Tomorrow is my birthday but I’m working all day and I was off today so my boyfriend took me out all day long for some birthday celebration awesomeness. At one point we ended up at Barnes and Nobel just relaxing and reading and checking things out. It was very nice, until I sat down to leaf through a magazine and got verbally intruded upon by some guy who happened to be sitting in the chair next to me.
I had been wandering around the store for about 20min looking for new books that I might like when I decided to go see what my partner was doing. I went downstairs and found him sitting in an armchair that was part of a set of four (two next to each other and two opposite those so they were facing each other). I came up behind him, gave him a kiss, hugged him, spoke with him a bit as all the other chairs were taken and was about to walk off and find myself a place to sit and peruse a copy of Wired when the chair opposite him opened up so I sat there.
Immediately upon sitting down the man occupying the chair to my right oogled me a bit and said “I really like your boots” (though he said it while eyeing me up and down and was staring intently at other parts of my body when he mentioned the boots which made me pretty uncomfortable). Hoping that seemingly innocuous statement would be the end of it I sat down. After a few moments he tried to start a conversation with me about the book he was reading. I “politely” ignored him – which is to say that I smiled, nodded, did not answer verbally and went back to my magazine. A few minutes after that he tried again, this time I actually verbalized a one word response and turned away from him again. Finally he tried a third time at which point my boyfriend got up out of his chair, walked toward me with his hand out, said to the strange man “We’re done here” and then said to me “Come on, let’s go.” The strange man said “Oh come on, you’re not leaving are you?” and that was pretty much it.
The whole exchange, from beginning to end, made me extremely uncomfortable. To begin with I don’t appreciate being sexually objectified ever, and especially not by random strangers. Additionally, I was not interested in interacting with anyone whilst at B&N. This was my day to celebrate my birth with my boyfriend in my own way. I didn’t want to have a conversation with this stranger, I wanted to leaf through magazines and books all by myself in a comfy chair but since this man decided he wanted to interact with me I was forced into an exchange that I did not want to be a part of. But after it was all over and I thought about it my biggest issue with the exchange was that I didn’t stand up for myself. I smiled and nodded and sent subtle, non-verbal signals to this man touting my disinterest in him and the fact that I was seriously uncomfortable and displeased with his attentions. I did not, however, actually say that I wanted him to leave me alone. I don’t believe that I am guilty of encouraging him because I don’t think I did. I shouldn’t have had to put up with that shit in the first place and the fact that he felt entitled to invade my space and my day just because he (apparently) thought I was attractive is the main problem here. But the secondary issue is that as a woman dealing with a strange man I was actually afraid to stand up for myself and tell him to leave me alone.
I spent some time thinking after we left B&N and I wondered why I had done nothing and just allowed this stranger to repeatedly accost me while my partner was able to step in without issue. The fact is that I was scared, as I am any time a strange man approaches me. I fear being assaulted, attacked, I fear that if I act out in any way that these men don’t appreciate they will react with anger and become in some way violent. I fear this because it has actually happened to me before (numerous times). I have said no to requests for my phone number or even to people trying to start up a conversation and I have had men yell and scream and get physically violent in the face of my completely reasonable rejection. Having had that happen to me in the past I choose to now err on the side of caution and simply go along with it when strange men approach me until I can safely extricate myself from the situation.
This right here is one of the many insidious side effects of rape culture – I have been literally terrorized into compliance. I will admit here and now that I have actually verbally and physically consented to sex that I did not want to have because I was afraid of the consequences if I said no. And variations on the scene in the bookstore have happened to me more times than I can count.
So men everywhere – if you want women to not fear you then don’t intrude upon them, upon their personal space and their lives, unless they invite you in and if they decline your attempt at contact don’t respond with anger, don’t respond with violence and accept that this person simply isn’t interested in interacting with you the way you want to. I don’t take it as a compliment when you “compliment” me because I know that those words come with strings and expectations attached to them. I don’t appreciate it, it doesn’t pad my ego and it’s not a boost for my self-esteem. There is literally nothing positive about being accosted by a random stranger regardless of what his intentions are.
People are not obligated to give you what you want just because you want it, instead you are obligated to respect their personal space, their personal wants and their personal rights.