I myself feel ever so complimented when a strange man feels as though he has the right to comment on or make assessments about my body, whether I’m all dressed up to have dinner with friends, crossing the street in business casual during my lunch break, jogging alone in shorts and a tank top, or shopping at the local grocery store in sushi pajamas on a Sunday afternoon.
I also dearly love it when not one person makes a single comment about just how uncool it is to treat a human being like an object that is up for sale, or a form of livestock subject to the will of male viewers…
"Christ," a voice said from somewhere behind me, interrupting me in my search for the ripest melon in the produce section.
"Excuse me?" I said, thinking I might be blocking the aisle or somehow otherwise in this stranger’s way.
"Oh, don’t mind me, honey. Was just enjoying the view."
The man assumed a relaxed position, crossing his arms and leaning against the metal edge of the humidified vegetable aisle as if he were waiting for something.
Because I’m a dunce, it actually took me a second to figure out precisely what he meant to imply.
"Well, go on," he said, jerking his head at my blank look. "You lean on over just like you were and find the one you want. Take your time, I’m in no hurry."
I could only stare. What the hell had I done to warrant such unwanted, blatantly disrespectful attention?
I looked down: Brightly colored blouse and denim shorts. It was 102° outside. I could have been anyone in the store.
((However, as we all know, what I’d chosen to put on that morning shouldn’t have had any bearing on the situation I then found myself in whatsoever.))
I stared around me. Several had slowed their carts to a crawl but looked away as soon as I turned. I was certain my body language screamed HELP in big, bold letters.
"C’mon now, no one’s keeping you," the loud-mouthed stranger informed me.
The most pathetic part of this entire story? He was absolutely right.
No one said a goddamn word.
Not the mother with the pre-teen son trailing behind her. Not the older gentleman who appeared so absorbed in his coupon book. Not the elderly woman in a floral sundress directly opposite me in the melon section. Not the blonde woman carrying an overloaded hand cart just a few feet to my left. Not even the tired-looking dad inspecting apple after apple or the young male clerk busily straightening tomatoes with what appeared to be mathematical precision.
No one said anything.
The stranger heaved an impatient sigh. ‘Well, I don’t have all day,’ the harsh expulsion of air seemed to say. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d begun tapping his foot.
I reeled on him, glaring so hard my eyes tightened and began to water despite my best attempts to keep them dry.
"Fuck. You." I told him (and, perhaps, everyone), in clear, precise syllables.
… After which point, I stormed out of the aisle, completely humiliated and disappointed in myself for not having a more sophisticated verbal dressing down armed and at the ready.
He’d caught me off guard. I’d been in this store a thousand times without ever once encountering such a ridiculous degree of bullshit. I go about the majority of my life without the company of a male escort. I didn’t deserve to be treated like property just because it was hot and I’d dressed for the fucking weather and I was on my own.
In summary: This shit happens every single day, to far too many women you know, some of whom you also count among your friends and loved ones.
Most of them go about their lives knowing this toxic crap is out there waiting for them. Many take it in stride because they know it often comes with the territory when one is born female or with feminine characteristics.
So men, I respectfully request two things:
#1. Don’t be that guy. It’s not a compliment, and we both know it.
#2. If you witness a woman being harassed, don’t fulfill the role of yet another silent bystander. If a simple word or even a “What the hell are you doing, man? Knock it off.” does not place you in mortal danger, SAY IT.
Letting such sorry excuses for human beings get away with tormenting an innocent, blameless portion of the population simply for having the audacity to appear unaccompanied in public is outrageous.
Women: I know it’s hard. I feel your pain. Nobody wants to be called a “little bitch” or a “cunt” in the middle of the grocery store just for speaking out against abuse.
But goddamn it, if the privileged don’t even have the guts to step out of their own cozy little comfort zone for one second, even if it’s for no more noble a reason than to prove that at least some members of the male population actually exercise a working conscience and are indeed as ‘decent’ and ‘not like those guys’ as they say, then we better at least be willing to goddamn support each other when we recognize one of our number in need.
Abuse is very real, and it happens on both large and small scales and disproportionately towards women every single day.
It is not okay and it will never be okay. And we should let the goddamn perpetrators know it, even at the cost of making ourselves momentarily uncomfortable.
Such small heroics can make a huge difference, if not to the abusers or even the abused, then at least to those who chose to bear witness, say nothing, and just let it happen right in front of them.
So get off your ass and set an example when you have the chance. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases, no one else is going to apply pressure for POSITIVE social change for you.
That’s my peace.