Sexual Harassment in the Daylight

Sexual Harassment in the Daylight
By Mary Scholz

It’s 3pm. I’m in Killarney, Ireland, and I’ve got a few hours before show time. It’s my first afternoon in this adorable town, and one of the few rain-free days I’ve had since I arrived overseas. The sunshine is warm and bright. People bustle by.

 

At a busy street corner, I find a knee-level concrete wall, sit down, break out my journal and begin a bit of writing.

My guitar and suitcase are at the hostel up the street. I’m free of all sweaters, umbrellas, merchandise, and other extraneous travel items.  All of the things that scream “tourist!,” and all of the things that make me feel tied down.

I am a free, confident, cautious, smart, capable solo woman. And I feel good.

 

Two young men approach and sit on either side of me.

“Are you on holiday?” the one with the fiery red hair and extensive freckles asks.

A little bit bigger, his expression almost seems to mock me when he smiles. If I were casting a film, he would be my stereotypical movie bully.

They both look about 25. I’m a few months shy of 30.

 

“Why do you ask?” I reply, surprised to be suddenly surrounded.

 

“We’re on holiday from Dublin. Took a few days off to bus down to Killarney and hang at the pubs here,” he says rather openly, and I realize that I made an unnecessary snap judgment of him.

 

I relax a bit.

The camaraderie you’ll find between travelers is wonderful. Ireland was my third country on this trip, and I had run into so many lovely fellow explorers. Men and women alike. Older, younger. People from the States, from Europe, from the Middle East and Asia.

I’d met kind and gracious locals who gave directions or helped with luggage when there were large flights of stairs and no lift to be found. I struck up conversations and made friends, and kept to myself when I wanted to be just me.

 

The not-movie-bully-boy and I chat about travel a bit.

I tell the Irish lads about my show, encourage them to come, to bring friends if they know people in town. The second kid stays quiet. He doesn’t make eye contact with me.

The sunshine is still warm and bright; people continue to bustle on by.

 

“Do you ever meet men on the road?”

 

“I always meet men on the road. And women. Children. All types of people,” I joke.

 

“But no. Do you ever meet men on the road? Pick someone out at a show and go home with them and let them fuck you?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

 

Everything in my body tenses up.

 

“I bet you’re a real flirt. I bet you let men take you home to fuck you. I bet you like it. You do, don’t you? You like to be fucked.” 

The second kid keeps his eyes averted.

The conversation has flipped so quickly that I don’t know what to do with myself.

The sun is still warm and bright; people continue to bustle on by.

 

Freckles begins to ask more specific, uncomfortable questions, becoming quickly aggressive and demanding as he goes.

 

I tell him he’s being inappropriate and to leave me alone.

He demands my phone number. He’s furious that I refuse to give it to him. He wants to buy me a drink, why won’t I let him buy me a drink?

 

People continue to bustle on by. I can’t feel the sunshine anymore.

 

What I do feel is small and trapped; and stupid, because I’m still sitting there. But I don’t really know what this person will do if I move. Or what the role of the second, silent kid will be. And I don’t know this town.

 

I had prepared for unwanted advances on my solo adventure. After all, I had been traveling solo for years.
I had photos of my MMA fighter ex-boyfriend saved to my phone in case I needed to scare someone off with a story of “who was meeting me in a few minutes.”
(He was a sweetheart disguised as a bruiser).

 

My mind races, wanting to be defensive and meet aggression with aggression, but I was afraid of what the response could be.

If I walk towards my hostel, these guys could follow me and know where I am staying. They already know where I’ll be playing that night, and therefor where I’ll be exiting, alone, after my show. There are so many people walking by, but no one knows that I feel threatened and uncertain of how to proceed.

I don’t know how to tell them. I don’t know anyone in town.

And my bruiser-disguised-sweetheart ex wouldn’t actually be showing up in a few minutes. He didn’t even know I still had those photos to use as precautionary protection if needed. And I was so shocked and frozen, I didn’t remember to use them, anyway.

