To me, standing up for your fellow sisters in situations of harassment is a big deal. It can be scary because you don’t know how the harasser will react. It could be simple annoyance, or it could be violent. But when a woman is being harassed, the feeling is often one of fear and being completely alone. Thus, as a woman, I feel it is vital to stand up for my sisters, to prove that she is not alone when she’s being harassed.
Yet despite that point of view, yesterday I failed to stand up.
I was walking down a hall at my church when I saw a guy badgering a girl and saying, “You’re always so quiet. Why are you so quiet?” Instead of interceding, I simply muttered to myself, “Because she wants to be! It’s none of your business anyway!”
There are obviously worse ways to harass a woman. But that fact doesn’t negate this incident as harassment. There is a misogynistic belief that women owe men our best smiles, our best selves, our best conversations. But really, we don’t owe men that. We are allowed to be quiet. We are allowed to keep to ourselves. We are allowed to not have a smile plastered to our faces at every moment of the day. We aren’t here to entertain men or to feed their ego. And when it comes to church, we are there to learn and to worship. Sure, we socialize. But we are definitely not there to engage in a witty repartee just because men think we should be.
I’ve interacted with this guy before. This is a guy who thinks his comfort level is much more important than everybody else’s, as indicated by the time he flipped out at me because I dared to turn the air down a notch. Never mind that oodles of people were freezing instead of paying attention to the church speakers. He is also the kind of guy who thinks it is wrong for a girl he claims to love to serve a church mission instead of marry him. That’s respect for you.
But even knowing this I did not stand up. I saw her face, I had a response, I muttered to myself and kept walking. Why? Why did I do nothing knowing that even the slightest form of harassment has potential to make a woman fall into a dark and lonely place?
I suppose it could be fear. It is always terrifying to stand up to other people. And there’s always the standby, “Oh, she’s be fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” But it is my job to make sure my sisters feel safe at church. It is my job to work towards a world where my sisters feel safe at school or on the street or in their hotels or at the movies or in their cars or anywhere they feel inclined to go.
So I guess this post is a confession of my cowardice as well as a call to myself and to everyone to be better. Sometimes our perceptions might be off, but it is always better to make sure everyone involved in a strange situation feels safe and okay, than to assume everyone is safe and okay.
Even as I am writing this I am second-guessing myself. “Maybe I’m overreacting,” I keep thinking. But here’s the thing: If it feels wrong it’s wrong! Don’t second-guess yourself in these situations–just stand up.
We need to be better. As bystanders to harassment it is our responsibility to let harassers know that what they are doing is not okay. It is our responsibility to make sure the person being harassed is safe and knows someone will stand beside them. It is our responsibility to stand up.