Don’t I Have The Right To Tell You Not To Harass Me?

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Brooke Cagle

Most of the men in the restaurant where I used to work had little regard for personal space or physical boundaries. But if I ever questioned this, one of two things would happen: (1) they would immediately apologize and act sorry but then turn around and joke about how “sensitive” or “dramatic” I was to the other guys or (2) they would laugh in my face in the moment and tell me to not make a big deal out of it. Maybe I was being sensitive, but you tell me if I have a right to feel uncomfortable. Would you?

I had a boss once who used to call me “babe” every now and then. He did this with the other females in the restaurant too. I guess it didn’t bother them much but it bothered me. Especially when he one time did this while simultaneously placing his hand to rest on my waist for longer than just a passing moment… Is this sexual harassment? Is it okay for me to say something? Am I allowed to voice that it makes me uncomfortable without being mocked? I didn’t say anything but I should have. But would I have been supported or shot down if I had said something?

I once had a regular customer at the restaurant, who I also knew from town (who was well into his 40s), who asked me for my phone number once because he said he wanted to take me out on a date. This happened while I was working. I was extremely uncomfortable but was able to decline the offer politely and walk away. But he then hovered in the restaurant for a bit longer after and continued to look at me every time I passed by him. I told my boss that I was uncomfortable and when I told him what happened and that the man was still in the restaurant, he just laughed and said “oh that’s not a big deal” and walked away. Was it not a big deal? Did I not have a right to voice my concerns? Should my boss have taken my discomfort seriously or was he right to brush it off?

One of my coworkers used to make a habit of resting his hand on my lower back whenever he was standing next to me. I told him once calmly that he made me uncomfortable when doing this, and he mocked me. He said that I was one of “those” girls and that I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Was he calling me prude? But so what if I was? Just because I do not want you touching me unnecessarily does not make me one of “those” girls, whatever that means. Don’t I have a right to express my discomfort without being mocked? Maybe it doesn’t seem extreme to you to just touch my lower back but it does not matter because it makes me uncomfortable regardless, and if I say so then you should respect it. But how many men out there will respect it to your face and behind your back?

Harassment and assault happen every day to someone. I have experienced it myself and I have seen it happen to numerous other women. It’s not okay, and just because a touch or a conversation isn’t assaultive doesn’t mean it can’t still make someone uncomfortable. And if someone has the courage to tell you that they are uncomfortable about what you are doing then you should respect it, stop doing it, and not mock their concerns.

Am I wrong? What do you think? TC mark

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