Yesterday I got tripped up in organizing something upstairs and when I checked the time we’d missed the bus. Sean wasn’t home and Briar had caught her bus an hour earlier.
“Girls, let’s go. I am driving you to school,” I called downstairs.
“Ok, which garage door do we open?” Ave called up to me.
“The rectangle button.”
“Got it, we’ll be in the car.”
I smiled, finished what I was doing and headed downstairs. I grabbed the lunch I’d packed, my computer bag, and a gatorade. When I got outside I realized the sky looked a bit threatening, but there wasn’t time to go back for my coat. I shrugged, even though my shirt was sleeveless, I wasn’t cold.
“Ok, you guys want the radio on?” I asked.
“Actually mom, can I tell you a story?” Avery asked.
“Sure,” I said and she happily launched into a story about helping a classmate figure out how to pull a loose tooth. When we got to school I asked if they wanted to walk in alone or if they wanted me to come.
“Come,” they shouted in unison. We spilled out of the car together laughing and holding hands. I scanned the parking lot, knowing all too well that the closer it gets to kids being marked late, the less the cars slow for you. There was a man in a yellow shirt watching us as he got his son out of the car. I squeezed the girls hands and said, “C’mon, let’s go. Don’t want to be late.” They immediately fell in line with me. As we sped up, so did the man. I dismissed it. I kept my eyes forward and pulled the girls along.
We pushed through the heavy doors the man stopped while his son hugged an aide. I could feel him watching us. The girls leaned in for kisses and I hugged them as we walked to the hallway doors. Once over that threshold they both race walked, eager to be as early to class as possible. I called out a last “I love you” and turned on my heel for the door. As I pushed through and held it open slightly for the person behind me, I saw the yellow shirt.
“Why are you wearing heels? You’re so tall,” he said to me standing closer than felt comfortable.
I chuckled awkwardly and said, “We still like cute shoes.” I shrugged, smiled and sped up, ready to be done.
He kept pace with me, laughed and said, “I looked over and thought wow, she’s tall,” he kept laughing and then he ran his hand from the top of my shoulder to just above my elbow as he said, “Then I realized you were in heels.”
I’d been annoyed that he commented on my shoes, but I was so taken aback that he was touching me that no words came out of my mouth. I tried to mask my discomfort and a shrill laugh came out. “My daughter will probably be tall and look like a giant in heels,” he said. I shook my head and sped off. He kept laughing and all I could think was, “Why did he touch me?”
I drove to the office unable to shake the unexpected and unwelcome sensation of his hand touching my bare skin. It had been uninvited. When I got out of the car I tried to leave it behind me. I crossed the parking lot and then the street. I saw a man on a bicycle coming toward me. He looked like a business man, the hem of his pants strapped back and a collared shirt peaking out beneath a backpack and helmet.
“Hi,” he said. I smiled and said hello back, thinking that it’s nice to live in a place where people say hello.
“You should have your winter clothes on,” he said to me.
My mouth slipped open. “I’m ok,” I said, incredulous that in the space of ten minutes two different men had questioned my choices.
“No,” he jutted his chin in my direction, “You should be dressed in winter things,” he said and nodded.
I walked toward the building, toward my business. I struggled not to curve my shoulders in and walk so that my heels were less noticeable. When I left my house I’d felt incredible, dressed for a day at work, yet two men felt it was their place to questions my decisions. No matter how many ways I turned the events around in my head I couldn’t fathom touching a stranger, literally stroking their body. I would never have my first sentence to a person be to suggest that they were dressed inappropriately, in fact I’d likely afford my children a statement more along the lines of, “If it rains do you think you’ll be warm enough?” but even that might be more than I’d do.
I am not a paper doll, not a plaything to be touched or a toy to be redressed. I am a human being.
I guess I just wonder when it is that a person goes from being taught to not touch what isn’t theirs to feeling as if anything or anyone is theirs to touch.
Have you had seemingly small things happen in the day, that when you reflect upon them you realize, you know what, that was wrong?
I don’t even have the words to describe how appalled I am, and how sorry I am that you experienced this….. objectification. Do we stop a man in a street and tell him that his shirt is too tight? That maybe he should button up his top 2 buttons? No. I’m disgusted, and I’m sorry.
Thank you, Alison. I don’t understand when the double standard happens. I know that little boys aren’t raised to think they can do what they want to other people…
Yeah, actually, they are. Not directly – not in so many words – but indirectly, powerfully, every day. The man who touched you has a son. His son may not have seen his father touch you, but he’s probably seen him touch other women in the same way. They are taught. They learn. The same way we learn that their comfort is more important than our piece of mind, so we don’t speak up. We hunch into our clothes. We button our buttons. We swallow our words. We rage inside.
We are all taught. We all learn. And it has to stop.
This made my stomach turn…and neither of them probably thought about what they did at all; no second thoughts tongi along with your consumed ones.
I’m sorry; I have no other words.
