In an article discussing women and their experiences of receiving unsolicited advances from men, author Rachel Thompson draws attention to how often women have had to pretend to have a boyfriend or husband to get out of an uncomfortable or threatening situation, and how terrifying it can be.
Women constantly receive unwanted attention in their day to day lives. This is not something society is oblivious to, but most people do not realize how often it occurs.
One would not think receiving a compliment at a drive thru is a huge deal, and although it may not be in the moment, a woman's natural instinct is to react with a "thank you" while smiling; as if she should be appreciative for being acknowledged by a complete stranger. There have been many times I have not been in the mood to engage in conversation and all I wanted was to quickly grab a latte on my way to class. However, it is almost as if we, as women, are expected to show gratitude when the man handing us our drink flashes a smile, followed by "You're really pretty." Of course, the compliment is appreciated, but it most definitely is not necessary.
According to Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D, a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, there is a reason why it can be so challenging to reject undesired romantic advances. In a study done to examine the experience of rejecting someone's advances by having participants provide information about situations they have encountered in regards to unsolicited attention, Bohns and DeVincents (2018) data revealed that majority of the men making these advances do not think they are creating an uncomfortable environment and also, do not view themselves as being contributing factors for women finding it imperative to change their daily routine or actions just to avoid being put in such a situation.
I recently found myself in these settings, one after the other.
Though almost all women have had to face the challenge of how to handle flirtatious and sexual remarks from a stranger, I truly did not notice how common this had become until I noticed the repetition in this sort of behavior. I've had my fair share of a man making a comment towards me, whether it be online or in person, but to actually feel nervous was something I had not felt in a while.
My family and I have been going to the grocery store located two minutes from our house since I was a child. It has been a place where I never felt uncomfortable or hesitant going on my own, even late at night. However, each time I have been going lately, I always come into contact with an employee who works there. It started off with him smiling at me, which I consider to be very normal and not something to look into. But slowly, the smiles turned into him appearing in the aisle I was in and just standing there. I would uncertainly smile back each time, finding it very odd, but again, trying not to read into it.
A week ago is when I noticed a feeling of unease.
I had just finished getting everything on my grocery list and was making my way for an open aisle. I saw his was open, but avoided it and quickly went to the one right next to him. As I began putting my items onto the belt, a woman approached his aisle and started doing the same. I had just two cartons of eggs left to put on to the belt, when I felt like someone was watching me. I looked from the corner of my eye and saw him standing right beside me. For a few seconds, I was genuinely confused, not understanding why he was there when a customer was in his aisle, waiting for her groceries to be checked out. I decided to ignore and figured if I did so, he would leave on his own; But he did not. He was still standing there. Eventually, I needed to put my final items on the belt and had no choice, but to turn and face his way. As soon as I did, he gestured for me to place my things down and brushed past me. This brought me so much discomfort that I found myself holding my hands tightly up against my chest. He continued trying to make eye contact with me the entire time, while I was planning in my head how fast I could run to my car with an entire cart full of groceries.
This is just one tiny example of a huge issue women face. It became fully exposed in Hollywood not too long ago with accusations against Harvey Weinstein for using his position of power to sexually coerce young actresses. It happens in Pakistan, where a woman can hardly walk the streets without being stared at as she goes.
Unfortunately, such advances sometimes lead to stalking, and worse, sexual assault.
There is no guarantee an end can be put to this issue. However, instead of telling women to avoid going certain places or responding with a smile and light hearted laugh, men who do such things should know it is not okay and it is not something women want. As humans, we all want some level of attention. But there is a difference between attention we receive and allow from those we feel comfortable with and that which is unsolicited.