I cannot imagine any female colleague of mine not having had to deal with harassment, sexism or at least inappropriate flirting at the workplace once in a while. And this makes me angry. This makes all of us angry. So we put up a facebook status. We write condemning statements in the safety of our social media bubble. We are strong in unity, though securely separated by our screens. It is our bizarre millenial way to show solidarity in order to make others and ourselves feel better. Fair enough. But nobody actually does anything real about the issue. So this was becoming another #jesuischarlie, another #bringbackourgirls. As soon as you get it off your chest by joining the virtual chant of protest, you are somewhat relieved of your guilt or humiliation or whatever emotion knocks you out of your comfort zone. And that’s that.
Yet, how on earth does a hashtag help anyone?
Is it really gratification enough? Are we not strong enough to actually take action? Had it never occurred to all the hashtagging women (and men!) to just not allow the ongoing invasions of their private space in the first place? Well, of course it had. But as we all very well know from experience: you cannot prohibit it from happening. Either you are taken by surprise, or you are in a position of dependency, or you just don’t want to make a fuss about it, or… well, honestly: It just happens. Frequently. And we are used to it.
And that is exactly the problem.
However, I found it pointless to be another piece in the puzzle, hence no hashtag from me. No blogging either. I would not use so serious a matter for showing off my huge amount of opinion on it. It felt good to put myself above all the hashtaggers. I was cleverer, stronger, ready to defend myself in real life.
And then I left the house:
I sat down in a café to have a relaxed morning coffee. I wanted to enjoy the autumn sun and the refreshing silence of solitude before work. A man in his fifties, I estimate, sat at the table next to mine. „That seems to be a rather lonely breakfast!“, he remarked. „Does a woman like you not have any company on such a lovely day?“
„I quite like to be on my own.“, I replied with a put-on smile and casually laughed the situation away.
I went to work at the theater and stopped at a window to adjust my hair before entering the building. A pizza delivery guy passed me on his moped and whistled at me. I ignored him with a put-on smile and casually laughed the situation away.
I entered my house returning from work and held the door open for a neighbour. „Thanks, beautiful!“, he said, „And… sleep well!“ He emphatically winked at me. I nodded with a put-on smile and casually laughed the situation away.
„Come on, take it as a compliment! Be a good girl and don’t make an emancipatory fuss about it.“, the socially adjusted devil on my shoulder whispered. But I had enough. Whether it had been a mere coincidence that all this happened today of all days, or whether it had been happening all the time but only now came to my attention to the full extent – I was done with rising above it. And then it all came back:
That colleague’s remarks about my supposed physical inadequacy for the role I was playing at that time.
That landlord, who hid my bike behind his garage, because it was somehow bothering him, had then pretended not to know anything about its whereabouts until I found it coincidentally and confronted him, and then justified his scheme by patronisingly sneering, „Well, you will certainly learn from that not to park your bike just anywhere, girl!“ (I kid you not, people. This is a true story.)
That random passer-by (my absolute favourite!) telling me to smile more. We have all had that one, haven’t we? We are used to it.
And we casually laugh it all away.
So, now I do write about it. To get it off my chest. To seek solidarity in all of you. To make myself feel better and stronger. To set myself a reminder to handle it better next time and not to simply endure it and shrug it off.
No, it is not a compliment if you randomly shout after me that I am a „sexy thing“. And next time I intend to articulate that.
No, it is not alright to express your problem with my physique, whether you are a teenager (or behaving like one) trying to provoke me, an obese businessman at the next table commenting on my „not very lady-like“ food order or a stage director with a fear of divergence from stereotypes. And next time I intend to articulate that.
No, it is not appropriate to tell me that I’m totally fuckable – in whatever words you wrap it up – in a professional environment. And next time I intend to articulate that.
And no, I will not smile more, just because you think women are supposed to be decorative elements hovering through the streets to please your virile eye.
And next time I intend to articulate that. I will tell it to your face and put you to silence. Maybe I will not put up a lonely hashtag on my social media profile. But I intend to make sure that it will not be me too again.