Sexual harassment, don’t just “deal with it”

Every day I try my hand at acting.

On my walk home from work I purposely appear distracted, either anxiously thumbing through my phone or aimlessly scanning my surroundings. I do this so the stubbled handyman who lives a few buildings over won’t notice me pass by. All so he won’t demand that I smile, as he does every single day. All so I won’t hear him say “that’s what I like to see sweetie,” in his thick New York accent as I nervously grin in his direction.

Clearly I’m not a very good actress.

I anticipate the day I move so I can cooly flash a middle finger in response instead. Of course I can’t do this now though, he lives so close. He could react poorly, or worse, if I asked him to leave me alone.

Last week I did an exceptional job pretending to be interested in an older man who bombarded me off the train.

“Excuse me, you are so beautiful, would you like to go out sometime, do you like coffee, you should take down my number, there is a place up the street,” he aggressively persisted.

I thumbed through my head for a solid excuse. I can’t just say no, right? Everything happened too fast to react. All I could do was erratically press numbers in my phone as he spout off his number, quietly respond with “ok, I’ll text you,” and quickly walk away in the opposite direction, hoping to never run into him again.

These performances don’t only happen on the street. They’re not assigned to certain demographics or status. They happen everywhere.

I started these lessons young.

When you’re 17 and your middle-aged, married employer sends messages concerning your schedule that contain harmless winks, that eventually graduate to comments on your “nice ass”…  well, you settle with the idea that you’re practically voiceless. You need this job, you think, you get decent hours. You can just deal with it.

Just. Deal with it.

As a reader you may skim through these experiences and conclude “oh that’s not so bad,” or “you should be flattered for the attention.” But that’s precisely the problem. This is the behavior that leads to thisthis, and this.

When a man thinks is okay to aggressively pursue a woman on the subway, when an acquaintance persistently brings you drinks at the bar, when a supervisor comments on your “tight” fitting pantsuit, when they all eventually assume it’s okay to take that to the next level, it’s feels as if “stop” or “enough” don’t exist of your permitted vocabulary.

“No” doesn’t always feel like it carries much weight.

Then when things go wrong, myself and other women are often placed at fault. We should have been wearing something less revealing. We shouldn’t have been so flirtatious (otherwise known as a decent human).We shouldn’t have had too many drinks. We should have just played along and entertained their expectations.

We should have just dealt with it. 

I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that I’ve never been physically assaulted. But it’s unsettling to feel that when statistics show one in five women report being raped in their lifetime, it might just happen.

Just these incidents and other encounters are enough to make have no desire to leave my apartment alone after 9PM. They’re enough to make me not walk around with my headphones after dark. They’re enough to keep my mother on the phone with me from point A to point B after a late class.

They were enough to make me sprint to my front porch any night I came home at night in high school. They were enough to make me grasp my keys between my fingers as a makeshift weapon when I walked to my car after work in college.

They were enough to keep me quiet and uncomfortable. They are enough to keep me fearful, so much so that it actually feels normal.

Honestly, there’s no resolution for the end of this blog. There’s no realization or conclusion that I’ve come across while coping with these incidents. That’s because, frankly, I don’t know when or if we’ll ever see a solution.

Some of these encounters I’ve never even told my family about. Some have made me so unsettled that I’ve sat in silence for hours feeling sick to my stomach.

But at least know I can muster some courage to speak out. I can bring attention to these issues, to these fears, and keep the conversation going. I can encourage others battling with these issues to say something. I can motivate other women to find strength, even if I always couldn’t.

If we let society think this behavior is okay, well, then they will.

Don’t pretend it’s okay. Don’t just deal with it.

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