The bright green flier hangs proudly on the bulletin board just across my office door. It offers a quick overview of sexual harassment in the workplace and useful phone numbers. Luckily, I work in a place that has little tolerance for unprofessional and unwelcome behavior so I’ve never had to read it too closely. But its noble place in the building reminds us of and validates the potential damage of sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, this safe dynamic feels only present in my office; when I walk my dog to the beach in the evening, there are no fliers on the lamp posts. There’s no reminders on my morning runs, or in the grocery store. A female in the city, I am attacked by unwelcome behavior on a regular basis which contrasts harshly to the peaceful environment I work in.
As an educator, I am fortunate to have summers off. However, this also gives me more time to hang out on the beach and walk to the store. Just in these past two weeks, I have encountered numerous forms of sexual harassment on the street. It’s unbelievable. It feels like a time warp. This highlights the major behavioral gap between professionals and non-professionals. While sexual harassment is less tolerated in a professional work environment, it still reigns our streets. Most noticeable are the loudest forms. For example, a few quick honks, basic cat-calling or whistling and my least favorite, the looooong squeaky kiss. The other day as I waited for my dog to finish her business, I was labeled a “mami” by some shirtless hairy gut riding his bicycle.
My surfboard which I’m known to walk around with accidentally betrays me, acting as lighthouse for sexual harassers. Recently, a tourist asked me about receiving surf lessons, excited to help an interested novice I named a few surf shops in the area. Bringing a bummer upon any surfer’s stoke I had, he clarified, “no, I mean like a private lesson from you.” Lucky for this guy, I was riding high on endorphins so my reaction wasn’t aggressive. I said, “no, I don’t do that, but thanks…I think.” His friends apologized on his behalf which was sort of refreshing; they were definitely embarrassed. I imagine (or hope) he probably felt like sh*t, propositioning a local like this.
Regrettably, not all sexual harassers have cool friends. A couple surf swells ago, walking home, a man on a skateboard hollered at me, “where do you surf? There’s no surf here!” Lured in by any surf talk, I responded reasonably, “There is! You just have to know the right spots when there’s a swell.” This was not enough. He kept asking for more, “but where do YOU surf?” I noticed he had a laughing friend with him. My antennas popped up; my pace quickened, and I walked onward.
I crossed the street briskly thinking that the busy road would create some sort of end to the situation. To my horror, he continued to yell. “Why aren’t you answering me?” he shouted with a tinge of anger. Surrounded by busy tourists of all ages, I felt comfortable enough to answer back, “I don’t talk to strangers!” I heard sorrowfully, “Oh. She doesn’t talk to strangers.”
I’m not used to fighting sexual harassment on the beach. The beaches I’ve lived on in the past are the complete opposite of this beach. In other areas of the state it’s not a novelty to see a surfer girl running toward the surf, but this urban beach-city is much harsher. A mix of cultures, including cultures that have yet to redesign their perceptions on gender, don’t know what to do with me. I feel an air of resentment sometimes. But this post is not a cultural study, it’s just my story of encounters.
As if the anecdotes I’ve already noted are not challenging enough, there’s also the anecdotes that are more difficult to explain. They are the sneaky forms of sexual harassment. For simplicity’s sake, I have categorized these inconspicuous forms.
6 Forms of Sneaky Sexual Harassment
Over-petting my dog. These guys take the “use the dog to meet new people” to a whole other level. Firstly, strangers petting my dog in general feels invasive. I don’t mean the complimentary quick pat on the head; I mean sitting there stroking her coat, making us both feel awkward. Then there’s the simultaneous questioning like “where are you from?” or a real classic, “What a beautiful dog. You know what they say about dogs and their owners.”
Blocking my way. Sometimes a man will literally stand in my way to either impose an opportunity to talk to me, or worse, to bully a physical closeness. How do I decipher when someone is accidentally in my way from someone who is harassing me? It’s not an easy question to answer; in an honest attempt, I’ll say that basically it’s a “vibe.” But for those that desire a more objective and tangible response, language choices clarify the situation. A man that accidentally steps in my way will usually respond with a comment like “Sorry!” or “You go first,” or “I didn’t see you there;” he will also politely move out of the way. The sexual harasser, in my experience, says nothing. He only looks and does not get out of the way which requires you to figure out a way to get around him.
Cop-a-brush. The cop-a-brush sucks sooooo much. To everyone around a simple brush of the breast or bump in the butt appears innocent enough. However, to the one being harassed, it feels embarrassing and violating. The difference between a real accident and a cop-a-brush is the exactitude of the feel. A cop-a-brush is simply too precise; it targets a specific body part.
Ads for strip clubs. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome advances or unwelcome language.” If we are going to be consistent and accurate, ads (radio ads, billboards etc.) for strip clubs are a form of sexual harassment. Though I try to keep my skin tough, honestly, ads aimed at “gentlemen” always unnerve me. They remind me that I am (along with all other women) an object and a commodity to the media. It can be disheartening to be reminded of this unexpectedly while listening to the radio.
Standing too closely. Point blank: non-sexual harassers simply don’t do this. “Normal” men understand physical boundaries and basic manners. A sexual harasser stands close enough to make you feel uncomfortable, threatened even, however he also stands just far enough to get away with it. So sneaky right?
Playing super degrading music loudly. This is comparable to the strip club ads. There’s few things worse than losing the sound of the seaside to the obnoxious sexist sounds coming from a speaker on the sand. No, I don’t want to “flap my p*ssy” or “get on my hands and knees.” It can be violent language, no different than verbal or emotional abuse. I don’t usually like to hear music on the beach (what’s better than waves crashing?), but in desperate times, you might find me blasting Bob Marley in a feeble attempt to drown out the sexism.
Watching porn in the wrong places. Walking my dog early in the morning, I pass all the cars paralleled parked next to the sidewalk. Disturbingly, I literally was forced to catch a glance of a porn scene on a cell phone. The vehicle had really dark tints which might give the illusion of privacy for the owner, but a digital screen actually stands out more in the tints. Of course I couldn’t help myself so I made sure the jerk off saw my best grossed out face. I could care less about porn, but I should have the right to choose when to be exposed to it. Not to mention, I don’t even want to think about what this guy was doing, but I’m sure it falls under the category of indecent exposure.
What’s the most detrimental element of sexual harassment isn’t the shock or the vulgarity. What’s most damaging is its ability to oppress me on numerous levels. I am forced to think twice about what I wear. Sometimes I will avoid going outside at all. I want to be green and walk to the surf break, but there are days when I think of taking the car. I want to do yoga outside, but I mainly do it indoors to avoid getting harassed. Sometimes I’ll have wait for my husband to accompany me somewhere (like the Victorian ages!). I try to stay strong. I remind myself that this is my beach too. I have every right to be outdoors enjoying the paradise as much as any other weirdo.
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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