Friday, October 12, 2012

Haiku Friday: In which I struggle to talk about sexual harassment without sounding like an angry bra-burner.

I wish I did not
have to guard my self, but dumb
men give me no choice.

Image found here:

At the risk of being labelled an "Angry Femi-nazi", I am going to just put this out there:

It should never be a woman's responsibility to put up with the creepy, disrespectful, and downright DANGEROUS behavior of men who have zero self control.

Street harassment needs to stop, and sexual harassment has to stop. Enough said.

I debated whether or not to bring this issue up again, Readers. I find that I have a lot of difficulty when it comes to writing and talking about sexual harassment, partially because the subject itself isn't exactly pleasant, and also because of how often I am dismissed as being "overly-sensitive" or "unfair" whenever I bring it up. I guess this speaks to my constantly brewing frustration with men who just don't seem to understand how honestly HARD it is to be female; how something as routine as a bus ride is made so much more stressful because of nothing more than my gender.

It's difficult to put into words just how much an effect harassment has on me, personally. There is nothing, NOTHING, that makes me feel more vulnerable, afraid, and frustrated than being harassed by strangers. I've written before about how outwardly rude and perverted behavior makes me feel angry and afraid, but I've never really talked about...the not-so-outward stuff. The unspoken stuff.

Like when a man sitting next to me on the bus decides to drape his arm behind my seat, letting his fingers brush against my arm as I'm desperately trying to scoot as far away from his wandering hand as possible without being too obvious.

Or when I'm walking home from work, and a slightly intoxicated middle aged man stops me, and asks, "Miss...could you do me a favor and just SMILE?", then taking a not-so-discreet look at my rear end as I walk away.

When I'm standing in line at Starbucks, and out of nowhere some ass-wipe standing behind me decides to lean forward and SNIFF MY HAIR.

Or when I'm simply approached while I'm on some sort of public transit, ALWAYS by a man, who is either unable or unwilling to read my body language, (which is screaming "PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE,") wanting to strike up a conversation that inevitably leads to:
A. Me being uncomfortably hit on,
B. Me being accosted by a Dooms-Day prophet, or
C. Him trying to sell me something.

Readers, I either walk or commute by bus to my job every day, and usually, I am alone and it is after dark. I take every precaution to send out as many "Please Leave Me Alone" signals* as I am able, but I still get approached (always by men) CONSTANTLY.

I find it much easier to deal if the weather is nice enough for me to walk. When I'm walking, I know that I have an "escape route". If somebody is being stupid, I can just walk away. Simple as that.

Where I REALLY start to feel afraid; not annoyed, not frustrated, but honest to God AFRAID, is when I'm riding the bus at night.

That "escape route?" No longer exists once I'm on public transportation. When I'm in an enclosed space and some guy decides to ignore my body language/monosyllabic answers to his attempts at conversation, I don't have the option walk away, and I am quite literally TRAPPED.

Now, gentlemen, I understand that the majority of you who try to talk to me on the bus are not rapists. But Jesus Tap-dancing Christ, fellas,  LEARN TO READ MY BODY LANGUAGE AND RESPECT MY PERSONAL SPACE!

What makes the above situations exponentially worse are the ridiculous implications and consequences of my non-interest. I almost always ignore guys when they try to approach me, and almost always, the guy in question gets offended when he realizes that he's being ignored. If the guy is hitting on me, I'm accused of being a "stuck-up bitch." If he's trying to save my soul, I'm accused of hating God. If he's one of those "Children's International" cretins, I'm accused of not caring about children.

It wears on you after a while, Readers. After three years of riding the bus, it still gets to me how often I get called names.

I wish that I could give the guys wanting to talk to me the benefit of the doubt. I really, REALLY wish that I didn't have to put up a protective "bubble" whenever I'm traveling alone at night. But sadly, because I don't have what one of my favorite bloggers, Dianna Anderson, calls "rape-dar", I am not willing to take the risk of being friendly. Lots of men have ruined it for you, fellas. When I was a bit more naive and outwardly "friendly", I've been called names, been loudly and rudely made fun of, and have been groped twice. (Both times, the douchenozzle responsible was exiting the bus and was out of reach before I had a chance to react). 

I occasionally have to put up with creepiness while I'm working as well. When I'm at my job, 99% of the time, I feel completely comfortable and safe, but there are times when I feel like I should invest in a can of mace.

I work in a skyscraper downtown that, for the most part, is not open to the public; most floors require you to swipe your key card before you can get in. My floor is one of the few that can be accessed by the public during business hours so that clients and visitors can easily see their attorneys.

On Tuesday evening, a seemingly normal-looking guy came up and started to aimlessly wander around the reception space. I did my receptionist thing and asked, "Can I help you?"

This butt-stain of a human being came up to my desk, leaned over,  started STARING AT MY CHEST and (in what should be ranked as one of the world's very worst/creepiest/stupidest attempts at flirting with a receptionist) asked, "Well, what kind of services do YOU provide?"

My face looked something like this after he said that. Image found here:

I lowered my voice a half octave, put on my "bitch face", and informed him that he had wandered into a corporate law firm. He then tried to make a pitiful attempt at a lawyer joke, all the while looking like he wanted to eat me. I called for security, but before they could come up to assist, this pustule on the face of humanity had taken one of the bottles of water at the reception desk and left.

Those are for CLIENTS, asshole!

Women who work in customer service, I feel, have an especially difficult time when it comes to these creeps.  When a lady is working at the cash register, behind the check-in desk, behind the Burger King counter, she has an obligation to give "good customer service" she always should. However, in my experience, I find that a woman's hands are tied when faced with a situation like the one I had: We are trained to keep smiling and giving "good customer service", even when the customer is being a disgusting creep.

When I was a bakery clerk way back in the day, my boss would tell me about how she would get goosed on an almost weekly basis by a customer who had wandering hands. She was so afraid of getting "written up" by her managers that she didn't say a single word.

A lot of time had passed since that incident, (she told me that it happened back in the mid-nineties, in a different store located half-way across the country), and I had received a great deal of "safety and awareness training" from our store. All the same, it always kind of got to me how much of this training was focused on waiting for the creep to go away.  If I didn't feel safe (and if the creepy customer was within earshot), I would call whatever manager was on duty and say, "I'm going to take my break early". This was our stores' "code phrase"  for when one of us was feeling seriously creeped out and didn't want to be too obvious. I would then go to the back room and wait for somebody to stay with me until the customer in question left. Under no circumstances were we to confront the creepy customer. That wouldn't be giving very good customer service, would it?

From a liability standpoint, I completely understand why the grocery store forbade us from confronting the creepers. Be that as it may, it still really bothers me. It felt like the grocery chain was more concerned with keeping a customer than they are with keeping their employees safe and sane.

It's WAY beyond the scope of one blog post to explore street harassment, the culture that allows and excuses it, and possible solutions.

I guess all I have left to say is this: I do not owe it to men to be friendly. I do not owe it to men to be conversational.

I will not compromise my sanity and safety for a man's need for attention and validation.

I am so sick of this crap.

*(when I'm walking I wear my headphones, and when I'm on the bus I either knit, read, play with my phone, or stare out the window.)


  1. Hmm... that sounded really creepy, Jackie. I think you should try walking with a group, especially when you're heading home. A girl walking alone is usually the one who gets harassed. And also, avoid walking through some deserted area as trouble might be there.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Vesta. Luckily, I live near a very busy and well-lit area. When walking home, I know that I'm able to duck into a store or a building if I feel uncomfortable, and bring the creeper to the attention of employees there.