 

So I sit and I tell him to leave me alone. Refuse to answer his questions. Refuse to give him my number. Pray that neither one of them touches me.  Wonder how to get the attention of any one of the number of people who are walking by enjoying the sunshine.
I want to turn to the silent kid, who is sinking in stature, seemingly more and more ashamed as he listens, and ask him if he’s okay with this. Tell him that just because he’s not the one asking the questions, doesn’t mean he’s not harassing me through his silent approval.

 

Freckles finally gets frustrated and bored and gets up to leave, looking over his shoulder with the most aggressive and threatening look I’ve ever had directed at me.

 

He had an exit line, but I could hardly hear it, I was so upset.

Something about fucking a singer, though.

 

I wait until they are far enough out of sight, and make my way quickly to the hostel. I speak with the manager, explain what happened, what they looked like, and ask if he knew of anyone of that description staying there. I’m in tears suddenly and am once again feeling stupid. I mean, it wasn’t that bad, he didn’t actually do anything to me, and I shouldn’t have answered his initial questions.

 

I still can’t feel the sunshine; but people continue to bustle on by.

 

The hostel manager was, thankfully, very concerned, told me to notify him if I saw them on the premises, and assured me that they would be forced off property.

 

I stayed in my room for the rest of that beautiful afternoon. In my mind, I wand to say “fuck that, they can’t ruin my day here,” and go for that bike ride I had planned.

But my body, confidence and adventurous spirit shut down. I sat on the top bunk of the bunk bed.

 

I just sat there.

 

Hours passed.

 

I finally showered, and made my way to the pub for my performance, avoiding eye contact with everyone and instinctually shrinking away from men who passed by me, moving as far away from them as possible without stepping into oncoming traffic.

 

Those two boys didn’t show up that night, but another “lad,” felt the need to step up on stage, mid song, and kiss me goodbye, right on the lips, walking out, laughing.

On any other occasion, as a woman who is straightforward, blunt, and not afraid to speak up for herself, I would have had words with him from the microphone. But even on the stage, I just felt small.

 

Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t take dark alleys and don’t stay out too late. Never accept drinks from strangers that you don’t open yourself, don’t wear clothing that “invites” unwanted attention.

 

What about the daytime?

 

 

And why is it so ingrained in us, as females, from the age of at least thirteen, to know these rules and shame those who don’t abide by them?

 

It becomes blame-able. “Oh, she was walking alone? What was she wearing?”

 

These are good rules to know. Of course. They make you aware of your surroundings. Because, as a woman, you must be aware at all times.

 

But what are the rules for the daytime? For the workplace? For the coffee shop? For the movie theatre? For the grocery store?

 

It’s 10am in Paris and I’m again untethered, just me and my purse, headed down the metro staircase, on my way to have a look at the Moulin Rouge. I make quick eye contact with a gentleman who was walking up the stairs, and nod my head as a “hello.”

 

I love Paris. I love the people there. The architecture. The artwork. The language. The espresso. The baguettes. It seems so obvious and cliché, but I’m here now, and I get it.
I love Paris.

It’s a busy enough station. People coming and going, a teller behind the counter selling tickets and passes.

I begin to make my way through a turnstile when a man of about 45 throws his whole body against me, grabbing me and shoving himself into the turnstile with me. (Turnstiles in this station were more like small stalls, with doors.)

I don’t know if his purpose is to grab at my body or to skate through without paying. All I know is that out of nowhere, I have the weight of a man, half a foot taller than me, against my back  – fully pressed against me.

I pull myself away and slam the turnstile door on him as quickly as possible, yelling, “No – don’t do that! Don’t touch me!”

 

It was the man from the staircase.

 

He looks me in the eye, smiles, opens the door, whispers a simple “Merci,” and walks past me. There are people everywhere. No one flinched. No one looked up when I yelled. The teller, a woman of about 40, didn’t seem to notice, though it happened directly in front of her window.

 

I moved to the platform and the man, who was traveling with friends, continued to look at me, telling his friends what he did, chuckling, and moving the group slowly closer to me as I moved myself farther down the platform.

 

When the train came, I let them step on and stepped off, waiting for the next arrival.

 

The Moulin Rouge looked dirty and disgusting to me, as did everything else that day.

