Street Harassment: Worth the Squeeze?

By MELISSA FABELLO

I work at a juice bar.

A customer came in the other day and marveled at the fact that we got new company shirts. They say the name of the bar on the left side of the chest and our tagline on the back: worth the squeeze. I moved my hair out of the way so that he could examine the shirt, and he said to me, “I promise I’m not trying to check out your boob.” I laughed and said it was okay, and then I turned around to show him the back. “I bet you get a lot of comments about that,” he said. I rolled my eyes and said that yes, we do.

As I made him his smoothie, I started telling him about my time in India, about the instance when a man grabbed my ass on my way onto an auto-rickshaw, who then actually paid for my ride. I said that usually I wouldn’t have let someone pay for me, but I thought that a grope was worth the five rupees it cost to get from one major crossing to another.

When I handed him his drink, he started to pull out his credit card, which got a quizzical look from me.  “Oh!” he said.  “I already paid, didn’t I?”  I told him that he had, but that if he wanted to pay me twice, I’d accept it.  “I was so distracted thinking about groping you that I got confused,” he said.

At that moment, another customer walked in, holding one of our frequent buyer cards. “Groping? I’ve got a full punch card,” he said. “What can I get for that?” We all laughed, and the first customer walked out as I started to help the next customer, who is a regular.

“What was that about?” he asked.  I explained the story. “That’s a little weird,” he said. “I mean, it was all a pretty normal, innocent conversation until he said he was thinking about groping you. That just took it to another level.”

Isn’t that the truth?

And this whole scenario, as well as others like it that occur at work, got me thinking about the concept of off-the-street harassment: when would-be street harassers come into a situation where they feel comfortable making lewd comments because the surroundings are different. For instance, maybe this man thought it was acceptable to joke about groping me because we were in the oh-so-intimate setting of me making him a smoothie. And I thought hard about my reaction: I had laughed it off, even though I was somewhat uncomfortable, but if someone had said that to me on the street, entirely unprovoked, I would have been livid. So what makes it different?

Nothing, actually.

The same social injustices and power dynamics that cause street harassment cause sexual harassment in other arenas, too, and I think it’s time for us to take a stand against all of it.  So the next time someone tells me that I am, indeed, “worth the squeeze,” my answer is going to be: Don’t talk to me like that.

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  1. Marie says:

    I work at a coffee shop similar to Starbucks, and customers often talk to me inappropriately, but not blatantly inappropriately. Still, it’s enough to make me feel uncomfortable – yet I go with it, laugh it off. Behind the counter I’m somewhat trapped, captive. Being in such a position and serving customers there creates an environment where customers (especially male) become overly friendly, misread my kind attitude and conversation (I am a nice person mostly and my job is to be pleasant) and cross the line. I’m a captive audience, not interested. Before I quit this summer, perhaps I’ll confront the regular offenders….or I hope I do.

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