Over the weekend one of my close friends, Sarah, was visiting. We had deep and fun conversations, many of them revolving around women’s issues—particularly the lack of feeling safe in certain circumstances, men feeling they can act familiarly with us even when they don’t know us, and the things we females do and think about because of the simple fact that we are women.
A few examples are:
- Walking to the car with your keys or a sharp object in your hand;
- Checking under and in the vehicle before getting in;
- Being hyper-aware of who is behind you, especially when alone;
- Feeling unable to adequately defend yourself if needed;
- Etc., etc., etc.
The issue of unwanted attention from men dominates, by necessity, far too many conversations. However, I think many of us fear the (almost) inevitable dismissal if we mention it to authority figures (leaders, etc.), because historically that is how society handles claims women make about men.
This leads to my own, recent, experience. I was in a church service where I knew many of the attendees. However, there was someone with whom I was unfamiliar sitting two rows ahead of me. Towards the end, he turned around, made eye contact, smiled, and winked at me. Instantly, anything amiable I felt (I rarely feel animosity towards strangers) evaporated and was replaced with a sense of invasion of privacy by a stranger. When he got up a few minutes later and walked by me, I was on guard in case he tried to make physical contact.
I know it probably seems absurd to jump to feelings of fear of someone walking by you and touching you—but as a female, I know that it is not far-fetched. I know we live in a society where familiar physical interaction (hugs, pats on the arm, shoulder rub, etc.) are “normal.” But, none of the above give permission to invade a person’s bubble without their permission.
“Personal bubbles” can even expand beyond physical and into the non-physical. In my experience, winks are fun when given and received by people with a mutual understanding of a relationship of some kind (friendship, family, partner/spouse, etc.), but when given by a stranger, it is a sign of flirtation. People have the right to go about their business without fielding and/or ignoring unsolicited advances from strangers. Females should be able to go to school, the store, the park, a place of worship, etc. without feeling unsafe or objectified.
What are some ways you handle unwanted attention from men? Do you talk with people who could facilitate change about the situations that make you uncomfortable? If so, what is their response?
P.S. I’m aware this is not solely a female problem, but the majority of the time it is.