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The science of streetside flirtation: a case study

Every female over the age of 13 at some point has been walking down the street when some group of guys drives by and has seen fit to call out either a lewd suggestion, offensive insult or shrill catcall. Usually the boys can be heard snickering as they speed away.

The unsuspecting female, in response, tends to slouch, stare at the ground and walk faster. It is a type of unwanted attention that has been annoying and confusing women for years. The other day my roommate and I were standing at a crosswalk when an SUV slowed down so the three men inside could comment on certain parts of our anatomy. As they drove off my roommate and I shivered.

"Jeez, I hate it when guys are such jerks," Jen fumed.

"I know! I wish that my mother hadn't raised me not to make obscene gestures. Why do they have to be so rude?" I wondered.

"What makes them think they have the right to treat people like that? To make us feel embarrassed, like we've done something to be ashamed of. They're the idiots who should be humiliated." Jen was on a roll. "Do they think they're cool? That we think they're funny?"

"I don't know," I responded. "You'd like to think that 20 years from now they'll cringe when they think about doing juvenile stuff like this."

"I hope so. What makes them want to behave so stupidly?"

Jen had a good question: What exactly is the allure for guys about yelling to unsuspecting females? What's so fun about bothering total strangers? I didn't have an answer, but I vowed to get one. To solve my query I decided to go right to the source: men.

After class one day I approached my friend, Mark.

"Can I talk to you for a second?" I asked.

"Sure," he said.

"Do you ever drive around and yell out the window at girls?"

Mark looked momentarily confused but soon broke into a smile. "On a few occasions some friends and I have shouted to the ladies," he wryly told me.

"What kinds of things do you yell?"

"I don't know ... I guess mostly we just say 'Hey,' and stuff like that."

"And why do you do it?" I continued with my interrogation.

"I don't know! It's, like, fun to get their attention, I guess." He was getting embarrassed.

"So, it's a flirting technique?"

I was baffled.

"Not exactly," Mark shook his head, flustered.

"What is it then?"

"Uh ... "

"Harassment?"

Mark looked horrified.

"No! It's not harassment. I mean we don't mean it like that. It's just a way of saying hello and kind of a friendly teasing." He was desperate to validate his pastime.

"Even when what you yell is obscene and makes people feel uncomfortable?"

"Hey, wait. We don't yell anything obscene. What is this?" Mark was shaken and confused.

"I was just wondering what compelled guys to do it, that's all," I told him.

We spoke for a few more minutes, during which time he confided that he and his friends bond over this pedestrian/vehicle interaction. Plus, he claimed there is a weird adrenaline rush involved in intimidating strangers (though he staunchly maintained it is not meant to be at all demeaning or sinister).

Several hours later, my friends listened intently as I recounted my discussion with Mark.

We decided to see if verbally assaulting male pedestrians bonded us closer together or gave us a similar rush.

We piled into a car and cruised down Rugby Road, where we spotted a group of boys. Kelly, our driver, slowed down so that Morgan could give them a taste of their own medicine. She whistled loudly and referred to them as "hotties."

In response they smiled and waved. Next time we decided to say something vulgar. We got the opportunity with a pair of fellows a bit farther down the street. After the comment, they appeared to walk taller, and I swear one guy winked at us. Over the next half-hour we attempted to harass a number of men, but they all seemed to enjoy the unsolicited attention. That is, until we came across the Bike Gang.

By Bike Gang, I mean a band of adolescent boys sporting stubble and wife beaters on BMX bikes. The guys were all posed -- heads tilted to the side, arms across their chests -- presumably to instill fear in all who dared pass by their terrifying section of the street in front of Espresso Royale Caffe. Taking a deep breath I called out to them, suggestively offering them a ride in our mechanized transportation.

Like any good badasses, they flicked their chins at us and screamed an expletive. For good measure, one of the young men, the boy wearing a visor to be exact, grabbed his crotch with one hand and gave us the finger with the other. I rolled up the window and looked at my friends before we burst into laughter.

"Did that get your adrenaline going?" I asked.

"I don't think so, but my sides are killing me." Morgan replied.

Though I cannot in good faith condone the act of harassing members of the opposite sex, and I can't verify that one receives a rush after completing such a drive-by, I can report that it does in fact bring you closer to your friends. We haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

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