When I was younger, I would hear stories from women about creepy guys who would follow them around and shout disgusting things at them, but I always thought it was a rare occurrence. Even though I always believed the women, the idea of encountering a creepy man seemed rare. It wasn't until I got a job that I realized how often these exchanges happen.
I began working when I was 17 and immediately began to notice how often men decided to creep out female coworkers. We barely had any male employees where I worked, and for a good chunk of the time I was there, we had zero. Working at a register, my time with creeps was limited to a minute or so as I rang them up, but once I was moved into the Men's section of our store, things got a whole lot worse.
My job in the Men's section was simple; stock the shelves and racks while keeping the area tidy. Since I was the only worker in that area, I had no choice but to answer any questions the male customers had. Most of the time the questions were short, but a good amount of them turned into a conversation I didn't want to have. They'd start out innocent enough, I'd get asked about where the socks were or something.
Then, however, without fail, the male customer would look me up and down and ask the same annoying question; where do you live? I'm serious, that's actually what they would ask. I don't mean one or two men asked me this. Over the course of my two years there, I'd say at least ten men asked me this exact question.
When this would happen, I'd just laugh and throw out the name of a random town. Once I answered, they'd go about their business. One man, however, kept staring at me and then finally told me that he had seen me around the town that I was actually from. I honestly became petrified and removed myself from the conversation. He, of course, proceeded to follow me. Out of pure fear, I hid in the back room and waited for him to leave.
So basically, a man scared me so much that I had to cease my work to hide. I was at my own job, where I was happily employed, and yet I had to hide from a persistent creep. I have so many stories just like this one and sometimes even I can't believe they actually happened.
Because of how many creeps I've encountered, I rarely make eye contact with certain men at work. Most guys are totally fine, but some guys are a problem. The biggest creep give-away is when they look at your nametag and proceed to use your name multiple times when speaking to you. That's not normal. Normal people just call me "miss" or something.
I've learned to keep my eye contact with men in stores. I made the mistake not long ago of looking directly at and smiling at a strange man when letting him pass me in a tight aisle. I knew I messed up when he gave me a huge smile, moved close so that he was mere inches away from me, and calmly said, "well, how are you today?"
To some people, this may not seem like a big deal, but normal people don't do that in stores. People are supposed to keep their distance. If someone lets you pass, you give them a grin and a nod and move on. You don't invade their personal space and start a conversation.
I've had a co-worker ask me to join her as she walked with a male customer to show him where a certain product was after she deemed that customer a threat. I've had a co-worker cry when male customers shouted suggestive things at her while she was picking merchandise up off the ground. No one should feel this way at work.
I'm trying my best to explain this without sounding like the "triggered feminist" uneducated people like to whine about. No, I don't hyperventilate when a man says hello to me.
I get nervous when men break social rules in order to show interest. No normal person asks a retail worker where she lives after she's pointed out where the socks are to you. No normal person follows said worker around the store after she's ended the conversation. No normal person takes a stranger's polite smile as an invitation to get super close and engage in a conversation.
I have to change the way I carry myself in certain places to make sure I don't attract unwanted attention. It gets harder in a customer service job where I'm forced to be nice and smile to every customer. I shouldn't have to be scared of being pursued when I'm just trying to do my job. In short, why don't these men just leave us the hell alone?