What I Learned From ‘A Letter To The Guy Who Harassed Me Outside The Bar’

After reading Emily Heist Moss’ viral piece about street harassment, Liam Killeen shared it with his group of guy friends in hopes of changing their behavior.

Last month, an article written by Emily Heist Moss titled “A Letter To The Guy Who Harassed Me Outside The Bar” made its way to my inbox. It was sent to me by a young woman I recently met at a bar, on a night when my friends were harassing hers.

It was early December, and I was at a Toronto bar with a group of six guys I’ve known since I was a teenager. Among us, there are guys who have started their own tech companies, a professional hockey player, a financial advisor, and a politician. We are grown-ups, we are established, and for the most part, we make good decisions. But when we’re together outside of the office, we can get carried away, and it feels like we’re in high school again.

On this particular evening, I was waiting at the bar to order a drink, and was accidentally elbowed by a woman in her mid-20s. She turned to apologize to me, and seeing as it appeared we were going to be waiting for a while to get the bartender’s attention, we started chatting. We went through all of the superficial bar talk: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” I learned that she was there with a group of eight women, attending a going away party for a friend who was moving out of town. Eventually, we got our drinks and headed back to our respective groups.

By the time last call rolled around hours later, my friends and I were drunk. We got ready to leave, paid our tab, grabbed our jackets, and made our way toward the exit. At this point, most of the people from inside the bar were now waiting on the sidewalk, trying to hail cabs. We were trying to figure out our next move when a group of women came outside to do the same. This is when the catcalling began. My friends thought these women were attractive, and chose to verbalize it.

I can proudly say that I’ve never taken part in this behavior. Yet I’ve witnessed it a million times, and have never once intervened. I’ve thought to myself: “It’s harmless, right?” and “There’s nothing wrong with just being a spectator.” I know now that I was wrong on both counts. My friends may not have been vulgar like many of the men Emily described, but they were certainly persistent. The young woman I’d met earlier in the evening was part of this group. While two of her friends seemed to be enjoying the attention, the rest were looking increasingly uncomfortable as it continued, and she looked mortified. I was able to wrangle my friends into two cabs, and before we left, I went to apologize to the young woman I’d met earlier in the evening. She thanked me for stepping in, we exchanged business cards, and went our separate ways.

A few days after this all happened, she and I began e-mailing each other. I apologized, again, for the way my friends were acting that night, and much to my dismay, she said: “We’re used to it.” Suddenly, it was different. Rather than a situation involving a group of random men hitting on a group of random women, I now knew one of them. She had a name, and, unlike my friends, she remembered every second of it. She also remembers every other time it has happened to her, every weekend, running errands, and at her gym. The unwanted attention at the latter caused her to join an all-female gym. I was shocked.

When she sent me the link to Emily’s article, I read it, understood it, and wanted to share it. I sent it to the guys I was out with that night, assuming most wouldn’t read it. When a few of us went out for a drink after playing hockey later that night, I decided to bring it up. And surprisingly, they had all read it.

We started to talk about the night in question, outside of the bar, and what was wrong with it. I told them it was pretty obvious that most of the women were really uncomfortable with the attention they were receiving from our group. I asked the guys what they would do if they came outside of a bar and saw this happening to their sisters (four of them have younger sisters), and the decision was unanimous: The offending males would probably be leaving without some teeth.

I pressed the issue, and asked them why it was terrible if it were their family members, but a non-issue on the night we were out. No one had a really good answer, but the responses included “We were drunk,” “It doesn’t matter, we’ll never see them again,” and then the final explanation: “We don’t even know them!”

Somehow, alcohol combined with the women’s anonymity helped them justify to themselves the idea that no one was really bothered. What I discovered though is that these guys all agreed that it’s not OK to treat women the way they did. As a group, we have plenty of female friends, and go out with them often. I asked if it would be OK to harass our group of friends in the same manner. It was unanimous: No, it was not OK.

Then the conversation moved to the issue of physical safety. Because I now knew one of these women, she had told me how they felt that night. They were approached by a strange bunch of drunk guys and they had no clue how it was going to turn out. While I’m confident my friends wouldn’t physically hurt anyone, these women didn’t know that. They were just enjoying their night until a group of men decided that they should merge after-parties at someone’s private residence. When the women resisted, the guys tried harder. How were these women to know if we would take no for an answer? What right did we have to interrupt their otherwise fun night with unsolicited attention and catcalling?

The truth is, we had absolutely no right. And when names were put to these women, my friends couldn’t apologize enough. They now think about their behavior and how others perceive it. No one is perfect, and I’m sure they’ll slip here and there, as humans do, but I’m so happy that we were able to have this conversation.

I’ve heard the quote, “A stranger is just a friend waiting to happen,” and in some cases it may be true. But it should never be confused with “A stranger is just a friend waiting to be harassed.”

Liam Killeen is an Artist Manager living in Toronto, Ontario. He likes pugs and hockey.

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