I was going to write this kind of easy, flippant fashion post today for the Mamanista Fridays hashtag, but I had an experience last night that actually rattled me a bit and as I woke up this morning I couldn't shake it, so sorry, you'll have to wait a minute to see me in formal wear.
I went to a Starbucks last night on my way in to work. This is 100% not the norm for me, as the closest Starbucks to me is in the opposite direction as my workplace from my house, but my boss was going to be in an all-day meeting and so I offered to pick up her afternoon coffee for her on my way in and she gratefully agreed.
I left my house with plenty of time to go get the coffee and get to work, accounting for traffic. I arrived at Starbucks and found a primo parking spot, which made me feel excellent. I walked in, there was a line (as there usually is at this location, right next to a decently-sized university) and I checked my phone as I waited to place my order, noticing that it was Frappuchino happy hour so I was probably going to change up what I was going to get.
As I approached the counter, I noticed a venti cold cup for sale that was a pretty ombré fade and I'd just broken the one I'd bought myself for my birthday the day before, and it was payday for me, so I nabbed it and made small talk with the barista at the register about my purse and my hair while I made my purchases.
Now, this particular Starbucks' layout could be best described as a capital L, I guess -- the registers and machines are right at the 90° joint of the two planes, with the larger seating area being the bottom of the L and the long, tall part of the L having merchandise and seats here and there through on to the back. There are doors both at the center end of the larger seating area and along the long skinny corridor where the registers and merchandise are. That's the door I came in, for reference.
Across from the end of the coffee bar is the little station with extra straws and cream and sugar and whatnot, so after I ordered beverages for both myself and my boss I backed up towards the station, juggling my new cold cup, my purse, my keys, and my phone. It was pretty busy and I was trying to get in and out as quickly as possible and that was pretty much the only place to stand and wait for my coffees.
And then I heard it.
"Hey, Sunshine. You, Purple Sunshine."
My skin was already crawling as I looked up from my phone and side-eyed towards the deep, older male voice to find a man my father's age eagerly looking me up and down from a seat at the end of a long table not eight feet from where I stood.
It only got worse from there.
He asked my name and proceeded to tell me incorrect details about it (that it's Hebrew, which it's not, it's Aramaic) while he very obviously looked at my left hand for the ring I stopped wearing months ago. He told me he was a rabbi and he had friends who went to Israel and went on three dates with women there and got married and still are so I should go to dinner with him and we'd be married by August. He stood from his seat and moved next to me, so close his torso brushed my arm every time he inhaled. He pushed me for a phone number, wanted to know what I was doing this weekend, what my work schedule was, where I wanted to go eat 'cause someone as stunningly gorgeous as me he'd let pick anywhere, didn't matter. There were waggled eyebrows and piercing wandering eyes hovering at my chest, my rear, my legs. I didn't have enough time to come up with a retort before he'd cut me off and throw something else at me, ignoring that I was trying to speak, to physically back up into a space that wasn't there, to say no.
I was unable to say no, leave me alone.
A woman passed by and spoke to me briefly about my hair in a small attempt to give me an out, I think, but her children pulled her away before she could give me that window. People were turning and looking as this man grew boisterous in his advances and I just stood, floundering and petrified as he physically overpowered me as well as bullied me into paying attention to him at all.
I was beginning to panic, a true and real fear bubbling up inside of me in a way I hadn't felt in longer than I actually realized until I was standing there, again, overwhelmed by it. My coffee had been made incorrectly and the barista realized it as I moved to approach the counter and took it back, leaving me waiting for my beverage with this man literally breathing on my neck, telling me I smelled beautiful.
From the corner of my eye, I saw two police officers enter, as they often do at this Starbucks, to presumably get coffee while on duty. I made eye contact with one of them and must have looked frightened or pleading or something because one made quick progress from the register to where the rabbi was cornering me against a window and the little station thing and nearly as loudly as the rabbi asked if the man was bothering me in a tone that sounded more like it was for every single person in that Starbucks instead of actually me.
I opened my mouth to try and say something, anything, but the rabbi cut me off and said no, we're just talking, we're friends as he tried to put his arm around my shoulder. I must have flinched because the officer moved one hand to rest on his hip as he gestured with the other still holding his coffee and told the rabbi he needed him to put his arms down and step away from the young lady.
