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I was trying on clothes at the mall. Even though it was just to save space, part of me thought it was really cool and progressive of this jeans store to have non-gender-specific dressing rooms. The other part of me was braced for some street harassment. I felt safe enough, it’s not like they were tucked away or really private; if I yelled, everyone in the store would hear.
I was in front of the big mirror that all the rooms center around, holding a shirt up to me to see if I liked it. A guy exited his dressing room and said “Beautiful.” He kept his distance, making his way out into the main store. I innocently thought he meant the shirt. I didn’t really respond, then I heard “You are so beautiful, mmm.” Stunned, I just said “OK” in a kind of eye-rolling, teenage way. Then I heard him out on the floor talking to a buddy, laughing, saying “I told her she was beautiful and she just said ‘OK’!”
I was upset that he just had to say something. It made me uncomfortable to be in a small space with him and then to see him again as I stood behind him in line to check out, avoiding eye contact but totally seeing he and his friend give the non-verbal “yeah, that’s her” to each other. Then I felt conflicted, like, do I really have to be up for explaining street harassment to every street harasser all the time? Do they all have to be teachable moments? Why isn’t my uncomfortable response enough for them to learn from?
Any why was I so worried about confronting this dude in a small space when he had no concerns about confronting me? Damn this female socialization to always be so polite!
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