I like to think people have the general common sense to know when something is genuine and when it is empty. I know the difference between my friend giving me a compliment and when someone else gives me an opinion. I was one of those people who didn’t understand why women made such a big deal about people giving them compliments because I didn’t really understand the actual dangers until recent years.
I’ve been harassed on multiple occasions, not just by men or people in the streets but by women and friends as well. I became more aware of the problem in high school when a male friend of mine wouldn’t take ‘no’ to a date as a final answer and again when a female friend wouldn’t stop touching me or trying to kiss me when I was clearly uninterested and uncomfortable. I think it’s harder to deal with something like that when you know the person or when you’re friends with them. In my case, I saw them almost every day and I didn’t know how to address something like that because I didn’t know any better. They don’t exactly give a course on sexual harassment in school.
Harassment situations really went off the deep end as I got my license and a job. I work at an expensive makeup store that requires us to dress nicely and to be in full hair and makeup for our shifts. I work with many beautiful women and it isn’t uncommon to see men walk by our store multiple times or even to just stop and stare at us through the glass. We’ve even had men follow us into the store. On this occasion, I was the closing associate and my manager was in the back doing paperwork. I had a guy walk past the store several times who watched me as I was walking around cleaning and restocking. I didn’t think much of it because, as I said before, it happens all the time and nothing has ever come of it before.
I’m a cautious person when it comes to leaving my store at night. I have pepper spray on me at all times and I always check inside and under my car with a flashlight, as well as look around to make sure there are no dangers before getting into my car and going home. This night, however, I received a text from my brother asking if I would stop at Wendy’s and pick him up an ice cream. I can be a nice sister when I want to be, so I went to Wendy’s. After getting my order I walk back out of the restaurant and notice a pretty beaten up white car sitting in front of the door and saw inside was the man that was watching me earlier on my shift. At this point, I started to get a little paranoid but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I saw that a worker was about to get off her shift so I figured maybe he’s here to pick her up which is not an uncommon thing.
I stay in my car for a few minutes, acting like I was looking for something by digging in my purse. The worker walks out and right past his car. I also notice that he is watching me from his car. Trying to stay calm, I decided to check and make sure that he’s not following me. When I turn my car on to leave, I hear his car turn on too, I go through the parking lot of another fast food place and sure enough, he is right behind my car. I am in full panic because there is no way that this is a coincidence, that I just happen to see him hours later, not five minutes from my work.
I didn’t know what to do. The first thing that I thought of was to call my mom. And thankfully she picked up. I told her what was going on and the first thing that came out of her mouth was “Don’t come home,” not exactly the comforting words I want to hear. She hands the phone to my dad and I was trying to give him a description of the guy and his car as best as possible but it’s night++ so it was a little hard. He tells me to come home and that he will be on the front porch waiting for me when I get home.
On my way home, I have to pass a police station to get onto a back road. As I turn on my signal and get into the turn lane I notice he slows down to look in my car and I make eye contact with him. It was absolutely terrifying the way he looked at me and just smiled. It made me sick to my stomach and then he just sped off. I assumed he stopped because of where I was turning into but for whatever reason, he decided to leave I was relieved. I was five minutes from my house. I don’t know what would possess somebody to do something like that. I’ve had several occasions of people harassing me from catcalls to people following me but none have been as terrifying as this one.
There is no easy way to deal with a situation like this. I’ve had people tell me to ignore them or to say thank you and to keep on walking. There is no right way to respond. By ignoring them they get angry, aggressive, and unpredictable. Acknowledging them is like giving them encouragement or an invitation to continue. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re wearing.
I’d like to be able to walk to my job, to my car, to a shop and just walk. No unwanted, forceful conversation or empty compliments from men and women who want my attention. I just want to be able to walk where I want to go and not have to worry about looking over my shoulder or where security is if I need them.