It’s 8:00 AM on a Wednesday. I have stumbled out of my apartment to walk my dog. I haven’t yet brushed my hair or my teeth. I’m wearing a Minions shirt (adorned with some very nice paint splatters from a show work day last year), yoga pants, and off-brand lime green Crocs. Clearly, I am a fashion plate.
My morning walk is often one of the most pleasurable parts of my day.
I put in my earbuds, switch on a podcast (NPR’s Up First is great to get me updated on the stories of the day), and walk. If we time it just right, Lily Munster and I can catch the ducks from the lake as they parade across the street to the house that always has breadcrumbs for them.
I was looking forward to my walk yesterday. And everything went just as it usually does. Earbuds were in, podcast was on, dog was walking and sniffing and doing all the things that dogs do.
As I walked along the edge of one of my apartment complex’s parking lots, a pickup truck pulls into a parking spot. Nothing out of the ordinary; I ignore it. People come into parking lots all the time.
But then I notice a man poke his head out of his driver’s side window and motion for me to remove my headphones. I do.
“Could you tell me where 603 is?” he asks.
I live in a different building, so I look around for the structure that has those numbers so I might be able to point him in that direction. My eyes search the buildings surrounding us. It couldn’t have taken more than five seconds.
“I’m just kidding you,” the man says.
I stare blankly back at the dude, unsure if he’s aware that he just made the Unfunniest Joke Known to Man™. I’m not particularly annoyed, just confused. Does the man think he’s funny? Why is he talking to me? How do I respond?
I force a laugh and begin to put my earbuds back in, but before I do, the man has something else to say.
“I was wondering if I could … see your tits?”
Nope. I heard wrong. No way. There is no way this guy just asked me to take my top off in a parking lot at 8:00 AM.
“What?” I ask, convinced that my ears are somehow deceiving me. But they weren’t deceiving me.
“Can I check out your tits?”
“No,” I flatly stated.
“Please?” the man asks.
“No. I’m sorry,” I replied.
And then I walked away and I didn’t look back.
In these moments, you always think you’re going to transform into Wonder Woman and use your Lasso of Truth to whip guys like this into shape. You imagine that you’d give them a piece of your mind. You’d tell them off.
I’ve done way more dangerous things than tell a dude off.
But I didn’t tell him off. I apologized for not showing him my breasts. I actually said sorry to the creep who was sexually harassing me.
I apologized for being violated.
This is not the first time I have been sexually harassed or catcalled. I am, unfortunately, just as sure that it won’t be the last time. Things like this happen to women every day, in every possible place.
It happens on the street. It happens at the supermarket. It happens outside churches.
It even happens where you feel you might be safe, walking your dog in your apartment complex parking lot while wearing a paint-covered Minions t-shirt, gray yoga capris, and off-brand lime green Crocs.
It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t even matter if you say no.
I told a male friend later that night about my experience and he said, “Man, you don’t think guys like that really exist.”
But they do exist. They always have. And what’s more?
We’ve been telling you about them since time immemorial, and you didn’t believe us.
You didn’t want to believe we were lying, but … really, come on, who would actually do that, right? How could someone be so brazenly horrible? Seems like a big city problem. You’ve got to expect that kind of stuff in Chicago or New York City. Pretty sure that stuff just happens in movies.
Riddle me this: why would women lie about men being horrible to them? For sympathy? Why would I degrade myself for sympathy? Why would anyone do that? What possible benefit do I get from telling someone about being violated? Does a pile of money just drop into my lap? Do I get a star in my crown?
We aren’t lying and we aren’t exaggerating. This sort of thing happens all the time. It’s happened to probably almost every woman you know (although I wish I were wrong on that one). It happens in New York City, but it also happened to me in Wichita, Kansas. It happens to your little sister, your best friend, your mother. But it doesn’t matter who it happens to, because it’s wrong to happen at all.
Believe women when we tell you about our experiences. Believe that these men exist. Believe that there is so much work to be done to make the world safer for us.
I want to believe that I will never again have to apologize to my harasser for not giving in to his will, but I also know that my self-preservation instinct will do anything it can to keep me safe in this world.