TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness
When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond. In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people. How do you think those combine?” Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands. As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO. When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:
How to find the illusive fuchsia dot? What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene? And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out? Do you have the energy? Feel safe enough? How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?
Today I went to the dentist. You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished. I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range. I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.
After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in. The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.
Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you? When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else. When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?
Me: … *blank stare*
I contemplated saying something, but decided not to. I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP. (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.) He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.
Me in my head: Fuck off.
Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought. Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something. Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.
The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?
- The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
- The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
- The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
- The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body
These events aren’t calamities. They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own. (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property. This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)
There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment. Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc. What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable? How do you respond to long, invasive stares? People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them? Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more). All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”) Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?