I wondered if it would seem normal to someone else, because as I sit here I can still see his face and feel his hand. COntinues to be completely inappropriate.
Ummm…”to go along”, not “tongi.”
(I know you know this, but the twitching wouldn’t stop unless I corrected it.)
Both events alone would make my stomach turn. Especially the touching. But together they are just bizarre and uncomfortable.
And yes, I’ve run over “little” things in my head and come to the conclusion that they aren’t so little.
An old friend of mine heard me tweeting about this and said, “Where the hell do you live?” I think we all have these things happen, but when they aren’t back-to-back like this you can muffle the emotions.
Completely creepy and wrong.
It’s infuriating how often these kinds of things happen. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m standing beside you in trying to find it.
Thank you, we’ll get there.
Oh my stars. That is beyond creepy, especially the first guy. Wow. Similar thing happened to me on the subway once and I think I shocked him when I loudly said, in no uncertain terms, “get your f$#@ing hand off me!”. I don’t think he expected that! Even just yesterday, another small thing happened (though not as bad as yours). I was parking my car in the neighborhood near my daughter’s school to walk her to the school. I pulled behind a shiny red sports car that was already parked. The owner, a man, was standing outside of it waiting for the person in the house that he was picking up. He made a motion to me as I was parking that I didn’t quite understand. When I got out with my daughter I asked him what was he motioning about? He said that he didn’t want me to hit his car, hardy har har (but he was totally serious). The implication was that I was not skilled enough to park … TEN feet away, mind you. I was like are you “fucking kidding me?” (in my head). Dude, I’m 40 years old with no parking or moving violations to my name–I got this. I just said to him, “oh, please!” in a really snarky tone and walked off with my daughter. I bet he was expecting some kind of ditzy giggle response. But I was so annoyed, you know? Not “good morning”, or “nice day, huh?”–just don’t hurt my car. That was his greeting. Pissed me off for far longer than it should have, obviously.
Or maybe you should stay angry for that long. Not funny.
What!? I feel sick to my stomach (and I kind of wish you’d used those heels to kick him where it counts). Sorry – not a violent person – but, just, No.
Yes. All Women. (Everyday.)
Hugs to you, my dear friend.
Taking those hugs gladly.
It dismays me to read this in part because the feeling you describe is so familiar. It doesn’t take much to derail me and to make me question all kinds of my choices, and I hate that. I love that you’re tall and love that you wear heels, and wish people would just SHUT UP.
Rocking heels again today, because I won’t let them take away more choices.
I always say I want a nametag that says: Hi my name is steph and I am NOT a hugger 🙂
I want one of those nametags as well.
Bizarre. It’s one thing to notice. Quite another to invade like that. To touch someone without any valid reason whatsoever. I admit, I am a hugger. A toucher. I’ve been known to place a hand on a shoulder when talking with them. But never a stranger. And never in a lewd or propositioning manner. I’m sorry you had to experience that creepiness …
I think the saddest thing is how familiar this is to me. I was a bus commuter in “America’s Most Polite City” for a year and a half and was subject to daily stares, comments, and harassment. From the overt– being yelled at “HEY SUGAR TITS!” as I walked down the street in my business-casual secretary attire to a smelly man who would make me move my giant tote bag to sit next to me and chat me up despite the fact that I was reading, pen in hand, intently for my grad school classes. I had total strangers take my photo, twice, as I stood at my stop waiting for the bus. I would come home some days and just sob in my husband’s arms. The dehumanization and objectification were scary and exhausting. Once I flipped off a guy who yelled something lewd at me and then wondered for blocks if he turned his pickup truck around and was coming back to hurt me.
Damn. I am so sorry. I hate these sorts of stories tying us together.
This is really creepy and I’m sorry this happened to you. I am shocked by the guy at the school. I would have been really upset.
It dismays me that as women we are still so objectified. You are so strong and powerful! Thank you for sharing this and for being a voice that speaks up.
I can’t stop thinking that there are layers and layers of it that we have conditioned ourselves to to see or feel out of an emotional survival instinct. I’m tired of not belonging entirely to myself.
Thanks for getting this, Pamela.
So baffling and inappropriate and unsettling. What is with people!? I’m so sorry you had two weird moments like that in one day. It also shows your gut feel about the guy in the yellow shirt was spot on.
Our gut feeling so often is spot on, and we learn to rationalize it away so damn often.
Amanda, So sorry you had to deal with such invasive, paternalistic, condescending and objectifying behavior. I am 64 and have been dealing with harassment my whole life. Our org, hu-MAN Up (@hu_manup, hu-manup.org, facebook.com/planetprojecthumanup) works to engage men and boys to help end rape culture. We teach compassion, offer perspective and let them know that being a good guy is not enough — that silence makes one complicit. We teach them to speak up against normalized, everyday sexism — that #sexismisnotsexy. There is so much work to do. We use billboards, transit signs, comeback cards, stickers,workshops, public art, spoken word and theater. Let’s get louder!