Live Action Sexual Harassment

Dear Internet,

It started out innocently enough.

I was standing outside of a karaoke bar with some friends, when an obviously drunk guy invades my personal space, got into my face and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said sure and he asked how I liked his football jersey. I replied I had no comment on it. He said he liked my shirt and wanted to know if I would take it off for him. I said no. He said how much would it take for me to take it off. I replied a million dollars. He said he didn’t have that much and wouldn’t I just want to take it off for him? Again I said no, and as I was speaking started inching closer to a male friend of mine who was near me. A girlfriend who was also with me interjected and said I wouldn’t have anything to wear if I took off my shirt. Drunk guy gestured to his jersey and said I could have his jersey in trade if I wanted. I again replied in the negative while by this time, standing so close to my male friend I could feel the fabric of his clothes on my bare arms. Mr. Drunk got distracted for a brief moment and I took this as my opportunity to get the fuck inside. Bouncers figured out what was going on and started steering the guy into a waiting cab.

This all took place under the span of five minutes. Probably even less.

I’m in California for a conference; presenting on sexual harassment with the emphasis on being a woman in technology, a primarily male dominated profession. The irony of the exchange above is not lost on me.

The rest of the evening took a dark turn in my head. I’ve been in a really great space for a few weeks now and I’ve been enjoying this conference immensely. While this is the first conference I’ve attended in a long time solo, meaning I had no obvious conference buddy or TheHusband with me, I’ve not been alone. I’m seeing a lot of old friends while meeting new. I am pissed that out of all the obvious places for this could have happened, it had to be here.

Getting sexually harassed is not a new thing to me and I would argue it’s not a new thing for any woman. But in that scant amount of time, this jerkoffs attitude towards me stripped me emotionally naked and for that I am angry. I was made to feel like an object of someone’s whim, someone who could have hurt me, someone who felt I could have been bought for a few dollars. Someone who took away my power as a person.

In the beginning of the evening, the hours had flown by but now, the rest of the evening slowed to a crawl. Several of us were game on closing the bar down but all I wanted was to get back to my hotel room and protect myself. I tried to shake off the fact perhaps I was overreacting – I continued with the facade of happy go lucky: Guinness was still consumed, I still sang at karaoke, and to the world it seemed like nothing had happened but internally, I no longer felt like me but a piece of meat being appraised, valued, and reappraised again. To Mr. Drunk, who will have forgotten it by the morning, it was probably nothing. He was drunk. He didn’t mean it. He was not that type of person. He’s a married man.

Excuses will be made, by him. By me.

Once I made it safely to my room, I stripped down and took the hottest shower possible. I scrubbed myself several times over and brushed my teeth so hard, my gums were almost bleeding. When I get back to Michigan, I’ll probably throw the shirt away.

Being overly self-aware, this stripping of power by Mr. Drunk has accelerated the feeling of fragility. I’m clawing to not feel anxious, to not feel exposed, to not feel sub-human. He obviously doesn’t know my story – because why would he? I was just a random woman who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But I know my back story, I know how I struggle with my own emotional boundaries, and all of the protection I have worked so hard has now been weakened, my borders are compromised. I start to question how even my most benign of clothing choices became the object of his attention, his needs, his wants.

Some are going to read this and think,”What’s the big fucking deal? You were at a bar, some drunk asshole was a dick, you weren’t hurt physically. Get over it.” But that’s my fucking point, it IS a big deal. This has NOT been the only instance of sexual harassment that’s happened since I’ve been here. Shortly after I presented on my panel, I was out with a group of people, many who were at my panel. Without fucking fail, several of those in our group spent longer than necessary staring at my rack. Yes, I do have a nice rack. It’s pretty apparent I have a nice rack. But when I’m sitting there having a conversation with you and I’m watching your eyes flick from my tits to my face and back again CONSTANTLY as we’re talking; when it becomes clear you’re not really paying attention to “me” but the aforementioned nice rack, then any respect I’ve ever had happened for you has been stripped.

As it was, so it will be; this will be fodder for future panels, for examples and illustration purposes. The cycle continues.

xoxo,
Lisa

13 Comments

  • Kate

    30 October 2013 at 12:21

    Wow, I could have written this last week at my own conference. Instead of spending time reflecting on what you’re learning and doing at the events, you’re mulling over the bullshit that the offender brought into the picture, and like you said, feeling sub-human. I hate letting people into my headspace but they get there just the same, and even if I’ve made it away physically unscathed I still have to deal with the emotional problems.

  • Laura

    30 October 2013 at 12:31

    I can SO relate.

  • Kate Kosturski

    30 October 2013 at 13:47

    And this is why we need to signal boost, and signal boost, and signal boost again and again. Because there are still people that think that such behavior is okay, and that we should just “deal with it” (as my mom would say, meaning that just accept the situation as is). No. We should not just “deal with it.”

  • Jodie Borgerding

    30 October 2013 at 14:14

    Or my favorite answer from my mother and grandmother: “Boys will be boys.”

  • […] addition to the sexual harassment shenanigans going on, I received an invite from my mother this weekend to dinner at her place for […]

  • […] four hours later, I was publicly sexually harassed. Like I said, the irony was not lost on […]

  • […] my shrink appointment this week with Dr. P., I recounted everything that had happened from the sexual harassment to dealing with my mother and all the gooey bits in between. He has also noticed something has […]

  • […] until I published Live Action Sexual Harassment, EPbaB had a couple of of goals, the main being to aggressively document my mental and physical […]

  • […] example of something that happens on a fairly regularly basis with me. Much as I said to the male friend who was standing next to me while I was being sexually harassed, “Now you know.” I said the exact same thing to TheHusband when the meeting ended on […]

  • […] finally speaking out. These librarians, many of whom are women, and several of whom have been brutally victimized at conferences and elsewhere, finally felt safe enough, or enraged enough, to speak out and demand some […]

  • […] has blogged about graphic verbal and physical harassment from other librarians; Lisa Rabey has also blogged about being harassed at a conference. Nicholas Schiller wrote that, at a recent Internet Librarian panel […]

  • […] by Sarah Houghton from 2011 about her experiences with professional sexual harassment, and adding in my own piece when I got harassed in 2013, and a piece from Dorothea Salo written 2007 about a woman being harassed at a DSpace conference. […]

  • […] I did not throw the t-shirt out. I plucked it out of the trash before leaving the hotel for good and I’ve worn it several times since. I’ve attempting to pretend nothing ever happened. […]