Today I was coffee shop hopping as I do (for those of you who don’t know, that means staying at a coffee shop as long as is socially acceptable then going to the next one and repeating), and as I was driving from Black Sheep to Coffea, a red car with two males pulled up next to me at a stoplight. After a very brief moment of eye contact, they proceeded to make obscene gestures, roll their window down, and yell to try and get my attention. Unlike the aggressive woman that I am, I made the conscious decision to ignore them as I kept my eyes ahead of me and windows rolled up, a hot blush creeping up the back of my neck. I proceeded in my route hoping that these boys would continue on their own way, but they seemed to have another idea. They followed me. At every stoplight, even if there were cars in front of me and none in front of them, they would stop next to me and continue their harassment. When I turned, they jumped into my lane and turned with me only to once more get into the lane next to me. This occurred for over ten minutes. As I was nearing my destination, I was literally shaking with the thought that they might follow me and get out of their car. I had my phone in my hand ready to call a friend that worked at Coffea so he could come out and walk me in, but to my relief, as I turned into the parking lot of Coffea, they finally sped away. I got out of my car and weakly walked into the coffee shop, silently thanking that these strange guys weren’t accompanying me.
As I sat in Coffea, contemplating homework but not doing any, my mind wandered onto the systematic forces behind why these boys were fearless about the attention they had given me today. While I am definitely a fan of unsolicited flirting (such as buying me hot chocolate, or leaving me a note that says “hey I bet you have a great brain, call me” [potential boyfriends, take note]) aggressive pursuit without encouragement is simply NOT COOL. This kind of harassment is metaphorically rape, because it is taking someone’s time and feelings of safety, and violating and destroying it, over and over. Although we have made beautiful leaps in the area of women’s rights since the beginning of the 20th century, these boys have still grown up in a society where women are depicted as being at the service of men. Boys like these are taught that they can do whatever they want to a woman and that there will be no repercussions. I’m not saying that every male out there is a sex offender or ignorant of the equality of men and women, I know plenty of lovely, respectable guys that I trust with my life and well being. I’m saying that people can take away from the media the belief that women are submissive and meant to be dominated, even that we LIKE being harassed. And, while there may be some girls who are into being aggressively pursued, there are just as many if not more women who have been systematically raised to fear walking down a street alone at night.
Even though I know that I have just as much control of my life as men, I still blush and avoid eye contact when I am in a room with only men. This isn’t because I believe every man I come in contact with is picturing me without my clothes on, it’s because I literally can’t afford to not be careful. I have been harassed and assaulted in many ways but I still consider myself lucky because I have never been raped. That is not okay. I have sat in a circle with friends and strangers both male and female and shared experiences of sexual assault, both physically and emotionally. That is not okay. There should not be stories in the memory of nearly every human. There should not be fear in the eyes of every woman and plenty of men.
When I joined Sigma Phi Lambda, I attended a training seminar on sex assault and how to avoid it. While I do believe that this is an excellent thing to be teaching college students, no one has ever taught a seminar on how to not assault other people. Congruent to teaching victims defense mechanism, we should also be teaching potential offenders coping mechanism, so that they can find other outlets instead of sexual violence. Until we address the source of the problem, simply treating the symptoms will ensure that we never permanently get rid of sex assault.
I know that this post is unstructured, emotional, and poorly written, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted to show how I am feeling right now. I know that this article can do nothing, that I cannot change the world or change society. But I needed to write this because there are some of you out there, male and female alike, who have never experienced this. Though ignorance is supposed to be bliss, ignorance is also perpetuating the belief that it’s okay to take advantage of other people.
So, here is my closing note. Just to make things clear. No matter what someone is wearing or what environment they are in, unless they come up to you completely sober and say “I want to have a sexual relationship with you” they are NOT asking for it.