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Sexual Harassment: It's Not Cute

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On Sunday, I lost count of how many people ogled my boobs.

For the first half of the day, I was costumed as a pirate or a gypsy or some mish-mash of the two, and yes, my top was low cut. And I kept bending over because I was herding three very small people all over the place. And yes, I recognize that made my breasts visible. But only one person said anything to me, and what he said was, "Oh, wow, um, that is one fantastic costume." It was clear that "one fantastic costume" was code for "two really awesome boobies," but I let it go. Because he had the decency to pretend he was gawking at something totally benign. And I can accept that.

So after the carnival was over and I changed out of my pirate or gypsy costume and into a more mundane outfit, I went to dinner. And as I walked out the door, full of pizza, wearing my coat and my hat, I passed a group of young men waiting to be seated.

One of them ogled my breasts. And I say "ogled," but what I really mean is "craned his neck until his nose was perilously close to diving down my shirt," and I didn't say anything. Because I was walking out the door and had my coat and hat on, and although I wasn't wearing my low cut, blousy white pirate top anymore, I was used to people kind of noticing my breasts all day. And as soon as I was past, he said something.

"Damn, those are some nice boobs you got there."

And I stopped.

Because that is not cool.

I understand that we all have eyes. I understand that it can be difficult to mask our reactions to things that we see. I understand that the things we see can cause us to have reactions that might be hard to mask, and we are not entirely, 100% responsible for not reacting well.

I understand that sometimes, a 50-year-old man will be wrong-footed and try to cover up that he was leering at a young mom as she ushers her three small children through a busy carnival and try to say something basically harmless to cover it up.

This? This was something entirely different.

If it had been a few hours later, or a few beers later, this guy at the pizza parlor probably would have just reached out and grabbed one.

So he said, "Damn, those are some nice boobs you got there," and I froze. I turned around, and his three buddies were grinning and nodding. And I walked right back up to him. I didn't smile.

"That was really, really rude. And inappropriate. And offensive."

His three friends looked away, their smiles suddenly very unsure.

He grinned at me, shrugging. "And also cute, right?"

"No. It was rude. And offensive."

"And cute!"

"No." Now his friends started backing off, looking really uncomfortable. He was the only one still smiling and still standing his ground. "It wasn't cute. It was rude. And inappropriate."

"And cute."

"No, it wasn't. It was really rude."

And as my hackles rose I wanted to say a million things to him. About treating people like people, about common courtesy and acceptable social behavior. About rape culture and misogyny. But I knew as he laughed and repeated that what he'd said was actually adorable, there was no getting through to him, so I turned back around and left.

And it's been bothering me ever since.

I wish instead I'd smiled, asked him for his name and phone number and then smiled while I picked up my phone and called the police to file a report for sexual harassment.

I wish instead I'd talked to his friends and asked them if they're OK with this. If they're OK with going around with this super creepy guy who can't tell the difference between disembodied breasts and a human being, and ask why they're willing to be seen in public with such a pathetic excuse of a human being.

I wish instead I'd stopped the hostess, told her I was a paying patron and that he was bothering me. I wish I had asked her to escort him out.

I wish instead I'd turned around and punched him in the face.

But I didn't do any of those things. Because when you're a woman confronted with bold-faced sexism, inappropriate behavior and a complete lack of empathy, no matter what you do... you lose.

If I'd made a scene, I would have been just another "crazy b*tch," and he would have brushed me off that way. If I'd asked him if he'd have harassed me if I was with my children, I'd be playing into the idea that women are somehow only people if they're wives or mothers. If I'd sexually harassed him right back, I might have actually encouraged him.

It really, really bothers me. And not just that it happens, but that I'm still so lost for what to do about it.

I know how to talk to people about sexual harassment and sexual assault. I know how to talk to people about stopping their friends from acting like that, about preventing their kids from turning into that guy. But I don't know what to say, as a woman and the owner of a partially visible pair of breasts.

I'm not going to start going around in a poncho. And I'm under no illusions that this is the last time. Because it's not about being young and hot. I'm almost 30 years old, and unlike many women, this is not my physical prime. It's about a mentality held by somebody else that I am an object. A source of entertainment or pleasure. But not a human being.

And I have no idea what I can do about that.

Originally published on Becoming SuperMommy