Remember being taught how to walk down the street? No? Then you’re probably a man.
For young women, the lessons come thick and fast:
- Let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you
- Always walk briskly and with purpose
- Try not to look lost, even if you are
- Stick to busy, well-lit areas
- Avoid doorways / stairwells / corners / alleys
- Don’t listen to music or stare at your phone
- Remain aware of your surroundings
- Keep your hands out of your pockets
- Be prepared to defend yourself with a key
- Cross the street, duck into a shop, or scream “Fire!” if you feel threatened
Seems a bit much, doesn’t it?
Let’s assume that most men want to be allies to women—my five sons included. What does that look like in modern times, where gender roles are murkier than ever?
In a word: manners.
At the heart of it, etiquette is simply about making someone else feel good. And you know what “feels good” to a woman walking somewhere? Know what feels better than anything else? Safety.
As a man, you can either instill a sense of security in the women around you or intimidate them. And believe it or not, you can do this just by the way you share a sidewalk.
Consider the following:
But only if you’re willing to greet everyone you see with a friendly, open face—not just the people you find attractive. The difference comes down to whether you’re giving away something for free or actively seeking something in return.
If you do choose to smile at someone and don’t get a smile back, check your ego and move on. Maybe that woman you’re fancying just lost her job. Maybe she’s rehearsing a speech. Maybe she’s just letting her face relax and can’t be bothered twitching any extra muscles.
Don’t call anyone any names except their own, and only then if you actually know them.
“Hey, beautiful/sexy/gorgeous!” is advertising copy—not the salutation you give a perfect stranger.
And I’ll take it as read that any guy with good intentions can understand why it’s never appropriate to comment on a passerby’s body parts, even in approval.
This is where you get to pretend you’re a DJ. Play the same track over and over, and everyone leaves the dance floor. Mix things up, and you have a party!
Acknowledge a woman’s presence with a glance if you’re so inclined but recognize there’s an entire world out there. Look at a bird! Look at a plane!
Keep those eyes moving.
You may have been taught to keep your hands to yourself, but the woman you’re passing doesn’t know that.
I had a stranger reach up the back of my dress in broad daylight. Every one of my friends has been “inappropriately touched” at least once. I don’t know a woman who hasn’t.
I also don’t know a woman who hasn’t seen a man grab or expose himself in public.
Fashion blesses men with pockets. Why not see what’s inside them?
If you can’t walk past a woman without offloading DNA, even inadvertently, then your default move should be to cross to the other side of the street.
If the sidewalk is big enough for both of you, then it’s all about positioning. Women don’t appreciate being edged into a brick wall or ushered past shadowed doorways. Take the inside yourself and leave female pedestrians with a clear exit strategy.
If you’re walking with companions towards a solitary woman, drop to single file or step aside together. Don’t do that parting-of-the-seas thing, forcing her to walk between you.
You could well just be talking about electronics and off to grab some burgers, but it’s impossible for the woman to guess your motives as you surround her.
If you’re coming up behind a woman, do something to announce your presence. Cough. Whistle. Hum a merry tune.
If you want to pass her, say something like, “Excuse me, I’m in a rush”—and then rush. It’s OK if you’re only going to the post office. The key is not to hover.
If you have no intention of passing her, then drop back a bit.
When in doubt, see default: cross.
I know, I know. That I’m even making these suggestions seems a bit over the top. But picture yourself walking down a dark alley alone “on the wrong side of town” at three o’clock in the morning. Now imagine being that alert all the time, never knowing if the next guy who walks by is going to do something undesirable to you.
I’ll say it again: every woman I know has been indecently assaulted at least once. Often in a highly public place.
Practice etiquette, pay attention to body language, and help the women around you feel more at ease in shared spaces—including sidewalks.