What do women (and men) really think about harassment?

What do men think women hate most about male harassment and what do women actually say? You might be surprised and shocked at the results of our survey.

THAT GUY spoke to 160 women, mostly from Scotland and from a range of age groups, to find out about women’s experience of male harassment.

We also talked to just over 100 men, asking what they believe women say about male harassment. We also questioned men about their own experience of harassment by women.

We asked the women filling out our survey about a list of different types of everyday harassment. These were:

  • being stared at
  • being cat-called (shout at in the street in a sexual way)
  • being followed in the street
  • being groped or grabbed
  • men loitering close by
  • having your path blocked
  • men exposing themselves to you
  • men masturbating in front of you
  • being sent an unsolicited image of a man’s penis (commonly known as a dick pic)
  • being sent unwanted gifts
  • being paid unwanted compliments
  • men attempting to engage in unwanted conversation
  • being sent unwanted sexual text messages.

Unsurprisingly, women had experienced every kind of harassment detailed above. We also asked them to specify any kinds of harassment that weren’t listed. Individual respondents added:

  • obscene phone calls
  • invasion of personal space
  • unwanted touching that didn’t constitute groping or grabbing but was neither asked for nor wanted
  • abusive emails
  • being prevented from leaving a vehicle
  • sexual comments in the workplace
  • being stalked
  • being kissed on the mouth without being asked
  • being propositioned by a kerb crawler.

It’s important to note a significant number of women responding to the survey also disclosed being victims of rape and serious sexual assault.

Most common experiences

Only three forms of harassment were identified by more than 70 percent of men as being commonly experienced by women. These were unwanted compliments, unwanted conversation and the top choice was being stared at.

What did women actually say?

Women identified being stared at as being the most common experience of harassment too, closely followed by unwanted conversation. But the third most common form of harassment was groping or grabbing, with three quarters of women saying this was a regular experience. Only a quarter of men thought this was common.

Only half of the men thought cat-calling was frequent whereas well over three quarters of women said it was. Around a third of men thought being followed in the street was a regular occurrence for women, whereas well over half of women said this was common.

Harassment experienced in the last year

Men guessed correctly that women had experienced being stared at and unwanted conversation most often in the last year.

Most intrusive harassment

We asked the men responding to the survey what male behaviours they thought women found most intrusive.

There were a lot of different responses but mostly split between men who think physical harassment is most intrusive and those who think unwanted approaches are likely to be worse because it happens so regularly.

“Physical harassment, groping and other forms of unwanted physical contact” says one man. “Constant staring, unwanted conversations,” says another.

The responses from women are telling, with almost every single women responding. “How long have you got? I am 63,” says one of the oldest respondents. “Name one. Yes, that happened… routinely.”

“Being followed. Being shouted at with sexual remarks. Not being left alone and [being] pestered for my number and then they become aggressive when I knock them back,” said a woman aged between 16 and 34. “Unwanted conversation, unwanted compliments, images [of a man’s] penis sent via social media or dating apps, [being] followed home, being stared at, being touched on nights out inappropriately,” says another young Scottish woman.

A common theme is the aggression of men making unwanted conversation when women ask to be left alone.

“Recently I’ve had a lot of men approaching me in bars and who are not willing to back away or leave me alone when asked to,” says a young woman. “On one occasion, I was called rude and ignorant for asking a man to get up from my table, to stop stroking my shoulder, to stop talking to me and was made to feel… as if this was my fault. Unfortunately, not a one off situation.”

Another women says, “Not respecting the word ‘no’… Then becoming verbally abusive due to [you] not wanting their advances.” Yet another says, “Thinking you are having a normal conversation, then getting hit on. Persistence when told no.”

There’s also a degree of what’s commonly known as ‘gaslighting’, where men deliberately misrepresent their intensions and behaviour. “I have had unwanted advances from clients and other colleagues at work,” says a woman from Glasgow. “Often these men say they’re a “good guy” so when you challenge the behaviour it makes you look difficult.”

By far the most common complaints relate to cat-calling, unwanted approaches and sexual remarks. Women who filled out the survey most often just want to be left alone.

The most intrusive experiences? “I would say unwanted conversation,” says a middle-aged woman from England. “Especially in situations when I may feel extra vulnerable, for example at night, or on public transport.”

Women also hate being sent unsolicited dick pics, with many complaining about the photos. “You wouldn’t do it in real life,” a female respondent pleads.

