I Am Not A Lady
I was first sexually harassed in the 7th grade. I was walking to the train station near my house and a group of men started to follow me. They were snapping at me, trying to get my attention with kissing noises. I put my head down and walked furiously, hoping they wouldn’t catch on that I was terrified. Saying something was causing a scene, and not ladylike. When I finally reached the station they stopped and I heard them laughing. It was funny apparently. I was scared, humiliated and ashamed. I spent my train ride in silence and hoped it wouldn’t happen again.
Unfortunately that incident wasn’t my last, it never is. In high school when I would walk home cars would speed by and honk, boys leaning out and yelling things at me. Curiously enough they never went slow enough for me to respond. Sometimes it was just honking, because there’s nothing like three short taps on a steering wheel to validate someone. It became something that I experienced with on a daily basis but never did anything about. That kind of attitude was not becoming of a young lady.
I thought that once I left for college it wouldn’t be an issue, but that’s just a silly notion. It seems that there was nothing more fun for boys to do than drive around in trucks and yell things at people. It wasn’t just for girls anymore, everyone could enjoy! Then add the underage-drinking factor and it made for some family fun. I laughed it off, we were in college! Crazier things would happen, I didn’t need to drop decorum to react.
I heard a whole collection of people’s opinions about me, but my favorite line was, “Hey girl, can I get your number?”. It was always asked as a drive-by. Once again, my response wasn’t even necessary.
So one day I responded before they could chuckle and high-five each other:
That was it. He looked at me and didn’t say anything. It was like no one had ever responded to him before. He was stunned. He hadn’t planned anything to say if some girl actually said anything back.
Him: “Uh, I don’t know. I guess?”
Me: “Absolutely not”
It was the shortest most gratifying exchange I ever encountered. I felt high off of adrenaline and proud that I had finally said something, because no matter how short an attack is it lingers. You think about it, you come up with the perfect response, telling yourself that next time you will do something. Next time you will defend yourself.
I was done with that and man, was I finally angry. After that incident I promised myself that I would never let someone think that behavior was okay. When troves of boys drove by, I would yell right back. I would shout and make a scene. People who stare at me, because my behavior was odd. Responding to harassment was the weird occurrence unfortunately.
After years of dealing with harassment, I honed my skills at responding. It is now second nature. I was eating lunch outside with a friend once when some dudes drove by. I lowered my fork, yelled expletives and continued eating. I was not a lady anymore, and if being a lady meant shutting-up then I would never be a lady again.
Am I terrified that one day someone will react violently? Absolutely. I am not an idiot, I understand the world we live in today. But I can’t let people treat me like that anymore. I can’t be submissive because I’m afraid. I can’t be submissive because I think that speaking out is not becoming of a lady.
So I’m not. I’m not a lady. I am a woman.