By APRIL SHEPHERD
As a woman, the reality of sexual harassment on the street is so much more than alarming statistics you see in the news and social media newsfeeds.
It's a scary reality that crawls into your daily life. It's saying ‘no I have a boyfriend' as a reflex, like a one-liner you spit out in defence. Being someone's real estate is the only thing that will scare off other potential buyers.
As women, we are raised to be afraid of the night, of the shadows in our local park, or strange men in bars. Keys clenched between our fingers. But what about the day time? What about when you get a tap on the shoulder from a passing man? He couldn't walk past you, and he had to tell you he thinks your eyes are the bluest blue.
Maybe he's just trying to be nice? The ball of lead that has formed in your stomach tells you otherwise; it's fight or flight, you're paralysed.
21 year-old international student Jessica Smith* doesn't travel from her home in Clayton to the city much because "it's a bit expensive".
She is timid at first, but as her story deepens, the sunshine lights up her face, and her hands writhe before she gains her confidence.
One evening as she travelled up an escalator in the CBD with her friends, a strange man reached out, touched her hand and told her he loved her.
Like many women, Jess felt as though she was overreacting, even though the incident left her feeling uncomfortable, ‘it isn't much, but I felt really disgusted'.
In 2005 Neil Strauss published a novel titled The Game; to aid men in their quest for love. Strauss' book had a sinister side, coining the term ‘negging' and introducing the concept to the mainstream.
Negging is the psychological practice of insulting women to spark romantic interest.
Strauss convinces the men of the world that they are one back-handed compliment away from the number of that beautiful woman in the grocery store.
Grace Smith* is a 23-year-old student who works part-time and enjoys going out, she recalls a night where she was out in the city in a bar with her boyfriend and a small group of friends.
‘While I was waiting for the bartender to make me a drink, a guy said ‘I like your shirt'."
When Grace didn't respond in the desired way, he turned back to her and stated; ‘actually, I don't'."
She experienced first-hand a glaring example of the unsettling technique ‘negging'.
Grace recalls the first time she had heard the term, when she attended a residential college.
"I remember hearing all the boys saying these bizarre phrases like they were going to be 'negging' or 'negging a girl' to get with her," she said.
Manic Workshops is a business run by Melbourne's self-proclaimed 'leading dating coach for men' Chris Manak, since 2008. The catchphrase ‘no creepiness' peppered through his business's website.
Mr Manak started running various workshops after his successes.
One workshop titled ‘The Day Workshop' promises men their love life can be transformed by approaching women during the day time.
"I found that meeting women through the day was really helpful for my confidence," he said.
Mr Manak is at pains to press that his business ventures are not to be associated with any street or sexual harassment undertaken under the guise of ‘the day method'. He believes the timing and the way men approach women defines if these interactions are creepy or not.
"Men need to pay attention to how comfortable women are in those first few seconds," he said.
Dr Bianca Fileborn is a lecturer in criminology and expert in social and political sciences at University of Melbourne. Dr Fileborn weighs in on the negging technique, what it means on a broader social scale and how the practice is damaging to women.
"It is based on the idea of sex as a competition, a good to be bargained for, or something that men have to trick women into giving up," Dr Fileborn said.
Dr Fileborn's statement rings true for many women, sounding eerily familiar to the group known as 'Incels', which were born from a united misogynistic hatred of women.
Incel stands for involuntary celibates - typically straight men who can't find a woman who will have sex with them. This definition has some variations, but the involuntary element is critical.
From extreme acts of violence, to men 'catfishing' (assuming a false online persona to approach and deceive women) and generally harassing women, this community is built on the premise that men are owed sex from women. When they don't get it, the repercussions can be deadly.
In July of 2019, 17 year-old blogger and Instagram star Bianca Devin was murdered.
Bianca's death was documented in real-time via social media to millions around the globe. The crime was allegedly committed by a member of the Darkcel Gaming community, a subculture of the Incel online movement.
The Incel community, the technique of negging, and their shared values can be catalysts for numerous crimes against women.
Dr Fileborn asserts that negging creates an environment where sexual violence can become increasingly common.
"Negging is particularly concerning given that we also know that these beliefs around sex can underpin and facilitate sexual violence," she said.
Olivia Scarlett is 27 and finishing her masters in teaching, and she too has noticed a pattern of men approaching her in the CBD using similar techniques.
Olivia has been approached in the same spot, on Swanston Street near Flinders Street Station twice, by two different men using the same lines.
"Similar age group, similar questions, it was quite bizarre," she said.
"I didn't really think about it at the time, but it would make sense if they were following some kind of group."
One fact is indisputable, this ‘game', whether it be for genuine human connection, or for the prize of winning a woman's number, is a game that we never chose to play.
*Last names changed for privacy.