Demanding respect: It’s an everyday job
“Hey. Hey, you.”
I looked up. “Yes?”
“What’s your name?”
I fumbled with my earbuds and quickly looked around. Broad daylight, a few people nearby also waiting for the bus. My ride was scheduled to arrive in less than four minutes. “Goeun.”
I kept thinking to myself, please don’t talk to me please don’t talk to me please don’t talk to me—“Yeah.” Now leave me alone.
“You speak English? I thought you were a foreign exchange student or something. What town are you from, Joann?”
Of course you did; it’s not like 15 percent of California’s population is Asian American. Too insulted and uncomfortable for words, I looked away. He didn’t leave. “Um, I’m from out of state.”
“Cool. Do you have a boyfriend?”
Funnily (or downright depressingly) enough, that’s what finally made him leave. As he walked away, he even apologized for bothering me. It wasn’t until I was on the bus and on my way back to campus that I realized I had been holding my breath.
Women facing street harassment is not big news. If anything, it is our inheritance. Centuries of gender roles and power dynamics have passed down and reinforced the tradition of catcalls and sexist slurs.
Unwanted attention is normal. Expected, even. I am no longer surprised by catching men staring down my chest or being honked at, I am only annoyed and angry and sometimes, too often, afraid.
For many women, that is also our legacy. While boys are pushed to be assertive, girls are socialized to take caution. To be scared. We are taught to not wander by ourselves, to not go out at night, to expect the worst from men walking behind us.
If something bad happens, it is our fault. If something bad happens, it’s because we were wearing a shirt too tight or skirt too high. When something bad happens…
I came back to my room and told people what happened. None of them seemed particularly shocked. As bothersome and belittling that man had been towards me, it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. I’ve encountered worse, and so have many other girls my age.
Empathetically, my friends said that I should have told him loud and clear to get lost. I’m sure there are a million better ways I could have handled that situation. But that doesn’t excuse the heart of the matter — a man refused to respect my clear signs of discomfort and took the hint only when I implied that I had a boyfriend/bodyguard.
I’m so tired of feeling the way I did at that bus station. I’m tired of feeling unsafe walking in a city at night or being grabbed on the dance floor without my consent. I’m tired of bearing the responsibility of telling men to leave me alone because it shouldn’t be my job to demand some basic respect.
But it is. Unfortunately, it is my job to demand respect because if I don’t stand up for myself, no one else will. And that, just that, is an inheritance I am willing to accept.
Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.