Being a person with a vagina and the temerity to, on occasion, leave the house, I am no stranger to street harassment. In fact, as we have seen again and again on AWOT, very few of us are. The sad fact is that, yes, barely a week will go by without some charming fellow just letting you know, in the kindest and most polite way possible, that you have BANGING TITS or that he wants to DESTROY THAT. And, sadly, we’ve kind of gotten used to it, haven’t we? Wearing a low-cut dress, I will tightly button my cardigan if I’m going to be walking through the weekend crowds, and I think twice about attracting attention at all if I’m going to be alone at night for any reason. We all do it; we all monitor and edit our behaviour and appearance to give street harassers less of a ‘reason’ to bawl obscenities at us.
The thing is, though, it’s not just on the street, is it? It’s on trains and in pubs and in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon and in the library (for reals) and in your own home if someone invites Wanker Mike to your party. And sometimes it’s at your desk at work.
I’m a receptionist, which means I have the dubious pleasure of having to smile a lot, while staff and customers alike treat me like I am barely more intelligent than a ball of foil. It’s fulfilling.
In my work we get a lot of parcels delivered by couriers, and last week, a new DHL man came, and our exchange was thus:
He: Hello darling.
Me: Can I help you?
He: Got a parcel for you, sweetheart.
Me: Right (gesturing that he should put it on the desk)
He: (handing me the thing to sign) Here you go, babe.
Now, at this point, I was so stupendously pissed off that I thought “I want to say more words, so I can say them in a snippy way, so that he knows I am pissed off”
Me: Are you having a nice day?
He: I am now I’ve found you, gorgeous.
I’m not going to lie, I almost exploded. I almost threw my computer screen at his head and I almost called him all the bad things I could think of.
But I didn’t: I calmly explained to him that his language was demeaning and unnecessary. I pointed out that we do not know each other and that a simple “hello” would always suffice. I said that approaching a young woman, on her own, and using those words, is incredibly threatening.
To his credit, he listened, at least. Then he told me I was being silly, that I was overreacting, that this way of greeting someone is “just Northern” (er, no, mate, I’m from Newcastle so you’re not getting that catch-all bullshit past me) and, the worst, that he has always spoken this way to women, and that nobody else has ever complained.
And I thought “I bet they have, you creep, and I bet you dismissed them like you dismissed me.” He left, to harass another day, and I was left, impotent in my uncomfortable desk chair, visibly shaking from the confrontation.
This isn’t the first time, unfortunately, that this has happened. The old DHL man commented on my legs all the time (I sit behind a desk, he has never seen them) and asked me which building I live in (WHICH BUILDING!). There’s another courier to whom I had to say “please, call me Becca, not Beautiful or Honey.” And then there’s the much older male colleague who once called me Baby. Confronting these men has always left them smirking like “what’s her beef?” while I feel sick and shaky and scared.
The worst thing is, after every time this has happened, I’ve questioned myself. Was I being over-friendly myself? Was I flirting? Do I just give out these “harass me!” vibes? And that’s ridiculous. So I’ve decided that next time a courier or a colleague sexually harasses me at work, I won’t say a word to him. And then I’ll lodge a formal complaint.
And then he can never truthfully say that nobody has ever complained before. Small victory, but I’ll take it.
Becca writes an absolutely top notch blog, which I recommend you bookmark immediately. She describes herself as a beauty addict, feminist and faux ginger, as well as a Minajaholic (probably not the same as a mingeaholic, which is what I first read when I saw that). She’s a postgraduate student, an amusing tweeter and a user of excellent similes. I suggest you follow her on Twitter toute suite.