It was a lovely, sunny Friday afternoon in a coffee shop in Hayes Valley as I prepared for my next meeting. As I got up to use the restroom, I accidentally knocked over a bike that was propped along the wall right beside me. I saw the bike’s owner nearby, chatting with a man in a green flannel shirt. The bike’s owner apologized for placing the bike in an inconvenient position, and helped prop it back up. All was good, I thought.
Right as I was about to continue on my merry way, the man in the green shirt (late 30’s, white, scruffy beard) chimed in.
Man: “That was a very naughty thing to do. You deserve a spanking.”
Man: “Do you want a spanking?”
I stare in disbelief. Confused, angry thoughts began running in my head — thoughts that I fervently wanted to spin into a flame-throw of rebuking comments on his disgusting, disrespectful behavior. Instead, I was only able to spit out a “No” in the most incredulous attitude I could, and immediately fell back to my humble path to the bathroom.
This encounter stunned me for what seemed like eternity as I leaned my back against the bathroom door. I was shaken, angry, and disappointed that anyone could possibly think this sort of behavior was alright. Is this the kind of community we want to create or live in? Anyone — everyone — should be able to drink a darn cup of coffee in public without being harassed. Why didn’t the other man say something? Why didn’t someone else say something? Why didn’t I say something?
Why couldn’t the conversation have, at worst, gone something like this:
“Excuse me? That was the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Oh lady, it was a joke!”
“No, I don’t think it was funny and I don’t think anyone in this coffee shop thinks it’s funny either. It’s rude and especially horrid for you to think it’s okay. I am somebody’s sister, daughter, girlfriend, and grandchild. Hell, I could even be your friend’s girlfriend. You think it’s okay to say that to her?”
“Gee, lady, fine, I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.”
But that didn’t happen.
The man was gone, and I am furious I didn’t speak up right then and there. Now this man will continue his life thinking it’s okay to ask random women if he can spank them. Now the onlookers will continue their life thinking it’s okay to not speak up when they witness sexual harassment like this. Now I will continue my life thinking how ridiculous it is for me to be constantly blaming myself for not confronting this man, as he happily continues to harass other victims.
This uneducated, insulting, and immoral harassment still happens. And it happens more often than you hear about. The worst part is, some of us have even become inured to this sort of behavior.
Being harassed is embarrassing, demoralizing, and traumatizing. It’s made me, and many, many others feel afraid to walk the streets of San Francisco, even in broad daylight.
Correcting harassers can be dangerous for both victims and witnesses, and victims have the right to cope with harassment in different ways.
But I will implore you to empathize with the victims, and extend your support to end harassment, no matter how big or small.
Please, if you are a witness to any harassment — public or private, sexual or racial — anything you find socially unacceptable, don’t stay silent. Your voice will go a very, long way. You never know when this might happen to you, your sister, daughter, or any loved one.
Don’t stay silent. #StopHarassment.