My modus operandi used to be just continuing on my way as I boiled with humiliation, anger, fear, and helplessness.
Until last summer, when I had a job that 1) gave me a lot of practice talking to strangers, and 2) was located just off a plaza where a number of verbally aggressive homeless men congregated.
I got fed up with the harassment and started talking back.
What helped me make a habit of responding: Thinking of one or two comebacks flexible enough that I wouldn't have to improvise. And plenty of dudes willing to "help me" "practice."
My standbys are:
- "That's actually NOT my name."
- "Did I ask for your opinion?"
- "Excuse me?"
When it comes to Jerks in Cars, there is not much time, so my repertoire is limited to gestures like the finger. Depending on proximity, speed of traffic, and how much berserker you have in you, you may have the option of assaulting the vehicle in question. (Speaking as a mere kicker of bumpers and banger of hoods, the dudes hate having to admit that their chariot of misogyny is not untouchable.)
Not surprisingly, coming back at a harasser is much easier in some circumstances than in others. Homeless men don't particularly intimidate me.** An young, expensively dressed man, a big man, a large group of men — any of these would generally be more intimidating me. Depending on my survival radar, I might decide it's not worth it. That's fine. (The point of talking back is not that you are a weak person if you don't.)
Respect for intuition/survival radar withstanding, no harasser has yet responded to me in a way that outweighed the satisfaction of talking back.
The point is: that you are allowed to be angry at men who try to degrade you, and you don't have to swallow that anger. That it is not your job to be pleasant and submissive. It is not your job to treat harassers as if they are not doing a terrible, shocking, unacceptable thing. Feeling helpless sucks, and claiming your right to act like what you are — a human being with reasonable rights and emotions and the means to express both — is cathartic and constructive.
*Laser eyes can work pretty well preemptively too, if you're getting warning vibes from someone's demeanor.
**Almost all of the men who harass me are panhandlers or otherwise visibly homeless. Somewhere in the overlap of race and class with sexism and this being San Francisco, there is an answer to this. I have an inkling that harassment in public places generally takes place across boundaries of race and class, and that men harassing or assaulting women of their own class and particularly race are more likely to do so in private.