CW: sexual harassment, coercion, and assault
A status I wrote six years ago popped up in my Facebook memories today:
Ways I don’t want to spend my Sunday: getting catcalled and harassed by some dude at 10:30am in the Fry’s parking lot.
My status was short and downplayed what actually happened that day. I arrived at the store’s parking lot and got out of my car before heading towards the door. I had parked on the far side of the lot to encourage myself to take a few extra steps, which is a choice I ended up regretting a few moments later.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the man in question was talking to me. I said nothing but instead turned my attention back to the store ahead of me.
“Hey, baby, come here! I’m just trying to talk to you!”
I glanced back again and saw that the had started to speed up his pace. My heart started pounding and I sped up, too.
“Don’t be rude!” the man shouted as he continued to follow me. “I just want to talk to you!”
I said nothing.
“BITCH!” he screamed.
At that point I broke into a run and hurried the last twenty feet or so into the store. I didn’t stop just inside the doors, instead jogging past the self checkout lanes before finally looking back to see where he was. Thankfully he hadn’t followed me into the store, but every muscle in my body was tense, ready to keep running if I had to.
“Can I help you find anything?”
I jumped, smacking my elbow on a shelf as I whirled around to see a store employee watching me expectantly.
“No, I’m fine,” I said, still visibly shaken, my breathing too fast and my voice too tight. The employee gave me a polite nod and walked away, leaving me alone in the aisle and I took several deep breaths until I calmed down enough to be able to shop. Even then, I got less than I’d planned because I wanted to keep my purchases to a single bag, figuring it’d be easier to move without a lot of bags weighing me down if I had to. And if anyone is wondering why I didn’t tell the store employee what happened–it’s because the employee was a man. Maybe he would’ve believed me, maybe he wouldn’t have, but women are used to not being believed and that’s why we don’t report what men do to us.
When I returned home, I posted the status on Facebook. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to say about the incident, but I knew I didn’t want to be quiet about it either. I was and continue to be really fucking tired of staying quiet about the shitty men who do shitty things to me. In looking back at the status, I see how fortunate I am that I am surrounded by people who support me. The bulk of the comments I received were supportive of me and the experience I had, and some women shared similar experiences of their own. But, of course, there were a handful of completely useless comments that completely missed the point. There were two in particular that stood out, one from a male friend and one from a female friend. I’ll focus on the latter first:
“See! You still got it!”–Internalized Misogyny
This particular friend was referencing how I’d spoken to her recently about not feeling very attractive anymore since becoming a mom the previous year. However, I was baffled that she thought I would in any way find this experience flattering. I shared the TV Guide version of what had happened in my status, but being catcalled and harassed is not flattering, it’s scary. Men can go from “you’re beautiful” to “I’ll fucking kill you, bitch” in the same breath if you don’t give them the attention they feel they’re owed. If you’ve visited my blog before, you might be familiar with another post I did about when I was stalked in high school by a grown man. Also as a freshman in high school, I was once chased through the neighborhood behind my house by a truck full of men who leaned out of their windows and shouted at me. Much like the man in the Fry’s parking lot, they, too, “just wanted to talk to me.”
I also can’t imagine that any man who catcalls a woman is doing it because he thinks she’s actually going to jump into bed with him, because it’s not about that. Catcalling is men trying to prove that women exist for them to do whatever they want without consequences.
“Hey, at least you’re getting noticed. Some of us don’t get squat.”–Clueless Male Friend
This particular male friend backtracked once I and other women commenting pointed out how fucked that statement is and that we’d rather be invisible if that’s what being “noticed” is. However, his solution was to offer to go to the store with me, which is problematic in another way. This isn’t to say that I haven’t relied on the presence of male friends for my safety; I’ve never had a problem asking men I trust to walk me to my car late at night. I feel much safer when I have my husband, Jon, with me, but I shouldn’t need an escort or a handler just to leave my house. I know this speaks to the more pervasive problem of rape culture and sexism at large, but it still pisses me off that women have to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about our personal safety in a way that most men never do. For god’s sake, my husband can go jogging alone at night while wearing both headphones, but I would never dream of doing that because men have created a world in which I would never feel safe doing that.
Besides, let’s be honest–if I did go out jogging alone at night while wearing headphones and something happened to me, the reaction from many people would be, sadly, “Well why did you put yourself in that situation?” rather than, “Why did your attacker feel entitled to your body without your consent?”
I wrote that Facebook status six years ago, but the issues behind it still loom large for me. Back in March, I published a post on here called Rotten Fruit that delved into my own experiences with sexual coercion. I have never been raped, but I have been in several situations of coercion where I tried to revoke my consent but my partner at that moment (never Jon, for the record) chose to ignore it because stopping isn’t what they wanted to do.
In each of those instances, I didn’t resist and even tried to convince myself that going forward was what I wanted because, truthfully, I was scared of what would happen if I tried to fight harder to have my “no” heard.
Going along with the situation out of fear is not a yes. I know what a “yes” feels like in my body and that was not it.
There is no quick fix for situations like this, but listening to women and taking them seriously is a start. Since #MeToo and Times Up, there has been more of a push to believe survivors and yet there is still a knee jerk response in many people to blame the victim by asking absolutely dog shit questions like, “What were they wearing?” You may have noticed that when I told my story earlier, I didn’t mention what I was wearing that day in the Fry’s parking lot because it doesn’t fucking matter. I should have the right to exist in this world without men subjecting me to catcalling and harassment.
We as people also need to do better. If someone shares about an experience they had that upset them, don’t turn it into a joke or gaslight them into thinking they should be flattered or that they’re wrong for being upset. Be better than that.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.