The author of this post is known to Mamamia, but asked to remain anonymous.
Last week I travelled interstate for a little break. I was enjoying shopping, wandering around by myself while my boyfriend met up with a friend. As I was mindlessly browsing in a clothing shop, a man in his 40s (significantly older than me anyhow) approached me and stood in my way. He told me he had followed me from another store, and that he did so because I looked like the perfect person to help him pick a birthday present for his mother.
I panicked, knowing full well the strangeness of this behaviour, and fearing that the man was potentially unhinged. I told him I couldn’t help him, didn’t know his mother or what she likes, and wished him well. He stood in front of me again, grabbed my arm and pleaded with me to help him. He told me she liked pink, so I reached behind me and grabbed the first pink thing I saw. I handed it to him and attempted to excuse myself.
No woman ever wants to be harassed when she is shopping. Here are our favourite #NoWomanEver tweets. Post continues below.
I’m a PhD candidate at a university in Sydney. I have a decent knowledge of feminist literature, am highly opinionated, and often forthright in expressing my views.
I’m also really ‘nice’.
I suppose I have a certain softness about me, a gentle quality that I usually take pride in. My voice is high-pitched and sweet, children warm to me quickly, and I often find myself the guardian of people’s deepest, darkest secrets.
I’m also 5ft 2, with the build of a waif.
Sandwiched between two racks of clothing, this tall, burly man stood over me and offered to buy me something nice. A dress maybe? I refused. He said he wanted to take me for coffee, and was I free now to join him? I told him no, and that I was meeting my friend in just a moment.
I attempted to edge past again, only to have him block my exit and insist on having my phone number. “Just as a friend”, he told me, “just as a friend”. (Yes, I even resorted to the ‘I have a partner card’ when my ’no’ was not enough).
"Sandwiched between two racks of clothing, this tall, burly man stood over me and offered to buy me something nice." Image via iStock.
I was clammy at this point, and desperate to end the conversation, so I gave him a fake number and turned to leave. He told me the phone number wouldn’t work, and called the number in front of me. The phone in my hand didn’t ring. He stood glaring at me, holding his phone in my face, demanding my real number. Ashamedly, at this point, I felt so trapped that I gave him my real number, intending to block his calls later on.
On several occasions I could have (and perhaps should have) sworn at him, pushed him or made a scene, but I didn’t. I was completely in shock. I was scared and immobilised. He pushed for more - my Facebook details, a coffee later in the weekend. I said no in every polite way I knew how, and then I finally pushed past and ran to the female change rooms, figuring he couldn’t get in there.
His number has been blocked for a week, but today he called me from two other phones. On the first instance I told him not to contact me again. I didn’t answer the second call.
"His number has been blocked for a week, but today he called me from two other phones." Image via iStock.
Right now, I am fuming, partly at myself, mostly at him, but also at the way my ‘niceness’ has rendered me vulnerable. I know I’m not the only person to experience this sensation of shutting down in threatening situations. Too often, women are accosted in this way and end up mute for fear of their own safety. If this guy could follow me, what else was he capable of?
In theory, I thought I’d respond differently - a young, fiercely independent woman who values equality and attempts to live by feminist principles. But nope, in practice, I was ‘nice’ and I was frightened.
I’m going to practice saying ‘NO’ in the mirror from now on, and I will not sugarcoat or qualify that response. I wish that were enough to stop these things from happening. This is not an isolated incident, but something that happens to women all the time with varying levels of creepiness and serious danger.
Today, rather irrationally, I’ve been checking over my shoulder, feeling shaky and awfully like someone’s play-thing. I’m writing this now, hoping that solidarity might ward off the fear, but also because I’m sure I’m not alone. I want my ‘NO’ to be heard and respected, and until then, even if it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing, I’m going to speak up.