I felt attacked, and stupid; after all, it wasn’t that bad, and I’m pretty sure he was just trying to get through for free. I shouldn’t have made eye contact with him on the way down the stairs.

 

Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t take dark alleys and don’t stay out too late. Never accept drinks from strangers that you don’t open yourself, don’t wear clothing that “invites” unwanted attention.

 

What about the daytime?

 

And why was I blaming myself? And why did I have to FIGHT the urge to embellish these stories to make them sound worse so that people would understand why I felt uncomfortable and upset? And why, when I explained what had happened, did people ask me “you must have had your luggage, right? You looked like a tourist?” as if, in that case, it would be somewhat acceptable or at the very least understandable.

 

This is not the story of an American tourist in Europe. This is the story of a woman in broad daylight trying to go about her day. These things have happened in my own hometown. When people are around. When the sun is shining.

 

Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t take dark alleys and don’t stay out too late. Never accept drinks from strangers that you don’t open yourself, don’t wear clothing that “invites” unwanted attention.

 

But during the day…where are our tips for the day?

For the workplace? For the coffee shop? For the movie theatre? For the grocery store?

 

I am a self-sufficient individual. Resilient. Traveling does not scare me, living in my city does not scare me, visiting small towns I am unfamiliar with does not scare me – nor does conversing with people.

 

But the truth of the life of a woman is that this is a part of your every day.
And we have come to find being a little bit scared and on guard at all times completely normal. We don’t even identify it as such.

 

And these are the stories that don’t actually involve my being sexually assaulted.

These are the ones where I don’t get physically violated against my wishes.

Where a man doesn’t decide that I am his to take, touch, toy with just because he exists in the world.

 

I have those stories, too.

 

But these stories I’ve told here…they are just a spec in the overwhelming landscape of realities for women around the world. And every spec is an important piece of how we interact with each other.  The ones that are made out to be no big deal. The ones that are expected to have no real impact. The ones that are just “guys having fun.” “Being a man in a man’s world.”
The ones that make us shrink, make us smaller. Make us avoid eye contact, make us feel stupid, make us feel ashamed.

Make us keep our guard up, keep us from feeling safe.

 

Keep us from fully experiencing life.

 

And people think these “small things” don’t affect the world?

 

They impact every interaction I have with men. They impact where I go and how I plan my hours.

 

We, as women, have learned to brush things off, to make ourselves smaller because the less threatening we are to the men around us, the less likely it is for them to act aggressively towards us.

 

We do this without even realizing it. And then we do it very much on purpose.

It is our survival instinct.

 

And it affects everything.

I’ve seen a man get irritated because a woman he was trying to be kind to was “weird” towards him. But you have to understand the frequency with which a man being kind is bait for interaction, that quickly pivots to something threatening.

I’m not even going to go into sexual assault, rape, and how those experiences impact every relationship I have with every type of man I know.

Every consensual, healthy sexual encounter I’ve had since and in between.

How it impacts my loving, wonderful, incredible relationship.

 

No, I won’t go there. But I will go here.

 

First are the words, then are the actions.

Words impact. They breed complacency.

Talking about women in derogatory, demeaning ways and brushing it off as nothing more than “men being men,” or “locker room talk” excuses and emboldens those who think this is the natural, acceptable state of a man.

 

This is what starts out as a young boy laughing at the comments of someone he respects, learning it’s okay to speak that way, becomes a 25 year old verbally harassing a stranger, turns into a man scaring women for fun, and ends up a trusted confidant forcing themselves on another, unwilling individual.

 

This is what starts out as a young girl hearing a respected man use derogatory and de-humanizing language about women, beginning to think it’s normal herself, because the boys and men she trusts say nothing, or even laugh. It becomes letting a 25 year old man verbally abuse her because she doesn’t know how to respond without escalating the situation, allowing men to scare her for fun because she’s been warned that fighting back is dangerous, and eventually being raped by a confidant who she tells to leave her alone, but realizes that if he can do this horrible act, she doesn’t know what he’s capable of, and eventually stops fighting back out of fear of what could come next.

 

This is not the natural state of a man. This is not the natural state of a woman.

And this is not the acceptable state of dynamic between sexes.