All of Starbucks was staring now, as I stood in the only spot visible from one end of the store to another. I was shaking, my vision locked on the counter where my stupid drink should be appearing at any moment.
The rabbi became defensive, his tone incredulous as he instructed me to tell the officers everything was fine here, right Sunshine, and the officer, now flanked by his partner, instructed the rabbi to stop speaking to me because he would talk to me in a minute, right now he was talking to him.
In that moment, I completely lost any agency I had entered with ten minutes prior.
Three grown, adult men stood and verbally fought over a situation that they all pretended was about me, but I had absolutely no say in whatsoever. The barista yelled my name for my finally ready beverage and I lurched forward to grab it, the officer telling me to wait a minute because they needed to take a statement from me.
This was only the second time he'd actually spoken directly to me.
I barely choked out that I was late for work -- because by now, I was -- and I all but ran out of the Starbucks and to my car, somewhere between infuriated and embarrassed.
I just wanted to buy some coffee. Just like any other normal person.
As the night went on at work and I jokingly rehashed the story as I fought internally to feel calm again, the slow anger at myself, at the world, crept in. I was angry that I didn't stand up for myself against the rabbi, that I demurred to his advances and submitted to his physical presence, literally trying to shrink away while being painfully conscious of not wanting to be rude, because he's probably a nice guy, all while being objectified against my wishes and made to feel that I had no other alternative than to acquiesce to his desires.
I did everything that rape culture has taught me to do, and I felt dirty and ashamed for it.
I was angry that the police officer only escalated the situation instead of defusing it, reducing me to nearly a child while he presumably swept in to save the day, be a hero to the girl with the purple hair. I was angry that I couldn't speak up for myself in either part of the situation, that I couldn't say no, thank you and not feel like I was being a bad person, that I couldn't state that yes, this man actually is bothering me, thank you for noticing.
I literally went silent.
I didn't stand up for myself. I didn't rescue myself. I panicked and waited for someone else to do it, and when someone did, that only made it worse.
By the end of the night I was almost in tears talking more in depth about it with my boss, because why can't I just go to Starbucks and get a coffee without feeling like I'd just been assaulted? And when a coworker told me that I should look at the bright side because at least I'm still desirable, the last remaining shreds of my feminist confidence deflated, because that isn't what any of this should be about, at all.
I want to be able to present however I so desire and move in public spheres and not be harassed. That's part of why I actually haven't described what I was wearing -- because that shouldn't matter, it doesn't matter. I want to live in a world where men don't feel entitled to women and their bodies simply because they currently exist within the same space. And I hate feeling like I have to choose between two evils -- wearing what I want and knowing that runs this risk, this cultural violence against my body and all of the PTSD it triggers from every horrible experience I've ever had when it comes to men and my body and their use of it ... or caving in, dressing down and covering up and hiding away and hoping no one notices me so I may have the privilege of leaving my house and moving about in society a little bit more freely, I can hope at least.
I don't understand how these became my choices. I don't understand how I have a freaking degree in these exact same concepts yet when it comes time for me to put them into practice, I can't. I thought I had grown and transcended a great deal of this patriarchal bullshit, I saw myself as a strong, capable, confident woman and now, now I'm not so sure. I obviously have some more work to do, more than I anticipated.
Somewhere in all of this, there is a discussion to be had about being perceived as hegemonically attractive and the psychological effects of existing in a society that both lauds and disciplines that perception; about what living a life knowing that you cannot go places without being approached or harassed to the place that you never feel truly safe going anywhere alone anymore does to your health, both physical and mental. This is more than #hotgirlprobs, as a friend joked, but a real form of imprisonment and subjugation, misogyny at it's most insidious, that I venture affects more women than even I have begun to realize.
But today, today I need to decompress and take a shower and wear my pjs all day and try to recover and build myself back up a bit. I failed to defend myself and that is a larger blow to my pride and confidence than I anticipated, but I refuse to hide and lick my wounds forever. I refuse to give in and relegate myself to this indentured fate.
So sorry I couldn't show you the confident, stunning woman I was last weekend. I have to find her again first.