Harassment

Because I live in a city- no, scratch that: Because I’m a woman, sexual harassment is part of my everyday life. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

The first time I was ever sexually harassed (that I can recall), it was when I was doing my summer job during my college years, working as a tour guide. A group of teenage boys, led by their rabbi, came to the tourist attraction and at the end of the tour, used the public guest book to express that their favorite part of the tour was my chest (though they used decidedly cruder words than that.) I was humiliated, tore the page out of the book, destroyed it further, and threw it away. I didn’t say a word about it until a year later, when the boys came back and I begged to be taken off their tour (I was, by my horrified manager.)

When I was hired as a server at a restaurant with a bar, I absolutely expected to be sexually harassed. To my surprise, though my personal bubble was invaded once or twice, that didn’t happen. But when I was a hostess at a different restaurant (the one that fired me), I witnessed something very disturbing. The owner of the restaurant is quite famous in Philadelphia and New York, so when his relatives came to his restaurants, they were of course given the best treatment and service. I was only working at this restaurant for a month, but the owner’s father visited at least four times while I was there. He was given his choice booth, he and his guests were given their meal for free, and they were given the best server in the place… or rather, the best server in the place that was also a pretty young woman. Maybe the second time he came to visit, one of the managers actually said to my fellow hostess and me, “[Owner]’s father will sexually harass you. Just let it happen.” And while he didn’t really bother with us, I watched from across the restaurant as he flirted with and touched his waitress however and whenever he pleased, sometimes even following her over to the computer stand and putting his hand on the small of her back as she punched in his order. I never said anything, and I often wondered whether, if I had, I would have been fired.

The reason I was spurred to write this post is because this week has been fraught with harassment. After my first psychiatry appointment, it was nice out, so I decided to walk to work instead of take the subway. Within thirty seconds of leaving my doctor’s building, I had two guys catcall me, Two days later, I led a tour as usual. My group of eight happened to be comprised of very pretty girls, probably college age. As I was leading them around the city, we were shouted at at least four times, and I can honestly say this has never happened before, because I have never led a group of all young women.  It made me extremely uncomfortable, though my group didn’t seem fazed, which is good, I guess.

I like to think of myself as a strong woman and a feminist, and when I experience stuff like the above, or read about it on sites like Everyday Sexism, or see it happen on the streets. But am I really that strong or really a feminist if I can’t speak up when it happens? I know that part of the reason people harass others is to make themselves feel powerful and to bring humiliation upon their victim, but I wish I could rise above that humiliation and speak up. I’m not at that point yet, though, as evidenced by an incident a few weeks ago. I was sitting at the ticket table outside of the cafe with my female coworker. We’d already had an incident that day of non-sexual harassment, which was bad enough that one of the cafe employees came out to make sure we were okay, so we were already on edge. Then this homeless man came up to us and asked my coworker if she had a light. She said no. He was standing behind my chair and decided to ask me if I had one… very far into my personal bubble. I shook my head and pulled my book closer to my face. “You don’t got one?” he asked, leaning in closer. His hands weren’t on me, but they might as well have been. “No,” my coworker said sharply. “She doesn’t.” He got even closer, mumbling about how he wanted “a piece of that.” “Thank you,” my coworker snapped. “Move along.” In true harasser style, the man started reaming out my coworker for being strong and standing up, and I felt terrible; she was taking the flak for me because I couldn’t do it myself. I just felt terrible about every aspect of the experience, and I hope I’ll act differently next time.

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The Guy on the Bus Fondled My Knee (And Other New York Tales)

Yesterday, I arose at five a.m. BY CHOICE. For those of you who know me and have seen how I react when the sun first wakes me, this will probably shock you. I like my sleep (especially lately, when it’s been eluding me.) But I did climb out of bed before the sun was awake and got ready to go to NEW YORK!

I actually get up at five (or earlier) to go to New York fairly often, for auditions. But this time, I was not headed to an audition, but to my friends Molly and Ryan’s apartment to hang out before going to see one of Molly’s short plays in a one-night event. I’ve wanted to go to one of these monthly shows for awhile, and since I’m super free due to, you know, not working at all, I figured I’d at least fill my time with something.

So I got a window seat on the bus, hoping I could sleep a little bit. At the very last second, this guy around my age took the free seat next to me. I tried to sleep the whole way to the city because I knew I’d probably be out late that night and didn’t want to be dead on my feet. For a lot of the bus ride, I was leaning against the window with my eyes closed, listening to music, and the guy’s heavy canvas coat kept drifting onto my leg. I didn’t really think much of it or do anything about it; buses are close quarters, and it was just a jacket, and as a bonus, it was keeping my leg warm. But at one point, the coat was heavy enough that I was thought, ‘Obviously, the guy is asleep and it’s fallen on me. I’ll just make sure it doesn’t look like I’m stealing it.’ But when I went to move the jacket… it wasn’t the jacket, but his hand. On my knee.

