Men need to intervene when it comes to harassment of younger women

Burden falls to women to help strangers from unwanted male attention

I continue to be baffled by the behaviour of men who seem to lack all sense of embarrassment when it comes to harassing younger women.

When I wrote about this here before it was in the context of stories about men, mostly in the entertainment and media industry in the US, who exposed themselves to startled female workers and were able to get away with it. A lesser being who did this could go to jail and be stigmatised for life as a “flasher” but these guys were protected – until #Metoo – by their status.

The latest example of embarrassment blindness I have come across, though not of exposure, concerned a man in his late 30s on a Canadian airline who was seated beside a teenage girl, who was trying to study.

According to Joanna Chiu, a bureau chief with the Star Vancouver, who was in the row in front, the man asked the girl about her career plans, gave her "ridiculous" advice and said again and again that he wanted to take her out to eat. The girl ignored his invitation.


Chiu, who had wanted to sleep, decided that "I had to stay awake in case anything went further than that," she wrote in a thread on Twitter.

Next, the man leaned close to the girl and asked for a “dirty” photo. Ms Chiu turned and “rage-whispered exactly what I thought of that . . .” The man ignored her and went off to the toilet. A woman sitting behind the two had also been listening out for what happen and while Chiu got a flight attendant the woman spoke to the teenage girl.

The crew took the matter seriously and asked the man to move. He swore at Chiu, and only moved when the head flight attendant threatened that the plane would land unless he obeyed. Later, when they landed, the man (“sweating bullets” as Chiu observed) was met by security personnel.

Asking a teenage girl for a “dirty” photograph, or even any kind of photograph come to think of it, is the sort of behaviour I had in mind when I referred above to harassers acting without any sense of embarrassment or shame.

Chiu noticed that none of the men on the plane seemed to have spotted what was going on. She wondered if men are just not alert to this kind of thing and if women are more likely to pick up on it “because we used to be teenage girls too”?

Even asking the time or moving closer to show you are watching can be ways to signal to the possible harasser that someone is taking an interest

She has had her own experiences as a teenager of being bothered by older men. One told her, on her first flight alone, that she must be flirting because she was touching the zip on her jacket. “To his credit he stopped and later looked ashamed.” On her second trip alone an older man kissed without her consent but she was too shocked to say anything.

She notes that intervening if you think somebody is being harassed by someone else can be done quite subtly. This, I think, is important if you’re not quite sure what’s going on or if anything is going on at all. Even asking the time or moving closer to show you are watching can be ways to signal to the possible harasser that someone is taking an interest.

I like this approach. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china shop and then discover that you were wrong all along.

If was going on is quite obvious, it may be a question of asking the girl or woman if someone is bothering her or even to ask other bystanders what they think you should do, she suggests.

Chiu, I should add, makes it clear that she isn’t seeking to cast shame “on genuine flirtation between an older person and a younger person who is an adult.”

But the spectacle of an older man pushing obviously unwanted attentions on a teenage girl – more easily spotted by women than men it seems – is unsavoury and the man should (though too often is not) be ashamed of himself.

– Padraig O'Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (