…Has left me feeling exposed and disgusted. I just can’t believe this is still happening in 20-Fucking-21.
I recently experienced a deeply uncomfortable sexual harassment moment in a major chain of discount stores. I was out on a Saturday evening; I showered and got ready to this particular store, as it’s the closest in the chain to me. As a creature of habit, I love going to that store; I know where everything is, I know it’s going to be clean and tidy, and the staff is always super friendly. It’s always a treat to visit when I have a few extra dollars to spend.
I wore a burnt orange tank crop top, with no bra, and a pair of workout leggings. As I walked into the store, I saw the associate out of the corner of my eye as he welcomed me, and his eyes were the size of Oreos. I’m used to being ogled, so I moved about my business.
I walked around for like 20 minutes, did my shopping and went to the front to check out. This particular store has self-checkouts, and the associate mentioned above was in the area directing traffic. He indicated me to a free stall, and leaned in closely. Like uncomfortably close; if he were any closer, I probably could have felt him breathing on me. In hindsight, he was probably about 10 inches from me as he said, “You look great by the way. Do you live around here?”
I was instantly uncomfortable and I felt so violated. I felt my cheeks getting hot, my race start to pulse, and felt his presence way too close to me. Was he looking down at my shirt at that moment? Had he been undressing me with his eyes when we initially made connection at the front?
I very abruptly blurted out I was married, and only then was he apologetic. I wasn’t wearing my ring at the time, and if you can believe it, so I thought I would have to go on the defensive, but instead he did. Still, though, he lingered for another 5-10 seconds, and that slow passing of time felt unreal and stretched thin.
I was ringing up my items during this whole exchange, and after he walked away, all I wanted to do was finish my transaction and go home. I could not finish checking out quickly enough, but then, some candy I was trying to purchase wouldn’t scan. I tried several times to swipe it, finally in a mad panic to get out, and not wanting to alert him back to me, I left the candy, very quickly paid and walked out.
When I got to my car, my skin was crawling, and I felt so violated. I sat in my car for another 15-20 minutes, texting my bestie, giving her the play-by-play as my emotions festered beneath the shock of the incident. My first instinct was to cover up with a sweater I keep in my car, but I just refused. I sat in my car for another while, willing myself the courage not to just go home, hide under my blankets and cry.
Finally, I had one other stop after that retailer, and as I parked my car, my instinct to cover up overcame me again, and I sat in my car for another long while before I could exit. I was hyper aware of my settings, I watched every person passing by, and I locked my car as soon as I parked (it automatically unlocks the doors when the engine is turned off).
I felt so naked and vulnerable. I knew those thing happen, but you’re never prepared for the moment when it is actually happening to you. I was scared to leave my car; I didn’t want to have the same experience again, but again, I refused to wear a sweater.
I thought, “Fuck that shit! I have been told my whole life that I can’t wear certain things as a woman, for one reason or another. I refuse to allow that jerk, and all the other jerks, to make me dress a certain way.”
I have never shopped at Kroger so quickly in my life. I was hyper-focused, impersonal, and curt. I paid, went home, melted into my husband’s arms and sobbed.
I’m so tired of having to be scared. It took me back to being a young woman in my late teens early twenties, being approached by men bigger than me, and being hit on and sometimes even groped.
That incident at the retailer took me back to the powerlessness I felt when I was 19; something similar happened in a women’s bathroom at a small Mexican restaurant.
Writing this made me so tired; Part 2 coming soon.