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I’m not trying to be mean, I’m trying to be safe

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northeastern chapter.

The Balance Between Being Nice on the Street + Being Cautious as a Young Woman

The other day I was walking down the street around 5 p.m. with my airpods in, listening to an audiobook with a bag thrown over my shoulder on the way to the grocery store. It was sunny with many people out soaking in the warmth of early springtime in Boston. As I walked, with a chapter from the “Percy Jackson” series playing in the background, I saw another girl walking in the other direction on the same sidewalk. She emulated confidence with heeled boots, an ankle length trench coat that just screamed *I have my life together* and sunglasses, which definitely added to her mysterious aura. 

As she strutted over the cracked pavement, however, I noticed a man behind her. Now, his outfit wasn’t as striking as hers, so forgive me for my lack of detail. But he was wearing blue jeans and a dark shirt. He walked behind her, trying to get her attention. She however, had no time or focus to spare and kept walking, passing me in the opposite direction. 

After his attempt with her didn’t work, he turned to me. And that’s when my brain short circuited. Because when someone approaches you on the street when you’re by yourself, despite the beautiful, sunny day and the other people populating the area, it can be scary, especially as a young woman. And the other girl didn’t stop and talk … should I? 

Did I miss an interaction where he made her feel uncomfortable? Did he stop her and then try to come on to her? 

I mumbled a “sorry,” averting my eyes and quickening my pace to walk around the man. I didn’t make eye contact for more than a second, and I didn’t wait for him to get beyond a hasty, “excuse me,” though it all happened quite fast. I went on my way, turning down the audiobook still playing to listen more closely to my surroundings and did a peripheral scan around me and my route ahead. 

Did the man have good intentions? Maybe. Was he just asking a simple question about directions? Possibly. But I’ll never know. 

What I do know is that 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces, a trend commonly known as street harassment. 57% includes unwanted staring or leering, 52% includes sexually suggestive comments, 49% includes whistling or lip-smacking … the list goes on. 

Sometimes it’s subtle. Other times, however, it’s clear and alarming. You don’t know when verbal harassment will turn into action. You don’t know when you’ll be approached or followed or touched. Once you give them that first sliver of attention, even just a quick glance to assess the situation, it can escalate that much further because they know they’ve got your attention. 

It’s devaluing as a young woman to be looked at like a piece of meat to be inspected and prodded and sampled. No longer are you a full being with a name, personality or character. It debases us of our bodies, our sexual orientations, our cultures and our beliefs. And it causes a distrust of any stranger, well-meaning or not, that grows as the years pass by and we are exposed to more and more violence, specifically against young women just like us. 

85% of women in the United States experience street harassment before the age of 17. We’re taught from childhood to walk in groups of three or more, to be home before dark, to avoid certain neighborhoods or deserted streets, all to maintain a semblance of safety. But that can change in an instant when we make the wrong, split-second decision to be nice for once, and stop and talk to the man who says he just needs help finding directions to the nearest convenience store. 

Emily Niedermeyer

Northeastern '25

Emily is the Senior Editor at Her Campus Northeastern. In the role she is responsible for second round edits of all articles, sets expectations for editors regarding responsibilities and is the point of contact for editorial troubleshooting. She also hosts occasional pitch sessions with members during general meetings and writing workshops. Emily joined Her Campus in Sept. 2022 and enjoys writing personal essays and articles about media and culture. She was an Associate Editor from Jan. 2023 to Dec. 2023 and took up her most recent role in Jan. 2024. Emily is a third year journalism major at Northeastern University with a minor in political science. She has experience writing for a number of publications. She also recently completed a six month, full-time internship at Boston City Hall within the Community Engagement Cabinet. Emily enjoys reading and journaling in her free time. She has also played ultimate frisbee on the club team at school for two years. Connect with Emily on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/emily-niedermeyer