Sexual harassment isn’t always aggressive street heckling. We’re so used to sexual harassment being aggressive that we can forget it also takes a more covert form.
I remember the first time I was old enough to realize that I was being harassed. I was 12-years-old, waiting for the school bus. Two men screamed at me from their truck when they came to a stoplight.
They yelled, “I love your body” and “get in my car!”
I didn’t know what I was feeling but I knew I felt wronged. Did they know that I was only 12? I was young enough to be their daughter, but I bet they couldn’t handle the thought of someone their child enduring harassment like that.
Their overt sexualization of me made my young mind hyper-aware.
What were they seeing that I wasn’t? Why were they forcing me to fit the role of a woman, when I was only a child?
My body was mine, not theirs, so why did they feel so entitled to it?
These dangerous interactions did not slow down as I grew older, instead, they grew more covert as men worked to try to disguise these insults as benign compliments.
I recently started a new job where I work closely with people in a service capacity. I find myself dealing with harassers all the time now, and I don’t know how to deal.
It seems like these men are constantly taking advantage of my circumstances and the fact that I can’t resist their advances or complain to my boss. I was working the elevator once, and when you’re working in confined spaces, it seems impossible to get away when people are being inappropriate.
This man decided to keep taking the elevator to talk to me several times. He thought it was a compliment, but I found it incredibly overwhelming because of his inappropriate comments.
Dealing with harassment from the people I was hired to help makes me feel caught in between what’s right and what’s smart for my career. If I respond to these comments unfavorably, I run the risk of getting in trouble and potentially losing my job. I know I am a strong woman that refuses to take their shit, but on the other hand, I really need this job.
If I fought back, I would be told to “learn how to take a compliment.”
But I wasn’t hired to entertain these men or be abused by them, I was hired because I am damn good at my job. I shouldn’t have to tolerate being talked to this way, but this is the dilemma that women and especially women of color deal with all the time. We are continuously talked down to, even when we do the job better than any one else.
If we address the unfairness, we are labeled as the “angry black woman.”
To all those catcalling men at work: please, do not take my kindness or confusion as a weakness, I am fiercer than I appear. My job is to be nice to you, I do not want anything more. And I don’t want your backhanded “compliments” anywhere near me.
I truly wish I could express my disgust when I hear these comments, but I can’t afford to risk my job, and I know that my boss would expect me to let it go or take it as a compliment. So instead, I have to laugh it off and go about my day.
After a while, I got numb to the harassment.
I can’t afford to be affected by every man who tries to belittle me. One thing is sure though, I am so over being treated this way. I love myself too much to take your comments seriously. And I’m glad that I learned to love myself when I did because it gave me the confidence to swerve all you problematic fools.