15 Things I wish I’d said to the man who harassed me, even when I told him to stop
Last night, I popped out to buy bread and tampons. One onslaught of aggressive verbal harassment, a panic attack, a sleepless night, and a cascade of resurfaced trauma and anxiety later, here’s everything I wish I’d said to him — along with everything that I did.
“Another tough day fighting the patriarchy?” — You casually mock me, glancing at the box of jumbo tampons in my left hand.
- Yes, and it’s been a good one actually. I delivered some great work for my clients (I’m my own boss, don’t you know) from my co-working office space (that’s just for women, obvs) before heading to a body-positive photo shoot for a bra company (built on values of comfort and inclusivity, naturally). Pretty cool, huh?
- Actually, the only thing I’m trying to fight right now is my menstrual flow.
- Would you ask me that if I was a guy wearing sports kit? Would you ask me that if I were some hot, petite blonde chick you wanted to hit on? Would you ask me that if I were a mom with my kid? Or are you picking on me because I look drained, I’m wearing PJ bottoms and I have a nose ring?
“Just a standard one,” I reply, thinking this is probably just a poorly judged attempt at a joke.
“You see, the patriarchy isn’t real, it’s a myth…” — Oh, here we go...
4. Yes, I know. So is global warming. And the Syrian civil war. And the concepts of gravity, time and space.
5. What’s the patriarchy?
6. I love myths. The Minotaur’s my favorite.
7. Actually, according to Urban Dictionary, the patriarchy is ‘The bogeyman that feminists blame for women’s problems or under-achievements because their big-girl pants apparently don’t fit,’ and that sounds pretty legit to me.
“I don’t want to have this conversation, thanks” — I say for the first time.
“Let me see, how can I explain it in simple terms…?” — You ponder, continuing uninvited.
“Yes, please make it nice and simple so that I can understand you with my lady brain.” Your face tells me that you don’t like my sassy humor.
8. Maybe you could try an analogy that uses shopping, or putting the main points down on some pink post-its for me?
9. That would be great, I’ve always hoped that a man would approach me in the supermarket and take it upon himself to explain feminism to me. I’ve just been following along blindly up until now.
“Look, I’m not in the mood for this, can you leave it, please”— That’s the second time I ask you to stop.
“The thing is, the pay gap is a myth too. Women actually leave their jobs because they want to have a family…” — You attempt to demonstrate your (thoroughly uninvited) argument.
10. So what about men who have families? Why don’t they leave their jobs? What barriers are there for women who want to stay in full-time work, but don’t?
11. Are you sure women aren’t just lazy? We probably just push a human through our vagina and raise them into adults as an excuse to get out of work. It’s a much easier option.
12. Wow, the mother of your kids is going to be one lucky lady.
13. I sincerely hope that you’ve been neutered.
“That’s enough, please stop talking to me now” —The third time.
“That’s the beauty of freedom. You’re free to not listen to me, but I’m free to talk to you…” — But I’ve asked you three times to stop? Your body language has changed. You’re moving your arms a lot and a cruel smirk is flickering across your face.
14. Not when I’ve asked you to stop three times already, and am already visibly distressed.
15. You’re also free to respect those around you. You might want to try it.
“You’re upsetting me. That’s enough.” — That’s four now.
“I’m just saying, this so-called female oppression isn’t real. You’ve made it up to suit yourselves” — Now I’m feeling the fear mix with anger in my belly. Adrenaline rushes through me. I glance over to the exit, wanting to run away, but the thought of smashing your stupid fucking longboard keeps my feet planted firm.
“You can tell me that that female oppression isn’t real when I stop having to stand up for other women who are being sexually harassed and groped on public transport.”
I’m challenging you. You don’t like that.
“Are you telling me that men don’t get sexually harassed?!” — You’re shouting now — “Are you telling me that men don’t get harassed, or RAPED?!”
I take a deep breath. I make a decision. I’m shaking as I try to keep my voice steady. I look you straight in the eye.
“You are talking to sexual violence survivor. I was raped when I was 22 years old. This is extremely triggering for me and I am on the edge now. JUST F….” I trail off… “STOP! JUST STOP!”
“Say it,” — you taunt me — “Go on! Fucking say FUCK.”
“I won’t” I glance at the cashier. She’s scanning your fucking grapes and averting her eyes. “Unlike you, I have some respect for those around me.”
“So what! No-one fucking cares!” — Your face is right up in my face now and your voice feels even louder and angrier up close— “Men get raped too you know!”
I physically shake as the tears burst out and sizzle on my cheeks. They’re burning hot with rage and shame and fear.
My chest is tight. Everything is blurry. My hands are trembling as I tap my card. I only came in here for tampons and a loaf of bread.
You pick up your tub of Cherry Garcia, your fucking grapes and your fucking longboard and stride out of the store.
Past the cashier, who is still won’t look at me, but is now gently whispering “Just breathe, just breathe.”
Past the useless security guard, who just stood there gawping as you yelled at me.
Past the other shoppers, who have been staring at the floor, at the groceries, at their phone, anywhere, except at the crying, shaking woman in visible distress, who clearly needs a fucking ally right now.
You saunter out of there without a second thought. Without even looking back at the carnage you’re leaving behind.
I start to walk away and my legs threaten to give way. I half-sit on the end of the next conveyor and sob and shake and try to breathe.
“Are you ok?” — Finally. A human reaches out.