For as much as I wish I weren’t, I’m a very naive, trusting person. I sincerely thought this was an accident. I didn’t look at him as I inched my knee out from under his hand, so I don’t know if he was asleep/pretending to be asleep/mooning at me, whatever. I just sat closer to the window. But then it happened again! I moved away a second time because I was wearing tights, not pants, so there wasn’t much between his skin and mine. I put my own hand on my knee, hoping that would sort of scare him away… and it didn’t. He took that as an invitation to touch my hand instead. I hadn’t been weirded out before, but that definitely did it.

When the bus stopped at the first drop-off point, my seatmate asked if I was getting off the bus. I asked him which street we were on, he told me, and I said no, I wasn’t. That was our only verbal communication on the trip. When we got to the place where we were both disembarking, he went to get his bags and I, having kept mine with me, went looking for a subway entrance. I found one, and guess who was standing at the top of the stairs? My bus buddy. “You going on subway?” he asked in his Asian accent. I said yes and he walked down the stairs next to me, then waited as I bought my Metrocard. The entire time I had my card out, I was thinking, ‘Oh, so THIS is the day I get mugged,’ and held onto my wallet very tightly. He accompanied me through the turnstile and asked where I was going. “To visit my friends,” I told him. “You have time for a coffee?” he asked. This took me by surprise and I think it was a few seconds before I replied, “No, my friends are waiting and I don’t want to be late.”

But he was not deterred. He asked me again where I was going. “Queens,” I told him. He kept after me as I figured out which line I had to take, and when I found the signs directing me there, I saw that they were leading me to an elevator. As nice as this guy seemed, NO WAY was I getting into an elevator by myself with him. “You know what?” I said as he walked speedily to the elevator. “I think I’m going to take the stairs.” And he followed me there, too. As we stood waiting for my train, he tried to get more details about where I was going, eventually asking for my phone number. I said no,trying to be as nice as possible because I have to be nice even to the strange men that stalk me into subway stations. Thank God, when my train pulled up, he did not follow me onto it. While I’m sure he was a nice guy, I think I would have freaked out if I had to ride the subway with him, because then he might have followed me all the way to Molly and Ryan’s, which would not have been good.

The last few times I’ve been to NYC, my bus has been super late getting in, and I didn’t want to show up on their doorstep two hours later than proposed, so I had gotten an earlier bus, and since, after I ditched my suitor, the subway didn’t take the hour MTA Trip Planner predicted, I actually ended up standing outside their door a bit earlier than expected, wondering if I should press the bell. (You have to remember that these are the friends of whom I am big fans. I had to act “right.”) I did, of course, press it, and Molly came down to get me. It was really cool to see their apartment- I’m kind of obsessed with seeing where other writers do their writing. They have tons of books, the titles of which I spent a long time tilting my head sideways to read. It was very much a fly-on-the-wall day for me as they finished up various chores, but that was fine with me. Ryan was finishing up some work, so after getting lunch, Molly and I wandered around some Williamsburg shops, and now I have a huge list of books that I need to get when I have an income again. Then we headed to a Manhattan arts company building  for the rehearsal of Molly’s short play.

I thought it might be weird for me to be sitting in on the rehearsal, since I obviously only knew Molly, but her director and her two actors were super nice to me, and when we all headed to to the theatre together for tech, we were all making conversation and they were really easy to talk to. It helps that two of them were really familiar with Philadelphia, and we talked about everything from the Fringe to the King of Prussia mall to the drag bar I once went to for my friend’s bachelorette party. Molly was very apologetic that I had to sit through tech and offered me some free wine to get through it, but it was only cue-to-cue and only about 45 minutes long, and I was just really excited to be at that show. Though I have obviously been through a million techs for my own shows, I always feel super special when I get to see other people’s tech.

Tech did run a little long, though, so there wasn’t time to go anywhere to get food. Instead, I just hung out in the lobby with Molly and and a few of her friends. The company had thought that they’d be able to squeeze a bazillion people into the theatre, as they usually do for these standing-room-only shows, but a fire marshal had been sent to make sure that no more than 72 people were sitting in the theatre. Because I had gotten there for tech, I got a seat, but there were 20 people who actually watched the show from the lobby (they got free wine, though, throughout the entire show, so I don’t think they were too put out.)

I really enjoyed the show. The basic premise of the event was that all of the playwrights were given a theme two Sundays ago and had a few days to write a script, and then they gave it to their actors and director. Because it’s script-in-hand, they playwrights are allowed to make changes basically right up until the actors make their first entrance. After the show, on the train home, one of Molly’s friends (who is a fantastic playwright himself, but had not taken part in the show) said that he wasn’t terribly impressed with the quality of the plays, but I enjoyed all but a few of them. While yes,  the quality of the writing wasn’t awesome, I also kept in mind that these plays were written in a week- probably less- and rehearsed in even less time. And to be honest, a few of them, and Molly’s especially, were in a state that mine are lucky to see after months of revision. Even with the ones I didn’t like, I tried to put myself into their shoes; my own play probably wouldn’t have been much better. In any case, I really enjoyed the show.

