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Although I’ve experience on many occasions, to various degrees, some type of street harassment or another, the following incident takes the cake. Although there was no aggression involved, it’s still the one experience that stands out most in my mind.
One sunny, summer afternoon while leaving the grocery store on my way outside with bags in hand, a tall, middle-aged man wearing a button-up shirt and a tie greeted me in a friendly manner, while we both lingered to wait for cars to pass in order to cross to the parking lot. I was wearing a new t-shirt I’d purchased with the words “Free to Be” on it. After greeting me by saying hello, he then kindly asked me what the message on my shirt meant. I responded by saying, “Oh, well, I guess it’s open to interpretation.” He just seemed like a normal guy with no agenda, although the possibility of him attempting to flirt a bit was feasible. Wasn’t sure, but in no way, at all, did he make me feel uncomfortable at that point. No less than a minute later while we were crossing the cross walk into the parking lot–inevitably together– he looked at me and asked the following: “Would you like to come and spend some time with me?”
Wait!?!? What!?!? I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard! I was shocked and felt belittled. So much so that I responded by saying numbly, “No, I don’t think so” and proceeded walking to my car. While in my car, I had to sit and register what had just taken place. Initially, I was shocked, but then anger begin to settle in. I then realized he was still sitting in his car across the parking lot. What was he doing? I thought to myself, does he think that there’s a possibility that I may change my mind and give-in to his crude and inappropriate proposition? Is he going to follow me? Why is he still inside of his car and not leaving? Then I became a bit concerned. I left immediately and got out of there as quickly as possible. As far as I know, he didn’t follow me.
After I called my good friend to share what I’d experienced, she became angry. The more I thought about it, the more angry I became, too. Then I felt like a fool for not either (a yelling at the creepy bastard and/or b)slapping him in the face. (OK, the latter mostly occurs in movies for dramatic effect, but that’s how I felt afterwards.) I felt that I’d been belittled, disregarded, and disrespected not only as a woman, but as a human being.
I then began to question myself the following: “Maybe I was being too friendly and he got the wrong impression?”…”Maybe because I was wearing a mini-skirt, that provoked his uncouth behavior?”…”Maybe I shouldn’t have greeted him back and smiled at him?” Well, the answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE. Women have for way too long been conditioned to take the responsibility for this debasing behavior. The objectification of women in our media doesn’t help, either. We’re constantly bombarded by it. (Just think little boys and girls growing up with the T.V., constantly exposed to this behavior–even in cartoons.)
I think what shocked me the most about my experience was that this guy was well-dressed, well-spoken, and middle-aged. His appearance defied, in every way, what I had previously believed that a typical street harasser “should” look like. Many of us possess these stereotypical images of construction workers or those of the working class being the perpetrators. Nope! Beware. They span across all socioeconomic backgrounds, all races, all ethnicities, and come in all shapes and sizes (they even come with button-up shirts and ties).
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