When I started running a lot, especially outside, I also started to notice how often men make rude, unsolicited comments or gestures toward women (this is also known as sexual harassment). Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a run, or even just walking down the sidewalk when a man has honked his car horn, yelled out his car window, cat-called, whistled, or performed any other action like these toward me. The other day I was going to the Wesley Foundation’s regular meeting and a man in his car passed me and said, “Hey, Sexy” out his window. This honestly disgusts me just thinking about it. I know that some women and men find these sorts of unsolicited remarks from strangers complimentary, however, I don’t, and it is still sexual harassment.
This is a random topic to be writing about, but this bothers me almost every time I leave the house. Last weekend I was driving down the interstate and a truck driver honked his horn three times at me! As I sped up to continue passing him, I looked in my rearview mirror and he waved– a gross, slow, motion of his long skinny fingers. I literally felt sick after that. Having a stranger comment or gesture to/toward me based solely on my physical appearance makes me feel dirty and degraded, even though they are the ones at fault! I was so disgusted by this particular man’s actions that I called Annie right away because I needed to tell someone about what happened to me and how objectified I felt.
Some people try to explain away sexual harassment by saying that women or men shouldn’t dress or act a certain way because otherwise they’d be “asking for it.” This is a ridiculous attempt to ignore detrimental behavior by others. Wearing a t-shirt and jeans is not exactly fall into the category of “bearing too much skin,” and all I was doing was driving! Honestly, this is an issue that I feel is ignored all too often in our society. Boys are taught to conform to standard gender expressions from a young age, and unfortunately, one of these is the tendency of men to exhibit their masculinity by exerting influence over women. This includes making sexually-charged comments to women in order to objectify them and assert their male dominance. I know that women are guilty of sexual harassment also, but since I am relating this to my experiences, I’m talking about men. If smaller acts of verbal harassment can make me feel disgusted, dirty, and objectified, I can’t imagine what other women go through who have been abused in other ways.
I struggle with knowing how to respond to these situations. Especially after the truck-driver incident last weekend, I tried to think about ways to confront the issue of sexual harassment. I remember seeing a documentary on it a few semesters ago that featured women who were harassed on the street and would approach the person and engage them in a conversation about why they had cat-called/stared/yelled, etc at the woman to try to make them aware of the consequences of their actions. However, this strategy doesn’t apply when the harasser is in speeding by in an automobile or is otherwise inaccessible.
Of course, one of my first thoughts after the usual disgust, was to flip the truck-driver the bird. Annie wholeheartedly encouraged this as a way to regain my empowerment. I wanted to do this. But at the same time, I didn’t. I consider that gesture to be totally out of my character, and sometimes I think in my head, “UGH I want to give that guy the bird so bad! What a jerk!” but I know that the odds are very low that I will actually do it. I think Annie has a point, but also I knew that giving someone the finger is only a temporary act to ease the situation– it does not address the problem. This is frustrating, because sexual harassment is an issue that needs a solution! Women and men need a way to confront it, to regain their dignity; people need a way to say, “You are not in control of me!” I have lots more opinions on this, but this is probably enough for this one post.
It was hard for me to come up with any words of comfort regarding these kinds of situations– especially when I feel angry about them. But, I was re-reading an Upper Room devotional and these verses from Romans say a lot:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us . . . neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
God loves us infinitely and unconditionally. God loves us through our mistakes, and through the mistakes of others that make us feel bad. This love should strengthen and protect us in the face of adversity, and we should be reminded that nothing can separate us from it. No one should have to suffer harassment or abuse (I’m referring to this more generally, now, not just my own experiences) of any kind, and God also calls us to act justly and mercifully and to love and support others, especially in their hard times. There is a lot to be done to confront issues of harassment and those like it. Thankfully, God provides us with some words of strength and encouragement along the way.