Afterward, I went to my very first dive bar. I don’t know what dive bars are supposed to be like, but this one was pretty nice, and dogs were allowed inside, so there was a Bernese Mountain Dog hanging out by the ATM. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to get drunk, but last night, I really did not feel like being the awkward of-age girl sipping a Coke. So I decided to put my pride aside and ask Molly for help in choosing a drink. She suggested a few, and in the end, I ordered a vodka cranberry. And you know what? I actually liked it! So now I finally have something I can order and know that I won’t be wasting my money on something I can’t stomach.

After about an hour of hanging out there, Molly, two of her friends (who live right around the corner from her and Ryan), and I left for home. Again, I marveled at the fact that I was walking through the streets of New York laughing with two playwrights I admire. When we got back to Molly and Ryan’s place, Molly made some pasta for us because she hadn’t had anything since lunch and then at 1 a.m., it was time for bed. Running around from five in the morning til one in the morning certainly solved my not-being-able-to-sleep problem. I was out the second I laid down.

Today was spent completely in their apartment. At first, Molly and I were going to go to a cafe and write, but in the end, the coffee in their apartment was free and neither of us got around to changing out of our pajamas (I only changed eventually because I had to go home.) So Ryan went out and got us some breakfast sandwiches and he worked on a lecture and Molly did a book review and I worked on a play. It was really nice and I got some good (well, hopefully good) work done. When three o’clock arrived, I sadly had to leave. I wish I could have stayed forever and ever because I had a such a great time, but sadly, that can’t be done (mostly because I would feel bad making them keep an air mattress where their kitchen table usually is.) But for the first time in recent NYC trip memories, the real life truck did not hit me in the face on the way home. I actually have some stuff (which is stressful stuff, but in a good way) to look forward to this week. I was also all aglow with happiness because I got a frantic e-mail from a director whom I love and who cast me in my first Equity show four years ago, asking me if I would be willing to step into the assistant stage manager spot for a show that opening tomorrow night. In the end, I wasn’t able to do it and they found someone else, but it was a completely unexpected e-mail and I was shocked and flattered that he thought of me.

So all in all, bus stalkers aside, it has been a fantastic two days. I’m so glad I was able to go up to see the show and my friends 🙂

“December to Remember”

Apparently, that’s what people who are gettin’ ready to make romance-related life decisions call this time of year. Or so says one of the comments on my friend’s Facebook status, the status that reads, “IF ONE MORE PERSON GETS ENGAGED, I WILL FLY INTO THE SUN.”

Yep. They’re at it again. The aforementioned friend and I went to the same university, but while we might have a newly engaged person or two in common, she and I are probably talking about separate friend groups… which kind of makes this worse. Last week, over the course of two days, FIVE people I know got engaged. Five. Two from my university (one is graduated, one is not), two from my theatre internship (they got engaged to each other), and one from home. And those are only adding to the five or so other people who got engaged earlier this month. I am going to scream and cry.

I tried screaming and crying at home, where I was when I found this out, but my parents weren’t having it. My mom told me to drop it. My dad said, “It’s just the right time for some people.” But neither of those comments helps me. Because I can’t drop it. I could only drop it if the engagements, marriages, and children were not piling up, proving that THAT is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, not the hodge podge of things that I’m actually doing. If it’s the right time for them, as my dad claims, why isn’t it the right time for me?

When I sobbed this question to my mother a little over a month ago, in the deepest and most dangerous depths of my consuming sadness,  she told me that it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything with my life; I’ve been concentrating on school and my career. And yes, that’s true. But what’s also true is that all of these engaged/married/with kids people- or even those in general steady romantic relationships- have been doing that… and also finding the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. It’s very true that over these past few months, I have been sequestering myself more than usual, but that’s just the last few months. What about the last almost-twenty-three years? Am I really that unnoticeable?

And going off that last question, the answer to it seems to be… no. I am noticeable. I don’t know if it’s a new thing or I was just oblivious before, but I have recently picked up on the fact that guys do look at me. But… that’s it (well, besides the catcalls. But that’s the kind of noticing I can do without.) And to be honest, it doesn’t make me feel better when I tell someone I’ve only ever had one romantic relationship and they look all surprised and say something like, “But you’re so pretty.” Because if I am pretty, then what’s the problem? Yes, I know it’s all about the inside, but it’s the outside that attracts most people initially, and if there’s nothing wrong with my outside, then it stands to reason that the problem is the stuff that’s supposed to matter: my personality, my intelligence, etc. The stuff that’s supposed to make that person stick around. Pretty girls get asked out, at least, and if I am one of those… what’s the deal? I get looked at, and then I get passed over.

This is turning into more of a “pity me” post than I meant it to. I just find it frustrating that I’m so far behind on the important life events that 98% of my peers are entering into. Because now, even if I do get married in the future, I’ll never be in the “married in my early twenties” group. I missed that boat, and it’s not coming back for me. Nor do I have even a prospect, and that makes everything kind of worse. A lot of this, to me, means being chosen. My friends that are married, engaged, or in a relationship, have all been chosen. Someone likes them enough, romantically, to spend the rest of their life, or at least a significant amount of their life, with them.

I wouldn’t mind being chosen.