By: Danielle Spitz, IATG Contributor February 16, 2016
The concept of harassment is not a foreign concept to most girls. However, despite the wide array of cases that fall under the broad harassment umbrella, we tend to focus on the more severe situations classified as sexual abuse or assault. We’re taught to live by the “buddy system” and keep mace with us as casually as another set of house keys. With so much emphasis placed on physical threats, it becomes easy to lose sight of the more subtle cases of harassment that can still have a great impact.
Catcalling and unwelcome advances are so common that they may seem harmless, but the lasting effects are surprising.
No matter how ignorant the remark, it never feels good to be objectified, and it doesn’t take much to feel disrespected.
I’ve heard countless stories regarding verbal harassment, yet for some reason society deems these scenarios as invalid excuses to victimize oneself.
For a long time, I only listened to others recount their experiences with verbal harassment and thought it would never happen to me, or at least not in the near future. With my short stature and deceivingly young-looking face, it was hard for me to imagine myself in their shoes, because I didn’t understand the regularity of the problem nor could I ever anticipate the intense internal effect of something that seems so insignificant.
Recently while waiting in line for my coffee at my regular shop, I sensed that something was off. It didn’t take long for me to realize that an older man was staring and smiling at me. I waited eagerly for my name to be called, so I could leave as quickly as possible. I picked up my order and was heading for the door when the man stopped me and whispered comments about my smile and the way I looked. It was nothing deliberate and it was nothing obvious, but I knew it was something wrong.
Once I left the shop, I began to question myself and what I was feeling. Was it okay to feel violated? Was I overreacting?
Part of me still feels guilty for talking about it, because I know that what I experienced is nothing compared to the incredibly serious cases of harassment that many women have endured. But I have also decided that I should not apologize for how I feel, and women who experience little things like this every day should be more encouraged to express themselves.
It’s still difficult to articulate what went through my mind in that moment, but I think my confusion says it all. I was confused about what I had done for him to approach me. I was confused why I felt so embarrassed. I was confused about whether my clothes sent the wrong message, even though I was wearing baggy sweatpants and an oversized sweatshirt, so even those who ignorantly argue that clothes are a clear indicator of one’s sexual intentions could not defend this case.
I think the occurrences of understated instances like this one are something really important to talk about, because even by writing this I have achieved a sense of catharsis and security with my emotions. Nothing is too big or too little to discuss, especially when there is an entire community of supportive women just waiting to hear what’s on our minds.
Have you ever felt harassed or embarrassed by unwelcome comments or gestures? How did you handle it? Share your experiences with trusted friends or in safe, online communities to inspire others to do the same.
High school student Danielle Spitz is an aspiring journalist. She writes for her school newspaper and of course IATG! She loves reading, writing, running, binge watching anything on Netflix, shopping, and contributing to a world in which women build each other up and receive the respect they deserve.
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