How do you respond to harassment? Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It was a spontaneous weekend filled with saying “yes” to last-minute road trips and never-ending festivities. It was a weekend of good people, belly laughs, and a thousand new inside jokes.

But there was one blip on the record, an occurrence I’m so familiar with that I almost forget that it surprises those around me: A stranger slapped my ass at a club, and I turned around to tell him off.

Let me pause to say that I’m really enjoying the third place I’ve called home over the last three years (after this one and this one). So far the Czech Republic has welcomed me with enthusiastic arms. 

However, I’d like to comment on this unwanted ass slap because it’s the second such incident in three weeks.

The Ubiquitous Sexual Harassment of Women

Harassment isn’t a new topic, and thanks to the viral video by Rob Bliss Creative, Hollaback, and Shoshana B. Roberts, women’s often unseen experiences have entered the spotlight.

The video highlights an experience that most men are not privy to simply because it doesn’t usually happen when other men are around.

It’s the same reason why the response “I have a boyfriend” is more respected by catcallers and creeps than “I don’t like when you talk to me like that.” Men respect other men.

What was so shocking about this particular incident of mine, then, was that it happened when I was in the company of male colleagues.

Though I don’t believe most of them (if any) even realized what had happened until after they saw me turn around, march over to the slapper, and yell, in English, that such behavior was not acceptable.

Even after I returned, I’m sure I looked unprovoked to those who didn’t see the slap.

harassment-do-not-touch

My body is not for strangers to touch freely; keep your hands to yourself. Image from pixabay.com.

My flatmate joked that the same thing had happened at Oktoberfest (only three weeks earlier) and that then I had also turned around to stop the entitled bloke and tell him that I didn’t like it and that he couldn’t do that again.

The difference was that my flatmate and I attended Oktoberfest sans men, and the ass-slapper was walking by solo. He also apologized after being called out.

Responding to an Unwanted Ass Slap

The dude at the Czech club was showing off for his friends and doing so blatantly in front of mine. Despite our language difference, when I approached him, wagged my finger, and yelled that you can’t do that to strangers, he just looked me in the eye and said in English, “Why not?”

The truth is that my response on both occasions has been honed over years of this type of thing.

I haven’t always responded this way. I’ve been the girl who spends the whole night thinking of what she could have said or worrying that she should have said it in the local language.

I’ve been embarrassed and intimidated. It’s happened everywhere from Paris to Los Angeles, in four different countries, and at countless sorts of locations.

How unfortunate that I’m now ready to respond only because I’ve had enough practice.

Dealing with Street Harassment

At the same time, I need to clarify that even as someone who prides herself on independence, assertiveness, and self-respect, I’m not this assertive when alone on the street.

In every city I’ve lived, I am prey to just as many worries as the next girl.

I keep my eyes focused when I walk, I ignore catcalls, and I endure repeated insistence that I say “Thank you” when strangers compliment my heinie.

Similarly, I still sometimes use my sexuality as an excuse when a strange man is being inappropriate.

harassment-is-not-affection

I love affection, just not in the form of a bum slap by a stranger. Image courtesy of Samantha Marangell.

Yet, I felt comfortable asserting myself in both of these recent incidents primarily because these two men had made a slap and walked off, not waiting for any sexual advance or expecting me to respond at all.

There’s no blurry line here between compliment and assault.

Also, I was surrounded by my people, in a closed environment, and I was going to stay there to keep enjoying my night with my friends. I wasn’t going to spend it regretting not standing up for myself.

It’s not a secret that I am quite proud of my derriere; it’s my favorite feature. But it’s mine. And a slap itself is simultaneously sexual, playful, intimate, and aggressive. If you don’t even know my name, I guarantee that I haven’t given you the “playful” green light.

So keep your hands to yourself.

Would you have said something in my situation? How do you respond to unwanted advances?


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