Recently, I was at work and was approached by one of the guys who works in the dish department. All of them are very quiet but that night was a particularly slow night and he looked curious. I acknowledged him and thought he was introducing himself. I shook his hand not knowing where this would lead the rest of the night.
As he shook my hand, he didn’t say a word but rubbed my hand longer than expected with his wet hands from washing dishes. I took my hand back and went back to work thinking if I ignored him he’d go away.
And he did. But only for a little while.
The rest of the night he would come by my station and loom. I knew he was there but stayed concentrated on my work even though it had started to seriously creep me out.
At one point he tried taking my hand again and I ignored his gesture.
He started walking by my station and every time he passed me he would either touch my back, shoulder, or hand.
I couldn’t ignore this any longer. I told myself if he touched me one more time I would tell him to back off.
I was working and I saw him come out in the corner of my eye. I continued working and prepared for what I would say to him as I could feel him watching me. Then he walked by me one more time but this time he brushed my butt with his hand.
I was shocked.
Did this really just happen to me at this workplace I’ve been at for over a year? All because I shook a mans hand at the beginning of my shift? Did I ask for this?
I finished up what I was doing then marched myself to a manager and told them what had happened.
They fired the man on the spot.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been harassed and it isn’t even the worse. I’ve been held down, stalked, and catcalled too many times to count. And I know I am not alone in saying these things.
But for some reason tonight’s interaction is sticking with me a little differently than the others.
I grew up in a strict Christian household. It was put in my mind how to stay pure and how to stay modest. I remember the times I spent crying cause I felt like I couldn’t find anything to wear that felt like me. I could find shorts that were long enough or had no holes, I couldn’t have anything that showed my stomach if I raised my hands or my back if I leaned forward. I couldn’t have anything that shows my cleavage even though I barely had any. I couldn’t show my shoulders or my bra. I couldn’t have my jeans too tight.
Now as I got older, I bought stuff that had some holes and tank tops. But for the most part I still dressed very modest compared to other friends I had. My go to outfit has mostly been jeans with a tank top and a plaid over shirt.
When I moved to New York there is one lesson that definitely changed my thinking as a woman. You’ve probably seen the video of the girl walking through the city and getting all the catcalls from men as she simply walks through minding her own business. This is very real. I cannot even count how many times I was catcalled on the streets no matter what I was wearing. There was one particular interaction though that stood out to me.
It was a cold winter day and I was bundled up with two pairs of leggings under my jeans, and boots that went up just below my knees. I had multiple layers on underneath my heavy winter jacket that also covered me half way down my thighs. A scarf that covered my neck and chin and a beanie over my head and ears. Literally the only thing “revealing” on me was the 6 inches between my boots and my jacket, and my face.
I encountered this man who first acted like I had dropped something so I turned around. Upon realizing he was simply just trying to get my attention I turned back to go on my way. This man followed me into the train station and started asking me out. Telling me it didn’t matter if I was taken because he was too. I boldly told him I would never leave my man for someone who clearly just stated he was a cheater and that he was clearly a man with no morale. He finally left me once I swiped my metropass to get into the train terminal but it didn’t stop bothering me that he did follow me from above ground, onto a escalator, and into a train station.
The lesson I learned here was completely opposite of what I had been taught my whole life. I was told that I had to be modest not just because it was godly but because if I didn’t, men wouldn’t be able to help themselves. That when you dress immodest it is a reflection of who you are as a person. If you are immodest, you are asking to become a victim. But here I was, covered from head to toe in layers on this freezing day. The only thing showing my 6 inches of knees that were also covered in jeans and my face and I was still harassed by a man. How was I immodest here? What was I wearing that made him think that was okay? What did I do wrong?
The answer is nothing. I did nothing wrong but it still happens.
I am a believer in still dressing modest to a point and I will do the same for my daughter in making sure she is never going over the edge of risque. But I will not hold her to the same level as I was taught. She can wear her tank tops and clothes that fit her style. But I know that no matter what she decides to wear, she will be victimized one way or another and that’s the scary part. I can only pray it is only by words and never touch.
Our society is so bent on women need to dress a certain way in order not to distract men. We need to hold ourselves to a higher level because they cannot control themselves. We shouldn’t be the ones left to feel guilty and wondering what we did wrong because this isn’t something we did. This is a conversation we need to have in order to make a change. We need to have this conversation as a society and we need to have this conversation with our children in hopes of raising a better world than what we live in now.
I believe we as parents need to take the extra time in making sure our boys become the gentlemen they should be. I may not have a boy right now, but if I have one, I know I will make sure he is the best man he can be when it comes to respecting women. Because I know it is possible. Do men have a habit of looking? Yes, that might not be able to be changed but it doesn’t mean we can’t raise them respectfully to not stare, and how to look away. We can teach them how to watch themselves and how they behave around their peers. We can teach them how to protect their friends. We can teach them how consent works. We can teach them how to open doors, pull chairs, and walk a girl to their front door to make sure they get home safe. Is it old fashioned? Yes. But what is wrong with our children growing up to be a gentleman? I don’t know about you but the day my now husband pulled out my chair so I could sit down in a restaurant, I was blown away!
So I plea, for the sake of our girls, if you have little boys, please teach them how to be respectful. Don’t let them become just another one of the guys who harass a girl during their work hours. Don’t let them become another one of the guys who catcall women just for the fun of it. Don’t let them be another one of those men who rape a women and get away with it. Don’t let them think that they cannot learn to control themselves, or that it’s “just a guy’s nature”, because they can learn to look away. Teach them that just because a girl may show a little skin that it doesn’t give them the liberty to do whatever they want with them.
We can do better, and it starts with us.