The other day my boyfriend and I were discussing the difference between raising a boy and a girl.
“It’s so much easier to raise a ‘good man’ or a respectful man,” is what he told me.
This instantly bothered me until he explained that men do not have to do much to be seen as well mannered. They hold the door open or give up their seat, and automatically society deems them thoughtful and amazing. A man could be catcalling a woman but he will get applauded for not touching her. Men can do the bare minimum and get by, while women must live up to gender norms, thus creating double standards.
It is expected, and thus accepted, for men to be more aggressive and vulgar. Somehow society uses this as an excuse for catcalling, flirting with coworkers, or expecting attention from the females around men. Society says women should avoid provoking men because they just cannot fight these urges. Most times a hardworking, boss-ass woman, is automatically called a stuck-up bitch by others – mostly men. In an open-ended questionnaire asking what characteristics society values most about women, only five percent responded, “toughness and strength” while thirty-five responded “physical attractiveness.”
These findings support the notion that women get treated differently when they hustle as hard as a “man” does. I know that the workplace is a difficult place for women to maneuver because of the prevalence of sexual harassment, but I had not realized that it trickles from huge corporations, to restaurants, to retail jobs and even down to little shops until I experienced it for myself.
In the age of the #MeToo movement it is important to understand the facts of sexual harassment in order to comprehend how prevalent it is. The CNBC All-American Survey found that over one-fifth of females have been sexually harassed in the workplace. While the #MeToo movement has given the momentum that such a cause needed, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey which discovered that fifty-one percent of adults think that “the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault has made it harder for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace” and forty-six percent of adults think that “when it comes to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, women not being believed is still a major problem”.
Personally, as a woman, I am no stranger to unsolicited comments from men, so when I began working as a sales associate and cashier at a retail store, I was expecting the usual comments here and there. However, it was who the comments were coming from, and the range and magnitude that I did not expect.
I remember the first time clearly. The customer told me, “You’re so beautiful! Do you model? You definitely should!” I smiled politely and told them to have a nice day as I handed them their receipt. I had just started working and thought that it would be easier to just say have a nice day than anything else. “Have a nice day,” became my default response. The more situations like these occurred the more I realized how difficult it can be to find the right way to react while working. On the street, I would keep a straight face and keep it moving, but I struggled to decide what was the “right” way to respond in my workplace. After I spent more time working, I decided that if the male made only one comment that I would let it go. If they were persistent with their comments and questions, I would react. I set these rules up for myself, as I am sure many other females do for themselves in different scenarios.
The “right” reaction only reached my mind after an interaction I had with a customer a few months ago. A man, probably older than sixty, asked me to help him find a shirt for his grandson. He mentioned his grandson was sixteen and skinny, so I asked him if he was taller than me. The man looked me up then down slowly and chuckled.
“Do you model? You really should,” he replied. I responded “no” dryly and asked him how tall his grandson was for the second time. He responded saying he was sorry and did not mean to be offensive but finished the sentence off with “I mean you really should model...you have the body for it.” The man apologized for “being offensive” then made it clear that he was very focused on my body when making the comments he did. Not much of an apology I would say.
Ignoring this comment, I pointed to the two tables with t-shirts and suggested a size small. He walked over to the first table, only to call me over for help a few minutes later. He expressed that he did not really like the designs on the shirts and that he wanted to see more. I pointed to the second table on the other side of the store and mentioned there were more.
“Could you help me pick them out?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied, putting my hand out, motioning him to walk first. The second he chuckled, I knew I was not going to like what he would say next.
“What is it? Why don’t you want to walk in front of me? – I see, you don’t want to tease me, right?”
I stared at him, completely shocked at what he had said. I laughed nervously, which probably came off as approving to him, and proceeded to walk in front of him. Once I showed him the table, I was saved by the call of a coworker who needed something from the stock room. Now, every time I am put in a situation like this, I think back to this time and how paralyzed I felt. This was something I never wanted to feel again. It flipped a switch in me, causing me to work hard to stay away from that state of shock and to never come off as accepting of this behavior.
Through the many conversations I have had with my boyfriend, my male friends and brother, I know that not every man is trying to be a pervert or intrusive when they say, “You’re beautiful!” or other comments similar to this. These are all thoughts that men could keep to themselves, especially in a place of work. If you think she has something about her appearance worth acknowledging, she probably knows it and has heard it one too many times. There are better ways to compliment women, much better environments and timing.
Uncalled for comments will almost always come off as intrusive and rarely as genuine. This is something that needs to change when it comes to what we consider as acceptable for men to do. No comment is harmless, and no woman should be put in an uncomfortable situation that they did not initiate or ask for. Woman should be able to state their discomfort or choose not to be a part of certain interactions without being labeled with what society is ready to say about women that fall out of the norm and do not succumb to men’s desires.
Ana Radonjic is a sophomore at The City College of New York studying Civil Engineering.