How to get dressed so you’re not sexually harassed
I have been thinking about this blog a lot. About a month ago I had a pretty disturbing interaction with a construction worker in his mid 40s. The story goes like this….
One of the construction workers approached my vehicle. He approached my car and stood in the way of where I needed to maneuver in order to turn around so I rolled down my window. I had no reason to think that the exchange would be negative. In fact, I thought he was going to give advice about how to get around the construction. He seemed eager to talk.
The very first thing he said to me was “Are you on your way to work? Are you showing up to work?” at which I laughed it off and said “No, I just need to get to the other side of the bridge.” I laughed his first comment off, not thinking much of it, just wanting to be on my way. He continues to drill me with questions about, why I can’t follow detour signs, why I can’t see signs, why I can’t see the road is closed. He is not yelling or futile in his voice, but his tone is very much one of antagonistic prattle and he is in the way of me turning around.
My response at this time is dumbfounded that this was happening. This individual then starts another series of questions asking if I need help turning my car around. He begins to back away continuing to ask do I know how to reverse or turn my vehicle around? He finally walks ahead of my car and I am gathering my thoughts and reaction to what just transpired. At this point I am in shock and still have not moved my car because I am so confused as to what just happened. He is now about 20 feet ahead and turns around with a smirk and shooing hand gesture at which I flip him off. He responds by grabbing his genitals and pulls them in my direction and then turns around. I reverse my car, roll down my window, and yell “Get some f---ing respect” and I drive away.
My dad and I went to the site and spoke with a city employee. I angrily voiced that no woman or person should ever be treated that way. I also pointed the individual out and was then told that the harasser was the superintendent for the cement job. He was leadership.
I was blackout mad and coming down from this adrenalin high my psyche was flooded with memories of moments that I have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment. Not to mention the disgusting political atmosphere around crotch grabbing. (Feel free to BARF again.) There has been a polarization in our culture since Trump; jerks have come out of the woodwork, feminist men have spoken up. But there is also a significant demographic of ignorant guys who, yes, believe pussy grabbing is wrong, but think cat calling is just a part of our culture. “It’s to be expected, but I don’t do it!” Well I am sick of coddling your ball sack. If there is one thing I have learned at the airport, it is “If you see something, say something.” Complacency is part of the problem.
If you think you’re one of these ignorant guys (yes, I know it's hard to admit), then find a female friend, sister, cousin, mom, aunt, grandma, neighbor, your favorite barista, ANYONE with a vagina (except Ann Coulter) and ask her if she has ever been cat-called, groped, hit-on in a creepy way, sexually assaulted, disgustingly gestured at, told to smile… Ask her what she thought of that situation. Ask her how she felt in that situation. Approach your question with empathy (not sympathy), but with an understanding of a cultural oppression that men don’t have to deal with every day they get dressed. Just listen… and if you can’t, then guess what you’ve graduated to jerk status?
Oh and the response to his genital pulling gesture was an apology letter from the company explaining that a memo went out reminding workers of how to interact with the public…. A MEMO!
So how do I get dressed every day to avoid sexual harassment? Well, I try to cover up, dress like a man, and have a really good resting bitch face… It still doesn’t work.
I have dealt with this problem since I had boobs (yes, age 10) and have yet to find a solution. Because I had boobs, I looked much older. When I was 11, I was in a gas station buying a pack of gum, my mom waiting in the car. I had an old dude (like 40s) walk in, grab my shoulder, and say “Hey, good looking.” I was terrified, left the gum on the counter, and ran to my mom's car as fast as I could, in tears. I told her what happened, and she parked the car, went inside, and verbally ripped this guy's head off. Of course his response was “I thought she was someone else.” And her response “you have no business being with anyone this young.” She paid for my gum and we left.
I learned my coping mechanism young. I had to. All women have to, and coping mechanisms for sexual harassment come in all shapes and sizes. Mine, I will admit, is aggressive and I make no excuses. I remember my mom saying to me that people don’t really hurt her feelings; she doesn’t get sad or feel hurt. She gets PISSED! Haha, and I have that same sentiment. I make the injustice known. I ignore catcalls with loathing. Guys who interrupt a conversation that I am having with a friend just to hit on us, I tell them that they can wait. Rubber neckers I flip off… and sometimes I say a good old “F-you!”
One of my dear friends, Anna, teaches me a softer approach. Play ignorant. Anna also covers up and dresses androgynously. In fact, as an art professor she takes her professional wardrobe very seriously so that she is not sexualized in the classroom. (How many hot peppers do you have on ratemyprofessor.com?) When she is catcalled she responds in such a kind human way that some men magically see her as a person rather than a piece of meat. She has a way of finessing conversation that steers it away from sexuality. Her patience is astounding, yet she is still coping.
Women, don’t victim blame. Men, don’t victim blame. When I told the story of the construction worker someone said you shouldn’t have rolled down your window. Well, I refuse to live in fear of other people. Our culture has to shift, it’s not enough for a guy to say he has read feminist books, then turn around and calls my friend a bitch for no reason…. He got called out, and then denied ever saying it (yes this happened). He may have been well read, but behind his studies is a patriarchal structure that needs to be acknowledged before it can be overcome.
I approach my closet every morning aware of how to deemphasize my curves because I don’t want to be viewed a certain way. In the back of my head, I know that what I wear won’t make a difference. Some men’s minds go where they go no matter if I wear a paper bag. So I wear what I want, I wear what is comfortable, I wear what makes me feel good, and blame the harasser for their inability to use intellect and/or common respect to control their eyes, hands, penis, mouth, and mind.