I ran out to a small store near my neighborhood this morning. I just needed a few items to finish up my daughter’s Halloween costume. As I was checking out, two middle-aged men got in line behind me. One of them reached around me to grab a Chapstick out of the display. I started to do what we women normally do, move out of his way and apologize for being in “his” way, but I didn’t.
No, I decided I wouldn’t be pushed out. I stayed in my spot, but that didn’t stop this guy. He stayed in his now way-too-close position. I couldn’t move for fear I’d brush up against him. He was standing over me, and I could feel his breath.
I’m waiting for him to back up and fighting the urge to move “out of his way.” I know one wrong move and his body is touching mine, and that thought makes my skin crawl. My heart is pounding; this is way outside of the bounds of appropriate social space. When it was clear that he was not going to move, I realized I was going to have to say something. He was plainly content being that close to me, but I was not.
So, I did it. Something I’ve never done. I asked, “Would you back up? You’re in my personal space.” I didn’t talk myself out of it by telling myself that I was being silly to feel uncomfortable. I stood up to this strange man who was being wholly inappropriate.
I’m so glad I did. His reaction said it all. His reaction made it clear that he wasn’t clueless or mistaken about what he was doing. While he did back up a step, he went on to joke and laugh with his friend about the “girl” needing her personal space. How silly and funny of me, huh?
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” – Christine Blasey Ford
The female clerk, on the other hand, gave me a nod of approval and understanding. I’m very proud of myself, even if I do still want to scald the feeling of his breath off my skin. It wasn’t all right. His behavior was not okay, and any man who wasn’t an ass when confronted wouldn’t have compounded the situation with jokes and laughter. He would have never done that to a man. He would have never done that if my husband had been there. Neither he nor anyone else gets to make me feel small and unsafe at the freaking dollar store!
Back up! I apologize to myself, my fellow women, and most of all my daughter, for never before saying “back up” to the stranger who thinks it’s acceptable to physically intimidate me or try to brush against me or whatever the hell he thought he was doing. Enough is enough. If you don’t know how to treat me, then I will tell you. Back up!
Because, you see, it’s not about that dude and whatever the heck is wrong with him. It’s about me. I exist and have these voices that we all have that say, this is not safe, this is not ok with me, I’m uncomfortable with this situation. Too often, I ignore that voice for fear of being rude, but that’s not an acceptable way to treat myself.
Several months ago, I found myself in a nonphysical situation where I was tempted, like this morning, to not respect my own discomfort in a situation. A married man started texting me. The conversation itself was benign, but for various reasons, I was not interested in having this conversation via text with this person. My gut kept shouting to stop, but “I didn’t want to be rude.”
I’m laughing a bit as I admit the following. I texted my older sister to tell her what was happening and essentially get her permission to end the conversation. Yes, I’m 42 years old and I needed my sister’s help to stop texting someone I didn’t want to text. I’m a little ashamed, but thankful I have women in my life to give me permission when I don’t feel like a warrior woman.
So, in case any of my readers (women or men) need it. I give you permission to listen to your gut. I give you permission to take up space. I give you permission to protect your sense of well being when you are in public. I give you permission to end an awkward conversation. I give you permission to say, “back up!”
I am your store clerk smiling and nodding at you telling you, don’t listen to their laughter, you did the right thing. I am your sister saying, you’re right, you can stop texting him. I am your fellow warrior who isn’t always strong enough to recognize her own self-worth who will understand you when fail to listen to your gut or use your voice.
We aren’t warriors because we’ve conquered all our foes. We are warriors because we are still fighting.
“I see a woman may be made a fool, If she had not a spirit to resist.” ― William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew