On Defining Boundaries & Voicing Discomfort

Men: when you are simply going to get food do you expect to be sexually harassed? Probably not. But as a woman, I know this can happen at any time. It’s a sad truth. It’s such a prevalent part of life that when I travel, I almost never wear makeup and I intentionally dress down because I genuinely don’t want to draw attention to myself. A guy won’t bother a fresh faced girl in a hoodie, right?! Wrong.

I guess it’s best to start from the beginning: I was in a world of travel hell last week. My flights kept getting canceled and I kept getting stranded in random cities. Last on the list was Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a solid four-hour layover there before my flight (which would inevitably be canceled, leaving me to book a crappy airport hotel room for the night) so I figured since I hadn’t eaten yet that day, I should get some food before my flight.

I went to the counter to order a chicken wrap and a drink. I couldn’t help but notice that the guy taking my order did not seem to be listening to me. I realized I was right when instead of asking me questions related to my order, he started saying things like, “Are you traveling alone?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Where are you from?” The last two are questions I get a lot and while they are annoying, depending on the context, they don’t really feel threatening. Maybe I’m sensitive because of experiences I’ve had in the past with men, but I didn’t feel good when he asked if I was traveling alone. It felt creepy and over the line. I’m sure I looked like I had seen a ghost. I felt the color drain from my face. I was embarrassed and I was mad. One thing I’ve learned in life is that cooler heads will always prevail. I  removed myself from the situation and went to sit down and calm myself for a moment. I took a couple of minutes to myself and came back, asking for the manager. Romeo looked worried. And rightfully so. I was a woman on a mission.

Thankfully the manager was a woman. (It may sound a little sexist, but in these situations women respond better than men, sorry.) I explained what had just happened, as my face turned a little red and tears filled up in my eyes. I know it seems dramatic, but sometimes my physical reaction in uncomfortable or weird situations is to cry — plus, I was running on almost no sleep. I told her that, while I truly didn’t want to get this guy fired or in serious trouble, his personal line of questioning made me uncomfortable. I ventured to guess that I was not the only female he has harassed about whether or not they were “alone” or what city they live in, and that he should know that doing so was inappropriate.

The manager didn’t seem shocked by my complaint. However, she did seem annoyed with him and concerned that I was upset. She said she would have a conversation with him about dealing with female customers. That is really all I wanted. For me it felt really important to be able to say out loud what had happened, what I didn’t like about it and why he should seriously reconsider such invasive questioning in the future. As someone who has suffered silently after literally being abused by men, I knew I needed to speak up about how uncomfortable this situation made me, however minor it might seem in comparison, because it was still boundary-crossing. I needed to say something for my own sense of self. For my own self-worth. I’m done internalizing the things men do and say to me. No more feeling bad and beating myself up. I am proud of how I handled it. I didn’t flip out immediately or quietly blame myself as having invited the unwanted attention in some way. How much different would the world look if we all encouraged our daughters, our sisters, our friends to speak up when a man says something that makes them uncomfortable? That’s the world that I want to live in.

Oh, and did I mention he didn’t even get my order right?