Other than men talking over me or insisting I don’t know what I am talking about, I hadn’t experienced overt harassment until an incident that happened at the end of the summer of 2021. I started working in an antique store in October 2020 as a way to support myself while going to school.
We have these lamps that hang on the ceiling and a step stool is needed to reach them. My manager, who is a woman, and I were the only ones in the store at the time. A man who appeared to be in his late 50s came in and wanted to look at one of the lamps. I said, “No problem, let me go get the step stool and bring it down so you can have a closer look.” I had my manager in front of me to spot me. I started unplugging it and taking it out of the chain. I was only on the second step, so height wasn’t the issue and my boss was waiting to grab the lamp from me. The customer said, “I’m going to come behind you to spot you,” and I didn’t have an issue with that initially.
As I was bringing the lamp down and placing it into my manager’s hands, I felt him put both of his hands around my waist. I kept saying, “It’s fine, it’s okay, I can handle this.” He kept his hands on me. The man wouldn’t let go until I had both feet planted on the ground and the lamp was out of my hands.
I felt uncomfortable. Even though I knew he was doing something well-intentioned, I thought he would stop when I said I was fine. I told my boss that I was uncomfortable and she responded by saying, “He was only trying to help.” I felt invalidated and I thought I was overreacting. Yet, this small incident stayed on my mind and I still believe he didn’t need to put his hands on me. I felt like I didn’t have any bodily autonomy. Although it could, for lack of a better term, count as sexual harassment, I feel like doing anything about it would just be met with apathy because it’s not a large-enough issue, or that I was making a big deal out of nothing.
Essentially, I have bigger fish to fry, so I just did nothing and went on with my life. I wouldn’t call the experience traumatizing, but I don’t feel indifferent—I still feel upset that it happened. It makes me angry that someone would think that putting their hands on me without asking or after I told him to stop, was okay.
The fact that this happens to so many other people all the time is awful as well. The thought that this won’t be the last time something like this happens does cross my mind at times. If I could remove myself from a job or career where I have to be in the presence of people who don’t see me as a full human being without suffering financial ramifications, that’d be great. But I also know that, just because I get out of that sphere of work, it doesn’t mean it stops existing. Wherever I go career-wise, this type of harassment may take different forms, but ultimately, I have to accept this is the reality and decide what action I want to take later on.