Girls, stop tolerating harassment to be “polite”

in Opinion by

As a child, I was often praised for being polite. I was taught to respect people, help them when possible and, often, put others before myself. Until my teenage years, this was always one of my best qualities and something I thought little about.

Unfortunately, it seems to have turned into a curse. Nowadays, my fear of coming across as impolite or rude has ultimately left me feeling uneasy, unhappy and even afraid when forced to interact with pushy and often much older men. After countless uncomfortable interactions with them, I am tired of being nice and I am ready to put myself first.

The situation always unfolds in a similar manner: a male (who is often, disappointingly, in an authority position) will approach, filled with intrusive questions or unwanted compliments. I, unable or unwilling to walk away, will sit through the conversation with short but nonetheless polite responses until I can get away.

What even the most well-meaning men may not understand is that we do not know if you are well-meaning. All we see is that you are threatening stronger than us and capable of causing us harm. All we know is that you are an unwelcome intrusion, often unintentionally objectifying us and being brazen in a way that only causes us fear.

From being told I looked like the ex-girlfriend of a 40-plus-year-old man who wanted to know my jean size, to being cornered at local concerts and even my Dunkin Donuts, with each additional encounter I feel just a little bit more afraid of my world.

While ideally I would simply tell these offenders that I’m not interested in talking to them, this not only goes against everything I know about interacting with people but also leaves me vulnerable. The constant threat of men getting angry and potentially causing me bodily or emotional harm is too great to ignore, and thus I have given my number out to multiple individuals whom I have no intention of texting or ever seeing again.

What is most terrifying about many females’ inherent need to tolerate these interactions, is that it forces us to live in a limited world. As someone who travels alone fairly frequently, there is no worse feeling than being in a foreign environment and feeling scared. I have been cornered while waiting for a bus, approached while walking the streets of London and catcalled in more than one city.

This leads females to restrict their lives and constantly worry about imposing threats in a way that many men do not have to. In London this past summer, I never came home later than nine for fear of harassment on the streets or on public transportation, especially as the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has increased by 25 percent this past year alone according to the British Transport Police.

It is a sad reality that many females must adapt their lifestyles to simply feel safe, and while this harassment affects men too, it does so on a much smaller scale.

Ultimately, I am tired of being nice not only for my own well-being but also for my friends’ sake. Hearing about the unfortunate situations my friends have been subjected to is far more heartbreaking to me than my own traumas. While traveling with a friend this year, we entered a store and she was cornered by the shop owner shortly after we arrived. She gave me a look that seemed to say, “I’m uncomfortable, please save me from this person,” and we collectively darted out of the store and down the street.

We live in an age where 65 percent of all women have experienced street harassment, 23 percent  have been sexually touched, 20 percent have been followed, and 9 percent have been forced to do something sexual, according to a national survey of 2,000 people in the United States conducted by surveying firm GfK.

I cannot bear the thought of any of my friends being harassed and mistreated in these ways, and for them I have decided to stop being “polite.” Whether that means telling intruders I’m not interested or simply walking away, I will remove myself from the situation regardless of the consequences. We never have and never will have any obligation to tolerate these encounters.

Ultimately, it is up to men to change the way they treat women. It is up to parents to raise individuals who will not harass others. It is up to people to decide to treat one another with respect; But, until that happens, I am tired of tolerating uncomfortable interactions and in the future I simply will not do it.

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