Have You Been Trained to Appease Your Harassers?
And how to not be a passive bystander.
After a night out partying, I went to the local 24 hour diner with my (then) boyfriend and his friend. While standing in line, a visibly drunk guy started asking me questions about my name and where I was from. He then commented on how beautiful I was and asked for my number. The two guys with me stepped in and told him to bug off.
About two minutes later, the guy continued throwing unsolicited compliments my way and asking for my number. He even approached our table for a third and final round before my boyfriend’s friend stepped in and threatened him.
When we sat down to eat, I could sense my boyfriend was mad. He didn’t ask how I, the victim of this unwanted attention, was feeling. I tried to calm him down and reminded him of what a regular occurrence this unfortunately was for females.
He was angry at the guy…and he was angry at me. I was flabbergasted. How could I have done something wrong?
“You were entertaining him…you kept answering his questions, smiling at him, and you didn’t tell him to f*** off.”
Ah, Okay. Now it was my turn to be furious. How dare he down my defense with no understanding behind my response. Was he stupid enough to think I wanted to flirt with someone who spoke to me that way? And to do so in front of a man I cared for?
I tried to understand his confusion. He’d never had to fear for his safety while walking down the street. He’s never had to quickly decide to A. ignore B. scorn or C. offer a fake appeasement to a complete stranger. He’s never had to worry if his reactions to unwanted attention would solicit an even worse situation.
Women have been attacked and killed simply for ignoring the advancements of street harassers. These individuals clearly have no shame if they walk around all day believing they are owed something from all females. We’ve been culturally trained throughout our lives to appease to our harassers.
Unfortunately, my response was a defense mechanism I chose in order to keep the already uncomfortable situation from further escalation. I chose to hide my discomfort and play his game, so I could carry on with my life.
I felt bad for being bothered when I just wanted to order a sandwich, and then I was made to guilty as if I wanted this. If anything, I hope my ex gained an insider’s perspective to the everyday lives the majority of women experience.
Gentleman, boyfriends, friends of females, please gain some situational awareness. You may be with a female who experiences street harassment while in your presence.
Here’s an non-comprehensive list of tips on how you can avoid being a passive bystander.
Never blame the victim. You wouldn’t dare be the person to ask her what she was wearing if she was raped, would you? Then don’t start down the path of victim blaming by making her feel as if she brought the situation onto herself.
Talk to her and/or redirect her to somewhere else. The harasser may be singling her out thinking she is alone. If it’s made clear she is with someone, they may stop.
Speak directly to the harasser. I don’t recommend a confrontational comment. A simple, “what’s up, man, how are you doing?” or asking them for the time. Again, they may have thought the woman was alone, or the direct attention received from someone else could get them to shut up.
If you don’t know the victim personally you are still advised to help. Please don’t succumb to the dreaded bystander effect. Keep you attention on the victim. If the incident had already occurred, ask her if she’s okay or needs anything. If she says no, give her space as to avoid making her feel more anxious.
You could vocally acknowledge what happened. Get between the victim and harasser and address the victim in attempts to not escalate the situation. Say that you heard or saw what happened and it’s not acceptable.
Prep for a future situation (because there will be a future situation of this nature). While in public, ask a female in your life to walk you through the night or situation through her eyes. She can point out to you how she calculates where to walk based on what she sees; she can direct your attention to people who may be leering or making comments to her or someone else, and she’ll just give you a rundown of how her brain is working in a social setting you may view very differently.