“What’s a pretty girl like you doing by yourself?”
I have spent many times at bars or restaurants alone watching NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB games to name a few. It has never really bothered me to be alone in public places. I quite enjoy it sometimes as I often look around to see people with friends yet all parties are staring straight into their phone, not enjoying one another’s company at all. Though I don’t mind being alone, I have unfortunately found however that in some instances when I am not with my boyfriend, my experience is very different and sometimes it’s exhausting. I often time get approached with opening lines like, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing by yourself?” To which I respond, “Having a beer and watching the game just like you came here to do by yourself.” No thanks, I’m not interested.
Consider this a PSA — Women are capable of being out and about unaccompanied. Gentlemen, don’t make it about you and what you think is the story. We’re not desperate to pick you just because we arrived without a man.
I remember when I lived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. A country I have come to love very much for its beauty and many of the beautiful souls I met there. The violence and unrest of late is particularly devastating to a country that has forever been in a state of rebuild from decades of both natural and man-made destruction.
Anyhow, while I lived there, I studied. The center where I took classes was on a long, dusty road tucked behind homes and trees and even a soccer field. Around one bend in the road on that journey was often a large group of men who would sit for hours, waiting for trucks to swing by in need of day laborers. Some days no one came by so they sat all day. When you could take a taxi past, you could hear the whistles and catcalls once they recognized a woman was around. When I would walk by with other girls, the catcalls grew louder. They never were physically threatening just harrassing from a far. We ignored them, never looked in their direction to show we were clearly not interested in their advances but it didn’t matter for they would call out anyway.
I remember one day I finished with my classes early and had nothing else to work on. I wanted to leave early but I had no one to walk with or ride with. It would be hours before anyone else left for the day. All I could think of was walking past that group of men. I went back and forth in my head then decided to leave since it was the middle of the day. I said a little prayer and went on my way. As I approached the corner, I braced myself for the whistles and yelling but heard nothing. On that day, maybe they all found work or it was far too warm to hang but no one was there so I didn’t have to walk that uncomfortable looong walk past the whole group of them! I whispered a “Thank you God” and continued on my way. Later on that road (it was at least a mile or two), after mostly quiet I walked past a group of homes and heard a whoop to get my attention. Because it had been so quiet on my walk it startled me so I looked up which only increased the whistles. I never saw anyone which I’m grateful for but it made me realize it was a dumb decision I had made. It was unfair that I had to feel that way but it was reality. I was living in a foreign place, a temporary home where I was still learning the language and though I had said goodbye at the center before I left, no one truly knew where I was. I didn’t have a smartphone or gps tracking. In the end, though I know it was God who kept me safe, it wasn’t my best decision to test God’s protection in the first place. I never did it again.
Over the weekend I was helping at an event at McCormick Place. There was at least one instance I clearly recall where I was like, come on. I was working with a group and one of the girls was my buddy for the day. We clicked and spent much of the day sharing about our lives and praying for time to move quickly. During one of our event breaks, another man we were working alongside started hitting on her. He pulled her aside and asked if she was married and when she said no, his response was, “So you’re interested?” To which she told him she was not interested in him. She was in a relationship and even if she wasn’t, being single is not an auto-invitation to make someone uncomfortable. This man was also twice her age so it caught her completely off guard since she had been as nice to him as she had with everyone, making conversation since we were with each other for 13 hours.
Do you sense a theme here?
These are just instances of people using their words to make someone uncomfortable. It’s also awful for those in this world where harrassment goes beyond words and turns physical.
I was having this conversation with a guy friend of mine the other day over brunch. We were discussing some of the big stories and names that have caught the attention of the public over the past few years. We agreed that it is terribly sad how engrained victim blaming is in society. Harrassers and criminals can repeat harrassment and crimes like assault with little to no fear for retribution when women are involved.
In some of the most famous headlines when there are multiple women telling their story of sharing the same experience, they are called liars or whores or gold diggers or reputation ruiners. They are questioned about what took them so long to speak up. People put timeframes on someone else’s pain and experience. How unfair and unkind to ask someone to hurry up and get over it already.
When a person goes through any harrassment, assualt or trauma, they are likely to process or recover or grieve in a number of ways but the timing of that is their own. There are people who take decades to speak out and acknowledge trauma that happened to them as little kids. In our society, as adult women get harrassed over and over, the world just gets used to it. The stories are so commonplace, it’s ridiculous. Women are told to take it as a compliment or not get so sensitive. Women have actually been killed by strangers for saying they weren’t interested.
Ever seen the videos of the woman who secretly filmed how many times she gets harrassed on the street by men in a day? Part of the #MeToo movement is about individuals declaring how commonplace the experience is.
When individuals who don’t believe it, ignore the victim’s pain or truth after they have relived that trauma by speaking their truth to power, it reinforces the negative beliefs they may have been told by their abusers or the shame they have settled in themselves. Victim blaming damns the victim for wanting to be free.
And the shame placed on women makes the environment that much more uncomfortable for men to come forward about their own experiences with trauma, assault or harrassment. No means no and that statement is not gender specific.
No is a complete sentence. If you don’t like it, you can piss off.
I felt compelled to write this post because I too think our world has room to change. I have a zillion examples of things like this from family, friends, myself and so on. From something as simple as unwanted flirting or advances (no doesn’t mean try harder) to physical attacks, actions have consequences and No means No.
It doesn’t matter how late or early in the day it is. I don’t give a shit what she had on or what signals she might have been giving. People need to keep their hands to themselves in the absence of mutual consent. And yes I believe consent can be revoked at any time if one party feels uncomfortable.
One day in the future I also want to write a blog with this title thats not about the topic of harrassment or assualt but how No is a complete sentence in the workplace or your personal life. You can say No (without explaining yourself all the time) and keep your peace and sanity. Saying No should not make you feel guilty when you’re being asked to meet unrealistic demands or just don’t want to do something.