I’m walking through a parking lot, on my way to pick up a couple of simple things from the grocery store, when from behind me, I hear someone yell from a car window, “giiirl, you are fine!” I was talking on the phone with my brother, and suddenly I lose my train of thought and stumble over my words.
I try to play it off, but instantaneously, all thoughts turn to how to react, and not react, to ensure my safety, and not affirm his behavior. I lunge into panic mode, and quickly end my phone call.
Eyes to the ground. Don’t acknowledge them. Clinging to my car keys, just in case.
Am I swaying my hips? Stop it. Wait, am I now? I don’t know. Walk fast.
What was I doing to ask for this?
Heart pounding. Cheeks burning. Vision blurred. Wrap my sweater around me, cover any skin. Get close to the wall. Be small. Be invisible.
By now they are long gone.
They will never know the post-traumatic stress tailspin this action had me in for the rest of my day. Do they think that it was a compliment?
This happens all the time.
It’s not about the way that I look, or how I carry myself. It’s not about anything that I do or did. It’s about a culture that perpetuates male sense of entitlement over public spaces, positions of power, and women’s bodies.
It’s about rape culture.
I was walking alone through a parking lot, and thereby, in this person’s eyes, a fair target for harassment. My existence as a woman is enough to elicit crude comments that compromise my sense of safety in the world.
For the many of us who have experienced rape and sexual violence, these actions can be harmful in a profound way. For me, even after my body calmed itself out of panic and fear of imminent harm, I spent hours playing that one line in my head: “Giiirl, you are fine.” Obsessively wondering what I had done or not done, chastising myself for not reacting in a way that reflected my anger and strength, changing my clothes and hair to minimize the potential for unwanted attention…
I experienced intense flashbacks of harmful sexual experiences, and times that seemingly innocuous male banter turned into non-consensual touch.
Even writing this now, my hands have a tremble and my heart rate monitor reads 92 beats per minute, up from my resting rate of 61.
But, it’s a respite to write it down. A comfort to know that someone (or many someones) reading this will know the feeling and have been there, too.
I share this in solidarity, and as a validation of all the times we’ve endured these experiences. It’s ok to not be ok about it, and to wish that it wouldn’t happen anymore. The more we talk about it and call it out, the more we can change this unacceptable cultural norm.
What’s your story?