Yesterday I took a trip to my small local grocery store and got a call from my best friend about her amazing time at the Women’s march in DC. She was giddy with excitement and we shared about our hopes and ideas and experiences participating in the actions of the day. As I left the store, a man who was checking out looked up at me and said “You’re so cute, so beautiful, what’s your name?” I looked at him but made no reaction and continued my phone call. He followed me out of the store and repeated the same line. I turned and said “I’m on the phone” and he said- loudly- “Oh, she’s too loud though, that’s too bad.” I was livid. I was almost to my car at that point but I turned back and approached him and said loudly: “You are incredibly rude. You are being extremely offensive.” His provocation had worked in getting me to talk to him so he went back to trying to be charming “You are so beautiful, so cute, what’s your name?” I repeated that he was being offensive and he said “No I’m not! I’m not offensive.” to which I shouted “It’s offensive if I’m offended!”
Still on the phone, I told my friend what happened and watched, incredulous, as the idiot proceeded to park my car in with his car, roll down his window and try to talk to me. I stared directly at him and held my middle finger up until he finally relented- 30 seconds later- and drove away.
I pulled out of the lot and stopped at a red light only to realize I was at the street corner where, a few months ago, after spending the day canvassing for Hillary Clinton, a drunk man followed me on my walk home at night and harassed me for a full block until reasonable conversation failed and I had to scream “get the fuck away from me!” to make him realize I was not being coy, not playing hard to get, not fucking around. He looked at me like I was crazy and had completely overreacted and finally retreated.
Abuse is abuse, regardless of whether the offender acknowledges it. I don’t expect someone who’s harassing me to fully realize the negative impact they’re having. In fact their denial- willful or otherwise- is usually a given, but the attempt to nullify someone’s ability to take offense can be just as bad as the problem that cause that offense in the first place. You don’t get to tell me how you made me feel. You can disagree with my reaction to it but you don’t get to refute it. I will tell you how you are making me feel and I will make direct eye contact with you so you know I am present, I am a person and every word and action I direct toward you is with intention.
It’s a strange feeling to have been a part of what was evidently the largest rally/march/protest in U.S. history. I haven’t been changed, my life is as it was. Maybe that’s because I went to a small version of the event (“only” 11,000), maybe it’s because I was already tuned in to feminist issues, or maybe it’s because nothing has actually changed. This single act of harassment called to mind a dozen others. Each is minor- too small to merit much of a response in and of itself, but its supposed triviality only undermines my right to my own hurt feelings even more. However small, I am determined to be vigilant against these violations, to shout even if it is unbecoming, to allow myself to be offended, to feel pain, and to continue to rely on the feelings of victims- not their perpetrators- in deciding if something hurts.
The sign I held at the women’s march was a message to president Trump saying: “we will hold you accountable.” Today, I want to make it clear that message is not just for the President, it’s for anyone who tries to violate me.