Ever since JoAnna’s impactful post A Lesson In Creating Space (or: I Have Been Taught To Grow In) I have been dwelling on the way we, as a society, respond to inappropriate behavior.
I remember as a young girl, there was a period of time when I loathed riding on the school bus. There was a particular boy on the bus who had no qualms about sexually harassing me. With comments such as “I see you’re growing hair on your legs” or other, even more unnerving, comments that made me want to curl up into a tiny ball and hide from the world.
As a grown woman I’ve had men try, openly, to kiss me knowing full well I was already in a committed relationship. When rebuffed they have behaved like the injured party, even going so far as to insist that they knew I wanted it!
The fragility of their ego – needing my submission to validate their masculinity – can result in their behaviour turning defensive in the blink of an eye. It is almost a threat; if I don’t give it to them they take it out on me with their anger, like an immature child’s tantrum having been refused candy at the check out.
As a young girl the method I most often used for dealing with insensitive boys was to ignore them. However, I have some regrets about doing it that way. I remember a time on the school bus when a few of the boys were picking on a female friend of mine – one year my junior. She turned to me with a pleading look in her eyes, a heartfelt “help me” expression on her face. To my great regret, I didn’t step in. I knew that standing up to them would only unleash a further torrent of verbal abuse. So I stayed quiet. I’m pretty sure I broke her heart and it changed our relationship after that, she stopped standing up for me too. It is a memory that haunts me and I hope she was eventually able to forgive me for that. Sometimes there’s just no winning, whether you stand up for yourself, or not.
The moral of the story? Ignoring these bottom feeders has it’s own repercussions.
This reminds me of the 1998 movie ‘Stepmom’ with Susan Sarandon & Julia Roberts. Anna, the daughter, was having trouble with boys and her mother advises her to ignore them but it doesn’t work. Her stepmother tries to help with a different method of coping – and it works!
It’s safe to say, any girl who’s been harassed at school wishes they could have had help devising awesome, but harmless, revenge plans! I know I certainly could!
Fast-forward to the present day and the game is different. Luckily it doesn’t have a debilitating effect on me anymore, but these grown up boys, can still be serious assholes.
I’ve had ‘men’ throw themselves at me without any understanding or respect of my personal space, or the word no. I recall dancing next to a decent looking guy and having a really enjoyable conversation about ballet. But the next thing I knew he grabbed my hand and ground it into his crotch. This, following a month during which two unrelated men snuck an ass grab in such a way that their fingertips reached under further than they should and brushed… something else… I remember asking a female friend of mine, “Is this a thing? Do guys actually do this now?”
A friend, recently travelling around Australasia, was put in a position where she was unable to make it back to her accommodation one evening. As she was with a group of friends, or so she thought, she politely asked if one of them could lend her sofa or floor space to sleep for the night. After an, all male, huddle she was told that she would be welcome to utilize one of their sofas – but the payment would be that she would have to sleep with one of them. She put down her drink and left.
How has this become acceptable behaviour?
I don’t know about dating or ‘hooking up’ these days. The last time I had to do that was in the 90s! Needless to say I’m out of the loop. Unfortunately, being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily keep me out of the line of fire.
Several years ago I was out with a friend of mine in Hong Kong; she was quite young, just out of a US college and always the life of the party. We were approached by a rude guy who attempted to strike up a conversation with me, which I tried to tolerate politely. My friend came over and within seconds she has assessed his appalling conduct, shut him down and had him scurrying away with his tail between his legs (or possibly just onto his next target). I’ll never forget that moment. Her confidence and self-respect was such that she was simply not prepared to entertain his crap.
At this point of my life I have a few different tactics in my arsenal for use when dealing with these ‘charming gentlemen’….
1) Niceness. It seems almost counterintuitive but it always works, (maybe as it is so foreign to their own modus operandi)! Sure the man in question won’t learn that he’s being an insensitive prick, but it’s not about him. This is a useful approach when you’re not interested in escalating their emotions, as, once you confront them, it will most likely turn to anger. Normally, by just be being nice, you can hurry on your way without a new stalker on your heals.
2) Defend and undermine. Be blunt. Point out what bullshit you think they are spouting. Once they realize you are not hanging on their every word they often get confused! However, only use this method when you feel safe, and are surrounded by friends. You have to prepare yourself for their attack mode, as this type of personality does not like to be called out on their behavior.
3) Physical blockers. Sometimes men need to see it spelled out in a physical way. This is particularly pertinent when you’re out dancing with your friends. I’ve even played interference for complete strangers if I’ve seen a girl cornered, and visa versa – female solidarity! Once someone else has inserted themselves between the guy and his target his momentum is thwarted sufficiently to enable an escape. Get them as physically far away from you as possible.
Being treated like some kind of object to be used/played/ogled is certainly not fair but I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon. I remember the sexual education videos from when I was a kid where they taught you “No, means no!”
What happened to no, meaning no? What happened to our collective innocence?
Everyone is different and each of us has our own boundaries, but if someone crosses that line it’s up to the individual to evaluate each situation and decide whether this time it’s worth the fight, or to just let it slide so you can move on. What will you choose today?
As a footnote here are a couple of excellent links that I’ve enjoyed in the past few weeks on a similar topic.
French Short Film about role reversal and sexism. Amusing and depressing wrapped into one.
Video about the difference of object & subject by Laci Green. I love her charisma & charm.