"The sexual harassment isn’t what irritates me. For me, this isn’t frightening or even that uncomfortable. This is every single day. I leave the house. Men talk to me. I hold my breath and I am polite and I am unshakable and then I get home. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat."
That's a quote from an article I read a couple of months ago entitled Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexualy Harass Us: On Being Nice in the Pursuit of Getting Home Safe. My friend Erica posted it on Facebook (Thanks, Erica!) and I was intrigued, so I "saved" it. Did you know you could do that on Facebook? Well, you can, and consequently I have about a hundred articles in my "saved" folder. When I finally got around to reading this one, I knew it was something I needed to talk with my daughter about. I do recommend reading it, but you should be warned that there is some language, and it is not from a Christian perspective. It's written from one woman's perspective on a fairly universal phenomenon, and it's one I could relate to to some extent.
It's why I chose this third item in the list of things I want my daughter to know and practice:
3. Protection May Lie in Politeness
The man who told me he loved my hair as I signed his political petition in front of Whole Foods? I really didn't mind at all. It was broad daylight, and there were lots of people around listening. I smiled, thanked him, and tucked it away as evidence to whip out the next time my dad tells me I really need to start covering up all that gray.
The man who told me I was beautiful as I ran into a Connecticut grocery store early one morning to grab some goodies for my homeschoolers in Hamden? He was clean cut, dressed professionally, and just kept walking on by. So, while it was a bit startling, I didn't feel any real fear.
The man on the bike trail who ran by and commented on my "nice form"? Well, I had to check that one with Robert. Amherst is a strange place, and I wouldn't have put it past the 50-something townie to truly be giving me feedback on my running posture and gait. Really. My husband did not think that was the case, however.
The man in the Stop N Shop on Cape Cod last October, who, as soon as Robert and I parted ways to conquer the grocery list, leaned over my shoulder and whispered in my ear "you are so beautiful"? Well, that was creepy. And Scary. I was shaken by his boldness. (Me, sweaty after a six mile run, no makeup, and rag tag running clothes. Ugh.)
The man in WalMart, though? The one, late one night, who mysteriously showed up on every aisle I was on, every single time? Even when I tried going to the opposite corner of the store? And then when I went to check out in a hurry, got in line behind right me? Truly frightening.
I thought about telling the cashier, but didn't want it to ignite the situation. So, I checked out and walked a few steps away from the register. I waited for him to check out and leave the store. It was so late that we may have been the only two left in the store. I tried to watch through the front doors and make sure he got in a car and drove away. When I was fairly certain that he did I went quickly to mine, locked the doors and drove home crying and shaking all the way. I could hardly get the story out to Robert when I got home. I don't know if I've ever felt so threatened.
Now, if those things are happening to a middle-aged, married, mother of three, they are most certainly going to happen to my youthful, beautiful daughter. My 20-something friend Shannon told me just yesterday that in her experience, the cat-calling started when she and her friends were as young as 12. Ask any woman about her experience with this. I promise you'll get stories. The writer of the article suggests it happens to almost every woman at some point, and that she has learned that ignoring it, or worse, coming back with an attitude, only feeds the fire.
"When men are quick to remind us that not all men harass women, I’m quicker to remind them that all women (really, all) have experienced this at least once, but more likely, they have experienced it many, many more times than that."
So, I want Kayla to know that politeness, even in the instance of inappropriate gestures and remarks, can diffuse a situation. If ignoring the person is not working, then smile, say thank you and move on as quickly as possible. Sexual harassment is not the time for sassy eye-rolling and tit for tat. In a broken world where fallen masculinity often plays out in dominance, abuse, and twisted sexuality, wisdom is key. Knowing that coming back with an attitude (no matter how justified you feel) will likely only escalate things and then choosing a different response is wise. In fact, it could quite literally save your life.
And by all means, when you come across a gentleman, delight in that discovery, and let him demonstrate his respect for you and other women. There are many men out there who highly value women and womanhood. Let them listen to your ideas. Let them encourage your dreams. Let them open your doors and help you with your coat or your chair. Let them walk you to your car or home and allow them to carry your groceries. Let them fend off the sick and broken men who are just out for a cheap thrill if they will. That's the time for real encouragement and true politeness. That's the way to inspire change in those men who will be inspired.