A Discussion of Sexual Harassment at the Bar
I wrote in my last article (Stop Looking for Love):
“It’s seriously frustrating to go out with friends, looking good, hoping to be noticed by someone attractive. You feel confident and sexy (because, you know, sometimes a great pair of jeans or a great dress can make you feel like a million bucks!). You wait all night to catch someone’s eye, thinking maybe you might snag a phone number or even a date. Instead of chatting with a tall, dark, dangerously attractive hunk, you spend your night trying to tell a short, overweight and balding, dangerously creepy perv that no, you don’t want him to buy you a drink. At this point, you’re probably wondering what is so difficult to understand about the phrase, ‘Please leave me alone.’ By the end of the night, you go back to your apartment with your girlfriends, just as far from finding Mr. Right.”
What I should have included was this: You go away from the bar or club, shaking (if not on the outside, definitely on the inside) from revulsion. You may even have the taste of bile in the back of your throat. You wanted to be noticed, but you didn’t want to feel violated. For at least a portion of the night, you’ve been propositioned, ogled, objectified, (sometimes) groped, and dehumanized by people you don’t know. Or people you don’t know well enough to have them putting their hands on you as you walk by, staring at only parts of your body, or making lewd remarks about how attractive you are or how good you’d be in bed. Maybe it should be “expected” because of the environment (combined with the copious amounts of alcohol), but that doesn’t make any of it acceptable.
Sure, Buzzfeed may have put out a hilarious (and sadly true) video about what men are really saying when catcalling women (you can watch it here), but I don’t know that it’s stopped the harassment.
If you don’t know it already: Being catcalled or harassed verbally is NOT a compliment. (If you wouldn’t want someone to say it to your sister, your cousin, or your daughter, don’t say it to a woman you don’t know.) Yes, you can tell me that I look pretty, but you don’t have to yell it at me from across the street or add profanity to try and prove your point. I would rather hear, “You look really beautiful today/tonight” than “Damn, girl, you’re so f***ing hot.” Being catcalled doesn’t make me feel valuable or appreciated—it makes me feel like something to be broken off into sections. Like guys only admire parts of my physical attributes. Being groped or grinded on in a club by a guy behind me doesn’t make me feel turned on—it makes me feel violated and, frankly, like a piece of meat. I didn’t go out with my friends to feel like my skin was crawling, I came to have a drink and to laugh with my friends. I didn’t go out tonight thinking that I would have to make up a boyfriend in order for you to leave me alone since I’m another man’s “property.”
I didn’t wear this outfit so you could ogle, fondle, catcall, or leer at me. I wore this because it makes me feel confident, like I could take on the world. It gives me the courage to stand up taller, with my back straighter, my head held high, and my self-esteem through the roof. When you stare at me, hit on me, touch me, or directly tell me that you want to sleep with me, the confidence that I had at the beginning of the night fades because I no longer feel like a person. When I got dressed, I felt expensive. After being accosted by you, I feel cheapened. Maybe I’m not like most women in these places, but maybe you should realize that I’m not a stereotype. I’m a person with feelings. Just because I have ample body parts doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings just as big.
But how can I stop street harassment, you may ask. If you’ve been on the internet over the past few months, you probably have heard about Cards Against Harassment (all of which, you can find here). This project was started by a woman who was fed up with her harassers. She took it upon herself to pass out these cards to men who continued to comment on her looks or about her sexually when she was on the street, usually while filming their responses (you can see the Cards Against Harassment YouTube channel here).
Like all women who are sexually harassed, I’ve wanted to fight back. I’m just not always sure how to. These are some things I’ve thought about saying to aggressive males, but have not had the courage to say out loud. *Disclaimer: In most of these situations, I was not alone, but with a group of close friends. These responses are NOT advice about what to say to potential harassers.
I was wearing a sundress that showed a bit of cleavage and walked by a group of businessmen. One told me that the friend standing next to him liked me—both sets of eyes never left my breasts. What I said: “Umm…thanks?” What I wish I had the courage to say: “Tell me, what exactly does he like about me: my legs, my hair, my smile, or my cleavage? There’s much more to me than my body parts, so look into my eyes when you’re talking to me, not at my breasts!”
When a man enthusiastically tried to pick me up in a bar, calling me pet names like “babe” and “sweetheart”, saying that he would give me a ride home. What I said: “No, thank you, I’ve already got a ride home.” What I wish I had the courage to say: “My name is not ‘babe,’ ‘honey,’ ‘sweetheart,’ or ‘sexy’ when you’re trying to pick me up. Nor is it ‘b*tch,’ ‘tease,’ ‘tramp,’ or ‘slut’ when I turn you down.”
And finally, I had the courage to stick up for myself.
When (in a crowded room) a man I had not been introduced to followed me as I began leaving the room and slithered his hands down my arms and my back toward my butt. What I had the courage to say (and do): “Get your hands OFF me!” As I said this, I threw my elbows back, right into his face. He proceeded to flee from behind me.
You may not have to follow these direct examples of confronting your harassers (or mine and elbow one in the face), particularly if the situations you find yourself in are dangerous. You can still offer up a simple “no” instead of remaining silent when you are harassed. Like I said earlier, if we do nothing to oppose sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, then we indirectly support it.