There are a million and one written pieces about rape culture and why catcalling is wrong. You can read them and nod in agreement, but you won’t truly understand the anger and disgust behind the words until you experience the situations themselves.
Most women have been catcalled. Most women have been sexually harassed in some way or another. I’ve been sexually harassed an obscene amount of times, with the most disturbing encounters being within the past month, and I’ve had enough. I am sick and tired of feeling violated by other people.
The first time it happened, it was simply a weird story to tell. I was nineteen years old standing in line at a Starbucks downtown in the early afternoon. I was wearing a skirt, sweater, and ankle boots. It really wasn’t a short skirt, not that it should matter. I was listening to music waiting for my order to be called when a middle-aged man approach me and tapped my shoulder. He patiently waited for me to remove my earbuds while standing far too close to me.
He flashed a toothless smile— that’s right, toothless— and asked how I get my legs to look so smooth. This question, although weird, wasn’t too alarming to me. Kind of predatory, sure. But it wasn’t the reason I felt the need to bathe in bleach afterwards. No, it was the fact that he stroked my leg as he asked me this question and felt no remorse when I stepped away, clearly appalled.
At the time, I told everyone, “Today toothless guy at Starbucks stroked my leg. It was weird,” and most people laughed. It really was, and still is, a story like no other. Except it’s like so many stories, many of which happened to me in the past month. Reflecting on the amount of sexual harassment I’ve received is disgusting.
One particular incident tonight— the one fueling this little diary entry— is the one I’ve deemed to be “enough”. I was sitting on the bus heading home after work. Again, I was listening to music and minding my own business. All of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked to my left and saw a middle-aged man in the aisle attached to the hand. He looked me dead in the eye and I removed my earbuds again, thinking maybe he had something of substance to say. I was wrong.
“I’m going to be thinking about you all night long,” he said with a wink. He exited the bus and my mouth hung open in awe of what just happened. I wasn’t even aware this man was on the bus; there is no possible way I gave him any reason to think he could approach me. It’s a fairly universal sign that someone with headphones does not want to engage in conversation. I felt so repulsed that I didn’t know how to process the situation until I got home and cried.
I understand that I was riding the bus alone at 10:30pm, but that isn’t the point. I understand that day last year I was wearing a skirt, but that isn’t the point. The point is I shouldn’t have to worry about men harassing me at all times of the day. I cannot begin to fathom why they think it’s okay to say and do things like this. Men following me around at work calling me “baby” and “sweetie” is not okay.
Men shouting, “I know there’s five of us, but you look like you could go all night,” at me is not okay. Men refusing to pay their totals until I give them my phone number is not okay. Men in packs telling me to “give them a call for a good time” while I’m working is not okay. Men calling me a “stupid white girl” and then begging to give “daddy” my employee discount is not okay. Men shouting things at me from their cars is not okay. Men telling me I don’t deserve my ass because I’m white is not okay. These are all things that have happened to me in the past month and that is not okay. These are not compliments; these are examples of harassment.
I was hoping to avoid the “open letter” trope, but I really do wish these men could read this and understand how their actions are perceived. I’m not flattered. I’m not interested. I’m not impressed. I am flat out disgusted and appalled. None of these actions are desirable in a man, no matter how serious the attempts were. These situations left me wanting to scrub my entire body with steel wool and force myself to vomit.
I felt so disgusted with myself for being a part of the interaction and that is so incredibly wrong. I can almost guarantee that none of these men felt any sense of guilt afterwards, so why did I feel responsible? The short answer is rape culture and the way it’s conditioned society to behave in these situations, but I know none of these occurrences were my fault. I’m a woman in a public setting; of course men are going to be pigs. I refuse to take these situations as compliments or forms of flattery because they are flat out disgusting. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in my place of work because of people like this, but unfortunately, I do. Unfamiliar men crossing boundaries and making advances towards me has left me on edge any time I leave my apartment. Congratulations to these wonderful gems who have no concept of respect. You are filthy excuses for human beings.
The point of this piece is mostly for me to process what just happened, because I feel disgusted and can’t shake the image or feeling of an unfamiliar man putting his hands on me. However, I know I’m not the only one who has experiences like this. Mine just happened to be condensed into a short amount of time that makes it almost unbearable. I refuse to let these situations go by unnoticed; I will not be silenced just because it “happens to everyone”. So here you go, world! Here are the multiple stories of the sexual harassment I’ve faced and will continue to face for the rest of my life.
But rape culture isn’t real, right?