I'm Not Flattered, and I Don't Have to Be
She walked into a restaurant alone. As she approached the counter to order, she felt their leering. Three grown men, staring at her. These older men, possibly the age of her own father, turn, assessing her. One nudges the other and exclaims loudly, “would you look at the legs on that girl”. They chuckle.
The thing is, she isn’t a girl, and she isn’t here to be fodder for these grown men’s mysogyny. She’s here to get a meal. She’s here in a modest sundress. She’s here, but now she doesn’t want to be. She’s been surveyed, discussed and reduced to their commentary.
As she stands behind them waiting to order her own food she begins to question her outfit. Is she showing too much leg? Should she only wear this with tights?
But this isn’t normal behavior. Except, it is. Commenting on the body parts of women, and girls is all too common. Heather has experienced it time and time again.
For Heather, and for many girls and women, it’s become hard to distinguish between what’s appropriate and not. It’s been called locker room talk. It’s disturbing, and Heather is tired and mad - tired of the constant degradation, and mad that the country is ok with this type of behavior.
It happens when she’s walking into a restaurant, or into work. When she once complained to a boss about a coworker harassing her and other women, her boss told her she “should feel flattered, privileged. Someday they won’t hit on you, so feel flattered that they pay attention to you now”.
It’s those experiences that have deflated Heather the most. Believing that “even if I do speak up, it’s not going to change the behavior, so I don’t. I don’t want to cause a scene,” Heather said. So she doesn’t say anything. In the restaurant, she stands quietly by and waits to order food. She won’t say anything, because she’s weighed whether it’s worth it, and decides it’s not. Instead she gives them what she calls “The Death Stare”.
Which is a shift for Heather. 10 years ago, in her early twenties, she would have gotten fired up, really fired up. Back then, she would have gotten confrontational. She did it many time. Ensuring that there was no question, telling them “I’m not your possession”.
But now, she worries about the repercussions. She worries about standing up for herself. More and more she struggles with how to handle it every time - weighing whether this time is worth it to say something.
Heather is stuck wondering, is this flattering? Why don’t I feel comfortable? Would I say something like that? “I would never want another woman to be put in the position, feeling ashamed or that they need to cover up because someone else can’t control their actions or words,” Heather said.
“It’s disturbing. I don’t think people really understand the consequences of what this means, and how it negatively affects women. Does everyone have their heads so far in the sand that they can’t see the negative consequences?”
But she’s afraid. She’s afraid to rock the boat.
By the end of my interview with Heather, her tone had shifted. Here was someone who feels assaulted at every turn. Someone who receives cat calls, and sexual comments by strangers passing by, but also via the internet where random people message her. As we discussed her experiences, and there were many, she mentioned a quote she likes.
‘We promote, what we permit’
And with that, I met a different Heather. One who wants to encourage women to speak up, to tell the men in your life that it’s not ok. If you don’t stand up, you’re encouraging their behavior.
“This is not ok. And people are not ok with it. But it is ok to feel scared. Others are feeling that way, you’re not alone.”