'Anti-Flirt' Movement Once Put Street Harassers in the Clink


In the 1920s, an anti-flirt movement was afoot. Ladies quickly became fed up with the first car owning scrubs hollering from their magical motorized chariots. In response to these audacious auto invitations, two women in Washington, D.C. founded the Anti-Flirt Club. The initial club was a hit, and soon there were anti-flirting outposts in New York City, Chicago, and other cities.

According to Alexis Coe at The Atlantic, the NYC chapter is notable because it was led by men, including “George Carroll, theatrical man, and James Madison, a broker.” Delightful.

From a 1922 New York Times article:

The five men forming the nucleus of the organization say that in New York’s streets, especially in the theatrical districts, hordes of pests of the masher species are carrying their activities to a point where no woman is safe from approach and insult.
The association intends, through publicity, to educate public opinion to the point where a woman will consider it her duty to prosecute the masher who attempts to force his attentions upon her. The association intends to have its own counsel, who will aid in prosecuting all masher cases.

Interestingly, the movement gained traction, with police arresting offending boys and men. Although several politicians tried to pass legislation regulating flirting in the late 1800s, nobody was successful. However, the anti-flirt movement of the early 20th century successfully championed awareness of and disgust with the ungentlemanly heathens who called after ladies. Police began arresting mashers on the regular.

In Chicago, Acting Police Commissioner John Alock also called for an end to the ogling:

The Commissioner demanded “vigorous prosecution” of all offenders, an order which had apparently been last issued “in the days of yore, when ‘O, you kid’ was considered quite a daring remark when addressed to long haired girls in long dresses.” A great number of complaints about “sheiks and hoodlums” preying on unescorted young women flooded the precincts, and police were instructed to respond immediately and “lock them up.”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear what the men were actually arrested for, and soon the public grew tired of it. Eventually, the movement became the subject of much mocking, and consequently disappeared into obscurity in the late 1930s.

If this the anti-flirt movement had caught on, who knows how things might be different today? Obviously these clubs weren’t aimed at eradicating what we now think of as flirtation, they sought to punish the guys who make it so unpleasant for ladies to walk down the street. You have to wonder if the outrage men felt over these mashers was born from chivalry, or from believing that a woman’s modesty should be deeply guarded. Either way, it’s interesting to think about an alternate present where street harassment is taken seriously.

Instead, we live in a world where on any given day, a man might masturbate into your sandwich on the subway* and nobody says boo. Our culture dictates that women must grin and bear it; we’re told to always remain alert, wield our keys like weapons, and smile through it all.

Of course, it’s dangerous to romanticize the past, and the 1920s were faaaaar from perfect. Case in point, the D.C. chapter of the Anti-Flirt Club issued the following rules to stop “flirting”. As you’ll see, they’re all aimed at women protecting their virtue:

1. Don’t flirt; those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.
2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists—they don’t all invite you in to save you a walk.
3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling—they were made for worthier purposes.
4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know—they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
5. Don’t wink—a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers—save them for people you know.
7. Don’t annex all the men you can get—by flirting with many you may lose out on the one.
8. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of lounge lizard.
9. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
10. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.

Ladies, don’t smile, ogle, or make conversation with men. And please, for the love of GOD, if you find yourselves falling for the “slick, dandified cake eater” of a “lounge lizard”, please remember that the unpolished gold of a real man is worth much more. (Personally, I think the dandy with cake sounds more enticing, but what do I know?)

*Why were you eating a sandwich on the subway? This is your fault!


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