals in their parents' home country because of their stride, affect, etc).
posted by bluedaisy at 11:08 AM on July 1 [4 favorites]

Are you super pretty? I had a friend back in the day who was stunning, and I was surprised by the number of absolute creeps who pursued her in various inappropriate ways. I would think that some of the less desirable guys would have been intimidated knowing she was way out of their league but instead it seemed like they were emboldened to shoot their shot come what may.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:10 PM on July 1

Response by poster: Hello everyone, thank you for your thoughtful comments. If it helps, here’s what happened with the man I met online. We were meant to go on a date at a local restaurant, but at the eleventh hour he changed the meeting spot without asking me, which made me uncomfortable so I told him I wasn’t interested anymore. Blocked him, thought that was a done deal. Forgot about him.

The man then used his LinkedIn recruiter account to get my resume which had my phone number and address on it (stupid me! I removed the address section after this, be assured) and then called me for weeks on end to berate me via various phone numbers. I saw him around my neighbourhood but my dog can look scary so nothing happened, really, even though I did sleep with a knife in my nightstand and installed a camera in my bedroom.

You may not be surprised to find out the police wouldn’t do anything because nothing happened and “calling someone isn’t illegal”. He stopped calling eventually, but I see him on dating apps all the time, even though I have reported him to the apps’ official channels.

Lastly, I have really bad body dysmorphia, so I can’t say if I’m pretty. Maybe I am slightly above average? This is weird to say (or type) out loud as I feel like a blob most of the time.

Bluedaisy’s comment re. children of immigrants. I went into a tea shop to buy some Taiwanese oolong and they immediately asked if I was visiting from the US. Perhaps I do stick out more than I had hoped.
posted by antihistameme at 4:36 PM on July 1

Response by poster: Just adding some other random travel incidents so you know how bad it is: I’ve been recorded by a man on the street in Hong Kong, I’ve been followed by a man in Miami, and I was shoved so hard on the NYC subway that I got a bruise on my head from hitting the door.

Incidents from home: when I was 10 a stranger followed me home and exposed himself to me outside my house. At 13 I was groped by an older boy who went to my school as we rode the school bus.

I won’t go into the more grisly stuff that’s happened as I got older, but this is a pattern that is making me a very angry, bitter person (yes, therapist). To those that acknowledge my struggle, I sincerely thank you for seeing me.
posted by antihistameme at 4:45 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]

Super f*cked up about the LinkedIn stalk. My "it's not a big deal" college stalker gave me a styrofoam wig head with a dining hall butter knife stabbed in it! Neat!

Whether you're beautiful or hot or cute or not is really beside the point. Men who want to prey on women do not care. What am I supposed to do, leave my ass at home? We can only live our lives.

I just want to strongly and vehemently underscore that you are doing nothing wrong.
posted by phunniemee at 5:00 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]

It might be useful if we could figure out why creeps target a certain person or don't, for sure.

We're all guessing here, but I would tend to think that you reading as "not local" makes you stand out and certainly creeps do often target women tourists.

If asked, I wouldn't say I had a lot of harassment, but then: I did get groped by a classmate, followed more than once, and have been chatted up by weird dudes occasionally. Yelled at once or twice, though I often couldn't tell what they said. Very frequently had dudes look at my boobs and not my eyes. So maybe like a lot of women I've just blocked out what I have experienced. I may honestly have not noticed some dude being weird because I seldom look strange guys in the face on the street. Maybe the women you've talked to are doing the same. I wouldn't be surprised about that.
posted by emjaybee at 10:09 PM on July 1

As others have said, you shouldn't have to worry about this and nothing you're doing is wrong or bad or deserving of unwanted attention (or worse).

However, since you are curious about factors that might make you a more likely target than others, you may be interested in knowing about research on "gait cues" that certain offenders apparently use to help select their victims.

This in no way suggests that anyone should have to change how they walk. I don't even know if it's possible to do so. Frankly, I find the whole idea so upsetting and so close to victim blaming that I haven't looked into it deeply or tried to find out if my gait might make me more vulnerable.

Nonverbal cues to victimization

In assessing specific nonverbal cues, movement or gait has been identified as an important indicator of vulnerability to victimization (Grayson & Stein, 1981; Gunns et al., 2002; Murzynski & Degelman, 1996). Grayson and Stein (1981) asked offenders imprisoned for assaults perpetrated against strangers to view a series of video clips of people walking and to determine the degree of vulnerability to an assault. Offenders were consistent in identifying those they perceived as easy targets, and those that they would avoid assaulting. Differences in gait were noted between these two groups, where potential victims differed in terms of stride length (short or long vs. medium), weight shift (up and down vs. lateral), movement (laterally vs. contralaterally), and feet placement (lifted feet vs. swung feet) resulting in a non-synchronous gait. These gait cues have been further validated in both university students and police officers (Murzynski & Degelman, 1996).

Mary B. Ritchie, Julie Blais, Adelle E. Forth (2019). “Evil” intentions: Examining the relationship between the Dark Tetrad and victim selection based on nonverbal gait cues. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 138, 2019, Pages 126-132, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.09.013.
(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886918304896)
posted by Frenchy67 at 9:34 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]

This never happens to me, except when I'm traveling. I think, first, I give out more open/approachable vibes when I'm looking around, smiling, relaxed. I'm open to talking with strangers and that comes across in making strangers more likely to talk to me! My gait cues, to that point, are almost certainly different too - walking with focus and intention is a very different vibe than wandering or being lost.

There are also different responses - if some rando starts yelling crazy sh*t at me in my home city I have very "ugh whatever" brush-it-off habits and body language (mentally dismissing this person as being on drugs or having a mental illness...), and in a foreign space it's much more likely to visibly rattle me which is a form of reward for the person doing it.
posted by Lady Li at 11:00 AM on July 2

nobody else I know experiences crap like this on such a regularly basis, and I need to know so I can change that part of myself

Perhaps most of the other women you know don't go out much on their own? If you are talking to women who are often out and about when they aren't alone, their experience won't really have a lot in common with yours, also if you are walking or talking public transit that's going to be different than someone who drives.

Definitely many women don't travel to other countries by themselves. I think it's great that you have done this, I don't think one should put off traveling just because you might do things by yourself! Live your life, have adventures!

I hope you don't feel that you need to change yourself by not traveling to interesting places on your own. But it does seem like you want to change yourself, you have the power to do that and it's your choice -- lots of women live lives where they choose not to travel by themselves, and still feel they are living a good life, that choice is available if it's one you want to make.

Online dating, or offline dating, yes you will meet some creepy stalker types. If you are asking people who have a partner and aren't out there trying to date, no they aren't going to have that type of issue. Likewise they probably have issues in their own life you don't have. Different people, different lives, different problems. Or maybe your friends have a lot in common with you but have had the rare experience of not having things like this happen, statistically that's possible.

Don't beat yourself up that you are doing something that's causing you to have these common experiences.
posted by yohko at 4:35 PM on July 5

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