Women also know when men abuse positions of power. One woman highlights “inappropriate physical contact by work colleagues where there is an uneven power balance” as being hugely intrusive.

Men stare for all sorts of reasons; some are unaware they’re doing it, some think it’s “romantic”, some just want to intimidate. But women dislike it intensely. An Edinburgh woman, one of the many to complain about staring, says, “Someone staring too long can make me feel uncomfortable and unsafe”.

Compliments are equally awkward. “Unwanted compliments are probably the worst,” says a women from Dundee. “It’s usually given on the understanding you are now obliged to be flattered, grateful and receptive to physical intrusion, so it triggers me.”

The impact of everyday harassment

The impact of harassment on the lives of women is clear. “[I feel] anxious,” says a young woman from Glasgow. “Uncomfortable, intimidated, scared, made to feel like an object. [I hate] not feeling respected or treated as an equal”. Another says, “[it] makes me feel cheap and worthless,” while a third says, “It’s demeaning and disempowering – especially when a perfectly reasonable request to go away is turned into somehow being your fault.”

The harassment “makes me feel scared to be out alone,” says one respondent, something many women talk about. “Anytime I’m in a situation, especially at night, I’m constantly wary about what a man might do to me.” She adds, “I still have flashbacks to comments made my way which have made me feel depressed and bad about myself.” Another women says, “It sometimes makes me not want to leave the house.”

A young woman from Edinburgh says, “Every day I have to think about how I dress, how I act, what makeup I have on, how I do to my hair and what reaction this might have from [men]. I don’t ever feel free to just live my life without worry of what a man might say or do to me.” Another says, “It diminishes your self worth and diminishes your agency.”

A woman from Glasgow adds that it is, “…truly exhausting and terrifying. We need to plan out our every route, take the long way home if it means it’s a well lit, busy area, [we have to] message friends and family about our plans so they have a rough idea where we are [and] what time we’ll be home, share locations so people can track [our] movements, carry keys in between our fingers if alone, be nice to randoms (but not overly nice), wear memorable clothing – and the list goes on.” Another woman says, “I carry a level of background fear and tension in my body most of the time.”

A common theme is how women are made to feely guilty about men’s behaviour. A Scottish woman says, “Everyday harassment leaves me feeling responsible for shitty male behaviour and a weird shame of my own body”.

Some women responding to the survey reported being harassed very rarely, if at all, and very little in the way of long-term impact, but these were a very small minority, a handful at most.

Men’s experience of harassment

Around two thirds of men had experienced some form of harassment from women, the most common of which was being groped. Just over a third of men had experienced this at some point, in comparison to three quarters of women. The second most common experience for men was unwanted conversation.

However, when asked if they had ever felt frightened by female harassment, 97 percent of men said they hadn’t.

Only 1 respondent said he’d been very frightened, although this was in relation to the potential for a false accusation rather than physical threat. In contrast, a very large number of women talk spontaneously about the fear of physical harm that male harassment creates day to day.


White Ribbon Scotland is a charity working to involve men in challenging men’s violence against women, part of a worldwide movement. Campaign Director, Davy Thompson, said:

“The responses provided to this survey are sad and revealing, but unfortunately not surprising. They are exactly what women have been saying for years to men but most were not listening. At White Ribbon Scotland, we encourage men to listen to women if they want to know the level of abuse and violence women and girls are exposed to.

“At White Ribbon Scotland we ask men to take a pledge which states, ‘I will not commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women in all its forms’.

“The first part is straightforward,” says Thompson. “The second part asks us to look at our own attitudes and behaviour and that of the people we live and work with; not only to consider the direct effects they may have had but also to consider how they are interpreted by abusers. Will they see what we do as a form of approval for their own behaviour?

“The last part calls on us to speak up about what is happening and be vocal about our opposition.

“Whenever an issue is raised about violence against women there are always men who respond with, ‘It’s not all men!’. This defensive response is accepted as true but with over 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse and over 2,000 rapes reported each year in Scotland it is clearly a large number of men. We are not saying all men are abusive but if we do nothing we are effectively part of the problem rather than the solution.

“Men are about half of the population of the society we live in,” concludes Thompson.

“Our society is tainted by this pandemic of violence and abuse against women. We now know that pandemics are only defeated if we all stand up and do our part to help eliminate them.”

You can find advice and information on the Police Scotland website
Call Police Scotland on 101 or contact the Rape Crisis Scotland national helpline for free on 08088 01 03 02 (daily 6pm-12 midnight).
In an emergency always call 999.