What I Say to the Guys Who Harass Me

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been harassed by guys, and I’m not alone in that. I remember the first time a guy slapped my ass without my consent. I was in a nearly empty bar in Spokane with some friends and a wasted guy came up to us asking for a cigarette. We said, “Sorry, we don’t have one.” And he said, “Oh, ok,” and made brief conversation before turning to leave. As he did, he slapped my butt. He didn’t even turn to see my reaction. He just walked back over to where his buddies were standing by the bar. I was stunned. I looked at my friends who had seen it, and they were equally shocked. I thought, “Should I do something?” My posture slumped and I thought, “I guess I won’t…” but then I thought: “Wait. Hell no! That was not ok!”

So I walked up to him where he stood talking to his friends, as if nothing had happened, and I yanked his shirt around so he looked me in the face and said, “Don’t you ever slap my ass!” He was a tall guy but he put up his hands saying, “Ok, ok! I’m sorry!” I’m pretty sure I embarrassed him in front of his friends. And you know what? When I walked back over to my friends (who had lots of kudos to give me) the guy ended up coming back over and genuinely apologized.

That set the tone for the rest of the encounters I would unfortunately have. I can’t even believe the amount of times a strange man has grabbed my ass. Every time, it has left me feeling violated while my back is turned, coming from a guy I have never met, usually someone I have not even made eye contact with. But, I’ll tell you what I’ve done, every single time since that moment in the Spokane bar: Every time a guy slaps or grabs my butt, I turn around and I call him out on it. They need to hear how unwelcome it is. My response is usually a calmer one than the first situation, but think it’s important to show them just how awful their action is.

On New Years Eve, I was talking to a group of friends, with my boyfriend a few feet away, when I felt this hard grab on my lower butt. It hurt, he grabbed me so hard. I turned around to a drunk, grinning guy.

“Was that you?!” I said. He grinned and said, “Maybe” as though he were playfully flirting. “OK.” I said. “Look. Why did you just do that?” The guy’s expression changed. “Huh?” He said. “What made you think that was ok for you to grab me like that? I don’t even know you. This body is not yours to grab.” My boyfriend at that point realized what was happening and said the perfect thing. “Yeah man.” He said, looking the guy in the eyes. “That’s assault.”

My boyfriend stood by me in support but let me fight my own battle. “Yeah.” I said. “What gives you the right to grab me like that? That was awful and it hurt.” The guy drunkenly nodded. He didn’t apologize. But I’m glad I called him out on it. I later confronted the guy again, to show him just how wrong he was to grab a stranger. I think he really got the point the second time because he looked ashamed; as he should.

The most powerful thing about calling these guys out on their assault and harassment has been asking them a question: “Why did you just do that?” Or “What makes you think that’s ok?” It really gets them to question their own actions.

Recently, I was walking to meet up with some friends at a restaurant when a group of three guys taking up the whole sidewalk started to approach me. One guy stared me in the eyes as I tried to get around them. He locked eyes and said “Hey baby.” I looked at him when I was a safe distance away and said, “Don’t do that.”

Another occasion, I was biking and an over-50 guy I’ve never seen in my life yelled at me, saying “HEEEEEEEY GIRL.” WTF.  I’m just trying to ride home without being yelled at. Is that so hard? So I responded “NOOOOOOOO THANKS.”

But one particular occasion left me feeling degraded and disheveled. My neighbor was throwing a party and invited us over. There were a few, seemingly cute guys there, so I thought, why not. I went over for a maximum of ten minutes in which all of the following occurred in a short amount of time. The neighbor said to me “Oh, you’re the new neighbor? I watch you have sex all the time.” I guess he was joking, but WTF. I often will just do the awkward laugh in a situation like that, even though I’m insanely uncomfortable. But I’m proud of myself this time, because I didn’t do that, I just raised my eyebrows. Which led him to repeat the joke and I said, “That’s not funny.” (This is coming from the neighbor who shouted at my roommate while she walked into our house one night, saying, “Hey! Show me your tits! My girlfriend’s giving me head right now; show me your tits!”)

When my roommate and I walked into the living room of the party, one of the guys threw a dildo at us, and everyone laughed. I looked around the room and realized we were the only women at the party out of 20 some rugby guys and the token girlfriend of the neighbor. Get me out of here. I thought. But one guy came up to me who was the husband of my college dorm-roommate and started a conversation with me. So I politely talked to him for a minute. Then he decided the conversation was over and, I can’t even believe this, he put his hand across my face and shoved my face away to go talk to someone else. I was dumb founded at the insidious disrespect for me as a person. As my friend Cooper agreed later, “Oh my god Julia. That’s assault just before it becomes physical: More physical.”

I left immediately after that and I wish my roommate had come with me, but she came back over to our house less than an hour later. She wasn’t as shocked by the rugby neighbors’ behavior as I was. I guess that kind of stuff is so typical in our society it becomes accepted after a while: But not to me.

So the next week I was preparing to host the Vagina Monologues after-party. (If you haven’t seen the Vagina Monologues, check it out.) I wanted to make sure the neighbor and his rugby friends knew they weren’t invited. So when I saw the neighbor raking leaves in his backyard one day, I felt my heart pounding in my chest, nervous to confront him, but I walked outside and talked to him over the fence and said, “Hey so, I’m having a party on Friday and I just wanted you to know, I don’t think It’ll be your crowd. So I don’t think you should come.” He muttered something about not drinking anymore anyway but I went back into my house thinking, Damn. I wanted to really tell him why he’s not invited. So, a little while later I went back over there, this time knocking on his door and told him he wasn’t invited because of how disrespectful he was towards women. He said, “No, I really am respectful to women.” and I said, no, you’re really not. And laid out all the examples of him being a creep and how he needs to cut it out. Hopefully some of my words actually sunk in.

When these guys have harassed me, in the end, I’ve been proud of my responses, because it hasn’t been easy to confront these guys. And it certainly might not feel like the right move for everyone because, as we know, men who harass and assault women aren’t always the safest people to try and have an adult conversation with. We live in a world that is all too dangerous to women who stand up for themselves. And that needs to change. I’m lucky I’ve been in safe-enough-places to be able to confront these guys for their harassment and assault. That is a key ingredient to me standing up for myself: Feeling safe. But the men who do this kind of thing need to hear from the women they are harassing, that their actions are hurtful and wrong and that it needs to stop. And the men around women being harassed need to show their support too. Confronting guys hasn’t been easy. But for me, it has been better than lying awake wishing I had said something.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Julia is traveler and a truth seeker. She is an avid writer and researcher, works for the university where she also studies, and has spent years examining society. She is pursuing a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a Women's and Gender Studies certificate, and immensely enjoys being outdoors, hiking, playing soccer, blogging and playing music with her rad girl-band.

Julia is an avid writer and researcher, works for the university where she also studies, and is a musician for a rad girl-band.

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