As we go into a new year, I have a resolution. I’m going to speak up more when men do things that make me uneasy.
Take the other day, for example.
I really like my neighbor. I also have no interest in dating him. It’s nothing against him, really. But I don’t know him well, and I’m not interested in dating anyone at the moment. (Men don’t believe that when I say it, but it’s true. And that isn’t some female code for “try harder.”)
I ran into my neighbor while coming home, and we stopped to chat. Before we parted, he touched the back of my neck and kind of massaged it for a second.
Not knowing what that meant, or what to do about it, I did nothing. I pretended it didn’t happen. Denial works, right?
A few days later I ran into him again. Again we chatted, and he massaged my neck for a second or two again. What?
Seriously, I would never, ever do that to someone I wasn’t dating. Why is he doing that?
He isn’t being aggressive, exactly. My neck isn’t an erogenous zone. He isn’t doing anything else. And I want to be friends with this guy. He’s a nice guy.
I don’t look forward to the awkward conversation when I tell him to knock it off. I don’t want to harm our friendship. That’s why I’ve said nothing.
But the truth is, this was how it started with the first man who sexually assaulted me back in college. It started out with just some unwanted touching. In that case, he held my hand.
There were more red flags with the guy in college. I’d yank my hand away, he’d take it again. Rinse, repeat.
Ultimately that escalated to an actual assault.
The perpetrator is now a pediatric neurologist. With the #MeToo movement, I’ve considered telling his employer. But is it worth ruining someone’s career because he assaulted me nearly two decades ago? I don’t know.
But I do know I’m going to have to speak up to my neck-rubbing neighbor.
Most men aren’t rapists. But when women don’t tell men that their behavior makes women uncomfortable, the sad truth is that men may think what they’ve done is okay — even though it’s positive consent they should be looking for.
Why don’t we speak up? Often men become defensive. Some think that they’re the arbiters of whether they’ve made us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. That’s ridiculous. If a woman says she feels uncomfortable, then that’s how she feels.
I know I’m not the only woman who will start speaking out more, but men need to listen when we do.
And please, guys, be more conscious of your actions. Don’t call a woman you aren’t dating names like “sweetie.” And don’t assume we want any touch other than a handshake — even when we’re too uncomfortable to say otherwise.
And when we do tell you what we don’t like, listen. If you feel yourself getting defensive, work through your feelings, and then listen. Don’t verbally attack someone for having the courage to tell you the truth.
Stop using your sexual conquest of women as a measure of your manhood. Women are people, not objects. The only “game” you need is to act like a human being and treat us like humans too.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by www.OtherWords.org.